High Cost of a Home

The Housing Theory of Everything

Catching up on the backlog of smaller items this week…

“Although sometimes overshadowed by the cachet of Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio, Houston is absolutely a tech hub in its own right, attracting a mix of major tech companies and VC-backed startups to join its already established base of aerospace, defense, and energy companies,” Dice says.

  • Governing: Few Mayors Connect the Dots Between Zoning and HomelessnessRestrictive codes can severely limit housing development, but a new survey of mayors finds that few take them into account in their plans to address homelessness. This is definitely a major factor in Houston’s relative success in alleviating homelessness vs. other major cities. Hat tip to Judah.
  • The Atlantic: Everything Is About the Housing Market – High urban rents make life worse for everyone in countless ways.  I expect this “housing theory of everything” to continue to catch on because it’s absolutely right. It’s related to what I’ve been talking about for years with the four factors that go into Opportunity Urbanism, including discretionary income that determine how vibrant a city can be. If you pay too much for your house, you don’t have money to put into other things. That has been covered up for decades now by the wealth accumulated by those homeowners, but that’s a short-term effect that’s diminishing.
  • City Journal: Lone Star Housing Crunch – State preemption could ease the affordability crisis created by bad local policyTexans for Reasonable Solutions is doing great work on this problem with the legislature.
  • Vision Zero Accomplishes Zero:

I can’t help but think that Vision Zero is really more about inconveniencing auto drivers than increasing safety. Just three policies — a motorcycle helmet law, bicycle boulevards, and moving homeless people away from major arterials — would save far more lives than anything in the adopted plan.”

  • The Value of VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled), and why trying to reduce them takes our economy the wrong direction:

There is clear research showing that faster travel speeds means higher per capita incomes because such speeds give people access to more jobs and employers access to a larger pool of workers, which means more people can do the job that fits them the best.

Even if it was a good idea, no urban area anywhere has found policies, short of war or natural disaster, that can significantly reduce VMT. Yet planners keep spouting the same rhetoric while ignoring the fact that good intentions are meaningless, if not outright harmful, if they don’t produce actual results.

The lesson we need to stress to public officials is that it makes a lot more sense to make better automobiles and highways than it does to try to reduce driving. Since 1970, automobiles have become 50 percent more fuel efficient, 70 percent less likely to be involved in a fatal accident, and 95 percent less polluting of toxic chemicals. If anything, efforts to reduce driving have made these problems worse by forcing people to drive in more congested traffic where cars use more energy and produce more pollution.

I strongly suspect there is some class warfare going on here. Urban planners are by definition college educated and middle class. They probably drive cars, but the cars they drive are likely to be electrics, hybrids, or other high fuel-economy vehicles. The vehicles driven by the working class are more likely pickups, vans, and other large vehicles, partly because they need such vehicles for their work, but the planners see them as the deplorable enemy. So while planners pay lip service to low-income people and the working class, they want to design a society that has no room for them.

Those who truly care about helping low-income people and building healthy, wealthy urban areas need to take a stand in favor of more automobile ownership, more miles of driving, and better roads for those automobiles to drive on.”

This piece first appeared at Houston Strategies.

Tory Gattis is a Founding Senior Fellow with the Urban Reform Institute and co-authored the original study with noted urbanist Joel Kotkin and others, creating a city philosophy around upward social mobility for all citizens as an alternative to the popular smart growth, new urbanism, and creative class movements. He is also an editor of the Houston Strategies blog.