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Re-arranging Deck Chairs on the Housing Titanic

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

The Portland City Council wants to spend at least 30% of all urban renewal dollars on housing subsidies. Their concern is that skyrocketing home prices have made it difficult for lower-income families to live in the city.

Unfortunately, Council members are boxed in by their own ideology of urban planning. A central reason why housing is so expensive in Portland (and most other Oregon cities) is that the government has created an artificial shortage of homes through zoning and other types of land-use regulation.

A recent study by the Brookings Institution found this to be true on a national scale as well. The authors examined land-use polices among the nation’s 50 largest cities, and found that those cities with the least amount of zoning – Dallas, San Antonio and Houston – had the cheapest rents and the lowest home prices of all cities. Not only that, the three Texas regions had lower concentrations of poverty, higher home ownership rates, and larger concentrations of college graduates than cities with strict growth controls such as urban growth boundaries.

The Portland obsession with high-density, mixed-use development, with expensive mandates for union-scale wages and green building techniques, leads inevitably to higher-cost housing. This cannot be offset by requiring PDC to subsidize a handful of new housing projects. What’s needed is a wholesale re-thinking of Oregon’s elitist growth management philosophy.

John A. Charles, Jr. is president and CEO at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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