Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Densification policies won't solve London's housing crisis


Here's Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox:
Nowhere, here or abroad, has densification materially improved housing affordability, whether for low income households or the larger number of middle-income households. Density-oriented policies have helped drive prices up so high that Bay Area, $200,000 salary engineers cannot afford a home near their headquarters. In the meantime, many young families are increasingly leaving the state for less heavily regulated and less expensive states like Texas, Nevada and Arizona. Among those under 35, 80 percent of all homes purchased nationwide are single family houses and virtually all surveys of millennials express an overwhelming desire for this kind of residence.
This reality is lost on our planners as they seek to square the circle of providing family housing in an ever denser planning environment. So what do those pesky millenials want in a house?
“This is very likely because a huge majority are now married (66%) or in permanent relationships (13%, and almost half (49%) have children under the age of 18 living with them. In other words, it appears that they are seeking to raise their families in suburban rather than mid-city environments. And the NAR figures confirm this, showing that in the past year 57% of buyers under the age of 36 opted for suburban homes – and that the most popular type of home purchased (83%) was the single-family suburban home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms.”
So in response to demand for the sort of suburban environment my generation enjoyed, the planners tell us they want denser development, flats above shops, tower blocks, garden-free apartments or town houses. This makes no sense yet it's precisely what the latest iteration of the UK's National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) expects.

At some point we have to start asking people living on the fringes of London's suburbia (and other cities too) just why they have such an issue with some of the land near them being used for new suburban homes. Is it simply a matter of 'build 'em somewhere else'? Or are the common concerns - school places, traffic, medical centres, drains, floods - genuine? Maybe it's more visceral - some people in Cullingworth feel it isn't a village any more because of the new development.

There are lots of options and alternatives - new towns, garden communities, new villages, urban extensions - but none of these involve densification, piling people up on top of each other, cramming them into "walkable", "sustainable" tenement communities, a 21st century version of the crowded housing we cleared in the '50s, '60s and '70s. Build more suburbia, dammit!

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1 comment:

The Stigler said...

"At some point we have to start asking people living on the fringes of London's suburbia (and other cities too) just why they have such an issue with some of the land near them being used for new suburban homes. Is it simply a matter of 'build 'em somewhere else'? Or are the common concerns - school places, traffic, medical centres, drains, floods - genuine? Maybe it's more visceral - some people in Cullingworth feel it isn't a village any more because of the new development."

Well, are they going to get richer or poorer if a new housing estate is built near them, rather than it remaining as fields? That means people who might be criminals rather than their friendly neighbours, more traffic, more noise.

I think the effects are exaggerated by fear of the unknown, but it's a tragedy of the commons problem. Why should someone on the east side of town get the housing rather than the west side of town? So ultimately, both sides fight against housing. It's a problem solved by things like LVT. If your house price (or more accurately, the land it's sitting on) falls in value, you pay less tax. It stops people thinking of housing=investment. It doesn't matter that much if the price falls.

I also think this problem is partly solved by "well, move out of London, then". It's already happening. I work in all sorts of places and know all sorts of rates of pay for software people, and there's almost no premium for London over say, Bristol, now. Companies like Adobe and Atlassian have built workflows, and we have cloud servers. I can be working on something in Wiltshire and upload it and do a Skype chat with a client in Hoboken, NY about it.