Affordable Housing Thread

This is such a complex topic, relating also to homelessness, and I hope to have links to articles, while also making this a space to discuss the topic. The goal is to gain a better understanding and identifying effective solutions. Here’s a twitter thread about how YIMBY’s (Yes in My Backyard)–people who support building more housing units in their communities can create the impression that they’re pro-landlord and pro-developer, and how this can turn others off because of strong anti-landlord and anti-developer feelings.

16 thoughts on “Affordable Housing Thread

  1. Why Tokyo is the land of rising home construction but not prices

    I recommend reading this Financial Times article about housing in Tokyo. The article supports the belief that increasing housing supply is crucial to controlling housing costs. It seems obvious and undeniable, yet discussions about affordable housing often seems centered on price control type of solutions–either the government providing housing with lower market rates or requiring developers to do so. The article suggests that a better solution is increasing the number of housing units.

    However, there are problems and costs to that, as the article points to. In Japan, landowners have a lot of freedom to build whatever they want on their land. In the article, someone builds a multi-story apartment next to the author’s home. The article also mentions that the cities look ugly.

    If increasing the housing supply is the solution to controlling housing costs, what the article suggests is that the next biggest problem is determining the way this will take place. Specifically, where will the new housing supply be built? What’s the criteria and process for doing this? Will there any be restrictions and who will decide this?

    My sense is that the people perceive the building of more housing–in their community–as something that is, on balance, largely negative. This can be seen by the common Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) response by people when new development is proposed in their community.

    How do you deal with this–specifically the concerns and complains that people bring up? One answer seems to be a variety of zoning and regulation that addresses these concerns. For example, height restrictions and parking requirements imposed on developers are ways to address concerns about aesthetics and transportation. But these type of requirements seem to limit or slow the housing supply. Another solution could involve incentives or compensation to people in communities that build more housing. Off the top of my head, for example, maybe lower taxes on homes could be given to these communities.

    Japan’s solution seems to be an interesting one. In essence, everyone has the potential to bear the burden of increased housing at any time. Landowners, small and large, can also reap financial benefits as well. I’m skeptical that Americans would tolerate this approach, though.

  2. Column
    Health Beat: Bring Back The Mental Hospitals
    Most of them were shut down in favor of community-based services, but that has proven to be a colossal failure.

    By Kathleen Kozak / About 18 hours ago
    I recently saw one of my former patients walking by Ala Moana Beach Park talking to herself, or to the voices she heard in her head.

    She was 55 the last time I saw her, living on the streets, never wanting to reveal her exact locale. She hadn’t come to the office in the past three years before that, and did not have a current address.

    When she was medicated by her psychiatrist, she would usually go to a shelter, and seem to be okay for a while. But part of her mental illness was so tied to hearing the voices that she would be upset when they were gone, which lead to her frequent relapses into worsening schizophrenia as soon as she stopped taking her medication regularly.

    Welcome sign to the Hawaii State Hospital located in Kaneohe. Hawaii. 24 nov 2014. photo Cory Lum
    We need more facilities like the Hawaii State Hospital in Kaneohe, where almost all the patients are placed by court order after getting in trouble with the law.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat
    She was never a danger to herself or to society, so she wasn’t kept in a mental institution. But that didn’t leave her many options.

    She wasn’t able to work, and couldn’t afford to get an apartment on her own. She didn’t have a permanent address, and that made it hard for her to collect her disability income on a regular basis. She didn’t want to stay in a shelter and wasn’t willing or able to follow the rules that were required.

    So where could she go?

    The days of locking such people up ended when President Ronald Reagan signed the Ominbus Budget Reconciliation Act in 1987 that ended the federal government’s role in the institutionalized care of the mentally ill.

    Block grants were given to the states, and the days of the “asylum” were over. Thousands of people were released into society as mental hospitals closed, with the focus on community-based care, rather than institutionalization.

    It may have seemed like a more humane way to treat the mentally ill, but was it?

  3. San Francisco elected a pro-housing mayor. Now what?

    This Medium piece gives several suggestions that address affordable housing, mainly by building more housing of all types. Obviously, the problems and suggestions may not be the same in Honolulu, but certain sections create the impression that similarities exist between the two cities. The Mayor and the person writing the piece seem to believe that housing shortage leads to increased housing prices, and I assume that’s true here as well.

