The Politics Behind High Pricing of Houses in Bay Area

Overview of Bay Area

Lance Uyeda bought his home in the San Francisco Bay area 30 years back. His oldest son works in retail revenue also rents an apartment Now. But since the market is tougher than when his dad bought, he will need more than a good performance review and a raise. Until he “wins the lottery,” says Dad, “he is not likely to have a home to call his very own.”

The reason is that home costs in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley have taken up quicker and higher than nearly anywhere else in the country. About $258,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to the National Association of Realtors, the median price for a home in the San Francisco Bay area was in 1985; it’s over $720,000, today.

These fast escalating prices are sparking an exodus. Fully 40 percent of respondents at a 2006 poll from the Bay Area Council said they had considered leaving the region, with them saying “I must sell my house as is Bay Area”. Houses were flagged by greater than two-thirds of that amount. A 2004 survey from the Public Policy Institute of California found that more than 30 percent of individuals between the ages of 18 and 31 considered new digs outside of the Bay.

Not everybody is sympathetic to the plight of such people. Janet Yellen, president of the Federal Reserve Bank’s San Francisco branch, claims that”high housing costs are a symptom of the Bay region’s success.” Prices have shot into the stratosphere, she says, since the region”is such a magnet for certain sorts of high-skilled, high-tech businesses.”

She’s right, to a point. The booming tech industry from the Bay area and Silicon Valley has created a high demand for real estate in those areas, which has not just driven up costs but made a solid constituency for the massive cost tags: people who bought low and are now millionaires because their modest stick-and-stuccos morphed into miniature mansions. However, what about everyone else?

The Debtors’ Prison

In their publication The Two-Income Trap, Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi utilize the expression “house poor” to describe middle-class home¬owners that stretch themselves too thin financially to buy the roof over their heads. Because they over-borrow, they become slaves for their mortgages; worse, they are more likely to default because they do not have sufficient savings to cushion the effect of a divorce or job loss common occurrences.

Warren and Tyagi blame zero-down and sub-prime loans, the fruit of interest rate deregulation. However, financing options are only created by lending. And who can blame mortgage companies and banks for catering to a robust and otherwise demand?

Not that there are not problems, mainly in what many observers call the “housing bubble.” In the words of former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, “Bubbles form when it’s easy to get funds to invest in something and when investors assume that someone else will come along after them and pay even more for this.” But Reich warns that when mortgage rates rise–if the easy money dries up–“buyers can’t assume that prospective buyers will pay more because a few prospective buyers will not be able to.” That’s when people and the bubble pops are stuck with more home than they can afford and no method of offloading it.

But affordable money and investor enthusiasm do not fully explain the issue. In most areas, home prices were rising before the bubble started to bulge.

There’s another side of this housing price swell that Warren and Tyagi overlook. It is rooted not in deregulation but in limited supply and costs–the reasons individuals have to overextend themselves to purchase a house. These variables will remain even if the bubble pops, so homes will endure the investor hype.

For Want of a Snake

Yellen is about that much: Many men and women wish to live near the hustle and bustle of a booming market, where they can enjoy vibrant job markets, decent commutes, good pay, fun play, lots of shopping and a huge variety of leisure-oriented diversions. In or close big settings, variety, and opportunity appear unlimited.

But the property is limited. Soil stretches so far and there are several plots on which to plop a home. High demand for a limited good generates costs as possible buyers attempt to outbid each other as any Econ 101 student could tell you.

The way to mitigate this issue is to build more homes –either cram more of these in less space by building smaller or taller, more tightly clustered houses or build them farther out by expanding the construction area. The best way to exacerbate the problem is to prevent construction, which is what partners in places like San Francisco have done. In so doing, they have artificially crimped the supply of property, creating higher property values for homeowners and higher costs for everybody else.

Edward L. Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko explored the difficulty in a paper prepared for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which hosted a seminar on affordable housing in 2002. A professor of finance and real estate at the Wharton School of Business, Glaeser, an economist at Harvard and Gyourko, desired to figure out whether the country was facing a lack of affordable housing and what may be causing a deficit. What they found was that the country as a whole does not have any actual lack of cheap digs; it is just that the cost of land and houses in certain regions has gone through the roof, largely because zoning and other land-use restrictions have made usable land scarcer.

