The Washington post had an article on Sunday that blamed the nation's so-called home affordability crisis partly on unnecessarily restrictive zoning:
[T]he scarcity of affordable housing is a deepening national crisis, and not just for inner-city families on welfare. The problem has climbed the income ladder and moved to the suburbs, where service workers cram their families into overcrowded apartments, college graduates have to crash with their parents, and firefighters, police officers and teachers can't afford to live in the communities they serve.
. . .
The root of the problem is the striking mismatch between the demand for and the supply of affordable housing -- or, more accurately, affordable housing near jobs. Fifteen million families now spend at least half their income on housing, according to Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies; many skimp on health care, child care and food to do so. Others reduce their rents by overcrowding, which studies link to higher crime rates, poorer academic performance and poorer health; Los Angeles alone has 620,000 homes with more than one person per room.
. . .
Moderate-income families aren't able to buy Lamborghinis or Armani, but they can buy cars and clothes. So while it's obvious why they can't afford McMansions, it's not so obvious why they can't afford decent housing. They demand it. Shouldn't the market supply it?
The answer is yes. But in many communities, local regulations have stifled multifamily housing and even modest single-family housing. Minimum lot requirements, minimum parking requirements, density restrictions and other controls go well beyond the traditional mission of the building code and end up artificially reducing the development of safe, affordable housing.
The unfashionable but accurate term for these restrictions is "snob zoning." Suburbanites use them to boost property values by keeping out riffraff -- even the riffraff who teach their kids, police their streets and extinguish their fires. Urbanites are susceptible to the same NIMBY impulses, often couched as opposition to "traffic congestion" or "overdevelopment" or protection of the neighborhood's "character." It's easy to support affordable housing in someone else's neighborhood. But when developers propose high-density projects, neighborhoods object.
It's refreshing to see the national media identify the real culprit.
(I think the claim that there is a "national" affordability crisis is hyperbole, though. There are plenty of places even in or near Austin where housing is cheap, including southeastern Austin (MLS area 11), and suburbs like Hutto, Manor, and Pflugerville. I suppose if you view the world from the Beltway or the middle of San Francisco or Orange County, then all you see in any direction is expensive housing.)
Interestingly, the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch had a similar article last week. Columbus is similar to Austin in many ways: It's about the same size; has been experiencing rapid growth; and, of course, is dominated by a giant university. From the article it looks like there's one significant difference. In Columbus it is the suburbs that are jacking up home values; in Austin, it is the inner city neighborhoods.