Roosevelt and TOD: Time to get rational on density and affordability

It’s getting kind of, well, ridiculous. I understand that people can be afraid of density because it represents change. I understand that lots more people moving in can create a level of discomfort. I also won’t go into all the well proven benefits, broadly, of dense urban development over sprawl. But when I read the kind of comments being made by elected officials these days about density it makes my head hurt. Here’s the latest in the seemingly endless discussion over Roosevelt in Publicola:

Clark responded that she worries that neighborhoods will end up “derelict and underused” if the city approves too much density and no one moves in, and Burgess responded by citing Barcelona, where existing residences and businesses have been preserved while density has increased around them. Clark responded: “Maybe we can apply to the European Union,” she said. “Private-property interests complicate our world.”

Owwwww! I can’t stand it. So we’re going to intervene in the market place to ensure that new development doesn’t end up “derelict and underused.” Please, think for a second. Let’s say that happened. What would the price of those “derelict” units be? Let me go back to supply and demand 101. If the developers over build around light rail and nobody shows up, the price of those units will drop. I promise. I do.

On the other hand, we can keep larding up our code with all kinds of limits to the supply of new housing. Lower supply, increasing or steady demand, and then you have “unaffordable housing.” Why is this basic and iron clad rule of economics so hard to understand. I’m a philosophy major! Even I get this.

I have plenty of hair on my head, but I won’t for long if the City Council can’t get their basic economics straight. Developers will not overbuild transit areas if there is not market for the housing. They won’t. The banks won’t loan them the money. That would be stupid. But let’s say they goof up and over build. The price of housing will fall. For crying out loud folks, it’s pretty straightforward. More housing, office, and retail around transit means we can sustainably acomodate growth that is still happening in our city and region. If the people don’t come, and we have an over supply of housing, SHAZAM, we’ve just solved our affordable housing “crisis.”

And the main “private property interests” that are problematic are the interests of single family home owners who’s own property values stay high because of the lack of new housing supply. The only people who benefit from the attenuation of housing supply are current homeowners. Why aren’t their any tinfoil hat conspiracy theories about that narrow economic interest?

Good lord people. Let’s get with it.

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18 Responses to Roosevelt and TOD: Time to get rational on density and affordability

  1. Mark S Johnson says:

    I think you might be missing the point, despite a clear grasp of how banks and dveelopers behave. Not to put words in Councilmenber Clark’s mouth, but if the supply of land that can be developed for dense housing is too high, there is a greater risk that the developer will end up holding the bag, i.e. looking at an oversupply of housing in a given location and having to drop rents or sales prices to a level that is not profitable. The concern is that that the additional risk of oversupply will deter investors from building, and leave them waiting around for the market to strengthen. It happens all the time.

    What if the projected demand for housing was something like the “targets” set in the Comp Plan?(They are based on a broad, albeit arbitrary, distribution of actual population growth expected by OFM, so why not?) The existing capacity in Roosevelt is several times that target, so two or three projects could fill the demand for 20 years. If those projects are three blocks from the station, what kind of demand is there going to be for housing at the station site once it is available to be developed?

    I know it is hard to think about, but there can actually be some downsides to upzones.

  2. To start with, . , I’m not sure why you keep saying people are afraid of density (this time) because it represents change. When a demand is made to make change, and Roosevelt steps forward and does so, but then outsiders step in and say “No, you have to change this way,” We object, we don’t fear. If someone came and removed all of your furniture and said you had to make do with these 4 folding chairs from now on, would you object?
    We know the scope of the plans RDG and Hugh Sisely have in mind. But theirs is not the neighborhood plan, a plan that benefits everyone. They didn’t partake in the years of planning. Several people on lots near the transit station would like to more forward with developments but not at the risk of some carpetbaggers whose only interest is to make a killing and then move on to the next transit station.
    There are zoning laws for a reason, except in Huston, and the jury is out on the wisdom of that. Of course Texas has a lot of land.
    I’m not a believer that dense development anywhere prevents urban sprawl. People don’t move to North Bend because there are no houses in Roosevelt. I’m also not convinced that “affordable housing” it the god of all goals. I think private property interests are important. That a few who are not from here agree with you doesn’t surprise me. That many who live in the Roosevelt area don’t agree with you doesn’t surprise me either. And there is a disparity of numbers which tells the tale.

  3. Matthew 'Anc' Johnson says:

    “I’m not a believer that dense development anywhere prevents urban sprawl. People don’t move to North Bend because there are no houses in Roosevelt.”

    That’s b/c you aren’t thinking it through. There aren’t only two people and two houses in the region. What you are talking about is someone like me, who would like to live in Seattle, but b/c there isn’t enough housing stock is forced to live in suburban Bellevue* (and have 5 roommates). Which means that the person who would like to live in Bellevue but can’t is forced to live in Issaquah, and then the person who wants to live in Issaquah but can’t is then forced to live up in Snoqualmie Ridge….

    *this is for illustration purposes only, I don’t actually live on 123rd Ave in Bellevue anymore, in order to save up the money to get a place in Seattle I decided to change MOSes (Military Occupational Specialty, basically job) to one that deployed much more often (between not paying taxes, Hostile Fire Pay, Hazard Duty Pay, and Family Separation Pay, deployments are where the money is at) my family had to move to Ft. Bragg North Carolina. But that is where we did live.

  4. Matthew, I understand MOS’s. There aren’t only two people and two houses anywhere anymore. I’m talking about reality. There are reasons people make decisions about where they want to live and for the most part they are a combination of things. I told my kids for years to get a job and then live near the location you have to be at, when you work. They don’t always take my advice.
    The reality is that people get to choose where they live and in doing so they drive what builders build. Hence the sprawl. People for the most part want some land. For the most part they don’t want common walls. They also don’t want to spend more money than they have. There are tough choices to make. Your 6 plex arrangement might be your choice, but it’s not mine. From your viewpoint you might feel you are in the majority. I have my opinion. I have thought it through for 66 years now and I’m thinking into the future. When are you moving your family into the 6 plex?

    • Matthew 'Anc' Johnson says:

      I agree that people make decisions for multiple reasons, what I am saying is that such decisions are constrained by the options available (and altered by subsidies). When you prohibit or heavily constrain people from living in Area A, so they instead live in Area B, you can’t then turn around and say ‘SEE! People want to live in Area B!.’

      All myself and others want is for people to have the OPTION of living in urban settings. No one is forcing anyone into Irony of Fate style blocks.

      As to when I’m moving, well I don’t get out until April 18, 2012 (279 more days, not that anyone is counting) but my wife will be moving back next Sunday (I deploy to Afghanistan Saturday). At first she’s going to live with her brother in Burien, but depending on how her job search goes we are looking at moving to the Rainier Valley, hopefully to the Station at Othello.

    • Alex Broner says:

      Glenn, to clarify: some people REALLY want to live in suburban style living and will do so if they can even remotely afford to. Some people REALLY want to live in urban style living and will do so if they can remotely afford to. But there is a middle group who could go either way, depending on the relative prices of the options available to them. This “swing” is much more responsive to price than the other two. If we constrict the supply of urban housing then urban housing will cost more and fewer people will purchase it. Conversely, if urban housing supply is relatively unconstrained then supply will expand and housing will cost less and more people will purchase it.

      If you want to know more, here’s a brief explanation of marginal thinking in economics.
      http://economics.about.com/od/informationforbeginners/a/marginal_analysis.htm

      • Alex, of course people choose where they want to live. That is not an economic theory. That is reality. And why are New York, Boston and San Francisco so densely populated? Not because people built cheap housing there so that everyone could afford to live there. They are densely populated because the high paying jobs are there, the commute is so costly in time and the parking so costly in dollars. And why is Detroit so sparsely populated? Because the jobs aren’t there anymore.
        Let’s stop making the commute so darn easy. Let’s toll I-5, I-90 and others. Let’s be No. 1 in downtown parking costs. Let’s do that when we have our public transit figured out and operating.
        The solution is not to make it cheap so people live here so that jobs are created. The construction jobs will soon run out. But, by limiting housing, values rise, those who can afford to, live close in, those who can’t need to commute. Density will occur naturally when the land is so valuable that each acre requires 20-50 units to justify the cost. Building 30 units per acre because of what might happen in the future is a ludicrous idea.
        High paying jobs are what is driving Seattle’s economy.
        High paying jobs drive Seattle’s economy. Living here is a reward for working hard and

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        “Living here is a reward for working hard” I’ve never heard the NIMBY argument more succinctly written. I deserve to live here, you don’t. Want to live in Seattle? Buy my expensive house from me, or go away.

        I think you’ll find that this line of thinking puts Seattle in more danger than anything else. Want people to stop living and working in Seattle? Your wish is being granted.

  5. I don’t, but I could say I want to live at Hunts Point or Medina. Does that mean there should be affordable housing there, or a subsidy so I can live in a waterfront home on say, ½ acre? Because you want to live in a high density area doesn’t mean that everyone does, or that it is a better choice. Good luck in Afghanistan and thank you for your service. The time will fly by.

    • Matthew 'Anc' Johnson says:

      First off, asking to ease prohibitions is not the same thing as asking for a subsidy. Again, most people here aren’t asking for subsidies to live where we want to live, we are only asking that the option be available. Right now the government is restricting urban living and subsidizing suburban.

      Secondly, I would argue that higher density living IS a better choice. Less energy use, less pollution, higher economic output, people are healthier, etc.

      And thanks, can’t wait for this odyssey to be over and back in Seattle!

  6. Charles says:

    I have three words for this idiocy:

    BURIEN TOWN SQUARE.

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