Actually, there are solutions to the housing crisis –

I prefer the term “housing crisis” instead of ”affordable housing shortage” because it helps to simplify the problem.
To the editor:
When I saw that Carole Owens’ recent column was about how to fix the affordable housing shortage, I clicked on the email link right away. As a member of the Great Barrington Affordable Housing Trust Fund (I am only writing in my private capacity here), and simply as a concerned citizen, I think about the affordable housing crisis a lot. I was curious to see what solutions her column had to offer.
Strangely, the column had no solutions to offer. In fact it explicitly warned the reader to “beware of the glib politicians with the easy answers.” I guess, in a way, I am one of those politicians, although my position is by appointment (in fact there is an opening on the board right now for anyone who would like to volunteer), and I struggle sometimes to be politic during meetings. I don’t think there are any “easy” answers, but I suppose my favored solutions to the housing crisis might come across as glib if you think that the underlying causes are completely out of our control.
Owens identifies the fundamental problem as being caused by the ability of short-term renters and second homeowners to pay more for housing. In her account, the ability of these people to pay more for housing is the reason why average prices are higher. I think this analysis is fundamentally incorrect, and, in my view, it is emblematic of a lot of incorrect thinking that one encounters in local discussions about affordable housing.
My glib view is that the fundamental cause of high housing prices is that there is more demand than supply in housing. It is true that rich people from “not here” are able to pay a premium and pay in cash in order to win bidding wars against local prospective homeowners. But the upper end of that price is still dictated by the housing supply. People with high incomes will pay what the market will bear, and no more. If there were more houses for sale driving down prices, they would gladly pay less.
So, if the problem is that there is too little supply for too much demand, what can you do? Well, you can try to reduce demand, or you can try to increase supply. If you wanted to reduce demand, you could make Great Barrington an increasingly inhospitable and unattractive place for people to move to, or you could try to make some rules forbidding “flatlanders” from moving here. But maybe that’s not a good approach.
Let’s focus on supply, then. Short-term rentals (STRs) aren’t really housing; they are just an extension of hotels, so bylaws that discourage STRs help to increase supply (if you want to see the bylaws as reducing demand, that is fine too). One of the arguments against the bylaw was that if you made it impossible to STR houses, then they would just be sold to outsiders. But that’s kind of the point. If the house is for sale instead of being used as an STR, then, by definition, it is being used to meet a demand. So STR-restriction bylaws can be part of the solution.
Another obvious (glib) solution would be to increase supply by building more housing—and not just affordable housing, but also market-rate and, indeed, luxury housing.
When it comes to housing supply, a lot of people seem to reverse causality. They argue that if you build market-rate housing, especially “luxury” housing, that it will increase the desirability of a location and therefore raise prices. This can be somewhat true for individual blocks and neighborhoods, but for an overall market, the opposite is true: Developers build housing to meet a projected demand, and, as the supply goes up and demand is met, prices go down. In other words, prices keep going up because the market (or government) isn’t creating housing fast enough, not because building luxury condos raises prices.
The big caveat about all of these statements is that they refer to new buildings. If you replace an affordable unit with a luxury unit, of course that will reduce the supply of affordable units. So the important thing is to add new housing of all kinds: affordable, market rate, and luxury.
And the only sustainable way to build new housing is to increase density. The alternative is suburban sprawl that would use up all of our cherished wilderness and green space. In her article, Owens takes our area’s “low density” for granted and then posits that “cluster housing” (which is just called housing in many picturesque New England towns) will get scooped up by the second homeowners. This was a confusing jump for me because it seems like second homeowners would be less attracted to attached houses since they’re seeking out country life presumably for the space. But the truth is, I have no idea what they prefer, and it doesn’t really matter. If an outsider buys an attached home, then they are not buying one of the detached homes that locals supposedly prefer. So making it easier to build denser housing through relaxation of zoning and community review requirements is another (huge) part of the solution. We also need to put more money into public housing and subsidized affordable housing.
One attractive way to increase density just a bit is to encourage people to create and rent out Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), which can be converted garages and basements, cottage houses, or even movable tiny houses. One of the issues that the Affordable Housing Trust Fund is concerned with is the fact that, even though ADUs (including Movable Tiny Houses) are allowable by right, very few people are actually building them. This is because of high construction costs as well as costs associated with permitting and inspection of the ADU. Finding ways to make ADUs more affordable to build and more profitable to rent is another (probably small) part of the solution.
Carole Owens’ Viewpoints column seemed to say that the lesson from history is that there are no solutions to the housing crisis (but also we shouldn’t ignore the problem?). This is defeatism that isn’t really based on reality. The solutions are only mysterious and out of reach if we preemptively declare their infeasibility based on an overly complicated view of economics that confuses the effect for the cause. I prefer the term “housing crisis” instead of ”affordable housing shortage” because it helps to simplify the problem. The reason housing isn’t affordable is because there is not enough housing, period. If we want to make housing affordable, we need to create more housing. That may sound glib, but no one is pretending that it is easy. We can solve the housing crisis, but we need to have the collective will to do so.
Joseph Method
Get the latest news and happenings delivered straight to your inbox.
Get the latest news and happenings delivered straight to your inbox.
Get the latest news and happenings delivered straight to your inbox.
Get the latest news and happenings delivered straight to your inbox.
Just Another Day
August 06, 2023, August 10, 2023, August 11, 2023, August 12, 2023, August 13, 2023
August 06, 2023 @ 07:30 pm – 09:00 pm
Colonial Carriage Pleasure Driving Show
August 10 – August 13 @ 08:30 am – 04:30 pm
KAREN ALLEN: An Interactive Afternoon Conversation. At the New Marlborough Meeting House
August 12, 2023 @ 04:30 pm – 06:00 pm
Salute to Women Composers
August 13, 2023 @ 06:00 pm – 08:00 pm
Berkshire Opera Festival Presents La Boheme
August 26 – September 01
Website by Web Publisher PRO © 2022 The Berkshire Edge, LLC. All rights reserved. Read our Terms of Use


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Translate »