There’s a lot of debate within urbanist circles about whether or not supply alone can solve or at least mitigate housing affordability concerns. Richard Florida and others will say that, while beneficial, increasing supply isn’t the be all end all. We need to be building affordable housing.
Edward Glaeser, Joseph Gyourko, and others have, on the other hand, argued that middle-income housing is a supply problem and that low-income housing is quite simply a demand-side problem, which could be solved through things like a housing voucher program.
In other words, the cost of housing isn’t necessarily the problem, it’s the low income levels. One of the benefits of supplementing people’s incomes is that it empowers mobility. People can then move to where there are jobs, as opposed to being tied to a specific neighborhood or city.
But this debate is arguably just about the extent of the supply benefits. Intuitively, it makes sense to try and match new housing supply with demand and economic growth. But how far can that take us, particularly in high demand and high productivity cities?
Glaeser (Harvard) and Gyourko (Penn) have a relatively recent paper out called, The Economic Implications of Housing Supply, which looks at, among other things, the “implicit tax” imposed on development as a result of land use restrictions and other supply constraints.
Here are two excerpts:
We will argue that the rise in housing wealth is concentrated in the major coastal markets that have high prices relative to minimum production costs, and it is concentrated among the richest members of the older cohorts—that is, on those who already owned homes several decades ago, before binding constraints on new housing construction were imposed.
But in a democratic system where the rules for building and land use are largely determined by existing homeowners, development projects face a considerable disadvantage, especially since many of the potential beneficiaries of a new project do not have a place to live in the jurisdiction when possibilities for reducing regulation and expanding the supply of housing are debated.
If you’re interested in this topic (and sufficiently nerdy), you can download a PDF copy of the paper here.