Why is affordable housing so scarce? I am primarily speaking of Oklahoma City, but it’s a problem everywhere. And in fact, some people elsewhere would look at our situation here and say “your housing is very affordable.” Maybe if you have a California income it is affordable, but if you have an Oklahoma income, especially a working class Oklahooma income, our housing is increasingly not affordable.
Unlike some problems, this is a situation with an easy answer.
This is the government’s fault. The scarcity of affordable housing is an artifact of foolish government regulations.
Zoning regulations are the primary culprit.
Consider the modern “tiny house” movement. Here’s an article about a tiny house community in Portland, which allows tiny houses in back yards. This particular house has seven tiny houses, and it looks pretty nice to me.
Oklahoma City’s planning commissars would have litters of kittens if someone wandered in and wanted to do something like this.
And then of course there’s urban renewal, which has destroyed thousands of units of housing, many of them gorgeous period architecture such as we see in popular areas like Gatewood and Ten Penn, for the sake of highways and greed.
None of this is an accident.
- Racism is one of the drivers of the situation. The way our zoning regulations work, we have very cleverly resegregated many of our neighborhoods based on economic class. Gentrification is a code word for “driving out the poor people.” This of course is every bit as pernicious as segregation by race, and often it amounts to the same thing. People who claim to not be racists don’t have a problem demanding that “those” kind of people not be allowed to live in their neighborhood. “Those” of course being “poor people.” A real estate agent in OKC once told someone I know “don’t worry about the neighborhood, the neighborhood association is using code enforcement to get rid of the riff raff.”
- The greed of landlords is a second driver. The Chamber of Commerce will tell you that rising rents are “good for the economy” even as they ravage the budgets of ordinary people. But then, the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce doesn’t represent ordinary people, it represents people with money, who want more money, and who don’t shrink from rigging the system so that they will make more money. Every time the City government destroys a lower income neighborhood, it helps drive up rents. Every time the City govenrment imposes single residence house zoning, it drives up rents. Every time the City government restricts “mobile” and “manufactured” homes to small ghettoes on the fringes of the city, it drives up rents. Renters of OKC take note — City government is your enemy! City government is acting against your best interests.
So that’s the situation and as long as we have the kind of local governments that we have, this sad situation will continue. It’s a shame people take so little notice of their city council elections. All that is necessary for good to fail, is for good people to do nothing on election day.