New York City
Megan McArdle, in Bloomberg:
Gentrification Is an Irresistible Force
Ah, gentrification. What’s not to hate? Except for sit-down restaurants, dog parks, charming pubs, bike lanes … and there goes the neighborhood. Yesterday, we talked about the inherent irony of gentrification: the fact that gentrification is simultaneously driven and abhorred by nice young progressives who just want to live in a walkable neighborhood. We also discussed why so many of the ideas proposed to stop it — from inclusionary zoning to tougher rent control — have so far proven powerless against the March of the Affluent.
It’s true that “young progressives” are driving it. The hatred is only for show. That also explains why the “ideas proposed to stop it” are “powerless.” That is by design.
I’m hearing a lot these days about scatter-site housing as a potential fix for gentrification.
Scatter site housing helps gentrification, because they scatter the scatter site housing in older suburbs (think: Ferguson) in order to shovel ghetto blacks out of the cities.
There are two additional wrinkles we need to consider. First, what does your tax base do when they hear that their neighborhood has been slated for 2,000 low-income housing units by the year 2020? Let’s say you have managed … er, somehow … to make it impossible for these community groups to sue, and you have studiously ignored their angry letters and phone calls to the city council. What do these people do? There’s a risk that the answer is “move,” in which case the tax base collapses again. Now you have lots of affordable housing, and all the problems that cities complained about before people started complaining about gentrification.
Or, there’s another option. The media will bitch about the racism of old white people in older suburbs so they can’t materialize the political will to stop “affordable housing” there, so that ghetto blacks can continue to be shoveled out of central cities to make them safe for young progressives.
In a more realistic world, what happens when you announce your sweeping plans is that political support for that “affordable housing” line item in the budget starts to collapse. More than half the households in the District of Columbia now make more than $50,000. DC is a liberal city, and people of all income levels are willing to spend money on various forms of housing subsidy. But if you require them to spend that tax money, and also live next to a housing project, many of those people will cease to support the construction of any new housing projects.
Here’s another case where there’s another option. The “affordable housing” within the gentrified cities full of young progressives turns out to be “affordable” if you’re politically connected, such as the “side families” of important politicians. It’s not “affordable” for Shaniqua and her eight kids by seven felons.
This is a really important point. We are not debating whether DC, or San Francisco, or New York City, can create any affordable housing units. They certainly can, and in fact, they are. What we are discussing is whether these cities can create enough affordable housing units to prevent gentrification.
Who actually thinks gentrification should be stopped? Not anybody that matters.
And now, finally, we arrive at the market-based approach that is well-favored among the cognoscenti: forget building “affordable housing,” and just build “housing”. Lots and lots of it. Slash the red tape, alter the zoning code to let people build more high-rises near public transit, and tell the community groups to go to hell when they protest. There are two good books on this you should read: The Rent is Too Damn High, by Matt Yglesias, and The Gated City, by Ryan Avent. Both authors are brilliant, erudite, and completely right. They are also probably not going to change the minds of tens of thousands of angry homeowners who don’t want high-rises built in their neighborhoods.
The people who live in single family houses whose values are increasing aren’t in any mood to make it easier to people to live close to them.
And what’s this obsession with high rise residential buildings? I wouldn’t want to live on a high numbered floor anywhere — Who wants to spend a lot of time just to be able to get down to ground level, and then a lot of time to go back up? Then there’s the matter of California, where the big one could hit anytime.
And so here we are: The government simply has relatively little power to create more affordable housing in the face of massively increasing demand for homes in desirable cities like Washington, New York and San Francisco.
And a lot of people read that and think, “that’s a feature, not a bug.” Affordable housing is for Prince Georges County, parts of Westchester County, the Inland Empire, the Tri-Valley, South Suburban Cook County, and of course Ferguson.