‘Smart Growth’ or Housing Opportunity October 30, 2011

John Crawford, of Sierra Madre, misunderstands the proper purpose of SB 375.  Yes, it is a form of social engineering, but so are the existing policies in those towns forbidding high density housing.  Yes, it is mistaken if it is trying to get suburbanites out of their single family houses and into apartments.  It is not so much a question of whether there is social engineering; it is “whose” social engineering; the state or metropolitan community, the local neighbors, or the land owners and developers?

While in theory I am a land use libertarian, I would in practice draw a half-mile circle around these major transit hubs [not all bus stops are “major transit hubs” but only where several bus lines cross] and outside of the half-mile circle I would leave the single family homes alone.  Between one half and one quarter mile of the hub, I would have a transitional zone of duplexes and triplexes and the like, which can be built to not look very different from some kinds of single family housing.  Within the quarter mile radius there would be high density mixed use “new urban” projects and parking structures.  The object of this is not to get people out of their suburban homes, but to provide more housing and other opportunities for other kinds of people – the kind of people who often do the service work anyway – to find places to live.  I would call it “housing justice.” Of course, maybe these places won’t be cheap enough for the real service workers, and there will have to be a trickle-down effect, as the people who move into these new urban communities move out of some other place, freeing it up.  The other question I would ask the suburban residents of Sierra Madre, Walnut, and South Pasadena is would they rather have their own young adult children living in these kinds of places, or living with their parents?  It is the cost of housing, largely, that causes so many twentysomethings to be still living with their parents nowadays!  New Urbanism or “smart growth” should be an addition to, not a substitute for “traditional” [1950s] style suburban development.  And if we want the suburban lifestyle to pay more of its own costs, a higher gasoline or carbon tax would be a better way to do this.

And many have “incomist” concerns about whether less affluent people would be more disposed to crime, graffiti, and other sorts of wrongdoings.  [Affluent people commit sins and crimes, too, but not usually of the sort that impact the immediate neighborhood or are violent.]  I’d put a police station right in the middle of the dense “new urban” section.  If crime and graffiti are really behavioral problems of some lower income people, then, not leaving low income people in some remote location, but bringing them out in small doses to these other communities and teaching them to behave, would be in their best long term interest!  I say this, but I would prefer that these new urbanist enclaves “not” be subsidized, but that they rent or sell [as condos] for market value.  Density will split the high values of land that we have in California over a larger number of units and make the units a little more affordable in any case.  People claim they don’t like either “sprawl” or “density,” but actually we need a bit more of both if people are to be better housed.

Related: “John Crawford: Sacramento”s war on small cities” by John Crawford at SGVTribune.com

Related: “It”s time to raise California”s gas tax” by George Skelton at LATime.com

3 Comments
barrywhitesides 10/31/2011

Just a question or two…who decided where to place the transportation hub?  Did they create a special assessment district to charge those ‘who would receive the benefit’ (as in the current users).

Those same people would then have zoning revisions imposed…that would do what?  
Divide the parcels into high density units? Or rentals?  Or condominiums?  Isn’t that an eminent domain issue to force people to sell to developers?

As deployed in San Diego, there are a multitude of ‘Ts & Cs’ that limit people who purchase low-income or subsidized housing from profiting from appreciation…but which offer no protection from a drop in value.

I’m intrigued by ‘incomism’ as a concept.  The demographic issues, such as more children which impact educational infrastructure is not a consideration?  A lowering of the tax base (per capita income) is not an issue?  What about the issue of ‘status’ in renting to the people who ‘provide services’?

Density causes the existing infrastructure…water, electricity, sewer, parks, education, transportation (yes they’ll have cars too)…to be overused.  It can introduce gangs.  It can reduce land values.

It would be too simple to say NIMBY…as we have done so often.  Yes, reform must be undertaken.  But housing affordability is not a right, though it is a worth goal.
Total cost of living has to be the key…and it includes the cost of housing, the cost of transportation, food, energy and health.  

It is the American dream that is in need of reform…a new vision…and the dream is not defined by housing density or even home ownership.  It’s defined by aspirations for our children, the willingness to work hard and the attendant social mobility, about education, charity and purpose.  

Howard Ahmanson 11/01/2011

“rezoning” would not be an eminent domain issue. The residents within the circle should have the option to sell out to density developers when they choose – and they will make a profit – so their property values will increase, because they have more legal options! Woodbridge, btw, strikes me as a rather housing- diverse place as it is!

Howard Ahmanson 11/02/2011

There is no “right” to affordable housing vis a vis the “market,” but the “market” does not decide most land use questions in California; the government does. I count City Hall and the homeowners’ association as “government.” And I think there is a right to relatively affordable housing vis a vis the “government” making land use decisions, though I would prefer that be market rate and not subsidized housing. And density is more efficient for quite a few purposes. As I said, i would be willing to limit density to areas within walking distance of transit hubs. 

I’ll admit I have believed that it would be a good thing in general if residential property values were lower, but Robert Lupton in his books  Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life, and Toxic Charity, has opened my mind to reconsider that at least in regard to poorer communities. And, since 2007, we have had the opportunity to test that. Existing homeowners are hurt, aspiring homeowners benefit, from declining property values. Who should I, as a Christian, favor? Not an easy answer. 

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