Thursday, May 31, 2012

Home is Where the Heart Is

A Typical California Land Abuser
In last week’s newgeography (HERE) Wendell Cox pointed out that a survey taken by TD Bank (HERE) found that 84% of 18 to 34 year olds want to own their own home, and since that dream is impossible in most urban markets, that also means they want to move to and/or live in the suburbs. That crying you hear are the true-believers who honestly believe that the world will come to an end if we continue in our profligate suburban adventures. These crybabies currently run the California senate and assembly and have brought us all the fun laws such as SB 375 et all. This law is an attempt to push housing (i.e. Californians) into denser and denser neighborhoods, thus justifying fears about sprawl, inefficient mass transit, and air pollution. How any of these can be deflected by passing a law without forcing the costs of growth to rise is a head-scratcher.

Housing should not be an experiment. California cities and counties for almost a hundred years have been doing a reasonable job of managing growth and development. With very few exceptions they have dealt with the changes and the demands that success has forced on them by a growing population, delightful climate, energetic citizens and innovative companies. Now the state wants to have its say. And it’s scary.

While the current housing market is troubled, it is only temporary. The housing overhang is reducing and there is an obvious shift in choices by the residents, but you cannot allow the graph curve to drive long term policy. While apartments are currently in demand – that won’t be forever. Just like single family housing that was overbuilt for any number of real or imagined reasons, the curve will change. Markets are funny that way. But to pass laws based on a spot on a graph curve is just plain wrong. That means at some point later, on the same curve, another law will need to be passed to correct the earlier mistake. But then again that’s what politics is all about, I guess.

I have seen reports that the younger citizens want apartments and then they don’t, they want to live in the cities and then they don’t, they are staying single and they’re not. Mortgages scare them and they don’t. The Baby Boomers are moving out and no one can afford their homes, huge crises. Boomers are staying put and putting a strain on housing availability. Apartment prices are climbing and so are rents, then again fifty miles away they are not. The younger generation, in small towns, is leaving but then again when was that a new concept? To think you can lay a blanket of law over all this is not just foolish, but expensively foolish.

Growth is critical to small towns even when they fight it. A community cannot age in place like its residents; it must continue to reinvigorate itself. We all share in the benefits that our communities develop, theaters, libraries, farmers markets, street fairs, organized sports for kids and adults, senior facilities and the like. But the community must continue to evolve and accept changes in the marketplace. When the all-knowing state government comes in to make you change to their idea of Utopia, then we all have problems. Who does the community need to please – the state or the local resident? It also means that these state planners have too much time, staff, and money on their hands. A small step toward a more balanced budget?

Stay Tuned . . . .

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