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Does new housing supply need better economic incentives?

I watched a bit of the English leadership debate the other night. Eventually I got frustrated and went to bed, but I understand that housing affordability and overall affordability were important topics.

What is clear, to anyone who cares to look, is that in most big cities we are not building enough new housing. According to the above Economist article (linked in the above tweet), the “rich world” has seen new housing production drop by about 50% (relative to population) since the 1960s.

There are many reasons for this. But part of the problem is bureaucracy. Things move exceedingly slow. And another part of the problem is community opposition. Urban sprawl can be easier to swallow because there’s an out-of-sight-out-of-mind phenomenon at work. Stuff may be happening, but it’s not happening in my backyard.

But now that so much of what we do is centered around intensifying existing neighborhoods, we are faced with a battle between the incumbents (existing residents) and the future residents of a community that don’t have nearly as much say — if any at all.

What I like about the Economist article is their line of thinking for how to address this dynamic, which, at the end of the day, is rooted in what I will call expected selfishness.

The approach is around aligning incentives. How could we better structure the delivery of new housing so that more stakeholders stand to directly benefit? Because as we have seen with laneway housing here in Toronto, homeowners will gladly build in their backyard when they stand to benefit directly.

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