Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Can We Afford "Smart Growth?"

A new UW study of Seattle housing prices says "No":
Between 1989 and 2006, the median inflation-adjusted price of a Seattle house rose from $221,000 to $447,800. Fully $200,000 of that increase was the result of land-use regulations, says Theo Eicher — twice the financial impact that regulation has had on other major U.S. cities.
What land-use regulations you say?
A key regulation is the state's Growth Management Act, enacted in 1990 in response to widespread public concern that sprawl could destroy the area's unique character. To preserve it, the act promoted restrictions on where housing can be built. The result is artificial density that has driven up home prices by limiting supply, Eicher says.
And who is it that pushes for these onerous regulations?
According to the Wharton study, cities such as Seattle that have high median incomes, high home prices and a large percentage of college-educated workers tend to have the most land-use regulations.

Sjoblom says that makes sense: "People with higher incomes want the kind of amenities that regulation provides," he says. "If you're a homeowner and growth controls are imposed and housing prices shoot up, you're grandfathered because you own the place. In theory people will say it's [rising prices] a bad thing, but in practice it's not hurting them."


In the final analysis, Eicher believes Seattle's regulatory climate exists because its residents want it. "My sense is land-use restrictions are imposed to generate socially desirable outcomes," he says. "We all love parks and green spaces. But we must also be informed about the costs. It's very easy to vote for a park if you think the cost is free."
Ah, now I see. The same old unholy alliance of left-wing no-growthers and selfish NIMBYists.

Pullman suffers from the same sort of problem as Seattle does to a lesser extent: artificially high home prices created by regulations created by snobby eltitists. For example, the PARDners say they want affordable housing while at the same time pressing for even more restrictive land use regulations. And let's not forget Cheryl Morgan and the League of Women Voters who also work to do everything they can to make development more difficult in Pullman.

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