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Matthew Yglesias on progress in California
Avoiding hyperlocal decision-making
Matthew Yglesias explains how it's hyperlocal decision-making that blocks housing, and so pushing for change at the state level is a good way to make progress. For Canada, I think the clear implication is that it's the provincial governments - especially Ontario and BC - that have the power to unblock housing. (In BC, the Eby government is fully committed. I don't know about Ontario and the Ford government.)
California wrapped up an epic legislative session that should lead to transformative change in housing policy across the state. Laura Friedman’s AB 2097, signed into law by Gavin Newsom, ends parking mandates on parcels within a half mile of a transit stop throughout the state. Buffy Wicks’ AB 2011 is going to allow midrise residential construction on commercial corridors throughout the state leading to potentially over two million new units. They also passed a bill from longtime housing champion Scott Wiener preempting local authority to block California’s public colleges and universities from building student and faculty housing.
... People newer to the discourse probably don’t realize the extent to which this cause was considered hopeless just 10-15 years ago.
The people from whom I first learned the substance of the land use issue were basically defeatists. Their view was that exclusionary zoning was bad, and that it contributed to an affordability crisis and to segregation, but that it also had a deep and fundamental logic to it. Homeowners benefit from scarcity and strong local veto, homeowners care a lot about land use issues, and elected officials are highly responsive to homeowners — they saw exclusionary zoning as an essentially unavoidable fact about the world.
... What really led to bigger change, though, was a point that Yale Law School professor David Schleicher pressed on me and others during these early days — it matters where you do the politics. And in this case, it made more sense to take the fight to state legislatures rather than city councils.
The counsels of futility missed the fact that bad land use regulations aren’t a strict transfer from renters to homeowners. They also destroy an incredible amount of economic value by inhibiting capital formation, limiting agglomeration, and forcing all kinds of inefficiencies throughout the system. The gains to incumbent homeowners simply aren’t large enough for it to make sense for them to be able to block change.
The real issue is that the upsides to housing growth accrue across a city, a metro area, or even a state, while the nuisances of new construction (parking scarcity, traffic, aesthetic change) are incredibly local. So if you ask a very small area “do you want more housing or less?” a lot of people will say that they think the local harms exceed the local benefits, and the division will basically come down to aesthetic preference for more or less density. But if you ask a large area “do you want more housing or less?” the very same people with all the same values and ideas may come up with a different answer because they [get] a much larger share of the benefits.