JLF Memo
Jul. 28th, 2011: - johnlocke.org Manage Subscriptions

In this issue: California wages war on the single-family home
By Dr. Michael Sanera

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Even though polls show that seventy-one percent of California adults prefer single-family homes, California 's legislators and city planners want to cram people into crowded, tenement-style housing in the urban core.


According to Joel Kotkin's article in Forbes:


These draconian measures could lead to a ban on the construction of private residences, particularly on the suburban fringe. The new legislation's goal is to cram future generations of Californians into multi-family apartment buildings, turning them from car-driving suburbanites into strap-hanging urbanistas.


Supporters of these "cramming" policies in California and North Carolina often argue that market forces are already moving in this direction and that these policies are merely echoing market trends. Kotkin makes short work of these claims.

These [market trend] "facts" may be more grounded in academic mythology than reality. Some widely quoted experts, like the Anderson Forecast at UCLA, cite Census information to say that demographics are shifting demand from single-family homes to condos and apartments, although the Census asked no such question. These experts also fail to address why condo prices have dropped even more in the major California markets than single-family home prices; the percentage of starts that come from single-family houses shifts from year to year, but last year 's number tracks around the same level as seen in the 1980s.

Perhaps the biggest weakness in the analysis lies with long-term demographic factors.  As I wrote last week, [and highlighted in the Local Government Update] many of the "young and restless" folks whom city planners try to court tend to move into suburbs and affordable low-density regions as they grow older and begin starting families. Similarly, the vast majority of boomers, according to AARP, want to remain in their old homes as long as possible. Most of those homes are located in suburban, low- to medium-density neighborhoods. But who needs facts when you have religion?

Kotkin notes that high density housing "cramming" is not the wave of the future, telecommuting is. "The Silicon Valley already has 25% more telecommuters than transit users."

In the end, however, substituting religion for markets and people 's preferences is counterproductive. For one thing, people "forced" to live densely will find other places to live the way they like -- even if it means leaving California. This is already happening to middle class families in places like San Francisco and may soon be true of California 's traditionally middle-class-friendly interior as well.


Many North Carolina planners are implementing their own versions of these fads, especially in Raleigh and Charlotte. The Obama administration is also offering federal money to entice communities to participate in its "sustainability communities" policies, which have been developed jointly by the EPA, HUD and DOT.


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Friday, Jul. 29th, 2011 at 12 p.m. Noon
Friedman Legacy Freedom Lecture
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