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Salim Furth

Articles by Salim Furth

New Bill Would Target Transit Funding to Places that Allow Housing Density

September 13, 2019

On Thursday, Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) introduced a bill intended to alleviate the national housing supply shortage, which is acute in coastal areas such as Rep. Peters’ San Diego district. Since the housing shortage is primarily caused by local zoning restrictions, finding appropriate federal levers can be a challenge.
Rep. Peters has correctly identified large-scale transit funding as a key way that the federal government interacts with the local planning and zoning process. His Build More Housing Near Transit Act would instruct the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) to take a more complete view of housing opportunities in its grant-making process.
Mass transit only makes sense when it can be used by a large number of people—thus, in dense areas. Low-density areas, even where the

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Tracking Vermont’s Housing Supply Growth and Decline by Census Tract

September 5, 2019

How much has Vermont’s housing supply changed over the past few years?
In Housing Supply in the 2010s, I used US Postal Service data to document where the housing supply is growing–and where it is shrinking. The commonly-used data on building permits cannot measure decline, since they do not track demolitions. So this is probably the most detailed publicly-available dataset for identifying which parts of Vermont lost housing units between 2012 and 2018 and which gained.

The map shows the rate of housing supply growth (in blue-green) or decline (in brown) by census tract. Since tracts are designed to be of roughly-equal population, clusters of small tracts indicate cities. In Vermont, most of those clusters are blue-green, with a few pockets of negative growth throughout the state. Indeed,

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Development Dividends: Sharing Equity to Overcome Opposition to Housing

August 28, 2019

Renters are indirect beneficiaries of housing development, since growth tends to lower rent. But the benefit of any specific project is small and spread across so many people that renters usually remain unengaged in the local politics of growth. This policy brief offers for discussion or experimentation a novel approach to changing the institutional dynamics of local land use policy: involving renters as direct beneficiaries through the payment of development dividends.
Development Dividends
With a development dividend system, a property owner or developer could enlist qualified local residents by giving them a limited equity stake in housing construction, a right that would pay out a specific dividend if the project were successfully completed. The beneficiaries would have an incentive to

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Tracking Michigan's Housing Supply Growth and Decline by Census Tract

August 26, 2019

Michigan has some of the most depressed housing markets in the US. Detroit–yesteryear’s Silicon Valley–is the archetype of Rust Belt decline. Flint showed the perils of poorly-maintained infrastructure when a change in its water supply source released toxic metals into the city’s tapwater.
Both cities, as well as others in Michigan, have struggled to shrink gracefully. There’s nothing wrong, in principle, with losing population. But unwanted buildings and too-large legacy infrastructure create fiscal, social, and health problems for their communities.
In Housing Supply in the 2010s, I used US Postal Service data to document where the housing supply is growing–and where it is shrinking. The commonly-used data on building permits cannot measure decline, since they do not track demolitions.

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HUD Does Not Need to Target Opportunity Zones

June 5, 2019

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) actions in response to the creation of Opportunity Zones and Executive Order 13853, “Establishing the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council.” The Mercatus Center at George Mason University is dedicated to bridging the gap between academic ideas and real-world problems and to advancing knowledge about the likely consequences of proposed regulation for private markets. Accordingly, this comment represents the views of no particular party or interest group.
HUD should avoid adding administrative complexity by targeting Opportunity Zones and should continue to improve the administration of its many long-standing programs intended to benefit economically distressed communities.

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Legalizing Duplex Conversions Would Have Some Predictable, and Some Unintended, Effects

April 26, 2019

California’s most ambitious housing reform, the MoreHOMES Act, became more nuanced and further-reaching in an agreement reached by State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and State Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) on April 24th. The MoreHOMES Act, or Senate Bill 50, would preempt some local regulations on the height and bulk of residential buildings in California counties with populations above 600,000. It would have modest effects, per the new agreement, in smaller counties.
The new agreement, however, broadened the reach of the MoreHOMES Act in one key provision, according to a preliminary summary posted by Los Angeles Times reporter Liam Dillon. It would preempt local regulations and allow:
1. Subdivision of existing houses into a maximum of four units, and
2. Construction of

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New York City Is so Popular No One Goes There Anymore

