Earlier today I posted the video of the Cato discussion on housing with Randal O’Toole, Ryan Avent, Adam Gordon, and Matt Yglesias, but I wanted to transcribe one segment towards the end. (Like I said, it’s hard to skip to the end of the streaming video because you can’t scroll beyond what’s already been downloaded.).
For the last question, someone from the audience says he’s a fan of Randal’s who lives in DC, and asks Randal, and the rest of the panelists, what they about the recent calls to lift the city’s height limit in response to development pressures.
Randal responds first:
Well this is where I think the policy questions [and the difference between Randal and the other panelists] come in on density. I think we ‘ve got Maryland, which has all these restrictions on supposedly protecting agricultural land, we have Loudoun County and other counties in Virginia that have zoned most of their land for 20-acre large lot sizes, those have restricted the ability of people to live in single-family, to build new single-family homes in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. And so it’s created a pressure for more density in Washington, DC, but if you didn’t have those suburban restrictions, you wouldn’t have that pressure for density in Washington, DC. So I’d say, let’s get rid of the suburban restrictions, and then see if there really is a demand for high-density high-rise in Washington. If there really was a demand, there’s a lot of three-story buildings that could be redeveloped to be six and seven stories if you wanted to.
Matt: “You’re not allowed to!”
Ryan: “You should try to do that – if you can make it happen, then that would be a great profit opportunity.”
Randal: “Well, I’ve seen streets of row houses here [in DC] where every other house has been replaced by a six-story building – a three-story row house replaced by a six-story building. So obviously you can do it in some places.”
Matt: “Which street was that on?”
Randal: “I think it was on Wisconsin.”
Ryan, sarcastically: “Oh yeah, there’s no NIMBYism on Wisconsin Avenue.”
Randal: “I actually took a picture of it – I’ll show it to you afterwards…”
Ryan: “I think the argument that it is restrictions on the fringe of the metro area that are driving demand in the core simply doesn’t hold water when you actually look at the premiums you can pay in different places. I mean, if that were true, then we would expect prices in a place like Prince William County to be extremely high above construction cost – more about construction cost than we see in the center, and that’s not in fact what we observe.”