Sunday, June 25, 2006

Banana Pancakes

"Can't you see that it's just raining. There ain't no need to go outside."

It's a good day to make some banana pancakes, if you haven't already.

Anyway, the news is slow. There are the requisite Lake Elkhorn tot lot stories, including one about the CA board's decision to not make a decision. Also, take note, non-Columbians: CA does not want to hear from you.

Then, there's the issue of what we call senior housing. And finally, a three-page profile on the owners of seemingly every office building in Howard County.

Reading these stories produced no sparks for me. And when blogging, it's all about the spark.

There was, however, some spark on Friday while I was doing some research for work.

I've been thinking about this post and the responses to it a lot the past few days. Despite arguments to the contrary, I still think we have growth pretty well controlled in this county. However, this assertion rests on my assumption that growth is inevitable, that we're never going to not grow in some form or another -- at least on the county level. On the global level, it would be nice if we strove towards a more ecological, sustainable, develop-rather-than-grow economy (shoutout to an old professor), but I don't think the Howard County Executive or Council has much say on that.

As for what we do have a say in, here is a rundown of the county's average annual growth rates for the last 50 years.

1950 - 1960: 4.57%
1960 - 1970: 5.53%
1970 - 1980: 6.71%
1980 - 1990: 4.68%
1990 - 2000: 2.84%
2000 - 2005: 1.85%

This list and the story about school non-overcrowding are what I back my claim that growth seems fairly well controlled.

But whether growth is controlled or not was only the subject of half of that post. The other half discussed housing affordability and the impact county growth policies have on housing prices. I argued that limiting supply accounts for at least some of the increases in price. And here's what I found at work on Friday from the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies' new report, The State of the Nation's Housing 2006:

While explanations vary, evidence is mounting that the two principal forces behind housing affordability problems are restrictions on residential development and the growth in low-wage and part-time employment. Local land use regulations that limit lot size and density have helped to drive up housing prices and rents relative to incomes. As a result, affordability problems are most acute in housing markets with the strictest land use regulations.
Just some food for thought. Now time for some pancakes.


Anonymous said...

On what are your growth rates based? % increase over existing housing? % increase in population? Housing starts? Does it include commercial or just residential? Do you have the actual numbers or just the percent increases? From where is this data?Thanks!

Hayduke said...

Population figures from the census. I have the actual numbers somewhere, but I haven't been able to find them. I suppose I could go back to the Census website and download them again...

Here's a link to the original discussion involving these figures. Check back tomorrow and I'll fill in the details.

Anonymous said...

Something looks wrong with your data. The population of HC more than doubled since 1980 - 118,572 in 1980 and 273,400 in 2005 according to the HCEDA.

Anonymous said...

Anon#2 - Hayduke's numbers are right. (((118,572*1.0468^10)*1.0284^10)*1.0185^5) does roughly equal 273,000. I'm guessing Hayduke's presentation of the percentages misled you - he put a ten year time frame next to an annual percentage growth valid for that time frame.

A less misleading presentation would be providing how much growth occurred over each period:

1950-1960: 56.34%
1960-1970: 71.30%
1970-1980: 91.45%
1980-1990: 57.99%
1990-2000: 32.32%
2000-2005: 9.60% (which, if kept up, will be 20.12% for 2000-2010)

Yet, looking at percentage growth for a decade and comparing it with percentage growth for previous decades distracts from the fact that a later decade is dealing with a larger number. So, even though the percentage may seem like a lot less, growth isn't actually slowing all that much.

Better put, an even less misleading presentation of growth would be listing just how many additional people called Howard County home each decade:

1950-1960: 13,029
1960-1970: 25,779
1970-1980: 56,638
1980-1990: 68,763
1990-2000: 60,544
2000-2005: 25,121 (which, if continued, will be 50,242 for 2000-2010)

To me that seems like only a modest reduction in growth vs. the three previous decades. And, it seems, between Turf Valley, Columbia town center's 30-year not-ready-for-prime-time vision, and Route 1's & 40's Revitalization plans, that growth will continue at the same rate for some time to come.

The Harvard study cited blames "the economy generating so many low-wage jobs and land use restrictions driving up housing costs". Interesting how they spin it as the economy generating low-wage jobs (avoiding mentioning lack of decent paying jobs and avoiding associating low-wage jobs with the businesses that have shifted to them to fatten their bottom lines - perhaps they didn't want to bite the hands that fed them).

