Less Regulation to Produce More Housing

What’s the best way to increase the amount of affordable housing in New York City. The New York Times digital edition recently featured a collection of proposals that address this issue.

Most of the proposals were more of the same old: strengthen rent regulations, preserve public housing, tax increment financing, nonprofit ownership and other mechanisms that have been used in NYC to a greater extent than anywhere else, but have all failed to solve the “affordable housing crisis”.

Only one proposed solution has not been tried in New York and it comes from Ed Glaeser, an economics professor at Harvard University, who understands the laws of supply and demand. Professor Glaeser proposes a simple solution of easing housing demand by increasing the supply of housing. And the way to increase supply is to remove the barriers to building created by land use regulations such as zoning, historic preservation and air rights (and we should add rent regulations and labor practices).

But New York City, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has moved in the exact opposite direction. Major rezoning, affecting 40% of the city, has downzoned neighborhoods where developers were building higher-density market-rate housing without taxpayer subsidies. Development has instead been funneled into smaller development zones where even greater density will be required, together with subsidies to produce affordable housing.