Local control of land use and zoning regulations has created two models of growth in America's metropolitan centers: expensive cities and expansive cities. And both models are leaving low- and middle-income workers behind when it comes to affordable and convenient housing.
Expensive cities, like New York, San Francisco and Boston, are geographically constrained by coastlines, bodies of water and other natural barriers. As they grow, property values rise and housing supply fails to keep up with demand. Expansive cities, like Atlanta, Raleigh and Austin, do not face geographic obstacles to growth so they continue to expand by enlarging the outer boundaries of their metropolitan areas.
Higher-skilled, better-paid workers are almost always able to find housing options that work for them no matter which type of city they reside in. But what about the low- and middle-skilled service workers metropolitan areas rely on to staff local government, health care, education, childcare, retail and restaurants? In expensive cities, those workers have limited affordable housing options and are often forced to live far away from employment, requiring long, arduous and expensive commutes; while in expansive cities, some workers may find affordable housing near their jobs, but may have to suffer through traffic or long commutes. In these areas, everything is so spread out it's difficult to put public transit in place.
Eric Kober is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He retired in 2017 as director of housing, economic and infrastructure planning at the New York City Department of City Planning. Follow him on Twitter here.
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