Unleash the Swarm in Housing Production

by | Sep 6, 2022

If we unleash the swarm, if we restore freedom to property owners, we will see an immense increase in housing production. Property owners could convert single-family homes into duplexes, build a cottage or “granny flat” in the back yard, or do any number of other things to increase the supply of housing.

Despite a myriad of proposals and policies, there is no end in sight for the affordable housing crisis. Nearly all of these policies involve throwing more taxpayer money at the problem. If legislators truly want to solve the problem, they should unleash the swarm. And it won’t cost taxpayers a single penny.

One of the primary obstacles to solving the housing problem is the plethora of land-use regulations, including single-family zoning, that arbitrarily restrict housing production. As Edward Pinto, executive director of the American Enterprise Institute’s Housing Center, puts it, “Local jurisdictions are constantly coming up with new ways to frustrate the homebuilding process.” If legislators began repealing land-use regulations, they would unleash the swarm.

Pinto argues that,

You could see thousands of homeowners and hundreds of small contractors participating in this. It is a way for many more people to get into the housing market as either developers or landlords.

The housing problem is one of supply. The demand for low- and moderate-income housing far exceeds the supply. Other than public housing and tax credits, government does very little to increase the supply. And those efforts pale in comparison to what is needed. However, if we unleash the swarm, if we restore freedom to property owners, we will see an immense increase in housing production. Property owners could convert single-family homes into duplexes, build a cottage or “granny flat” in the back yard, or do any number of other things to increase the supply of housing.

Many local governments are vehemently opposed to loosening the restrictions on property owners. Indeed, when Biden proposed that municipalities eliminate single-family zoning as a condition for receiving federal housing funds, local governments pushed back. They argued that Biden’s proposal was a “land grab” and would remove local control of land-use.

Pinto counters this argument, by correctly stating, that repealing land-use regulations “is about giving back local control to the property owners themselves, where it belongs.” Defenders of zoning include both conservatives and Leftists. They agree that government should dictate how property can be used. They believe that the “public interest” or “community values” supersede individual rights.

But this view, and the policies that result from it, has not solved the housing problem. Indeed, it has caused and exacerbated the housing shortage. If we want to solve the housing problem, then a new framework must be adopted for discussing housing policies.

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Brian Phillips is the founder of the Texas Institute for Property Rights. Brian has been defending property rights for nearly thirty years. He played a key role in defeating zoning in Houston, Texas, and in Hobbs, New Mexico. He is the author of three books: Individual Rights and Government Wrongs, The Innovator Versus the Collective, and Principles and Property Rights. Visit his website at texasipr.com.

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