News Roundup: August 03, 2013

This alley looks nicer than most front yards. Photo from


The Cult of Home Ownership Promotes Disastrous Politics


Matt Yglesias writes about how we've built a political and financial structure designed to promote high home values, and the negative consequences of this fetishization of homeownership. This point is key: "The problem here is that although any given person can certainly profit from the house he or she owns (or, more plausibly, the land it sits on) appreciating in value more rapidly than average, it's extremely difficult to see how a nation as a whole is going to become more prosperous by houses becoming more expensive." All it means is more of our money is spent on housing, and when the goal is increasing values you end up encouraging scarcity, not abundance, of housing.

Federal tax credits are an essential lifeline to impoverished neighborhoods

 (Metro Planning Council)

Yonah Freemark calls attention to the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, which, "created in 1986, is the nation’s largest single financing tool for the construction of new affordable housing, adding 60,000 to 80,000 new affordable apartments a year." In our push to simplify the tax code, we should be wary of eliminating programs like this one, which does an incredible amount for the money spent to fund it. (Compare this to the tens of billions spent on mortgage interest and property tax deductions, subsidizing the purchase and ownership of homes that people would buy anyway.) Losing the benefits of the LIHTC would have serious consequences for millions of Americans, and the affordability of our cities to the  lower- and middle-class.

Stranded by Sprawl

 (New York Times)

Paul Krugman muses on the recent finding that some cities do far better than others at promoting economic mobility; a person born into the bottom fifth of the income distribution is about three times more likely to make it into the top fifth than someone born in Atlanta, for example. He connects this with the sprawling nature of the least economically mobile cities, cities where the poor are physically segregated from the middle- and upper-class. That separation was found to be the most important factor in restraining economic mobility.

Driving is one of most heavily subsidized activities in U.S.

(Gainesville Sun)

The amount we spend on roads every year far outstrips the money raised by user fees: "Nationwide in 2010, state and local governments raised $37 billion in motor fuel taxes and $12 billion in tolls and non-fuel taxes, but spent $155 billion on highways," and the federal government spends about $40 billion more on roads than it takes in from the gas tax.

Tried and True Approach Could be Path to Saving Time and Money on More Transportation Projects

(Transportation Issues Daily)

Larry Ehl gets into the details of design-build, "an integrated approach that delivers design and construction services under one contract with a single point of responsibility." In a convincing argument, he notes that time and monetary savings that can be associated with packaging all the construction and design under the same roof. One study done in conjunction with Penn State University showed that design-build projects "averaged a 6% lower cost, 12% faster construction time, and 33% faster project completion time." Can we start doing this?

A City Invokes Seizure Laws to Save Homes

(New York Times)

In a really interesting turn, the city of Richmond, CA appears to be going forward with their plans to seize underwater homes through the use of eminent domain. This would allow the city to compensate the banks at the current value of the homes and then offer residents new mortgage deals at the new value of their homes. People in Richmond and nearby cities were hit especially hard by the housing crash, with $400k homes now worth less than $150k. Banks are predictably very against this plan, so it'll be interesting to see what the repercussions are from the financial side.

Turning Asphalt Alleys Into “Livable Laneways”


Vancouver, BC just sounds better all the time. In this case, they're making use of copious alleyway space and turning them into beautiful community spaces rather than the drab appearance of alleys in most cities. When you see the images you'll wish that more cities started getting serious about using our public road space in more pleasant, visually appealing ways.