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Rent Too High? Move to Singapore

Stashed in: Economics!, Awesome, Homeless, Architecture, Design, Cities, Population, Housing

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This essay makes a case that there is actually no way to make enough urban housing that is equitably distributed, environmentally friendly, preserves the history and charm of cities, AND relies entirely on free market principles. A paradox at work: adding housing and amenities, especially at the top end of the market, actually might have a REVERSE trickle-down effect where that neighborhood or city becomes less affordable. Also true of vouchers apparently.

One thing this made me realize is that we seem to be coming full circle on the dread high-rise urban housing projects or yore. For the youngs who may have never seen one, in the 1950's when people starting moving to the cities in massive numbers from the countryside and other nations, high-rise apartment complexes were built in urban centers to accomodate all these newcomers -- many of them elderly, recent immigrants, single moms, or otherwise lower income residents.

It's important to remember that there was no original intent to "warehouse" or otherwise stigmatize the residents of these complexes, and that in fact this type of brand-new urban high-rise is considered extremely desirable housing in many other countries and even in wealthy neighborhoods of the same cities. In Chicago, which is the city I am most familiar with, the sites were carefully chosen to provide good access to public transportation, parks, and even views of Lake Michigan or downtown. When the buildings were first put up, everyone except a few hippies agreed that they were a vast improvement in every way on the tenements that they replaced.

However for a variety of reasons these high-rise housing projects failed to thrive in the US and by the 1980's had largely become a series of crime-ridden, drug-infested, gang-controlled eyesores. They started being dismantled in favor of Section 8 housing, where lower-income residents were given vouchers to subsidize apartments in the private sector. Again, the intentions were good: not only were "private sector solutions" in vogue, but it was considered beneficial for poor people to live mixed in with middle-income neighbors rather than just other poor people who might create a "culture of poverty".

But guess what? It turns out that Section 8 housing is no panacea either as it does not in fact create very strong incentives to create NEW housing units, so there are often more vouchers handed out than available apartments. Also in practice it turns out that most available Section 8 housing is, as one would expect, in the least desirable locations -- which, now that upper-income people are moving back to the inner cities, turns out to mean that the poor are pushed out to outlying suburbs with no jobs, weak public transit, and few connections to the more diverse communities of cities.

Seems like it might be only a matter of time before the only solution to the urban housing crisis is... high-rise public housing! That certainly seems to be the direction this author is leaning.

High rise public housing seems to be the best way to deal with limited space but high demand.

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