Finally, I remention my reference to Baltimore City from the previous discussion - during 1950-2005 period when Howard County's population grew 1200%, Baltimore City's shrank 33% and currently has vacant housing stock. If affordable housing is going to be pursued responsibly, shouldn't smart growth in Baltimore City be part of the discussion?

Hayduke said...

I don’t think you can necessarily say I “misled” anyone. Explicitly stated was the fact that these were “average annual growth rates.” Perhaps I could have been clearer, but I figured that most people think about growth on an annual basis and that it would be apparent that that was what I meant. Displaying decadal growth rates, I would argue, is way more misleading than what I did…

Your point about showing real growth (i.e. actual population figures) is well taken. But I still fail to see how it bolsters your point. Growth is slowing, as is easily seen by the figures you present, and this is a trend I’m convinced will continue. The impacts of Columbia’s Town Center, Turf Valley, Rte’s 1 and 40 will not be as dramatic as they seem now. For instance, 5000 new units in Town Center over 30 years equal 167 units per year – hardly rampant growth. Couple this with the fact that senior housing is becoming more widespread and household sizes are continuing to shrink, and I think you’ll find that we can handle the growth on our horizon.

Your point about the Harvard study, meanwhile, is not well taken. JCHS is a center that studies housing. They aren’t defenders of the poor, of the unions, or of the low wage workers of America. They’re housing analysts and researchers. They point to problems related to housing and leave it to others (government, nonprofits, and businesses) to take action. I think growing income inequality is anathema to our society, but that doesn’t mean I’ll go blaming Greenpeace for doing nothing about it. In Howard County, which is the focus of this space, there’s nothing we can do about prevailing wages (well, the county could enact a living wage law, but that’s not the point here). We do control land use restrictions, however, which is why I brought up that quote.

Finally, to you “finally,” Baltimore City is a red herring in this discussion. Howard County’s affordable housing problem has little, if anything, to do with Baltimore City. We need affordable housing in Howard County so that people who work here can live here and vice versa. We have over 150,000 jobs and most of those go to people earning less than the county median income. Median income, by the way, is barely enough to buy a house today.

I’m glad that there’s plenty of vacant housing in Baltimore City, but it doesn’t do us or the low wage workers of our county a lick of good if they have to drive from Baltimore to Columbia to earn $squat an hour. The Brookings Institution has recently being working on a new measure of housing affordability that takes into account transportation costs, something that will paint a far more accurate picture of what the working poor must endure in order to pay for the essentials of life, let alone the necessities. If your solution to affordable housing is “put them all in Baltimore” and your answer to smart growth is to create more traffic and make those who can least afford it drive or take inadequate public transportation from the worst neighborhoods in the City (good luck finding all that vacant housing in Canton) to Columbia for the privilege of working here, then we'll have a hard time coming to agreement, I’m afraid (not that disagreements are bad, however).

Anonymous said...

Yes, you did explicitly state those were annual rates. I didn't say you misled (and did say your numbers were right). I said your presentation misled. I guess I could have said it better - I didn't think you were trying to mislead with how you presented the numbers, but when you put a ten year time frame next to an annual growth rate, it allowed for, as Anon#2 did, misinterpretation of actual growth. So, I'll excuse your unclear percentages if you'll excuse my unclear verbage.

As to displaying a decadal growth rate next to a decadal time frame, how in the world is that misleading?

How showing actual population growth numbers bolsters my point follows.

1. Rather than looking at the 2000-2005 1.85% annual value you showed (which many people I assume would consider just a trickle), the 2000-2005 population growth number, 25,121, is real people that have to live somewhere, drive somewhere, go to school somewhere. All that adds to the environmental burden (greenspace consumed for housing), the commute burden (which in turn causes additional environmental burdens of more land consumed for roads and more exhaust pollution), the school burden (which also in turn consumes more land), and the tax burden.

2. Since you were discussing the trend of growth slowing, when glancing at the 1990-2000 2.84% growth annual rate and comparing it to the 2000-2005's 1.85%, it looks like growth now is 65% (1.85/2.84) of what is was during 1990-2000. Cutting growth by a third does seem appreciable. Yet, when comparing the population growth numbers over this decade vs. last decade, growth now appears nowhere near as much reduced - 83% (50,242 projected/60,544). That's a slowing of the growth rate that is only half what the percentages make it appear.

3. While the rate of growth may be slowing, the rate at which remaining green space in the County is being consumed is actually accelerating. We're halfway through 2000-2010 and much of the environmental goals detailed in the County's General Plan 2000 have yet to be achieved - improving greenways, restoring watersheds, protecting wildlife movement corridors, etc.

The JCHS center is, as you said a center that studies housing. It does receive a considerable portion of its funding from the industries that would most benefit from less restrictive land use regulations. Just reading the study's Executive Summary and a list of who comprises the Center's Policy Advisory Board should make that clear. So, as in many things, I think it's worth "following the money" and understanding potential conflicts of interest when accepting such studies as unbiased and authoritative. Doesn't it seem convenient that a research center funded by (among others) lenders, builders, and building suppliers spits out a report saying the villain in housing affordability is local land use regulations?

My solution is no more "put them all in Baltimore" than your solution is "hey this study says local land use regulations are the problem, let's get rid of them, bulldoze like crazy, and build everywhere so we can all live right here".

I did ask if "smart growth in Baltimore City should be part of the discussion". Howard County is not an island, it's part of a region. Were it not for the economies of DC and Baltimore, Howard County wouldn't have the population it does.

My answer to smart growth is definitely not to create more traffic. Instead, as part of the answer, we can and should adopt 21st century solutions for our transporation woes. Simply put, we need fast, modern public transit. That would address the cost of commuting you rightly mentioned. Why anyone would want to spend $26,000 (average car cost), thousands for insurance, $3/gallon, etc. to continue polluting, sit in traffic, pace the bumper in front of them, etc. when we could (and should) pursue personal rapid transit that's faster, cheaper, doesn't require waiting, cleaner, safer, quieter, takes less footprint, autonavigating, etc. is completely beyond me. Having such a system could make a Baltimore-Columbia commute both very economical and quite fast, perhaps just 15 minutes door-to-door (which is 40% quicker than today's 25 minute typical commute). Forget Lexu$ lane$, skip metro extension and skip light rail, too, people want the kind of convenience and speed (when not stuck in traffic) they enjoy now with cars - and pursue personal rapid transit.

Besides, wouldn't considerably cheaper transporation costs also help housing affordability?

mary smith said...

Tens of thousands more cars on the road each decade for a county with vastly limited land mass is huge. Compounding the problems: 3,500 new homes being built in one single development with easy access to Rt. 70, in Frederick County. Live in a vacuum? We are clearly not an island.

And let's not forget Doughregan that has a total >2,000 acres. One community leader said Doughregan is large enough to build another Columbia, which drew an exchange of smiles from the land developers in attendance.
Growth is out of control, unless a raging flood is a controlled event.

Hayduke said...

Have you thought about starting your own blog? I'm serious. It's easy to set up and use (you obviously understand html).

I'm not trying to sneak out the backdoor here, but I really don't have time to write anything today. Your thorough analysis of the situation, however, is greatly appreciated. Maybe I'll get a chance tomorrow to respond in kind.

In the interest of keeping this going, I'll pose a question. Given your beleif that we're still growing to fast, what would you do to further limit development and by how much?

mary smith said...

I don't understand the problem with answering your blog. Is that not why, and how you have it set up? Seriously, what's the issue?

Regarding what could be done: The benefits from Capitalism decrease as companies rely more on government to make a profit. In the case of land use in Howard County, land developers rely on government to build schools, build roads, plan for water and sewer, etc... At the end of the day, the developer walks away awash in cash while taxes increase - what did we have last year, 30% real estate tax increase with another abominable income tax increase? Additional costs should be built into developing, not passed on to taxpayers.

And your figures did lack clarity. Thankfully, you do allow input from the outside....

Hayduke said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hayduke said...

By the way, a few thoughts on what I would do to better control growth:

Turn the Water and Sewer service area boundary into an honest-to-god urban growth boundary. Greatly increase restrictions on development in the west to preserve more ag land and more open space. Part of this would involve a beefed-up ag preservation program (read: more money).

