Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Monday, May 15, 2006

"Smart Growth" and the Law of Unintended Consequences

The "Eye on Olympia" blog reports that the Washington State Association of Realtors, using data from the WSU Center for Real Estate Research, said today that affordable housing in Washington is at a 15 year low. The statewide median home price during the first quarter of 2006 was 17.1% above the price a year ago.

The first-time buyer Housing Affordability Index, where a score of 100 means a middle-income family can afford an average-priced home, has now shrunk to 54.3. A typical first-time home buyer could afford the typical starter home in only three counties during the third quarter of 2005, indicating affordability problems exist in all parts of Washington.

According to today's WCRER news release:
Terry Sullivan, 2006 President of Washington REALTORS® from Spokane County said, “Washington’s population centers continue to face markets with limited inventory available for sale and restricted opportunities for builders to profitably produce affordable homes for middle income households. These problems will make it difficult for Washington to compete for the new businesses necessary for our state to continue to prosper.”
In Whitman County, median home prices were up 13.2%. The first-time home buyer affordability index at 51.1. That's FIFTH WORSE out of Washington's 39 counties. Not only can young couples with children not afford to shop in Pullman, they can't afford to live here either. Once all the grumpy old NIMBYers die off, there won't be anyone left. Perhaps that's what all the greenies want after all.

The reason behind all the madness: Washington's Growth Management Act, intended to deter suburban sprawl in favor of high-density housing, has reduced the supply of housing while demand has increased resulting in sky-high prices. The WSAR plans to ask the legislature next year for some fixes.

A 2002 paper by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation looked at some possible fixes to the Growth Management Act, including:
Citizens who simply dislike the decisions reached by their elected representatives should take their concerns to the ballot box, rather than force compliance with their personal views on growth management through expensive litigation or the threat of invalidity. (Incidentally, a number of citizen groups are backed by larger environmental interests.) GMA land use decision making should be a local legislative process.

Forcing compliance with personal views through expensive litigation sure sounds familiar

A number of the broad planning goals of the GMA potentially conflict. For example, GMA’s affordable housing and economic development goals can be incompatible with preserving open space or preventing sprawl. This should come as no surprise, due to GMA’s original design as a broad planning framework, and its application both to counties struggling with the symptoms of rapid growth and to counties experiencing too little growth.

As the circumstances in Lewis, Mason, and Jefferson Counties illustrate, the Hearings Boards seem to take preservation of open space and prevention of sprawl far more seriously than economic development. This is completely inconsistent with the concepts of “bottomup” planning process and public participation. GMA’s goals are listed without any assignment of priority, leaving local governments with the responsibility of weighing and balancing their land use priorities. (Try explaining to the unemployed citizens of a rural county, with the vast majority of its land already preserved as open space, why strict rules against rural development are more important than finding jobs. Urban areas recruit businesses to create jobs, so why should rural areas be any different?)

Just say no to "smart growth" and all other liberal meddling with the free market.

No comments: