Market-rate housing is just as important as subsidized housing

Controversy swirls around the Wincup apartment development in Corte Madera, and the IJ has published a piece detailing every complaint, from the size to the traffic to the fact that it won’t be “affordable” housing.

While there are problems with the piece (they couldn’t find one person who liked it? Or someone who was interested in renting there?), the myth that market rate housing does not help the cause of affordable housing, brought up by a neighbor, is one that we’ve addressed here and bears repeating.

The housing market in the Bay Area is fundamentally constrained, especially at the top. There simply is not enough supply to go around, and so prices are artificially high. A house that might go for $250,000 elsewhere goes for $850,000, and an apartment that might go for $700 a month elsewhere goes for $1,500 here.

Since there’s not enough super-luxury housing for the wealthy, they look for regular luxury housing, displacing the modestly wealthy. Modestly wealthy folk, whose luxury housing is now out of their price range, look for middle-quality housing, displacing the upper-middle class, who look for lower range housing, and so on down the line until the poorest get knocked off entirely.

Traditional affordable housing tries to build housing that’s been set aside for those poorest folk, but that’s only a stop-gap. Without a functional housing market, they’ll never get enough government largesse and charity. The construction of market-rate housing, shifts some wealthier folk back up the ladder, giving space for the poor and lowering prices across the board.

Now, a single project in Corte Madera won’t do this for the whole Bay Area, but it’s counterproductive to denigrate a project for not being “affordable.” We need a stratified, healthy housing market to solve our region’s affordability problem. Market-rate housing, from ultra-luxury on the Embarcadero to just somewhat lux in Marin, is the only way to do that.

The form of Wincup may be off. It may be monstrous, even. But don’t knock it for its prices.

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About David Edmondson
A native Marinite working in Washington, DC, I am fascinated by how one might apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of my home.

6 Responses to Market-rate housing is just as important as subsidized housing

  1. Franz Listen says:

    Amen. At the Dominican event months ago you introduced the concept of filtering, but then didn’t press the point. Too bad – because the audience really could have used the education.

    Market rate housing has lots of enemies – a left that wrongly insists that housing is useless unless it’s subsidized and deed-restricted and the “development skeptics”, as you so politely and diplomatically call them, who reject all new housing.

    Among the “development skeptics” we have libertarian NIMBYs. Unable to bear the cognitive dissonance of their position, they’ve created a big lie. Since all new housing development must be approved by local jurisdictions that issue building permits and since all new housing developments are regulated by zoning that’s established by government city planners, then all new housing developments are government projects! Get it? So… in a perfectly free market, new housing development wouldn’t occur at all in Marin! Whew, cognitive crisis averted. This kind of logic, along with the whole ABAG allocation error thing, is the origin of the “WinCup is a government project” fallacy.

  2. Linda Jackson says:

    The Wincup building is a manifestation of our tendency toward ‘condemnation before investigation.’ With a building, wait til it’s finaled to see what it really looks like. It’s hard to find someone who thinks something under construction is good looking, except for a construction worker. I mean, who likes a kitchen remodel while it’s being done – it’s afterwards that counts. So, after the exterior is finished, and the landscaping is in, and the building is occupied, THEN evaluate. Challenge the IJ to do that! (They never have done a story post-occupancy of the projects they’re covered…)

    I despair of the IJ doing any real reporting anymore.

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