Take existing development entitlements and turn the development credits in order to create a transfer program. Development credits would be bought and sold in a market-like environment, with the flow generally being credits from the west to development in the east.

Create "real" community plans. This is similar to the highly-criticized Democrats zoning overhaul proposal. Instead of developers dictating development pattern, communities would create their own plans and it would be up to developers to fill in the pieces. That way, it's predicatable for both sides, but citizens have the upper hand by being the ones to actually craft the proposal.

I would also include green building requirements, provisions for affordable housing and business locations, and make economic and fiscal assessments mandatory for any development over a certain number of units or size.

I'd also consider getting rid of zoning as we know it and moving to a system where proposed developments are judged by how they "fit" in the neigborhood and not within some legal code.

As for growth rates, well, I guess that would depend. I'm not very concerned about an absolute number as much as I am a number that works for us given existing conditions. Right now, I'm fine with ~1700 units a year, though.

Admittedly, these are not very well-formed thoughts. But they aren't going before the council, either.

Hayduke said...

Mary: I see what you mean (sorry, caffeine just now taking affect). I wasn't trying to say "This is my place, go start your own blog if you want to disagree with me." I was trying to convey to Anon#3(?) that I think he/she has valuable insights that could be shared with a wider audience via his/her own blog. The more bloggers we have, the better, I think, especially considering that I don't think many people follow discussions in the comment threads for very long.

Of course, I'd welcome you to start a blog, too. But you're always welcome to comment here.

Hayduke said...

Mary, the clarity of my presentation of growth rates may not have been ideal, which I don't think is the case, but the numbers are real and valid. Yet, you state: "At the end of the day, the developer walks away awash in cash while taxes increase - what did we have last year, 30% real estate tax increase with another abominable income tax increase?"

This is just not true. Income taxes were raised in 2003 because of a recession that was affecting everyone around the entire country. The state should have raised taxes at this time, but instead Ehrlich used a bunch of spineless tactics -- cutting funding to universities while massively raising tuition, for example -- to cover the shortfall the state was facing.

This was the only tax increase, however. Resdidential real estate taxes have just been cut by the county council. It hardly seems like developers are bankrupting the citizens.

Now, you can rightly say that what residents are paying in taxes has gone up. But that's because the value of their home has gone up. The only impact government has had on this is the fact that by limiting the supply of new houses the prices of existing houses increase. Certainly, there are numerous other factors that contribute to price increases, but restricting growth is not without costs.

mary smith said...

Tax percentages have increased for both real estate and local income tax in the past 5 years. Whether it was temporary, and is expected to decrease remains to be seen and the additional cash flow out is water under the bridge and into the government reservoir. Gone, and in support of ongoing land developer profits.

Hayduke said...

Mary, please be more specific. I don't remember tax increases on real estate in the past 5 years, but I've only owned a house for a couple months and real estate tax increases before this time weren't my top priority. I know, however, the fire and trash fees were increased in the last five years, but considering the nature of these, I think it's a stretch to call them tax increases.

mary smith said...

The point is whether or not the increases come from heightened residential land development. In the case of trash and fire, they most definitely increase due to residential development, and again citizens are subsidizing developer profits. Specifically; the local fire dept visited my home, and asked for a donation that was nearly double that of years past because too many of the new residences are so large that they've had to purchase additional equipment to reach to tops of the houses. They would not purchase equipment for one or two homes, but because of heightened development, they believe the need is there. In terms of tax increases, the income tax in Howard has clearly gone up (30%?), and the real estate tax rate has remained the same (state increased from 8cents to 13 cents to county's 1.04, however) though tax bill amounts have risen dramatically due to, again, the heightened residential development. Now, you might want to claim that residential development (supply/demand) has actually averted a more severe property tax increase. Not so. Empirically, it just did not work that way, and we can get into all sorts of debates about social ills to explain gluttonous consumption, but that's tangential. Fact remains, we're subsidizing land developer profits in a number of ways.

mary smith said...

One last item: It's a sad blog that has -0- next to comments (did anyone read, or just not care?). Higher numbers of comments guage reader interest and engagement.

Hayduke said...

I know, most of the posts I wrote over the last 9 months were either ignored or of no interest to anyone. The same can't be said about recent posts, as anyone who scrolls down this far surely knows.