Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Region-wide housing shortage...

The Baltimore Sun today finished its three part series on the "Impending housing shortage" in our region (Part I, Part II, Part III). An analysis of growth trends in jobs and houses, the lengthy and exhaustive feature includes a wealth of information about the future of our region, which is slated for a surge in employment and a significant reduction in homebuilding.

There is much that I want to say about this, but it will take a while to crystallize my thoughts and put them into a coherent narrative. For now, though, here's a quick summary of the series with a few interesting excerpts.

Part I lays out the situation. Here are a few key paragraphs:

A Sun analysis of state job and household forecasts found the metro area - Baltimore and its five suburban counties - would be 20,000 homes short in just four years. By 2030, the region would be 100,000 homes shy - as many dwellings as Howard County has now, to put that in perspective.

The gap could be even larger because the state forecasts include just a portion of the jobs expected from the national military base reshuffling.

Experts say the disparity will over time further pressure housing costs in an area that has seen steep price increases in the past few years, outpacing many other regions. The shortage would probably push workers into ever-longer commutes, clogging highways and local roads. Ultimately, some say, the housing crunch could choke job growth and throw the region into a recession.

"There is a price to be paid for constrained supply," said Nicolas P. Retsinas, director of Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies.
Part II addresses proposed and creative solutions, mainly from the perspective of suburban counties:
Land-use professionals, smart-growth proponents, academics and others suggest a variety of ways to avert a head-on collision between solid job growth and increasingly restrictive homebuilding regulations.

Old suburban strip centers, boarded-up city blocks, vast parking lots, empty land around transit stations - all could be transformed into compact housing developments so workers don't have to live far from their jobs, they say. Adding substantially to the supply also could provide more starter houses.

But most of the potential fixes have a common denominator, experts agree: They can't happen without changes to local policies and the political will to make those changes.

"There seems to be an assumption that metropolitan growth patterns are the result of a free market," said Robert Puentes, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. "Nothing can be further from the truth. It's the regulatory regimes in place that are actually causing this development and growth to happen. ... There is a real opportunity to do something different."
Finally, Part III looks at Baltimore City's role in all of this.
This could be the city's best chance yet for a comeback - if it can capitalize on it.

"The opportunity is here now," said Sandy Marenberg, whose Marenberg Enterprises Inc. has been building in the city for 30 years. "I think Baltimore City is on the verge."

Sandy Hillman, who as an official in Mayor William Donald Schaefer's administration was active in early efforts to revive the city, was stunned by the inherent potential of such a large housing shortage. It suggests to her that Baltimore "will prosper in a way that we've sort of been chasing for decades," she said.

There's no guarantee. Baltimore still has to overcome major challenges that helped to drive residents away. One of the most violent cities in the nation, it has a chronically underperforming school system, rampant drug addiction and the highest property tax rate in the state. It must make headway on a variety of fronts if it hopes to attract large numbers of residents and keep them, experts say.

A housing shortage that limits options in Baltimore's five suburban counties isn't by itself enough to entice local workers into the city, because they can push outward - to Pennsylvania, the Eastern Shore or Delaware. And they're already doing so.

These are only excerpts. The full stories are chock full of good information and analysis. It takes a while to get through all three, but I highly recommend taking the time to read them.

My quickie take is: This is an issue where burying our heads in the sand is not going to work. We need a regional approach that emphasizes the potential of Baltimore to absorb more residential growth -- improving the Greatest City in America can only be good for us, as well. That said, Baltimore is not the silver bullet.

Given consumer preferences and the city's preexisting conditions, residential growth pressure in the suburbs will only increase with jobs multiply. If done right, we can maintain or even increase the quality of life we enjoy here. If done wrong, we will undoubtedly suffer.

Now, if only there were instructions on how to do it right...

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Baltimore's problems as the article said: crime, schools, drugs, and taxes.

Crime - Fix the drug problem and a lot of the crime will go away. Also, make the investment in a system that does a better job rehabilitating those people in need.

Schools - Without doubt, the best investment a community can make to improve itself is education, especially early education. Minnesota has found increasing spending on early (pre-K) education results in about a 16% return on investment year after year when considering higher employability, higher income tax base, less need for social services, less need for incarceration, etc. That's about as close to a silver bullet as you can get. Skip "No Child Left Behind", concentrate on competent educators with low teacher-student ratios, avoid social promotion, invigorate PTAs, and proceed.

Drugs - Increase treatment funding and increase anti-drug education. Too many want treatment that can't get it.

Taxes - Address the first three and the tax base issue will solve itself.

Anonymous said...

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.

Show me a place that has gone from our current population and population density to having the population and density expected that hasn't seen all those things go up.

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