Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I (heart) Suburban Life...

I know, this is a cheap way to get a new post up on the blog, but I'm trying to squeeze in some mountain biking and "work" work this evening. So, it'll have to do.

Following yesterday's post on The Sun's three-part series on the growing jobs-housing imbalance, a couple commenters posted their thoughts, which I'd like to respond to here. It should be noted that I didn't really offer any opinions in the post, other than to say growth pressure will mount and we're going to have to deal with it.

After I said that growing the "right" way could maintain or even increase our quality of life, a commenter responded:

Expecting quality of life to be able to either increase or remain constant when dealing with this kind of growth is an unrealistic pipedream. Cost of living will go up, congestion will go up, pollution will go up, crime unfortunately will go up.
But all of these problems -- except, maybe, crime -- will go up even if we don't grow. Growth from surrounding counties will surely cause congestion to increase. As anyone who travels Interstate 70 or Route 32 during rush hour can tell you, new houses in other counties are the source of much of our traffic. Increased traffic and development are also significant sources of air and water pollution, which we lose the opportunity to mitigate if the cause is from outside the county.

As for cost of living, stopping growth will increase the cost of housing -- by far the largest chunk of cost of living. With fewer affordable housing choices, those earning less than median wages -- many of whom work in service- and retail-related jobs -- and even some making more than median will be forced to live elsewhere, causing (again) more traffic. What's more, many of these workers will demand higher pay to compensate for the additional burden of commuting, which will also push prices (cost of living) up.

I'm not sure about crime, however. I would say that growth is probably less of a factor in crime than are other things.

Growth, however, is not all bad. The reason I said we could possibly increase our quality of life is because I generally think we can. We are not perfect. We have room for improvement. We could stand to have more restaurants, more entertainment and cultural choices, better public transit, and even more jobs. And some amount of growth is key to bringing these things to our county.

The other comment on yesterday's post mentioned ways of turning around Baltimore's fortunes, which would presumably make the city more attractive to more prospective homeowners. Although I strongly root for the city's recovery, the reality is that many people will still want to live in Howard County, regardless of how nice Baltimore becomes. Just as many people still want to live in Montgomery County even though living in DC has improved remarkably in the last 10 years.

City life isn't for everyone, and many of the new workers forecasted to move to this area will put significant pressure on our county's housing stock.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"As for cost of living, stopping growth will increase the cost of housing" Cost of housing will only increase if demand remains above supply.

Given that the county has limited resources (land, greenspace, transit capacity, water, sewer, etc.), perhaps a better place to start consideration is how much growth should be sought and adjust demand accordingly.

Demand has been arguably artificially inflated by both the impact of the region's disproportionate share of the federal budget and, very soon, by BRAC as well.

Is this really the wisest choice for the federal budget to build headcounts where the cost of living is higher vs. building headcounts where more can afford to live? Isn't it in our best interests to have a federal workforce that isn't house poor and frustrated by long and congested commutes?

Is this really the wisest choice for the local standard of living to have demand outstripping supply at a pace that pushes housing prices up at the 24?% we saw last year and the double digit rates we've seen in preceding years? It's resulting in higher purchase prices for new owners and higher tax bills for existing owners, those on fixed incomes feeling the biggest pinch. For both types of owners, the answer under these conditions often becomes having to move someplace else.

Will BRAC shift Maryland from blue to red?

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