13 votes

How do you fix housing?

In a variety of countries there seems to be the common problem that housing is far too expensive as income inequality gets worse. Rent is too high, housing markets heavily skew in favor of sellers. It's all bullshit. Even if you can comfortably afford to buy a house, with cash, at twenty-five percent over asking price, you're still potentially dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars on a home that could require tens of thousands of dollars in repairs. Even if you can afford to take that risk, it's bullshit that we allow housing market conditions like that to exist in the first place.

So what's the fix? What countries don't have these problems because they have a better system for housing? How do you fix these problems in countries like Canada and the United States?

I'm interested in replies that present "immediate solutions" that try to solve the problem while fitting nicely inside our neoliberal systems, basic things like rent control, building more homes, taxing the rich, etc.

But I am also interested, more interested even, in radical solutions that perhaps require more widespread change. Examples:

  • Abolishing landlordism and rent, and what replaces them
  • Abolishing cars within a city and the effects of that
  • Creating a market where houses are more like cars, not investments, in that they necessarily depreciate in value

How could we outright de-commodify housing?

Bonus points if you tie your comment in to the ideas of permaculture and communal resilience.

7 comments

  1. simplify
    Link
    Build more houses. I live in a remote area that's also a tourist destination. We have massive problems with housing here. Any house under $250K gets snapped up within days, often for cash, making...

    Build more houses.

    I live in a remote area that's also a tourist destination. We have massive problems with housing here. Any house under $250K gets snapped up within days, often for cash, making it hard for young working class locals to buy something affordable. Similarly, rents are out of control. A two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment starts now at $1600/month. This area, being a vacation spot and tourist destination, relies on the service industry heavily. And as such, we're experiencing the crunch of not having enough people to actually work the necessary jobs to keep the economy running.

    I personally had an experience recently talking to some random locals at the brewery about this. There was talk of a new apartment complex going in, and the prevailing thought among these older locals (60+) was that they didn't mind if the complex was single family homes, but they would be upset if more apartments went in. This is in a part of town that's pretty sparse, just a bigger road, some light industrial, not downtown. I said specifically, "what about all the service workers who can't afford to live here? Where are the people serving you going to live?" No answer. They just don't want more traffic.

    NIMBYs want it all, but not the sacrifice to actually make their town accessible to people who work in it. And because we're in a remote area, it's not like the service workers live in the next town over for cheaper rent and commute in. That happens a bit, but the next town over is a farm. If people can't cut it here working low wage jobs, they just have to leave. A lot of young people leave. In the summer, we have to import international workers to clean the hotel rooms. It's a beautiful area, with a lot of natural resources, and a great place to be. But if the service industry collapses, the town collapses.

    The problem is that there is so much money here, and the people in charge are out of touch. It's a lot of wealthy retirees, wealthy vacationers, wealthy transplants. But it's getting harder and harder for the people who run it all to actually live here. The rub? There's so much damn space around here. Not downtown, of course, but we're surrounded by space. Because the area is desirable, though, the land is costly. Build a handful of apartment complexes, rent them at a price that's reasonable for the working class, and watch the jobs actually get filled. If a two-bedroom costs $1600+, you're going to drive the working class out.

    I really love this area I live in, but I worry about the sustainability of it in the short term. In the next 10 years, if they don't embrace some new ideas, they're going to stumble. The solution is to build more houses for local workers to live in, and ensure they're affordable so those people can thrive. Otherwise, the rich locals and the tourists won't have anybody to work for them, to serve them, to make the place function as a vacation destination.

    13 votes
  2. Rez
    Link
    You may want to find more to read about Japan and Tokyo, where housing is ample and cheap in an urban area, and not seen as an investment....

    What countries don't have these problems because they have a better system for housing?

    You may want to find more to read about Japan and Tokyo, where housing is ample and cheap in an urban area, and not seen as an investment.

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-housing-crisis-in-japan-home-prices-stay-flat-11554210002

    Unfortunately for other countries wrangling with housing affordability crises, the Japanese formula is not easily exportable. Many of the cities where demand for housing is the stiffest—New York, London, San Francisco and Stockholm, for example—impose strict rules on land use and new construction, partly due to local political pressure.

    But in Japan, the responsibility of regulating urban space largely shifted to the central government in 2002 under the Urban Renaissance policy. Mr. Sorensen said it had held at bay the “not in my backyard” movements that often inhibit housing construction in the U.S. through their influence over local governments.

    11 votes
  3. [3]
    stu2b50
    Link
    Imo it's just about supply. If there's a demand and supply imbalance, which there is, and you can't exactly modify the demand side of things, what's left is to increase supply. Zoning reform is...

    Imo it's just about supply. If there's a demand and supply imbalance, which there is, and you can't exactly modify the demand side of things, what's left is to increase supply.

