Friday, March 11, 2005

Did the Urban Growth Boundary Make Portland Housing Expensive?

New Urban News says it didn't, citing hiccups in census data on Portlanders' incomes, and value-added renovations of older housing to explain the increases. Yet as the article admits, home prices undeniably jumped about 65% from 1990 to 2000. Some have suggested that the reason it's not worse is that growth goes across the Columbia River to Clark County, WA. Maybe. An uncontroversial statement that the players in this debate generally don't address at all is that supply and demand operates in the housing market just like any other. While nobody wants to see the landscape covered with subdivisions from coast to coast, limiting the area in which housing can be built necessarily means limiting the supply of housing. One of the arguments in favor of growth boundaries has been that they rationalize the real estate market by making it clear that this land is for building on, while that land is for farming, forestry etc. But that's not an optional feature or a throwaway bullet point. A fast-growing metro area that walls off most of its available land without making increasing the potential density and coverage inside the boundary to compensate will definitely experience a housing shortage and resulting price explosion. The two have to go hand in hand or the entire project won't work. It would be nice if more people realized that simple fact and talked frankly about how to deal with it.