  4. My sense is that high cost of housing is largely a supply-demand problem–namely, there is a lack of supply. Warren seems to agree, but her solution seems to rely on government for increasing the supply. That ideal doesn’t appeal to me, although I’m not completely closed to it. Tweaking incentives and removing disincentives for developers to increase the housing stock appeals to me more.

  5. The Great Housing Debate: A Profusion of Panaceas from Governing magazine.

    The author goes through a series of measures that have not been panaceas. The most promising solution he offers?

    I think it leads us to what Scott Wiener and other California legislators have been trying to do for the last several years, without success so far. That is to encourage density, even tall apartment buildings, within as much as a half-mile of transit stations. This legislation has been through several versions, and all of them would permit multi-unit buildings in some single-family neighborhoods, but the truth is that in most cities (not all) there is plenty of commercially zoned land that could absorb most of the density — vacant parcels, parking lots, abandoned strip malls, warehouses — land that is not offering what tax lawyers call “highest and best use.”

    Taking full advantage of this property would require taxing it at rates high enough to incentivize the owners either to build residential units on it or sell it to someone who would.

    He’s not sure whether higher taxation on these types properties would be able to become reality, but he does feel his suggestions provides a path to significant increase in the housing supply. (I think he agrees that lack of supply is the main problem for high housing costs.)

  6. The Homeownership Society Was a Mistake from theAtlantic’s Jerusalem Demsas.

    While the article primarily lays out the problems with making home ownership a goal, as well as using homes as primary way for building wealth, it also is closely related to affordable housing. The question below really lays this out well:

    How do we ensure that housing is both appreciating in value for homeowners but cheap enough for all would-be homeowners to buy in? We can’t.

  7. Can 3-D Printing Help Solve the Housing Crisis? from the New Yorker

    The primary role 3D printer plays in constructing a house.

    it is largely used to construct walls, while conventional methods are used for foundations, floors, roofs, and finishes. But walls are among the most costly and labor-intensive aspects of home-building, and, in the majority of newly built U.S. homes, they’re likely to be made out of drywall panels mounted on wooden frames. Though drywall is easy to produce and relatively inexpensive, it takes a while to install, is not particularly sturdy, and is susceptible to mold. 3-D-printing advocates argue that rethinking our walls is a step toward building cheaper, more resilient houses.

    3-D printing quickly emerged as the most alluring option. It used technology to automate and speed up building, but it also allowed much more design freedom than techniques that relied on prefabricated materials. A printer could erect thick walls with relative ease, and that made the resulting buildings more energy-efficient and structurally sound. Concrete wasn’t particularly vulnerable to mold, and the printing process created much less waste than standard building did. Although making concrete is carbon-intensive—cement manufacturing is responsible for some eight per cent of global CO2 emissions—Ballard came to believe that it was his best option. “If you replace all that concrete with lumber, replace it with plastics, it’s much more ecologically devastating,” he said. “Wood is lovely, but it’s a conductor of heat, so you spend all this money and time insulating it,” he went on. “It wants to rot, it wants to catch fire, it wants to be termite food. There are a lot of first-principles reasons that, if an alien showed up and you asked it what would be the better building material, the concrete or the wood, it’s for sure the concrete. We’ve got bridges that stand in salt water for a hundred years—they’re made of concrete. We’ve got concrete domes in Rome that have been there for a thousand years.”

    Red flag (See pattern language on convex/concave walls.)

    It was as easy to print a curved line as a straight one, so why force the material into right angles? He liked to scroll through the sinuous imaginary structures people made using such A.I. art programs as Dall-E and Midjourney. “The world doesn’t want boxes,” he told me. “That’s not what’s in the human heart.”

    This. This is the really the bigger issue:

    But Schuetz, of the Brookings Institution, is skeptical that new technologies will get us there. “People are trying to come up with technical fixes to what is fundamentally a political problem. There are a lot of deep-seated reasons why people oppose housing well before you get to, How are we going to physically construct this thing? And there’s no technology that’s going to fix the politics.”

    This is not to say 3D printing won’t play an important role in addressing the housing shortage. It could. But I think the political questions are the bigger issue. (Note: The details about the technology and challenges involved are interesting and the article is worth reading.)

