On building enough housing

I’ve written just last week that I’m very excited about Matt Yglesias’ new book, One Billion Americans. It’s about supporting families, welcoming immigrants, and building housing. All things I support enthusiastically.

It was interesting to therefore see how people who don’t think like I do feel about it. This critique, published today in The New Republic, is pretty brutal.

It includes this excerpt:

Yglesias is an enthusiastic proponent of Yimbyism (“Yes In My Back Yard”), a technocratic school of thought that says the housing crisis is primarily one of scarcity, not price, and that if we (who? developers?) could build more apartments and condos, housing prices would fall. The hypothesis is easily falsified by a city like Pittsburgh, my own, where apartment and condo units are going up by the hundreds—and so are average monthly rents.

There’s so much to focus in on here, not least the interesting contrast drawn between scarcity and prices.

More generally, it reminds me of the most common objection I hear from friends and acquaintances when I explain to them that housing is expensive because we’re not building enough of it. It generally sounds something like: “well, there’s a crane right there. We are building housing! And it’s still very expensive.”

Last year in Pittsburgh, the city cited by the author, a total of 660 housing units were permitted. That’s 2.2 units per 1,000 residents, a vanishingly low number. (Credit.)

Housing isn’t increasingly unaffordable because we’re not building any in high demand cities, but rather because we’re not building enough.