In response to this post at The Atlantic Cities, a commenter objects:
[Y]our suggested remedies are housing subsidies, protections against evictions due to rising rents, and an end to caps on housing construction. In cities like Milwaukee or Kansas City (or St. Louis, Omaha, etc) those don’t match up with any problems in the local housing market.
The media’s obsession with gentrification to the exclusion of all other housing issues has a number of consequences, ranging from annoying to pernicious, but one of the worst is a widespread belief that New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, and so on have one set of housing problems, and everybody else has a completely different set.
This is not, in fact, the case. In fact, nearly every metropolitan area in the country has these two problems: A) Zoning prohibits new construction in relatively nice neighborhoods, meaning prices are artificially high, which forces people either to live in less-nice neighborhoods with more crime, worse schools, etc., or build new houses on farm/desert land with worse access to the actual city, and B) A big chunk of people can’t actually afford to pay the market price for housing almost anywhere. This leads to problem C), which is economic segregation, which has various disastrous effects on the opportunities people have to lead the kinds of lives they would like to lead.
What is special about New York, Washington, etc., is the fact that the geography of their economic segregation is changing, and changing quite rapidly. But the underlying housing dynamics that cause segregation are quite similar. Remember that the vast majority of American neighborhoods where prices are higher than they should be as a result of restrictions on new building look much more like this:
…than like this:
Why are there no apartment buildings in your standard affluent single-family-home neighborhood, common in metro areas from Chicago to Kansas City to New York to Memphis? Not because people don’t want to live in them. Not because you couldn’t make money by building them. They don’t exist because they’re illegal.
This is not a secret. In approximately 90 seconds of Googling for news stories about very minor zoning debates in cities I know almost nothing about, I found these two reports about people shooting down proposed apartment complexes in their Kansas City area neighborhoods, plus this homeowners’ association Facebook page, which prominently announces its belief that apartment construction in their area should (continue to) be illegal. Here’s another story from Tampa Bay. Here’s another from south suburban Boston.
It’s also not a secret that the result of these sorts of policies is that people are separated by their level of income into different neighborhoods, with different levels of access to jobs, transportation, grocery stores, schools, and safety. Because housing policy is rotten all over the place, the list of the cities where economic segregation is worst – and where economic segregation is growing fastest – is not remotely limited to coastal cities with hipster cache. To wit:
It’s not a secret, but we don’t talk about it, because instead we think it is more interesting to talk about gentrification, which involves people in the social circles of the people who do most of the writing about things on the Internet. This is not to say that gentrification isn’t a legitimate topic – it is, it’s important, it’s interesting, I’ve obviously written about it a decent amount – but it needs to be put in context. Namely, economic segregation. Namely, the housing policies we’ve adopted nationwide that don’t just condone segregation, but give it the force of law.
And they exist in your city whether you live in Park Slope, NY or Overland Park, KS.