Housing Crisis Forcing Rich Cities to Get Smaller

New Orleans        A reporter, Jed Kolko, with the New York Times seems to be connecting the dots in an interesting and important way.  In a recent article about some of the unintended consequences of geographic inequality being concentrated in certain cities, he pointed out several things.  First, that the level of economic activity concentrated in specific metropolitan areas, measured by income, is 21.7% in 2018, is actually less than the 26% level in 1969.  Now the top five sucking up the jobs and income are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington.  Then the list included Philadelphia and Detroit, along with New York, LA, and Chicago.  Secondly, he notes that population is not going up with the big bucks.  The big three, LA, New York, and Chicago in fact all lost population in recent years.  The reason seems straight forward:  the shortage of available affordable housing.

Seattle may have understood this situation without realizing how deep a hole the tech and Amazon expansion had dug for their people.  A small sign was a recent vote by the City Council to ban evictions for lower income tenants throughout the winter months.   Los Angeles didn’t get the news and is suffering from the nation’s largest homeless crisis.  New York finally reformed rent control after the most of the horses, and many of the families, were long out of the barn.   Housing is strangulating cities with their own greed and short sightedness in making sure people have decent and affordable housing.

Kolko also notes that the winners, relatively speaking, grabbing an increasing income share are the metropolitan areas ranked from number eleven to number fifty.  These metros went from 26.9% in 1980 to 29.9.% in 2018.  The big losers were the small metros and rural areas whose income dropped by a fifth to only 14.6%.

In other interesting factoids that Kolko populated throughout his analysis, he notes that “Among the 10 metros with the largest economies today, not one is getting both richer and much bigger.”  In addition to the big five, you’re talking about Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta in the sun and Boston and Philly on the East Coast.  The big winners on both counts include Austin and Raleigh, Provo, Utah, Naples, Florida and even Walmart-town, also called Fayetteville, Arkansas, but the biggest whoop in that list is Austin, and, as Kolko notes, it’s only in 27th place.

He throws a “Hail Mary” pass at the notion that it makes more sense to move more development to places like Milwaukee and Cleveland and even these ne’er-do-well rurals, but that would take a government willing to actually do national economic and housing planning, and that’s not happening now and might not be on the horizon anytime soon in the future.  The growth in the cities in the north of England on the push out from London, might be a comparative glimmer of hope for some, but the moral of that story is what happens when extreme wealth and exorbitant and limited housing choices create internal migration that forces change to follow.

Business and government can’t seem to buy a clue, but props to Kolko for giving them several for free.

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