April 23, 2019

New York City has been a housing market paradox over the last two years: with declining population and falling rent, the city is clearly facing a decline in demand. But with rent levels still extremely high and construction in the city and suburbs throttled by regulation, the city seems poised to grow if ever those regulations were lifted.
The decline in demand for New York living seems to be real. The Census Bureau’s annual county population estimates released last week showed a second consecutive year of population decline. Rent also fell from July 2017 to July 2018, according to Zillow, dropping 3.3 percent in Brooklyn, 2.5 percent in Manhattan, and one percent in Queens. Several of the suburban counties around New York also lost population and had falling or stagnant rent and home

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Expanding Housing Opportunity in an Environment of Exclusionary Regulation

April 2, 2019

Good morning, Chairwoman Waters, Ranking Member McHenry, and members of the House Committee on Financial Services. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address the committee today.
My name is Salim Furth and I am a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where I am codirector of the Urbanity project. I study land use regulations that are barriers to opportunity. My comments today will focus on the details of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rulemaking; but first, please allow me to frame one of the fundamental problems in the US housing market.
The Exclusion Problem in Urban Planning
Contemporary American land use law embodies the bad idea that private land use ought to be publicly planned. In practice, these plans routinely exclude

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Microsoft's Affordable Housing Plan Addresses a Government Failure

January 21, 2019

Writing in the New York Times’ blog, The Upshot, Emily Badger contrasts Microsoft’s pledge to invest $500 million in affordable housing with the long-term decline of federal spending on public housing. Microsoft is not, as Badger claims, addressing a market failure but a government failure. And the principal government failure it is addressing is not the long-term decline of federal spending but the strict regulations that Washington’s state and local governments impose on all housing construction.
Lack of shelter is a great evil, but it is not a “market failure” in the technical sense. Housing for the poor is not scarce because of incomplete information, moral hazard, monopoly power, or any of the usual catalog of ways that markets fail to live up to the ideal. In fact, the housing

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A Way Forward for Affordable Housing

October 9, 2018

In cities across America, renters and home-buyers face shockingly high prices. The explanation is simple: demand for housing is growing faster than the supply of housing, causing prices to rise. Under normal circumstances, markets would correct this problem by themselves; higher prices would incentivize developers to build more housing units, and the increased supply would result in lower prices. However, thanks to myriad local rules, building new housing can be difficult, costly, or even impossible.
Thankfully, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has recognized the problem and asked for constructive solutions to a pressing problem. That’s why my colleague Emily Hamilton and I recently submitted a public interest comment that encourages HUD to promote affordable housing

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Ben Carson’s Approach to Affordable Housing Might Work

October 5, 2018

In 2016, President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers prepared a white paper that was remarkable in that it gently criticized the President’s own housing policy: “While President Obama’s budget calls for increasing investments to provide affordable housing and end family homelessness, HUD’s existing project-based and housing choice vouchers could serve more families if the per-unit cost wasn’t pushed higher and higher by rents rising in the face of barriers to new development.” In the face of local land-use regulations, which drive up the cost of rent, HUD policies were ineffective…
Continue reading: Ben Carson’s Approach to Affordable Housing Might Work

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Let Private Companies Pay for More Bike Lanes

August 6, 2018

There are currently just 361.65 miles of protected bike lanes in the entire United States—but an electric scooter company wants to give us many more. Bird is a Santa Monica-based company that was founded in 2017 and achieved an astounding $2 billion valuation just a year later. It distributes electric scooters in select cities, where users can rent them for $1 per ride plus 15 cents a minute.
Bird has proposed offering its host cities a dollar a day per scooter, earmarked to build protected bike lanes. Those lanes, which allow bikes and scooters to move smoothly without conflicts with cars or pedestrians, will be needed to accommodate Bird’s growth if it achieves the market share that its investors obviously expect.
People For Bikes, an advocacy organization, estimates that a protected

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Puerto Rico's Already Low Labor Share Keeps Falling

May 10, 2018

Puerto Rico’s future budgets and policy are being determined in important ongoing negotiations between the territory’s elected governor and legislature and the federally appointed Financial Oversight and Management Board. The Board has the authority to dictate policy on debt and pensions, but the real policy changes needed to return Puerto Rico to growth and prosperity lie with the elected officials.
Despite having the most “pro-labor” laws in the U.S., the territory’s employees receive a smaller share of all net income generated on the island than any state. I previously documented that private sector employees received 25 percent of net domestic private sector income in 2012. New data show that workers’ share slipped to 24 percent in fiscal year 2016. Depressingly, labor’s share has

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