Examining 45 metropolitan regions across the nation, Glaeser and Gyourko studied the time it takes builders to apply for and get a permit for a”modest-sized, single-family subdivision of fewer than fifty units.” They discovered that in the region’s concessions are slow and where zoning is stringent, the price goes up greatly. Permit lags of six weeks can add the cost of a house and almost $2 per square foot together. That’s more than $10,000 added to the cost of a 1,500-square-foot home. Double that for a 12-month lag.

“Steps of zoning strictness,” Glaeser and Gyourko write, “are highly correlated with elevated prices.” In reality, “Almost all of the rather high-cost areas are extremely controlled.” In some places, particularly California, the effects of these restrictions is dramatic. They’ve been instrumental in creating home costs in San Jose, 50 miles north of San Francisco, triple the prices in similar cities elsewhere.

It’s not just zoning and growth limitations. Environmental impact laws increase the purchase price of homes as well. Planners in California, for example, required developer Marvin “Buzz” Oates to cover more than $2,000 additional per acre of a Sutter Basin property because it was home to roughly 40 giant garter snakes. The total “mitigation” fee has been $3.8 million–$93,950 per snake. On other projects, Oates says he lost millions of dollars because of delays.

A February 2005 analysis from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development identified complicated environmental regulations as among the factors increasing home rates. “A variety of trends indicate that since 1991 poorly designed environmental processes and regulatory procedures have become more significant barriers to the development of affordable housing,” says the report. “Major trends include the proliferation of national mandates, the rising complexity of urban ecological regulations, layering of additional local environmental laws, and the misuse of environmental regulations by people opposed to affordable housing.”
Added impact fees such as park, wetland, and transport mitigation expenses accumulate fast, as do the prices of licenses and utility hookups. Add all those factors to a cost and prepare yourself for sticker shock.

In Seattle and surrounding King County, Washington, home prices have jumped more than 10 times the rate of inflation in a single calendar year. As from the San Francisco peninsula, an influx of a market along with homebuyers are responsible, but a study by the Vancouver-based homebuilder Tasca Homes shows regulations play a significant part too. “The company’s managers carefully itemized and monitored all the real costs that go into a number of the houses the firm has built recently,” writes Paul Guppy of the Washington Policy Center, pointing to the results for one particular residence. “They found at least $40,486 of the house’s $223,600 selling cost could result from government regulation and fees…a rise of 22 percent over the cost of building the real residence.”

Guppy says lots of the principles that raise home prices are”good and useful and also serve the public interest.” But he notes that homeowners have been stored in the dark about these added expenses, which move beyond the earnings and property taxes they pay for services. “The overall outcome,” he states, “is that for most working families, the dream of becoming homeowners is only pushed farther and farther out of reach.”

Critics of fund alternatives such as sub-prime loans should ask why these instruments are so popular in the first location. Regulation-fueled price hikes are making it harder to buy houses. As a result, many are turning to creative and sometimes precarious loan packages. With home costs, an interest-only loan with no money down can jack someone’s buying power according to Brett Vratil, a realtor that works in Southern California. “Often that is exactly what it takes to get someone into a house in Los Angeles,” he told this past year.

However, while the market is busy adapting to escalating home prices, the government is creating the problem worse.

Also Read: Factors Affecting Purchasing Behaviors And Patterns Of Consumers

Winners and Losers

With home prices far outside most people’s reach in San Jose, at one point the city offered affordable-housing subsidies totaling $180 million. The program barely dented the issue, because the real burden from increased home prices of the city came nearer to $100 billion, according to calculations by Randal O’Toole, an economist with the Oregon-based Thoreau Institute.

Now those subsidies are long gone and San Jose home costs are still rocketing. Glaeser and Gyourko conclude that benefits from subsidized housing are “trivial…even though well-targeted toward deserving poor households.”

Other options are worse. Seeing that laws have the power to ruin, city planners have decided to see if they are also able to restore. “Many local governments have turned into’inclusionary zoning’ ordinances where they declare that developers sell a certain percentage of the homes they build at below-market costs to make them affordable to people with lower incomes,” explain the San Jose State University economists Benjamin Powell and Edward Stringham at a 2004 newspaper for the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this magazine.

