David R. Henderson  

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"Marin County has long resisted growth in the name of environmentalism. But high housing costs and segregation persist."

So reads the title of a news story by Liam Dillon in the Los Angeles Times. The reporting is excellent. I hope Mr. Dillon didn't choose the title.

Here are four key paragraphs:

Marin residents often win fights to keep the county's landscape unspoiled by large, new construction. The county, which sits across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, is home to Point Reyes National Seashore and many other natural splendors.

But residents' long-standing distaste for development hasn't led just to the preservation of open spaces. In this affluent enclave of high real estate and rental costs, decades-old patterns of neighborhood segregation remain intact.

When a Los Angeles-based nonprofit examined demographic data on wealth, education, criminal justice and other issues, it found that Marin is home to the largest inequities between racial groups of any county in California. Disparities in homeownership rates and housing costs between whites and blacks and Latinos were a predominant factor leading to Marin's ranking.

In recent years, Marin residents have blocked housing of all kinds. The 400-unit project that county supervisors rejected in December was the third in six years developers proposed on the site, where a former Baptist seminary now sits abandoned. Another stalled project would have built 224 homes for low-income seniors and families on land owned by "Star Wars" creator George Lucas. A failed effort to redevelop a run-down strip mall into 82 apartments primarily for low-income residents fueled the defeat of a county supervisor who backed it.

As reporter Dillon shows and clearly understands, it's precisely because of the restrictions on building in Marin County that house prices and rents are so high and, therefore, that lower-income members of minorities have trouble affording housing in the more-affluent areas.

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CATEGORIES: Regulation

COMMENTS (5 to date)
G writes:

Both! It's a feedback loop.

Thomas Sewell writes:

Back when I lived there, Marin had essentially three types of residences:
1. Rich wealthy estates with their own gates on lots of land.
2. "middle-class" style residential single-family homes
3. Run down and dangerous slum apartments built by the government decades ago, never fixed up and inhabited primarily by welfare recipients

Type 1 was everywhere between towns. Type 2 was concentrated in a couple of areas in cities like San Rafael. Type three was super-focused in two specific locations. These are the black and Latino areas mentioned in the article.

Guess which of the three types local residents probably picture when the County says "We want to build a X00-unit project for low income people"?

Also, the vast majority of the area consists of State and National Parks. If you look at a map, you'll see very little space which isn't either already accessible by roads (and thus built on), or the green of prohibited by the government to build on.

(This is all mentioned in addition to your points and those in the article, not to dispute them.)

Probably the best suggestion would be for developers and the County Supervisors to instead propose building a few thousand new upper-middle, lower-upper class price range homes or luxury apartments. That might be approved and then maybe some people will be tempted to move into them and trickle down more housing for others, but I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

Hans writes:

Zoning tyranny, is a collaboration
between governmental units and real
estate owners.

The former benefits by maintaining
a high and growing tax base and the
power to regulate property rights.

The latter seeks to control development
based solely on their interest and biases
and to maintain and grow their home value.

The two conspire to manipulate local markets
to insure their best interest, at the expense
of others.

This results in scarcity and thus drives up
values, because the market lacks equilibrium,
thus benefiting both of the conspirators.
Whenever free markets are hobbled, the
predictability certainly leads to constraint
supplies and higher costs.

As the one adage says, one hand washes the

In many if not most, there exist a Federale
mandated "A Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)" for the purpose of providing transportation needs for the "community." As
is the case here in the St Paul/Minneapolis
metro, it also has a very strong influence
upon real estate, through the use of water
and sewer permitting. They are a power onto themselves by being appointees. Few folks
are aware that this is a DC mandate. In our
metro, they instruct the Highway department
what, where and when roads will be built. This
also the case with new housing construction,
not only here but elsewhere.

Housing construction has all but collasped
and no thanks to these regional commissions.

In the upper midwest, I have confirmed this
by the decline in housing starts and
as well as the accelerated costs. In the not
too far distance, America will experience
a national housing crisis no thanks to the
interference of governmental units.


James Pass writes:

Even if Marin allowed more housing development, prices would still remain relatively high in the already high-price market of the California Bay Area. Marin is a particularly desirable area within the already desirable Bay Area. There are plenty of middle-class families who would want to live in Marin but can't afford it.

I've lived in the Bay Area my entire life, and I know how crazy it can sound to outsiders, but even if Marin doubled its current housing, it would still be unaffordable to most middle-class families in the Bay Area - let alone low-income families.

Many Bay Area counties and cities have tried everything they can think of to help low-income families, and yet they're still struggling. Low-income housing is government-subsidized housing. That's why so much attention has shifted to the minimum wage, or a so-called living wage. In the Bay Area, I hear people talking about $15 an hour as a bare minimum for a low-income standard of living. A fulltime worker making $15 an hour would earn about $2500 a month, and in the Bay Area that pretty much means you can't afford your own apartment and a car, and forget about medical insurance. So what's the answer?

Even if there were no building restrictions in desirable and affluent areas like Marin, that doesn't necessarily mean there would be sufficient low-income housing developments. The only way to get low-income housing in affluent areas is subsidies and/or government mandates of one kind or another. It's a vexing problem, because, ironically enough, the affluent folks in areas like Marin want low-income workers, but they want them to go home to other areas.

Of course it's more complex than I can explain in this short post. There are other factors. For example, can anyone really blame the residents of Marin if they don't want the same crowding and congestion that is so common in other parts of the Bay Area? I think it's a bit unfair to say that residents of Marin are selfish to want more than a few preserved open spaces. Must everyone live in crowded and congested conditions and go to preserved open spaces to seek relief?

Hans writes:

Another example on how governmental
units use the system they have created
to devolve property rights.

And 99% of Americans are ignorant of
this fact.


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