By Gary Garczynski. For builders trying to construct housing at an affordable price, the scarcity of available land and sky-high land prices present a problem that only seems to be growing worse.
Across the country, builders are engaging their communities in a dialogue that is yielding encouraging results. People want, and need, housing just as much as good schools, reliable transportation, green space, and a healthy environment. And in its smart growth message our association is showing that these basic needs can be met by making an extra effort, and that no-growth is a prescription for disaster.
Against this background, it was dispiriting to see the recent report from the American Farmland Trust recommending farmland subsidy programs and anti-growth policies that would further restrict the amount of land for housing. The report advocates incentives for farmland preservation that are nothing more than federal subsidies to prevent land from being used for housing and other more efficient purposes.
Let's be clear: Our country does not face a food shortage. In fact, the United States exports roughly 20 percent of its agricultural output and has the capacity to grow substantially more crops than at present. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, "loss of farmland to urban uses does not threaten total cropland or the level of agricultural production." And thanks to technological advances, our agricultural productivity stands at an all-time high.
In stark contrast, this country is suffering from a growing housing affordability problem. At a time when a million new households are being formed annually, we risk pushing working families far into the hinterlands unless we take aggressive measures on behalf of residential development. That makes all the more galling a recommendation by the Farmland report to eliminate what it sees as subsidies that promote sprawl. Housing is one of the most heavily taxed and over-regulated industries in the United States, and it is absurd to suggest that residential development is more subsidized than farming.
We do agree with the report on one point: the elimination of large-lot zoning policies. These policies, which are adopted by far too many local jurisdictions, are a very inefficient use of a vital resource. They are a thin disguise for communities that want to simply hide from the pressures of a growing population and local economy, and we need to get rid of them.
The bottom line is that Americans are in no danger of running out of affordably priced ingredients to put a meal on the table. Unfortunately, there are no such assurances when it comes to affordably priced housing. That's why we must continue to fight so vigorously for land-use policies that acknowledge where the true dangers lie.