One Approach to Lowering Housing Costs

Thank God that Montgomery doesn’t have to deal with the problems of New Orleans. Hurricanes, flooding, looting, and environmental contamination would leave us in a miserable state, as well. We can learn something from their tragedy, though.

The cost of rebuilding housing is one of the main factors inhibiting the regrowth of the city. In Metropolis magazine, Andres Duany offers an interesting take on the problem. Duany is one of the most honored urban planners in the country. A founder of the “New Urbanism” school, he has won awards from the American Planning Association, Institute for Classical Architecture, the American Institute of Architects, and others. His firm is especially famous for the design of Seaside, Florida and (closer to home) the Kentlands in Gaithersburg.

Duany makes the fascinating link between the charm and culture of New Orleans and the historically low cost of housing there. Because housing was inexpensive, people didn’t have to work as hard to pay for it, and had more leisure time – for cooking, for music, socializing friends and family.

Why was housing less expensive? Here’s where Montgomery may have something to learn, from the style that Duany terms “self-housing”: Simple and inexpensive homes, with few frills, often paid for with cash or barter. They often weren’t professionally built, but they served their purpose, without consigning owners to working two jobs to pay the mortgage. Duany laments that housing can’t be built this way anymore, because of new and expensive housing codes and the demands and costs of permits and city licensing requirements. These expenses are making it impossible for sufficient housing to be built in a city desperate for it.

Now, when it comes to overpriced housing, Montgomery doesn’t yield leadership to anyone. Our problems of insufficient – and affordable – housing are as bad as any locality that hasn’t been hit by a Class 4 hurricane. So what lessons can we learn from New Orleans problem? Here’s Duany’s recommendation:

“What can be done? Somehow the building culture that created the original New Orleans must be reinstated. The hurdle of drawings, permitting, contractors, inspections—the professionalism of it all—eliminates self-building. Somehow there must be a process whereupon people can build simple, functional houses for themselves, either by themselves or by barter with professionals. There must be free house designs that can be built in small stages and that do not require an architect, complicated permits, or inspections; there must be common-sense technical standards.”

To be sure, this doesn’t mean the end of McMansions, nor that Potomac would become overrun with bungalows. It simply provides a reasonable means for people to be able to build and buy affordable housing, without having to rely on handouts. This could represent the way to allow the market to provide the lower-end housing that we so desperately need. To those who might suggest that safety and “common-sense technical standards” can’t be achieved without expensive bureaucratic mandates, Duany answers simply:

“However it may sound, this proposal is not so odd. Until recently this was the way that built America from the Atlantic to the Pacific. For three centuries Americans built for themselves. They built well enough, so long as it was theirs. Individual responsibility could be trusted. We must return to this as an option.”

Agreed. Duany continues:

“..However it may sound, this proposal is not so odd. Until recently this was the way that built America from the Atlantic to the Pacific. For three centuries Americans built for themselves. They built well enough, so long as it was theirs. Individual responsibility could be trusted. We must return to this as an option.”

Sound thinking.

Advertisements
Explore posts in the same categories: County government, Housing, Regulation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: