January 10, 2014

Quote: Unaffordable Housing and Uncomfortable Trade-offs

Australian columnist Matt Cowgill addresses the issues behind unaffordable housing in The Guardian – and doesn’t think rising density is the enemy:

There’s a trade-off at play here, one that can’t be wished away or ignored. With a growing population, you can’t restrict rising density in established suburbs, prevent sprawl on the urban fringes, and prevent housing from being unaffordable. Pick two out of the three.

The urge to preserve historic neighbourhoods, the desire the conserve all the green bits around our cities, and the wish to maintain affordable housing are all noble impulses with which I sympathise. But, again, we can’t have them all.

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Comments

  1. “You can’t [1] restrict rising density in established suburbs, [2] prevent sprawl on the urban fringes, and [3] prevent housing from being unaffordable. Pick two out of the three.”

    Firstly, of [3] it’s not at all clear that affordability is linked to supply and demand of residential buildings. It might be due to supply and demand of pleasant complete towns/neighborhoods, but I think it’s more due to supply/demand of credit and employment, i.e. of capital and labour. While the share of GDP keeps skewing to capital, there will be a large surplus to be lent out, and ever-declining earned means to service that lent debt. That hits median affordability.

    Secondly, [1] ‘restrict’ doesn’t mean ‘block completely’.

    Thirdly [2] sprawl isn’t the only way to build beyond city limits. You can have a clear urban boundary, a clear rural road, and clear new urban boundary for a new, complete, pedestrian-first town that can, in time, mature and intensify even to compete with the original town.