How do we build for tomorrow, today?

August 28, 2019

Housing policy is a divisive issue in most of Canada’s large cities. We recently read a pair of articles about housing policy in Businessweek.

The first describes the obstacles a developer faces in an attempt to build a 20,000-home community north of Los Angeles. Some environmental activists are seeking to block the project because of the anticipated impact of emissions of long commutes. Some are worried that the benefits of California’s strict emissions regulations are being trumped by cumulative emissions released during such long commutes. More than 500,000 Californians had a one-way commute longer than 90 minutes in 2018.

But building homes in urban areas isn’t working either. The article says that “a bill in the California Senate that would have made it easier to build apartments in low-density neighborhoods close to jobs was shelved in May after fierce opposition.”

The second article describes a recent push in Minneapolis to solve the same problem. A new city plan allows duplexes and triplexes in areas previously zoned for single-family homes without the need for a zoning variance. Proponents overcame opposition by creating a lawn sign campaign called “Neighbors for More Neighbors” and by compromise (initially they sought waiver for up to fourplexes).

But skeptics aren’t sure this plan will actually solve housing supply: “Even for smaller [builders], triplexes often don’t pencil out; construction and land costs are too high compared with the rents a landlord can expect to charge.”

Clearly there are no easy answers.

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