Commentary

Housing Prices Force Families from Cities

We’re familiar with story of poor education systems driving the middle class from cities, but more and more attention is being paid to housing costs as an important factor as well as this Washington Post story shows. Even in San Francisco, which has implemented a voucher-type financing system for public schools to boost achievement, high housing costs are driving families away. This raises two critical points. First, higher urban densities are associated with higher housing costs. We found this in our analysis of growth management laws in Washington, Florida, and Oregan. Urban living is expensive living. Second, and perhaps more important, cities need to find a better was to accomodate growth and change in the housing market. While the planning profession continues to pin its hopes on a highly politicized zoning and plannig process, the solution is more likely to be found in a market-oriented system that respects property rights, is more open ended for land use, and focused on identifying (and mitigating when appropriate) tangible impacts. This more flexible system has the greatest potential for increasing the supply of housing (and putting downward pressure on housing prices) while safeguarding public interests and externalities.

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.