Web tour: WQ: Rybczynski affordable housing essay

This wonderfully cogent essay by Witold Rybczynski, author of Home: A Short History of an Idea and The Most Beautiful House in the World among other books, addresses the “vicious circle” which keeps the cost of new housing out of reach for many. Rybczynski targets the availability of buildable “serviced land,” as a root of the problem. He writes, “For the neighbors, requiring large lots has two advantages: It limits the numbers of houses that can be built and, since large lots are more expensive, it ensures that new houses will cost more, which drives up surrounding property values. But reducing development has another, less happy effect: It pushes growth even farther out, thus increasing sprawl. While large-lot zoning is often done in the name of preserving open space and fighting sprawl, in fact it has the opposite effect.” This is why the Smart Growth and New Urbanism movements are calling for change.

Rybczynski continues, “Smaller houses on smaller lots are the logical solution to the problem of affordability, yet density -- and less affluent neighbors -- are precisely what most communities fear most. In the name of fighting sprawl, local zoning boards enact regulations that either require larger lots or restrict development, or both. These strategies decrease the supply -- hence, increase the ­cost -- of developable land. Since builders pass the cost of lots on to buyers, they justify the higher land prices by building larger and more expensive houses -- McMansions. This produces more community resistance, and calls for yet more restrictive regulations. In the process, housing affordability becomes an even more distant chimera.”

Wilson Quarerly link by way of the Boston Chapter of The Congress of Residential Architects

by Katie Hutchison for the House Enthusiast