  8. Hawaii Gov Takes Dramatic Action To Solve Housing Crisis. But Is He Going Too Far? from Civilbeat

    “Too far,” in this case, refers to issuing an executive order that will give “the governor broad power to suspend laws that impede a response to emergencies such as natural disasters or the coronavirus pandemic.” Governor Green equates the housing shortage to an emergency. I won’t go through the numbers, but I’m sympathetic to line of this, especially without any viable alternates to increase the housing stock.

    Here are some responses to the Governor’s proposal:

    Governor’s Housing Proclamation Draws Skeptical Response From Oahu Officials from Civilbeat

    I’ll try to come back and add my own comments to this proposal.

    1. Here are some of my comments on this recent news.

      The perfect balance between important, but competing goals doesn’t exist.

      First, I understand the concerns that this order will not provide sufficient environmental and cultural safeguards, but when attempting to balance two important but competing goals–especially ones that are broad–will likely result in compromises on one or both sides that will disappoint or even cause some degree of pain and hardship. In this case, this means that either not enough housing will be constructed or building will have some deleterious effects on the environment and cultural artifacts. In my opinion, expecting a “perfect balance” is unreasonable, and untenable.

      I don’t think we can avoid some level of corruption and unfairness

      In this process, I would expect that developers, politicians, wealthy individuals, and businesses (including banks) would likely profit significantly from this. Not only that, but I would expect the government to accommodate their interests to a greater degree than those with less influence. Is this is a good thing? Absolutely not. It is unfair and even corrupt.

      At the same time, significantly more housing can be built, including housing that is designed to be more affordable, my sense is that the public should view the Governor’s move as a win. To put it another way: we should not view the Governor’s order as a failure or corrupt act simply because individuals and businesses profit from it–unless one can show a way to significantly increase housing stock that eschews profits and other favorable treatment for influential and wealthy groups.

      Third, having said all this, I do think there are lines that the Governor shouldn’t cross. That is, he can do things that are too corrupt or unfair. However, I think it can be difficult to determine where those lines are–particularly if we significantly increase the housing stock.

      Do I support the Governor’s position?

      Third, going back to the balancing act above, my sense is that the housing side of this equation has suffered more. That suffering has taken the literal form of homelessness, and reluctant exodus of many long-time Hawai’i residents.

      Because of this, I view the Governor’s move in a positive light. Whether he succeeds in execution is another matter. And that brings me to another point–namely, probably the most difficult problem for the Governor will be NIMBY-ism–i.e., an attitude of “not-in-my-backyard.” Where will the Governor (and developers) build these units? My sense is that in other states NIMBY-ism is the biggest obstacle to increasing the housing stock, and I’m expecting the same in Hawai’i.

      Some possible solutions around NIMBY-ism

      I’m not sure about the feasibility or efficacy of the following idea, but it’s something that came to mind: build residential units on or above existing shopping centers–especially near transit stops. This will be boon to the businesses in this area, as well as the owners of the property. Building units here may get less resistance from residence if they’re far enough away from homes.

      If this is done around transit stops, it could spur transit oriented development, which I support. Greater density around transit stops can decrease the reliance and need for personal vehicles and reduce the use of the latter. That’s a good thing. It could also help increase local economic activity.

      What’s also really important is the design and amenities in these areas–not just simply building housing units–e.g., attractive and safe sidewalks/pathways to desirable destinations, including housing.

      I’m probably being unrealistic, but if this could happen, I think this could not only addressing housing costs and homelessness, but it could also make the rail more viable, as well as address other issues.

  9. Without clearly knowing what steps Governor “tried” prior to the emergency proclamation, it’s tough to say if I’m in favor or against him in this instance. For example, did he try to pass any laws in this session to remove barriers to build more housing prior to declaring the emergency proclamation?

    That being said though, my thoughts are Hawaii should really try to build “Ultra-Affordable” housing or rental units that would be less than $1000 to rent. In Hong Kong, there are apartments that are less than 100 square feet (size of a 10×10 bedroom) which includes bathrooms and kitchens. I’m not saying we go that far, but what about rentals with communal showers, ovens and laundry that are about 150 square feet or less if possible. Units would have toilets and a small kitchen with a hotplate, refrigerator and sink, with no ovens, or units with a shower that are about 175 square feet. These type of apartment buildings can only work if they are good common areas nearby or in very walkable communities as Reid as stated numerous times. For example, the Kakaako/Ward area would be ideal in terms of what is currently nearby and what is being developed, however this area is too costly to be “affordable”. Do something similar in the more suburban or urban areas and I think even small rentals units can attract residents.

