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Pop-up housing (it’s not what you think it is)

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You were probably expecting some kind of temporary housing solution. Because that’s certainly what I was thinking when Big Ben Myers tweeted me this article yesterday. But it turns out that in D.C., “pop-up housing” has come to mean what you see in the above photo – a pencil thin house rising amongst a bunch of low-rise rowhouses.

Local bloggers are calling it a “middle finger to taste and scale”, but it’s happening because of what appears to be a real housing supply shortgage in the District. And it’s been said to be hurting not only housing affordability, but also exacerbating income inequality. 

However, it’s become a threeway debate. You have people worried about aesthetics, local homeowners and residents worried about their own interests, and you have people worried about the overall health of the housing market. As I’ve argued before here on ATC, too much protectionism is often a bad thing for housing markets.

But policy makers in the District appear to be responding in exactly that way, by clamping down on pop-up housing, as well as on accessory dwellings such as nanny flats (which I’m assuming are similar to what we would call laneway houses here in Toronto).

I can certainly understand the concerns, but I think that cities need to find that fine line between preservation and growth. Because banning pop-up housing is only addressing the symptom. It doesn’t address the underlying cause, which, in this case, seems to be a housing market in search of more housing options.

Update: This post was updated to give credit to Big Ben Myers for the article.

Image: Washington Fine Properties via Citylab

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