Washington Examiner: Even liberals realize government makes housing pricey

The Washington Examiner’s Barbara Hollingsworth writes this morning on a recent positive development — even liberals now agree government intervention is making housing unaffordable.

Hollingsworth writes, in part:

In this age of political and ideological polarization, it’s rather extraordinary when progressives and libertarians find themselves on common ground. But that’s what happened last week at the Cato Institute’s policy forum on affordable housing.

Progressives on the panel wanted higher urban densities to allow more people to live in central cities, while their libertarian counterparts pushed for less market restrictions on the supply side. But both were in general agreement that too much government regulation is the real reason that affordable shelter is still too hard to find for many Americans…

…Left-leaning economist Ryan Avent, author of “The Gated City,” pointed out that housing costs in the United States no longer closely track construction costs like they did over the previous three decades. An advocate of high-density urbanization, Avent noted that “layer upon layer of barriers” — including overly restrictive zoning, historic preservation and environmental regulations, and pressure from local elected officials — have added a “shadow tax” of 30 to 50 percent to the cost of a home in some markets…

…What would a city look like if it ditched the multiple layers of zoning and other regulation that keeps housing unaffordable for many people?

It would look like Houston, said Cato Senior Fellow Randal O’Toole, author of “American Nightmare: How Government Undermines the Dream of Homeownership.” O’Toole pointed out that the Texas city, which does not have a formal zoning code, is the fastest-growing urban area in the U.S. Families can still purchase a brand-new, three-bedroom, two-bath home there for $110,000 — six times less than the price of an equivalent home in tightly zoned San Francisco.

Controls on land use in Houston are imposed by deed restrictions and private covenants that can be modified if and when conditions change. The surprising result of this libertarian policy is that sections of the central city have European-like density that progressives in cities like Washington only dream about…

Read Hollingsworth’s full column here.

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