Lack of land, regulatory barriers, and the dearth of affordable housing are all challenges that haunt the future of the building industry. But Kent W. Colton, senior scholar at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, thinks there's a bigger--if somewhat unexpected--challenge on the horizon: complacency.
"One of the biggest challenges is overcoming the complacency that exists because we've done so well in the last 50 years," says Colton, whose new book, Housing in the Twenty-First Century: Achieving Common Ground, (Harvard University Press, 2003, $39.50), takes a comprehensive look back at the housing industry's last half century and ahead to the future. "Homeownership is now 68 percent compared to the 50 percent range in the '40s. That's a significant increase, but it also means that ... there's less demand in a political sense to address the issues that still exist."
Colton also points to the rise of partisanship and the inevitable inability to achieve common ground as another cause for concern.
"Back in the late '40s, when the GIs came back from the war, there was clearly a sense that we needed to build more housing, and we really found clear bipartisan approval in congress to move forward," says Colton. "But beginning in the '70s you began to have a range of participants who were interested in other issues; stopping growth, protecting the environment, decreasing tax burdens, etc. If everybody argues about their differences then it makes it easy for those who oppose housing to achieve their objectives. We've got to find a way to achieve common ground."