How Did Housing Become So Expensive?

The site of a planned twin-tower 45-story new apartment development in Seattle’s Denny Triangle neighborhood, as seen in Feb. 2018, near Amazon.com’s headquarters in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

From San Francisco, to Seattle, to San Antonio — we’re looking at the crisis of affordability in the country’s hottest housing markets.

Paul Roberts, journalist who covers technology, economics, business, and “social disruption.” (@Pauledroberts)

Elizabeth Greenspan, writer and urban anthropologist who regularly covers cities, architecture and real estate for The New Yorker and ARCHITECT magazine. Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Urban Studies program and senior researcher at the School of Design. (@lizgreenspan)

Carol Galante, professor of affordable housing and urban policy, University of California – Berkeley. Faculty director of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation. (@carolgalante4)

From The Reading List:

Politico Magazine: ‘My Generation Is Never Going to Have That’ – “Seattle’s red-hot tech economy, led by companies such as Amazon and Groupon (where Lubarsky works), has filled the city with an army of well-paid workers bidding up the price of housing. But that tech-fueled demand has tended to overshadow the other driver: insufficient supply. Since the end of the financial crisis, Lubarsky says, Seattle has added roughly 100,000 jobs, but barely 32,000 new homes and apartment units. ‘We’ve underbuilt every year since 2010,’ he adds. And a big part of that deficit, Lubarsky says, is due to neighborhoods like Wallingford, where zoning laws make it almost impossible to build anything other than a single-family house.

“Yet like so many newcomers to Seattle, Lubarsky quickly discovered that, in housing, at least, the market was actually ignoring a lot of problems. That failure was most obvious for the city’s many low-income residents, who simply couldn’t afford to pay what private developers need to profitably build housing in the city. (The Seattle area, the nation’s 22nd largest by population, has the third most homeless people, behind only Los Angeles and New York City.) If Economics 101 insisted that ‘everything is supply and demand and you have these curves and it’s done,’ Lubarsky says, Seattle’s housing crisis forced him to acknowledge ‘the people who are below the curve,’ those for whom textbook economic principles aren’t translating into living wages. When the city ran a $290 million levy for subsidized housing, in 2015, Lubarsky volunteered for the campaign.”

The high metabolism, high tech industries that have helped many major metro areas soar have also hit the people who live and work there hard. Housing is often unavailable – and often unaffordable – for many longtime residents and newcomers alike. We’ll hear about proposals for radical rethinking of urban planning policies – and new digital tools offered to help.

This hour, On Point: Hot-house economies, red-hot housing markets, and a lot of households in the red.

– David Folkenflik

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