Housing's affordability problem in many places comes to us with solid credentials.
Here's such a place, South Dallas.
When it comes to the impediments residential developers face--acquiring lots at a low enough price to turn into affordable home sites, and bringing them online without a big pile of costly fees and delayed timetables--the first nemesis who usually comes to mind are local government officials.
Town board and city commission meetings, planning board meetings, zoning boards of appeal meetings, environmental impact hearings, etc. often become a death-by-a-thousand-cuts process for projects as municipal and county officials heap money and time in seemingly random measures. Government--elected, appointed, self-selected--in all its majority-rules messiness plays out. People with less expertise and less noble aims often prevail over those with more of both.
Cover enough of those meetings as an observer, and you find out how and why government works the way it does, and in a way that is so often oppositional to residential developers' interests: neighbors.
Here, Dallas Morning News staffer Tristan Hallman writes about local neighbors' vocal crusade against plans for an urban infill tract in Dallas to go toward developing 20 homes pegged for middle-income families in the city's Oak Cliff district. Hallman writes:
Neighbors believe the area's real estate market is too hot for homes targeted at middle-income families. While City Hall is focused on bringing back the middle class from the ever-expanding suburbs, the neighbors believe the goal should be bigger, more expensive homes with larger lots.
"I want choice when it comes to this neighborhood," Hill said. "I bought into the beauty and the landscape and the lots and the way the houses were built. This is a custom-home neighborhood."
And here, from New York Times writer Conor Dougherty, is a step-back, 40,000-foot view of how the Dallas Oak Cliff story plays and replays in markets and submarkets everywhere. Class, economic mobility, and opportunity itself have woven themselves into these local land use debates. Dougherty notes:
A growing body of economic literature suggests that anti-growth sentiment, when multiplied across countless unheralded local development battles, is a major factor in creating a stagnant and less equal American economy.
It has even to some extent changed how Americans of different incomes view opportunity. Unlike past decades, when people of different socioeconomic backgrounds tended to move to similar areas, today, less-skilled workers often go where jobs are scarcer but housing is cheap, instead of heading to places with the most promising job opportunities, according to research by Daniel Shoag, a professor of public policy at Harvard, and Peter Ganong, also of Harvard.
Land use--the intersection of local politics, economics, and community--is one of the touchstone issues challenging builders and developers today. When it comes down to it, a voter, a taxpayer is and will be one of a developer and builder's toughest customers. Here's what you're up against, according to an "Everyman" type Dougherty profiles in his analysis:
“We don’t need one more job in Boulder,” Mr. Pomerance said. “We don’t need to grow anymore. Go somewhere else where they need you.”
As Dougherty writes, "These days, you can find a Steve Pomerance in cities across the country." They're one tough customer.