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USA Real Estate Blog

New and Noteworthy: Randy Shaw’s Generation Priced Out

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In Generation Priced Out, housing activist Randy Shaw writes a book about the rent crisis for non-experts.  Shaw’s point of view is that of a left-wing YIMBY: that is, he favors allowing lots of new market-rate housing, but also favors a variety of less market-oriented policies to prevent displacement of low-income renters (such as rent control, and more generally policies that make it difficult to evict tenants).

What I liked most about this breezy, easy-to-read book is that it rebuts a wide variety of anti-housing arguments. For example, NIMBYs sometimes argue that new housing displaces affordable older housing. But Shaw shows that NIMBY homeowners oppose apartment buildings even when this is not the case; apartments built on parking lots and vacant lots are often controversial. For example, in Venice, California, NIMBYs opposed “building 136 supportive housing units for low-income people on an unsightly city-owned parking lot.”

NIMBYs may argue that new housing will always be for the rich. But Shaw cites numerous examples of NIMBYs opposing public housing for the poor as well as market-rate housing for the middle and upper classes.

NIMBYs also claim that they seek to protect their communities should be protected against skyscrapers or other unusually large buildings. But Shaw shows that NIMBYs have fought even the smallest apartment buildings. For example, in Berkeley, NIMBYs persuaded the city to reject a developer’s plan to add only three houses to a lot.

On the other hand, market urbanists may disagree with Shaw’s advocacy of a wide variety of policies that he refers to as “tenant protections” such as rent control, inclusionary zoning, increased code enforcement, and generally making it difficult to evict tenants.   All of these policies make it more difficult and/or expensive to be a landlord, thus creating costs that may either be passed on to tenants or discourage entry into the housing market.

In addition, I wish Shaw had included a little more data.  He does cite a useful statistic here and there,* but I wish he had included some sort of table comparing high-cost cities’ levels of housing construction to those of cheaper cities.

*My favorite: the San Francisco area added over 500,000 new jobs during the 2010s but only 76,000 housing units.

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