    Of course, the biggest obstacle is money. And I think it’s not so much the cost of building said community/ultra-affordable units, but developers would rather build a Koa Ridge, which would probably bring in much more money with way less risk. It would almost take an act of charity to get these types of affordable places built and yes throw in NIMBY and it seems almost impossible.

  10. Don,

    For example, did he try to pass any laws in this session to remove barriers to build more housing prior to declaring the emergency proclamation?

    You want to know if he exhausted or tried other means to address the problem, before resorting to declaring emergency? If he did, you would be more supportive; if he didn’t, you wouldn’t?

    I can definitely understand feeling this way, and I do have concerns about suspending review processes and other constraints–especially for a situation which doesn’t clearly fit a more common definition of an emergency.

    However, I think if the Governor attempted more conventional means to build these units, the process would take a really long time, and/or he wouldn’t succeed at building more units, affordable or not.

    And by the way, it’s important to distinguish between residential units and affordable (residential) units. The latter involves some state intervention, versus strictly market forces, to make housing costs affordable.

    I’m not opposed to building units like this, per se, but I tend to think high housing costs stem from lack of supply–i.e., low supply leads to high cost. I’m skeptical that government subsidizing rent or artificially keeping housing costs low (for some housing units) would solve the problem–not without other deleterious effects on the economy. I feel like the best solution is to build more residential units.

    I’m not saying we go that far, but what about rentals with communal showers, ovens and laundry that are about 150 square feet or less if possible.

    Here, you’re suggesting the housing costs/rent will be relatively low due to communal showers, etc. instead of providing these amenities in every private unit? In other words, the housing costs would be low due to market forces, not some government intervention.

    I would be open to this, In general, I think we just need more residential units–and we need different types of units that will meet different needs (e.g., single people willing to live in studios, families, etc.) How many people do you think would choose to live this way? It almost seems like someone would only choose this as a last resort.

    Of course, the biggest obstacle is money. And I think it’s not so much the cost of building said community/ultra-affordable units, but developers would rather build a Koa Ridge, which would probably bring in much more money with way less risk.

    My sense is that bureaucratic red tape is what makes building costly and unattractive–or at least these are big factors. If the Governor can remove these obstacles, developers might be more attractive.

    Also, from reading about this problem in other states, the main obstacle is NIMBY-ism.

  11. Hawaii Governor Is Changing Course On His Sweeping Housing Order from Civilbeat

    “I don’t think war over process is going to help anybody,” Green said in an interview. “I actually think we need to build housing for people.”

    The new proclamation will restore environmental review and historic preservation laws and give back power to a state-level zoning authority. Perhaps most important, it will allow public testimony before a working group established to review and certify housing construction.

    Some comments:

    1. The Governor wants to build more housing, but I think we need to increase the rate of expanding housing units. I think this is a crucial point–and it’s probably the point of contention between people like the Governor and those who criticized his move to waive or limit review processes. We can build more housing, but if the rate lags far behind the need, I don’t see how that addresses the problem.

    2. There needs to be safeguards for the environment and means to respect and account for Native Hawaiian cultural concerns. But there are also tradeoffs that need to be made–with the rate of building housing units, on one side, and these environmental and cultural concerns on the other. Generally, accommodating one side leads to some compromise on the other.

    The question is, what side should have the higher priority?

    3. Overall, my sense is that this move means that the rate of adding more housing units won’t significantly or adequately increase. But if this occurs, the Governor may be in a better position to invoke emergency powers.

  12. If housing costs are high because a lack of supply, here’s a tax proposal that could increase the housing stock. The NYT had a long piece on land value tax, discussing how this came out of Georgism. The land value tax, versus property tax, taxes only land, not the buildings on the land. This would encourage land owners to develop the land and discourage land speculation.

    The video below provides a shorter explanation than the NYT article:

    To what degree does land speculation hurt the housing supply in Hawai’i? I’m not sure about the answer to that. I would guess this is not the major problem, so this type of tax might not be the answer for states like Hawai’i.

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