Monday, 15 January 2018

YIMBY strategies

How can YIMBYs overcome the NIMBYs? Local action and state-level policy reform says Kenneth Stahl.

Stahl argues that NIMBYs block development because of worries that increased supply will hurt the value of owners' biggest asset - their homes. I'm not sure that's right though. Upzoning will reduce the cost of housing while increasing the value of the newly upzoned land. And this should be especially true for neighbourhood-level upzonings as compared to broader upzonings, and it's the local ones that seem to draw the most local opposition.

But the problems with incentives facing councils have a lot of parallels with New Zealand's problems. 

Where local government there is debt constrained due to unfunded pension liabilities, they're debt constrained here because of debt limits, poor prior spending decisions, and voter reluctance to authorise debt because of sensible worries brought on by poor prior spending decisions. Where councils there get a share of sales tax revenue that distorts council decisions in favour of zoning for business rather than housing, here councils get the costs of new development offset by rates revenue while central government gets the bulk of the benefit of growth. 

And does this sound like the RMA?
Streamline Environmental Reviews.  Some states require all new development to go through an extensive and costly environmental review process.  This process can easily be manipulated by neighbors to fight development they dislike for reasons having little to do with environmental protection. The California Environmental  Quality Act (CEQA), for example, has become a preferred tool of homeowners looking to squash new development, as they can force developers to spend additional time and money on environmental reports. Previous efforts to streamline CEQA in order to lower the cost of housing have failed due to opposition from environmental groups, and it is notable that amid the flurry of housing bills passed by the California legislature in 2017, not a single one touched the CEQA process.
The article doesn't explain why California's such a mess while Houston and Atlanta aren't. Better mechanisms for financing urban expansion is part of the answer.  

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