The Desire for Sprawl: A Myth or Reality Among Americans?

Happy Tuesday and welcome to another edition of Rent Free. This week’s stories include: the House of Representatives’ surprisingly bipartisan $78 billion tax bill expanding and tweaking the federal program funding new affordable housing, Portland reworking its “inclusionary housing” policy, Arizona trying to legalize starter homes, Minnesota taking on parking minimums, and more… But first, this week’s lead item is a brief rebuttal to the idea that all Americans want is to sprawl, baby sprawl. A recent essay by urban geographer Joel Kotkin in National Review called “Let America Sprawl” argues that Americans’ “deep-seated preferences” are for single-family homes in the suburbs. Messing with this, writes Kotkin, are center city-loving planners and pundits. Kotkin’s article is light on specifics on the policies threatening suburbia. He treats these regulations as binding, indefensible restrictions while criticizing efforts to liberalize zoning as forced densification. If ending single-family-only zoning forces density, does repealing urban growth boundaries force the suburbs on rural communities? When restrictions on density are repealed, builders respond by building more housing. People moving away from high-priced housing in dense urban areas is more obviously interpreted as evidence of a regulation-induced shortage, not a collapse in demand for urban living. The war on suburbia is a waste of breath for anyone who doesn’t want to force people to live a certain way. Less covered in the $78 billion tax bill passed last week by the House is the bill’s expansion of the federal government’s primary program for subsidizing affordable housing construction: the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. The House’s bill increases every state’s allocation of the more generous new construction credits by 12.5 percent and reduces requirements for the less generous credits, expanding the program’s ability to subsidize rehabilitation projects. Portland’s “inclusionary housing” policy has been a poster child for unintended consequences. It required builders of projects with 20 or more units to make at least 10 percent of those units affordable to lower-income renters, making them less likely to build. The program launched with a tax abatement that wasn’t enough to cover costs and had a fatal effect on many projects. As a result, projects ended up not happening, resulting in a lot of unintended outcome.