Monday, October 10, 2005

Affordable Housing: The Beginning of Wisdom in Lynchburg

The bulk of the poor people in the Lychburg region live in the city of Lynchburg, observes an editorial in today's News & Advance. One prominent reason, the editorial notes, is the practice of exclusionary zoning, such as large minimum lot sizes, that make it difficult to build affordable housing in surrounding counties.

Some localities require developers to build a certain percentage of affordable homes in their subdivisions and housing projects. Of course, that imposes one layer of regulation upon another. A good starting point, the newspaper suggests, would be to take "a hard look at the impacts of zoning."

The next questions the News & Advance needs to ask are these: What is the impact of large-lot zoning on the cost of providing urban-level services to county residents? What impact does such zoning have on the cost of maintaining the transportation network? And, most importantly, to what extent do homeowners pay a hidden cost for scattered, disconnected, low-density development in the form of longer drives and higher automobile operating costs?


At 8:39 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

How is the cost of longer drives and higher auto costs hidden? Economic studies have shown time and again that the costs people accept in these areas are perfectly rational given the costs they avoid in terms of more expensive or less desirable housing.

some people argue that this is only because driving costs are not fairly allocated, but again this has been studied. Even if all the non-markets costs are allocated against auto travel two things appear to be true. Auto users do pay a higher cost of travel, but then they also have a mode that is superior in convenience, flexibility, comfort, and even speed. It is also true that auto users pay a higher proportion of their costs than other modes. In addition they frequently pay a gooed portion of the costs for other modes.

If you attack zoning by reducing the allowable lot sizes, then more lots at lower prices will be available farther from the center. More lots will also be available near the center, but not as many (pi r squared). This does nothing to prevent scattered development. But if zoning at high density is to be allowed in some areas and not in others, you have a situation where either you must mandate certain behaviors or you must incentivize certain behaviors.

No one knows what the relative costs of one set of choices are vs another over any reasonable amount of time.


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