Building anything anywhere is a short-sighted approach to fixing the affordability crisis.
From New York to San Francisco, housing prices have soared in recent years, pushing newcomers and renters far from city centers. In response, a new movement -- “Yes in My Backyard,” or “YIMBY” -- has proposed a radical solution. In its purest form, YIMBYism would dispense with zoning and occupancy laws altogether, and let people build anything anywhere. But building skyscrapers all over cities to solve a housing crisis is like building 10-lane highways to solve a traffic crisis. It’s a simplistic reading of supply and demand, and it doesn’t work.
Manhattan offers a prime example. In the decade of recovery since the financial crisis, the area around Central Park South has become a veritable forest of super-tall residential towers, each well above 1,000 feet. The benefit of all that housing production ought to be lower prices for New York residents, right? Well, no: As of late February, the median home price in the city was $681,000, up more than 50 percent from 2012. And New York’s new luxury towers are notorious for being empty, owned by absentee millionaires and billionaires looking for an investment rather than a home. Midtown Manhattan’s housing-vacancy rate is now 20 percent, up from 16 percent for the period between 2006 and 2010.
Just as building a new highway encourages people to drive more, new condo towers induce demand from overseas buyers that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. Few international buyers looking to invest in a rarely occupied multimillion-dollar pied-à-terre would go through the arduous process of being approved by the board of an old-fashioned New York cooperative.
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