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EDITORIAL: Affordable housing ‘crises’ are often self-inflicted

Updated May 23, 2019 - 12:37 am

Among the proposals that failed to advance as the Legislature nears adjournment were a handful of measures intended to promote affordable housing in Nevada. Some of the ideas — such as allowing local government to impose rent control — are better off on the scrap heap.

No doubt the issue will remain a matter of concern. But if state and local policymakers hope to effectively address any problem regarding affordable housing, they’d be wise to heed the advice of Ben Carson, the U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Mr. Carson was in Las Vegas this month to promote Opportunity Zones, a creation of the Trump tax reform. The idea is to have governors in all 50 states designate such zones in distressed areas with high poverty rates and then provide tax incentives to spur long-term investment and development. Clark County currently has 45 Opportunity Zones, Mr. Carson noted.

The secretary also embraced the use of tax incentives by local governments to juice the construction of additional housing. But he rejected the notion — popular in many progressive circles — of demonizing developers and crippling them through burdensome land use and other regulations. It’s no oversimplification to point out that the key for local governments looking to ensure more available housing stock is simply to let builders meet demand.

“There are so many regulations, zoning regulations and other kinds of regulatory barriers that add costs,” Mr. Carson argued. “Until we can get a handle on those regulatory barriers, we’re going to continue to see this problem” of affordable housing shortages.

Rather than intervening in the market by putting additional restrictions on builders and landlords or artificially capping rents, municipalities should be re-evaluating existing codes with an eye toward facilitating housing construction.

“Why do we have certain parking regulations? Why do we have certain density regulations?” Mr. Carson asked rhetorically. “A lot of times, you’re looking at rules that were put in place a long time ago. … Let the market work. Get rid of all the unnecessary government regulatory control.”

He also cited NIMBYism — the Not In My Backyard philosophy that dominates policy in many areas — as a “major driver” of affordable housing problems.

On the website Strong Towns, transportation planner Spencer Gardner compiled his “5 Immutable Laws of Affordable Housing.” No. 1: Developers don’t pay the costs of construction; tenants and buyers do. No. 3: If your zoning and building code mandates expensive housing, housing will be expensive.

This advice has a common theme: Politicians must look in the mirror when they lament the lack of affordable housing. Once they acknowledge they’re part of the problem, they’re fast on the way to crafting effective solutions.

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