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Research blames affluent suburbs for lack of affordable housing

Many see nationwide effects on housing, but local politics around suburbs are just as much to blame according to research.

A large affluent suburb home with multiple stories and a black metal fence surrounding the property. A well manicured lawn and shrubs sit outside.

If you think politics are to blame for the current housing crisis, you’re right. But if you’re thinking it’s Washington’s politics, you better think again. The answer is actually closer to home, so to speak. Research from Paul G. Lewis and Nicholas J. Marantz, published by The Conversation, suggests that it might be the political interests of small, wealthy cities that actually limits housing construction.

Smaller suburbs don’t provide multifamily housing 

Lewis and Marantz used California census tract data from 2008 to 2018 to study multifamily housing development across many different communities of varying sizes. What they found was that cities of 100,000 or more residents had 46 or more multifamily units built over smaller cities with 30,000 residents. Smaller towns are not adding apartments or other types of multifamily housing that can alleviate housing crises.

While the authors specifically used California data for their research, they went on to study data from other metropolitan areas across the United States. Their findings held up in many communities. 

How suburbs impact the housing market 

Imagine most metropolitan areas in the US, Houston, Detroit, or Denver, for example. These urban centers are often surrounded by suburban communities that have their own government. Homeowners are often very active in local politics, for good reason. But it’s on this local level where housing decisions are often limited. Whether it’s environmental concerns, zoning restrictions or density limitations, these regulations limit the supply of housing in the community. 

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Multifamily housing isn’t getting built because it can cost up to 30% more than single-family homes due to regulations or because homeowners worry that multifamily housing will reduce property values and increase the strain on the city’s infrastructure. Valid points, to be sure, but in larger communities, these interests are usually balanced by other interests, employers, developers and nonprofits committed to the underserved. 

Creative solutions are needed 

The housing crisis needs both short- and long-term solutions. Some advocate for federal and state mandates to enact land-use reforms to push for more affordable housing to be built.

It’s a political landmine though because locals believe that they should decide how land is used. Some are calling for states to incentivize local governments to build more multifamily housing. 

There’s no easy answer to the housing crisis, but instead of blaming the politicians in Washington or your state capital, maybe it’s time to look at home to see how your community is addressing the housing crisis.

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Dawn Brotherton is a Sr. Staff Writer at The American Genius with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Oklahoma. She is an experienced business writer with over 10 years of experience in SEO and content creation. Since 2017, she has earned $60K+ in grant writing for a local community center, which assists disadvantaged adults in the area.


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