When Will We Become Serious About Housing?
When it comes to housing, Americans are of two natures. Many of the same people who decry the lack of affordable housing are the same ones who want to stop any new projects proposed in their towns and cities.
The truth is from New York to California, existing residents constantly erect roadblocks to stop any type of multi-family housing. The Regional Plan Association in the New York City metropolitan area found of the 56 Long Island Railroad stations in Nassau County, 16 do not allow multi-family construction anywhere near the transport hubs. Bellrose, another Nassau County community, did not allow new construction except for one-to-one replacements of any kind between 2010 and 2018 including single family homes.
Even in New York City, the city prohibits multi-family construction within six-square miles of their boundaries that is a 10-minute walk to a train or subway station. Nassau County and those parts of New York City almost guarantee that automobiles are needed to commute. In 50 years, the population in the metropolitan area increased by 30% while Nassau’s shrank by 5% because of a lack of affordable housing.
State governments are starting to take notice. New Jersey and Connecticut have passed laws making accessory dwelling units allowable (ADU) in all single-family zones. An ADU is a relatively low impact way to double the number of units allowed. Connecticut’s law allows it as of right so no hearing before local government is needed.
Environmentally, the single-family home is not energy efficient. The developments that cropped up after World War II were ultimately a waste of open land and no longer affordable to many people. The costs to build new units are reaching stratifying heights…in some areas $400 per square foot is the norm. A 2000 square foot home can be $800,000.
We can no longer afford to do things as we always have. The only way to house our population is to allow more multi-family dwellings and greater density. What better way to accomplish that than around train stations? Leave your apartment, hop on a train, and be at work without ever getting into a car. If we also begin to have stores and restaurants in those neighborhoods, perhaps some residents will choose not to own a car.
Enough affordable housing can only occur by government subsidies not by mandates. The best way to accomplish this would be for the developer and government agency to sign a long-term contract for lower rent in return for a rent subsidy. The government could also go back to giving direct rent vouchers to individuals.
There must be an openness to allow accessory units, more multi family and government subsidies for those that cannot afford housing. If we continue to say NIMBY to projects, the housing crisis will become worse. And that is not a recipe for people to afford a decent home of their own.