False sprawl tax, DART's rail fail, raves for Houston's 'zoning lite', racist red tape for aspiring Uber drivers, and moreOur featured item this week is the so-called "sprawl tax", which I argue against in the Chronicle here and on local KPRC TV here (I start at 1:15). I always struggle to keep my answers crisp in these interviews, but they worked a miracle in editing, distilling 10 minutes to 12 seconds, lol.
In short, I object to the label – sprawl tax – because it implies you have no choice (taxes are not voluntary). In these cases, people are explicitly *choosing* to live further out, whether for a bigger, more affordable house or better neighborhoods or schools. They’re voluntarily making that tradeoff. People are accepting this cost they calculate to get those benefits. In every city they could choose to live closer to work, but that house might be smaller/older/more expensive/worse schools. It makes about as much sense as calculating a “luxury car tax” for those who choose to buy a BMW, Mercedes, etc. “Why are they choosing to do that when they could buy a Toyota Corolla for much less!?” Kinda obviously absurd when stated that way. I’ll also note that the big metros that are low on their sprawl costs also have some of the highest housing costs in the country – those people are definitely not living at a lower cost. Maybe someone should calculate a “urban housing tax” or “smart growth tax” for metros that restrict new development and push up prices?
This week's items:
- Dallas Observer: DART Has Spent $5 Billion on Light Rail. Is It Worth It? Short answer: No. $5.1 billion spent with essentially no change in overall ridership and very little transit-oriented development to show for it. I have my disagreements with METRO's approach to light rail as well, but thank goodness we didn't do anything as stupid as Dallas. We were much smarter to focus the light rail on a short busy corridor in the core and keep using HOV buses for long-distance commuting serving multiple job centers.
- Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program ranks Metro Houston 5th in jobs in advanced industries
- What is required to drive for Uber in Houston? Ok, this is just insane. Pure red tape. The city needs to give in to Uber on this one - they're in the right. Former Attorney General Eric Holder is even claiming that fingerprinting rules are racist:
“Holder explained that while fingerprint checks are a valuable law enforcement tool, they “often do not indicate whether a person who was arrested was even charged or ultimately convicted.” Thus, mandatory checks “can prevent people from getting a job even if they were never found guilty of a crime.” Because black men are arrested more than white men, the policy affects men of color disproportionately.”
"Houstonians do seem to understand a basic economic truth that many people in other cities have a remarkable amount of trouble getting their heads around -- that allowing more housing to be built makes housing more affordable."He also has a companion piece, "They Know How to Build Apartments in Houston"
"If developers are building lots of apartments in and around Dallas and Houston, it's because they think they think there's demand.
Some of that demand is about living close-in, in walkable neighborhoods with public transportation close by. Yes, even in Houston, that's becoming a thing. But a lot of it is surely just demand for housing that a non-wealthy person can afford. Houston and Dallas have been building lots of it. Despite strong job growth in recent years, San Francisco, San Jose and the cities around them have not. That's partly because they're already more tightly packed than Houston and Dallas, and face geographical limits on expansion that Texas cities generally do not. But it's also just because it's so danged hard to get permission to put up apartment buildings there. Which is a shame."
"Contrary to conventional wisdom, many US cities have a lot to learn from Houston. With tight development restrictions, out-of-date urban planning regimes, and burdensome regulations forcing middle- and lower-class Americans out of West Cost and Northeastern cities, Houston’s mix of affordable housing and economic opportunity is more valuable than ever. As other cities have attempted to maintain tight, centralized control on urban and economic development - exemplified by a recent push by Dallas to shutter local businesses in order to attract chains - Houston has opted to take a back seat to residents, entrepreneurs, and civil society groups in cultivating economic development and crafting urban communities... It is well past time that we start taking Houston’s success seriously."I'm heading to California on business for two weeks - not sure if I'll blog again before July.