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Salim Furth

Articles by Salim Furth

The Three Facts of California’s ADU Boom

June 18, 2021

Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in California are “a revolution in progress,” in the words of researchers at the University of California’s Center for Community Innovation. A series of laws enacted over the past five years have systematically eliminated most explicit and implicit legal barriers to ADU construction across the entire state. Using data reported to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), cleaned by Kat Gordiienko of Builty, and published by Kol Peterson, I investigated likely economic and regulatory determinants of ADU growth across California cities.

View the full interactive state map of ADU permits compared to single family homes here

Digging into the data, I found three key facts:

Los Angeles – the city, not the region – is

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Decomposing Housing Unaffordability

June 17, 2021

A US household is considered ‘rent burdened’ when its rent exceeds 30% of its income. This simple ratio can be decomposed to better understand the sources of unaffordability across space. To demonstrate this new approach, I rewrite the equation for rent burden as a sum of four factors: rent gap, income gap, excess size cost, and demographic baseline, and show that US rental unaffordability is mostly the result of low incomes. Focusing on the New England region, however, I show that high rent is the primary cause of unaffordability in high-cost, high-wage metro areas. This decomposition can help affordability advocates prioritise strategies appropriately across space.

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Salim Furth

Document Type: article
ISSN: 2336-2839
Volume: 8

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Flexible Federal Funding: Examining the Community Development Block Grant Program and Its Impact on Addressing Local Challenges

June 15, 2021

Good morning, Chair Cleaver, Ranking Member Hill, and members of the subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to address you 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. My remarks today will focus on
the need to reform the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program’s funding formula,
two questionable categories of CDBG funding use that Congress should limit, and
the inequitable treatment of non-entitlement communities.
The Formulas
As the congressional declaration of purpose states in many different ways, the CDBG program is intended principally for the benefit of low- and moderate-income people and the neighborhoods where they live. But the most impactful parts

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The State versus Single-Family Zoning

March 8, 2021

Chair Dolan, Vice Chair Piemonte, and members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to comment on residential zoning. I study land use regulation and housing markets as codirector of the Urbanity Project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
It is a privilege to come before you for the second time this session. Much of my previous testimony on HB 132 applies equally to this bill, which takes a different approach to achieving a similar object: facilitating a modest increase in residential density in places served by water and sewer. Allowing more homes per lot would likewise promote affordability, conserve municipal resources, have less impact on forest and farmland, and promote property rights.
Incremental Progress
We now have experience with reforms that allow two- to

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Four Benefits of Limiting Minimum Lot Sizes

February 11, 2021

Chair Dolan, Vice Chair Piemonte, and members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to comment on minimum lot sizes. I study land use regulation and housing markets as codirector of the Urbanity Project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. During the past two years, my research has focused especially on minimum lot sizes, which I believe to be the most prevalent form of land use regulation in the United States.
The bill before you would slightly limit municipal regulatory authority: landowners statewide would gain the right to create parcels for single-family housing as small as a half-acre, provided those parcels use neither a well nor a septic field. There are several benefits to having small lot sizes but few costs, a fact that a just and limited government ought to

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Massachusetts Omnibus Law Will Result in Widespread Rezoning

January 14, 2021

Last week, Massachusetts legislators took a step to address housing scarcity in the Bay State, which has led to decades of rising home prices. If it’s signed by Gov. Charlie Baker, Section 18 of the state’s omnibus spending bill (H. 5250) may herald a new approach to local zoning authority, allowing localities deference in means but not the unlimited authority to exclude.
Section 18, which originated as standalone bills introduced two years ago, is a “choose your own adventure” preemption. It requires towns to provide some multifamily zoning but leaves them with ample latitude in how and where to do so.
Specifically, Section 18 requires that each of the 175 communities served by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (most of Eastern Massachusetts) provide a zoning “district of reasonable

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Upzoning Our Homes

January 8, 2021

Allowing more housing options in an area should make renting more affordable. Read more at Discourse.

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When the Moratorium Expires: Three Quick Steps to Reduce Eviction

June 19, 2020

Eviction moratoria are set to expire across the country, unemployment is high, and many renter advocates are predicting a “tsunami” of eviction filings. In a legal eviction, a landlord obtains a court judgment against a tenant who has violated his or her lease, either by causing a nuisance or damage on the property or failing to pay. To reduce exposure to COVID-19 for all involved, many localities suspended eviction procedures in March 2019. The sudden end of moratoria will almost certainly result in a surge in eviction filings, if only owing to pent-up requests. Policymakers can avoid a drastic shock to the rental market by encouraging renegotiation, limiting the pace of evictions, and creating incentives for landlord forbearance.
Tsunami or No?
Surprisingly, data gathered by Princeton

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New Urban Econ Research Shows the Macroeconomic Benefits of Big Cities

May 12, 2020

In March 2020, vast modern cities shut down as never before. The conversations, handshakes, crowds, and venues that make cities so attractive and productive suddenly became threats. In this context, a recent working paper by Gilles Duranton and Diego Puga, “Urban Growth and Its Aggregate Implications,” offers insight into the promise and limits of urban economies.
The new paper is a substantial advance in urban economic theory, bringing together several streams of scholarship and providing theoretical grounding to estimates of the macroeconomic cost of land use regulation. Duranton and Puga’s top-line result seems to confirm previous research on the same question by Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti, but the mechanics behind Duranton and Puga’s result take into account the benefits and

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Allowing Triplexes Would Lower Rent in Maryland

March 4, 2020

Chair Barve, Vice Chair Stein, and members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to comment on the importance of middle housing and the impact of local zoning on affordability. I study land use regulation and housing markets as codirector of the Urbanity Project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
The Modest Home Choices Act of 2020 (HB1406) would allow the construction of triplexes (three-family homes) on lots currently reserved for single-family homes in census tracts near transit, near job concentrations, or with very high incomes. Triplexes are a form of “middle housing,” which includes everything between single-family detached homes and large multifamily buildings. Townhouses, cottage clusters, and apartments above shops are all examples of middle housing. In

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Mercatus Scholars' Most Influential Books: Salim Furth

January 23, 2020

In commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, we’ve asked some of our scholars to share the books that have been most influential or formative in the development of their analytical approach and worldview.
From existential engineering to the Salem witch trials to Argentine magical realism, our scholars have drawn inspiration from diverse and dramatic wellsprings of intellectual thought.
Read on for more about why and how the books we will discuss have influenced our scholars’ approaches to policy and philosophy, and what lessons other readers may draw from these works.

No book but the Bible has single-handedly anchored any aspect of my worldview. But there are several foundational ideas that are implicit in all my work—or that nag at me when I

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Nebraska Joins Maryland, Virginia, and Oregon with Proposal to Increase Home Building

January 14, 2020

We’ve all heard about out-of-reach housing prices in places like Silicon Valley and New York City. But in recent years, the cost of housing has also been rising fast in places known for steak rather than seafood. Indeed, while home prices in the middle of the country remain far below those in highly regulated coastal markets, they’ve often been increasing at a faster rate.
As I detailed in a recent piece for City Journal, these rising costs prompted bipartisan majorities in Arkansas, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas to enact legislation in 2019 giving homeowners and builders regulatory relief with the aim of increasing home building and home affordability.  
Just last week, a bill (LB 794) was introduced in Nebraska’s legislature that would limit local regulatory powers by allowing two-,

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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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