Re: Low cost housing
From: Brian Bartholomew (
Date: Thu, 15 May 2008 11:33:18 -0700 (PDT)
> If you want to get houses built, you'll have to [...] engagement
> with the folks who make the rules.

Naah.  We tried that, and it quite decisively failed.  Details are
below.  A major goal of ours was low cost, so the communities now
building at hundreds of thousands per are not counterexamples.

When our group was trying to understand a building budget, we talked
to two coho-ish developments in the area, an older one which built
about 20 years ago, and a newer one which built about 5 years ago.
I'll call the older one "First" and the newer one "Second".

First was self-developed.  Second was designed in conscious imitation
of First.  First told Second that Second couldn't repeat First's
experience, the zoning had been tightened to ban it.  We designed in
conscious imitation of Second.  Second told us we couldn't repeat
their experience, the zoning had been tightened to ban it.

In order to get some numbers on the current zoning situation, we
looked around for the cheapest 30-unit development which had been
built in the last 2 years.  We found a development of packed shoeboxes
on a field of concrete, nothing we would ever want.  They were
$160K/unit.  The cheapest development permitted was already higher
than our maximum price!  We didn't understand what went into that
price, and we thought there might be developer work that we could do
ourselves.  As I described in previous messages, we were wrong.

In the Katrina-ravaged area, people are trying to get out of FEMA
trailers and into Katrina cottages, but the cottages are being blocked
by zoning.  If I tried to write that as a parody of zoning, no one
would believe me.  It's too extreme.  Yet, it's a current event fact:


        At a Gulfport, Miss., staging area, dozens of cottages stand
        like pastel perennials sprung from a gravel lot. Johnson says
        many storm survivors wanted a cottage but couldn't get one.

        Cities and towns erected a maze of permitting
        requirements. Communities feared today's temporary cottages
        would end up tomorrow's neighborhood blight.


        And the state plans to take her cottage back in a year.


        "It's been almost three years now, and you would think that
        people would be on their feet, but it's like you keep trying
        and trying and can't get anywhere," Acosta says.

When you defend zoning, this is what you defend.

There is another wave of Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) interest rate
resets coming.  These affect the middle class, not subprime.  When
these people get evicted from their houses, they are going to live
somewhere.  I expect these living situations will include: a rented
room that violates the maximum unrelated adults under one roof; a
camper in someone's backyard; an architecturally unreviewed house
addition; a trailer plopped on a two acre unapproved subdivide and
patched into services.  All contrary to the intent of zoning.

Actuarial bankruptcy means social security will shrink drastically in
real terms.  As it shrinks, aging parents will have an even greater
need for inexpensive housing, with close access to family for care.
That's the granny flat in the backyard, which has carefully been
almost entirely banned.  Maybe granny is a "hazardous use"?:


        Getting approval for an ECHO can be a Herculean task. Zoning
        departments tend to frown on the idea, and neighborhood
        associations sometimes fear that ECHOs compromise the quality
        of the neighborhood by attracting renters and creating a
        higher density environment. Some even consider ECHOs
        eyesores. Although manufactured housing has improved in recent
        years, and newer styles include attractive touches like
        rounded sheet rock and tiled roofs, these inexpensive units
        sometimes look more like trailer homes.

        "Each city has a different take on zoning," says Bob Clay, who
        sells ECHOs senior housing units through
        "But typically you need to have side yard clearance, you can't
        face a busy street, and you can't convert the two properties
        to condos and sell the granny flat separately."

        Some zoning departments stipulate that the unit can only be
        used for a family member.


Zoning is headed for the compliance and respect that Interstate speed
limits had in the 1970's.


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