    Zoning reform is part of that - use land more efficiently. Right now in much of the US you are simply not allowed to build anything on land other than single family homes, even in incredibly dense areas (much of SF is single family zoned, for instance), which is incredibly inefficient. You can throw in a light sprinkling of legislation to ward off against common zoning FUD like a sudden sprouting of exclusively luxury apartments hellbent on losing money.

    Second, use more land. Both the US and Canada have large excesses of land that are undeveloped. While some of that is due to unavoidable factors, like good weather, for the most part, where there are jobs people will come. Public transportation is part of that, since it scales better than cars.

    Third, less of a cultural focus on owning a single family home. In other developed countries, this is not nearly as much a focus (whereas it's a staple penultimate goal of the optimal American life), for example in Japan or Germany. Whether or not you come out ahead by the time of your death renting or owning depends on the rent:buy ratio (and you can come out ahead renting, especially if the housing market is stable or even depreciating like in Japan), but even in ownership you can own more condensed forms of housing than single family.


    First is happening, albeit slowly - in California, for instance, many cities are slowly but really moving away from single family zoning (Sacramento, Berkeley, etc.), plus the ADU legislation that passed.

    Second, well, the public transportation thing ain't exactly happening. To some extent COVID and remote work has been an affect but it's limited to a subset of high skilled knowledge workers so I don't expect that to move the needle.

    Third, not really sure. Probably not.

    6 votes
    1. MetArtScroll
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      While this is definitely great (not just good, but great) that they change single-family zoning to ADU or outright duplexes, there are still problems like height restrictions, parking minima,...

      First is happening, albeit slowly - in California, for instance, many cities are slowly but really moving away from single family zoning (Sacramento, Berkeley, etc.), plus the ADU legislation that passed.

      While this is definitely great (not just good, but great) that they change single-family zoning to ADU or outright duplexes, there are still problems like height restrictions, parking minima, setbacks, CEQA, etc.

      4 votes
    2. skybrian
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Arguably demand as well, and in some cases this could be fixed by encouraging companies to expand somewhere else. For example it may seem odd to cheer when some company moves away from the San...

      Arguably demand as well, and in some cases this could be fixed by encouraging companies to expand somewhere else.

      For example it may seem odd to cheer when some company moves away from the San Francisco Bay Area, but from a load-balancing perspective it makes sense.

      Also, you might not see it as much now due to the pandemic, but building stuff next to transit lines does seem like a good way forward, and often a new station is funded via real estate development. (Salesforce tower is a recent example.)

      But I’m rather disappointed that big companies aren’t leading the way in moving away from big cities. Why aren’t new campuses built that are centered on a train station somewhere that land is cheaper?

      3 votes
  4. vord
    (edited )
    Link
    These ideas work best together: Rent control. This might not help with availability, but does prevent gentrification, which gets ignored far too much in these discussions. Stricter laws regarding...

    These ideas work best together:

    • Rent control. This might not help with availability, but does prevent gentrification, which gets ignored far too much in these discussions.

    • Stricter laws regarding quality of rental housing. Mandatory seizure of property divested to tenants for failure to comply. Multi-family units can become housing co-ops.

    • Land Value Tax. It's like property tax, but excludes the value of the improvements. Most ideas center around a high rate with a discount for owner-occupied land. Landlords will either have to build denser housing or get a real job. Single/dual family rentals are not going to be very profitable. A landlord can build denser housing without their taxes going up, so that's how they can remain profitable. The subsequent increase in supply will further drop rents. Which would also hopefully be subject to rent control.

    A more extreme idea:

    Eliminate housing ownership entirely. Develop a government-run residence development/maintainance/exchange program. The idea is that once you live in a place, you stay there until you want to move. Have the housing authority perform maintainence work (to insure it gets done), while allowing the resident (nearly) full control over modifications and improvement. When you want to move, you simply pick an available space on a redfin-like site and the housing authorities help you move. They then clean/improve/repair the old home and relist on the site. This is paid for by assorted taxes, ideally a federal flat-rate rent paired with a progressive income tax to help cover the disabled and retired.

    Edit: For any landlords thinking of defending landlordism, please provide itemized income/expenses and a timeclock for hours spent landlording. If it's not your primary income which you're spending 40 hours or more per week to attain, then you're just leeching money off those who earn it by virtue of owning land.

    4 votes
  5. MetArtScroll
    Link
    Build Build Build Outlaw NIMBYism or limit it to the actual BY (backyard) as it is the case in many European countries: if the parcel is not directly adjacent to yours, then you have no vote. P.S....
    1. Build
    2. Build
    3. Build

    Outlaw NIMBYism or limit it to the actual BY (backyard) as it is the case in many European countries: if the parcel is not directly adjacent to yours, then you have no vote.

    P.S. #nimby tag would be nice

    3 votes