The Senate tax reform bill released last week “represents a big step forward” from the House plan, according to the NAHB.
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The New York Times buried the lead.

The newspaper's editorial "A New Approach to Housing Affordability," concludes with this line:

"It is past time to prioritize the availability of affordable housing."

It's the last sentence.

The piece looks at "carrot-and-stick" approaches several of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to run against the President have made increasing access to fair, decent, healthy housing a key part of their talk-track for change.

Uncle Sam can and should use its weight, in the form of funding allocation rewards or punishments, to coax or coerce state and municipal governments into unlocking the gates of local land-use rules that have stalled development of attainable housing with rules, fees, and byzantine approval protocols, the editorial says in so many words.

And why can and should Uncle Sam do so?

  1. Because that strategy always proves to play so well in Peoria?
  2. Because everything the federal government "fixes" doesn't break three other things that didn't need fixing?
  3. Why not?

That America's housing affordability crisis has risen up the food chain of issues that matter so critically to American voters that politicians are seizing on them to expand or strengthen their base of support tells us three things.

  • One, is that more attempts at engineering local area land-use rules and regulations--through gentle, remunerative inducements or harshly punitive force--may not produce the results those initiatives' creators hope for. Rather, greater resistance, resentment, and, ultimately, cost to all parties and participants.
  • Two, is that housing--affordable or not--is an essential relationship between three key stakeholders: People who need residences, localities, and businesses. Private sector business must neither forfeit nor be engineered out of that relationship for housing to be healthy.
  • Three, housing affordability is pivoting into an emotional, voting issue because it's a people issue, not because it's a political, nor academic, nor social issue. Statistics of households paying more than 30% and more than 60% of their wages on housing costs have been dire for years, and haven't so much as gotten a nod as a national political agenda item before now.

What's different now? Could it be that educated, generally successful, productive, land-owning citizens are starting to wake up to a dystopian reality--that their children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren are having a harder and harder time entering the market-rate housing continuum?

That may be what it takes.

The housing affordability crisis's winding gyre of impacts and consequences matter. The now beyond-fringe attraction and success of tiny homes and micro apartments, co-living ventures, multigenerational solutions, ADU units, single-family rental and rent-to-own models, the double- and tripled-up rentals, universal design remodeling and renovation trends, the rates of 20 to 34-year-olds living with parents, the longer-and-longer commute times, glorified couch-surfing, the homeless tent cities, the scarcity of vouchers, the awaking to "missing middle" up-zoning, and the rise in health problems, crime, and vicious-circle poverty are all part of the patchwork quilt that blankets our present condition with the question:

Do we care?

If we do care--and, particularly, if we in the $700-billion business of housing care--about this next generation's ability to prosper in a world at least as much as we have, and the generation after that, then the takeaway here should be clear.

Housing's affordability crisis will be just that, a crisis, well beyond politicians' goal to seize on it as a political football. Housing's affordability crisis will be that, a crisis, until businesses see beyond the societal statistics, the federal data points, the national talk-track, and make the matter a business issue. The litany above of creative, clever, resourceful, economic necessity-driven, desperation-fueled manifestations of how everyday people react to a housing crisis are precisely what should be telling business leaders that housing--left in state of crisis--is particularly ripe for disruption.

Evidence is piling up that in spite of an economy that has successfully expanded private sector payroll headcounts for 11-plus years, that same economy has produced far more--and expanding percentages--of non-participants than participants in new residential development and construction's neighborhoods and communities.

Firms that do business in market conditions where the overall customer universe is shrinking rather than growing--which is the business market rate builders, developers, property owners, and managers are currently in--are, indeed, facing a housing affordability crisis. One that no government carrot or stick initiative can save them from.

They'll either adjust their capital, operational, real estate, manufacturing, and management model to meet the needs of people who are currently and increasingly priced out of the equation, or someone else will.

Pick a lane, we'd say. However, we wouldn't place a whole lot of stock in politicians' promises to attack housing affordability's crisis with programs that dangle more or less money in front of the noses of locally elected officials as leverage.

Again, the buried lead:

"It is past time to prioritize the availability of affordable housing."

This should be a strategic business opportunity statement rather than an exhortation to get Capital Hill and the federal government involved in programs to fix things.