Lay Welcome Mat For New Houses

By John Hood

RALEIGH — When demand exceeds supply, prices rise. While the problem of housing affordability has many facets and effects, that inescapable fact explains a lot about why so many North Carolinians struggle to afford the homes they’d like to buy or rent.

It’s not as if there are many idle homebuilders in our state. In fact, by one measure North Carolina is doing better than average. When the Manhattan Institute compared job growth to new housing permits in 20 fastest-growing metropolitan areas, the three North Carolina metros on the list fared very well: Durham-Chapel Hill (#1), Raleigh-Cary (#3), and Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia (#4)

Alas, this isn’t the whole story. It misses an important stock-and-flow dynamic. Yes, over the past decade North Carolina metros have been more accommodating than most of their peers in allowing new home starts to keep up with new residents. But our state began the decade with too many consumers chasing too few housing units. Despite recent construction, we aren’t adding enough housing stock.

Take a look at the most-recent affordability data from the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo Bank. Their study compares the median sales price of homes to the median income in each jurisdiction. For the first quarter of 2021, NAHB/Wells Fargo produced affordability scores for 233 metros. North Carolina’s highest-ranking places for home affordability were Fayetteville (32) and Winston-Salem (58).

Greensboro-High Point (96), Raleigh-Cary (102), Durham-Chapel Hill (113), Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia (124), and Asheville (150) face bigger challenges. Our housing markets aren’t as locked up as those in California or New York, to be sure. That’s one reason why Californians and New Yorkers (among others) continue to move here in significant numbers. But home affordability in North Carolina is still a worrisome problem.

Most policymakers agree with that, of course. Where they disagree is how North Carolina state and local governments should go about trying to address it.

For decades, my John Locke Foundation colleagues and I have recommended that we loosen housing and zoning regulations to make it easier to provide housing to people of modest means. Yes, that means allowing more units per acre of (increasingly pricey) land. It means duplexes and triplexes. It means allowing homeowners to rent out spare rooms. It even means allowing more manufactured housing within municipal limits (modern units bear little relationship to old-fashioned trailers, by the way).

A serious effort to promote affordability in North Carolina also means reducing how long it takes — from planning stage to final construction — for homebuilders to bring new inventory to market. It means streamlining the process for obtaining permits. It means letting producers and consumers meet in the middle, trading off amenities for price, rather than imposing housing codes that reflect the preferences of existing residents over those of newcomers.

Such an effort, then, isn’t just about the precise wording of laws or the detailed analysis of regulations. It’s about public attitudes.

Do people other than buyers and sellers have a legitimate interest in the amount and type of housing stock erected in the community? To a limited extent, yes, regarding public services such as roads or water and sewer. That interest need not result in excessive regulation, however. Localities can and do charge developers directly, and thus prospective newcomers indirectly, for the cost of adding infrastructure capacity to accommodate them. Such a practice is not about saying no. It’s about saying yes — at the right price.

Let’s be honest, though: when the “neighborhood” resists new construction or higher density, it’s not just about traffic or stormwater runoff. Preexisting residents want to keep “things” the way they were when they moved in. More trees. Fewer people driving or walking by. Structures and landscapes that existing residents admire when they drive or walk by.

Here’s a principle we should all take to heart: when we buy or rent a place to live, we don’t purchase a right to oversee how many neighbors we’ll have — or how they choose to live their lives.

John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member and author of the forthcoming novel Mountain Folk, a historical fantasy set during the American Revolution (MountainFolkBook.com).

7 COMMENTS

  1. Wow. Just Wow. You veil your your desire for fewer regulations with altruism. I seriously doubt you’d allow more dense housing in you neighborhood. If you think the only reason housing costs are increasing is demand, you are so sadly mistaken. You may or may not understand economics, but you use the words to support your political agenda without fully disclosure.

  2. How about the people who move here from other states because it is better here, stop bringing the same political ideology with them that made them leave where they were to begin with. Let’s start there first!!!! I have no problem with people coming here, but they should leave the liberal ideology where they were so here doesn’t end up like there.

      • Well evidently we’re doing something right since here is better than there. Why would they leave where they were just to make here as crappy as there??? Because if here was not better than there, they wouldn’t leave there to come here.

        • I’m agreeing with you!!! I only want people who look, act, and think like me to live here! Why change anything?

  3. To build more houses means more trees cut down and makes hole in ozone layer bigger over Johnston county. More houses means more ground covered up makes flash floods worse. We need less houses built not more.

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