In a Nov. 2 opinion piece, “Housing for Whom? Why PT Needs to Get Density Right,” Jaisri Lingappa argues against the city adopting zoning changes allowing for greater density …
In a Nov. 2 opinion piece, “Housing for Whom? Why PT Needs to Get Density Right,” Jaisri Lingappa argues against the city adopting zoning changes allowing for greater density “without putting affordability protections in place.”
According to her, smaller, more densely placed homes will spur an influx of those who can afford but don’t need more housing.
Yet, gentrification and displacement are already happening. Rents and housing prices are sky-rocketing under the pressure of capitalism and the financialization of housing markets regardless of zoning laws, even in places that have the desired affordability protections.
Local governments only have a few tools with which to tackle this crisis. They can subsidize the cost of building in return for permanent affordability, as is planned for some of the Evans Vista development units.
However, incentives to developers do not address the root cause of housing inequality. They actually have the opposite effect. The dirty secret of market-based approaches to affordable housing development is that incentives to build low-cost units drive costs up.
The city can also level the playing field by making zoning changes that would allow more infill options, such as tiny home communities and duplexes on a single lot. Exclusionary zoning regulations (what we have now) contribute to the lack of missing middle houses (e.g. smaller, lower-cost units) by favoring single family over multi-family densities. They also restrict access to land, driving up lot prices.
So are we to believe then that allowing moderately-dense infill will make things worse? Yes, according to Ms. Lingappa, unless the city only allows greater density when (as yet unspecified) assurances of affordability are enacted. The problem is that in telling developers what they can build, you are also telling the community what it can build.
The scale of missing middle housing makes community investment possible. To wit, no developers are needed. I myself have had a hand in building six smaller “workforce” homes, closer together, rented or sold way below market-rate. Greater density lowered the land and infrastructure costs but no subsidy needed. Instead, I, along with other community members, provided the subsidy.
As I see it, the solution to the housing crisis is not just a question of “for whom” but “by whom.” Let’s empower the community to build more social housing like when it came together to build two tiny shelter villages in record time. Meaningful changes in zoning law could increase our capacity to do more.
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