Made to market these discounted houses, builders offset their losses by increasing the costs on surrounding homes. “We estimate that inclusionary zoning induces the purchase price of new homes in the median city to increase by $22,000 to $44,000,” Powell and Stringham report. “In high market-rate cities such as Cupertino, Los Altos, Palo Alto, Portola Valley, and Tiburon we estimate this inclusionary zoning adds more than $100,000 to the price of each new residence.”

The effects ripple throughout the market after the first hit. They go again, as a result of the higher scarcity brought on by builders building houses — something after home costs go up to accommodate the discounts. Builders depart cities that inflict such mandates and build homes in areas with business climates.

The upside to high-cost houses is high real estate values. Homeowners in such towns as Santa Barbara, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Portland benefit from prices. California, in San Mateo County, $ 2,000 per day watching his house appreciate can be made by an individual. In San Francisco, money can be made by an individual simply owning a home than working an occupation that is median-income or enjoying stocks. Between March 2004 and March 2005 the median cost for a single-family home “jumped $106,000, or 21 percent, hitting $605,000,” according to San Francisco Chronicle reporter Kelly Zito. “That appreciation far exceeded the 74,124 that the normal Bay area household earned last year.”

Housing for the Rich

With so much wealth made by government-exacerbated scarcity, the housing market has become increasingly politicized, to the detriment of the people who can least afford it. “A century of experience with regulation of different kinds has instructed us that law typically favors the affluent and the organized over the less wealthy and less organized,” explained American Enterprise Institute fellow Steven Hayward, testifying before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 1999. “There are only a few groups less organized or represented compared to people who’d benefit from homes and jobs that do not yet exist. …I think we are being naïve when we fail to realize that growth management approaches can easily grow to be the machines of negation by existing residents.”

Hayward illustrated “negation by present residents:” Several weeks before his Senate testimony, homeowners in Fairfax, Virginia, protested at a county commission hearing that their costs were stagnant since the government was”allowing too many houses to be built.” This trend is particularly problematic once you consider that other government bodies and planning commissions tend to be dominated by the more powerful members of a neighborhood. Particularly households, new homebuyers, forced to move further out mostly because planners wish to enhance their property worth or may be denied a house.

Think of the Children

Throughout the nation, families with children are migrating out of city limits or not settling there to start with. San Francisco, in which falling enrollments last year prompted the town to close, merge or relocate over 20 schools, is an extreme example. But similar trends are evident in other cities, including Boston, Honolulu, Miami, Denver, Minneapolis, Austin, and Atlanta.

Seattle Weekly columnist Knute Berger calls children born and raised in Seattle an”endangered species.” Back in Portland, Oregon, there are so few kids that city officials have been made to shut schools left and right. “After interviewing 300 parents who had abandoned town,” Timothy Egan of The New York Times reports, “researchers at Portland State found that high housing prices and a desire for space were the top reasons.”

Egan additionally notes Seattle’s effort in the 1980s to make the town more family-friendly. “It included promoting the city’s neighborhoods to younger families, building a little mixture of cheap housing and zoning and policing changes to produce urban parks more child-friendly,” he writes. It did not work: the junior mind count is way down, with home costs in Seattle heading way up.

The possibility that cities are working to solve a problem they helped create through misguided regulations is rarely considered by social critics who bemoan the housing squeeze. The solution provided by Warren and Tyagi in The Two-Income Trap isn’t to cut back on regulations, property taxes, zoning restrictions, and impact fees. It’s to reregulate interest levels so people can’t take out”bad” loans.

Regulators and unique interests can focus on enacting rules which have special, narrow rewards for one particular group or another. (In the case of housing, that could be people who own property and benefit from the cost hikes) But regulations are like pharmaceuticals the beneficial ones have side effects. These side effects can package a heavy wallop since the home market reveals. “It’s clear,” write the authors of this 2005 HUD research,” the costs of regulation in suburban and high-growth regions are causing massive numbers of families to forgo their dreams of homeownership or to make difficult tradeoffs involving very long commutes.”

Well-intentioned or not, those tradeoffs are diminishing some people’s wellbeing to cover other people’s sexually improved life-styles.

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