This is probably my favorite link list yet…enjoy!
1. The WSJ claims that delinquent homeowners can expect to stay in their homes after making their last mortgage payment – that is, they can live rent-free – for at least 16 months. The longer it takes for foreclosures to happen, the longer it will take for real estate markets to adjust to the new paradigm.
2. Fascinating article about food trucks in Houston. In it I found a second example of bad anti-terrorism policy trumping good urbanism:
Chimed in Joyce: “We all know that Houston is not a walking city, as much as we wish it was. But there are two areas that are walkable – downtown and the Medical Center. The use of propane trucks is prohibited downtown, however. The regulation was originally put in place as a part of Homeland Security after 9/11, but the Houston Fire Department continues to enforce it. That’s an example of something we’re looking to work with, to allow food trucks to operate in these higher foot traffic areas.”
The article also confirms my suspicion that food trucks may actually be safer than restaurants: “These are essentially open kitchens…you can look in there and see exactly what these guys are doing, where they’re grabbing the food from, how they’re cooking it.”
3. Hong Kong and Singapore are both instituting controls on their residential property markets to avoid bubbles, but they are also freeing government land for developers (in spite of Singapore’s free market reputation, most residents apparently live in public housing). Some speculate that Hong Kong’s controls might be a sign of increasing control from Beijing. Reuters says that “China, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia have also unveiled more stringent regulations in recent months” – the bubble that led to the 1997 financial crisis had a large property component. The Beijing Communist Party mouthpiece, apparently fearing that investors have too much faith in the local government, blames the city’s high rents on prostitutes.
4. Cap’n Transit on road subsidies. These sorts of debates often frustrate me because I feel like people are not clear as to which roads they’re talking about (federal, state, local?).
5. Al Gore admits that first-generation ethanol was a mistake and he only supported it because of “a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa” (yes, he really said that). But talk is cheap – he’s still sticking by non-food biofuels, though I think those’re just as bad. On the bright side, though, DeMint and Tom Coburn are apparently ready to let some key ethanol subsidies lapse this year.
6. DC developer forced to offer below-market rents to an IHOP. You know what would really help “small, local, minority-owned businesses”? Eliminating mandates like this that lead to constrained property markets and sky-high rents.
7. Remember that god-awful North Jersey mall project Xanadu, whose demise prompted an item in the last link list? Well apparently Chris Christie wants to throw more money down that hole. Speaking of which: Did they really not realize the negative associations people have with the name “Xanadu”? Or is that just evidence that not even the person who named it had any faith in it?
8. Real estate investors are bidding up prices for apartment buildings, says the NYT. Hopefully the increase in prices will convince local officials to zone for more multifamily development.
Alon Levy saysNovember 28, 2010 at 5:11 pm
Both Singapore and Hong Kong have a lot of government intervention in the housing market – it’s that, or mass homelessness. In Singapore, nearly everyone (80-85%) lives in public housing. In Hong Kong they don’t have as much public housing, but they have a lot of subsidized housing, the two covering 50% of the population altogether. While Hong Kong is genuinely a free-market state, Singapore isn’t really; it’s really a leviathan government that acts like a business with respect to its choices of investment, labor policy, relationship with other businesses, etc.
Stephen saysNovember 28, 2010 at 6:13 pm
Is it really true that it’s a choice between government housing or homelessness? I understand that that might have been the short-term rationale earlier in the century when the city-states were receiving massive influxes of poor mainlanders and Malays (?), but if the government had ceded enough land to private developers, what makes you think that they would have undersupplied housing in the long-run?
Alon Levy saysNovember 29, 2010 at 3:02 pm
Did my earlier comment disappear, or what?
(My comment was that SG and HK have a land shortage, which would impose barriers to entry for new developers; thus existing developers would be free to focus on the luxury market and jack up rents, kicking out people in the process – just like they do in NYC given the surrounding regulations.)
Stephen saysNovember 30, 2010 at 3:34 am
Ugggh, are comments disappearing again? Thanks for brining this to my attention…I’ll put up a post about it tomorrow and see if anyone can give me any hints as to what’s going on, and if it continues we may have to rip out Disqus. Very sorry about that…in the future if it happens, don’t hesitate to email me directly! ([email protected])
As for your point – yes, this does seem like it would be a huge short-term problem if you just immediately privatized the apartments. However, if you either did it gradually, or in concert with opening up a huge amount of new land/development rights, you could avoid it. Also, couldn’t you avoid it by just giving apartment-dwellers titles to their apartments? Although I suppose this would cause some bizarre issues and the dispersed ownership would make it very difficult for whole buildings to be redeveloped.
Alon Levy saysNovember 30, 2010 at 6:24 am
Singapore is already doing the second thing. It has a very strong encouragement of home ownership – namely, it allows people to spend their pension money on buying housing but not on renting. Thus, the vast majority of public housing (Wikipedia says 95%) is actually owned by the people living in it – or, more precisely, given as 99-year leases, like in Hong Kong. The government is responsible for construction and management, which is why there’s no human scale. It also makes sure to have racial quotas to prevent single-race neighborhoods – it was meant to promote integration, and as you could expect has been a total failure. But it exercises planning control more than anything.
The first thing isn’t really feasible, not in Singapore. There just isn’t enough land to be redeveloped; it’s gotten to the point that the government uses expensive land reclamation to make more room. The only large parcel of undeveloped land is used for the military, as a live firing zone. It’s entirely pointless, but Singapore likes to pretend it’s at war and splurges on the military (its per capita military spending ranks second in the world, behind Israel and ahead of the US).
Hong Kong’s situation is different. It has the same 99-year leases as Singapore, but there’s a lot more unregulated private development. The housing subsidies are there for the people who need them, who, given Hong Kong’s extreme land prices, are often middle-class.
HLS saysDecember 1, 2010 at 12:44 pm
Socially Singapore is a very restricted / constricted country — benevolent paternalism at best, something worse at worst. Interestingly, a lot of the social control is through housing policy ; indeed, the Housing Development Board (HDB) controls over 80% of dwelling units, and from time to time they have used preferential access to “incentivize” government-determined “public interests” (e.g., fertility, and by ethnicity). You can get a feel for how things work over there from http://www.temasekreview.com/2010/02/07/former-singapore-chief-statistician-paul-cheung-singapore-can-still-accommodate-more-people/ ; see, especially, the comments.
Alon Levy saysDecember 2, 2010 at 8:49 pm
Thanks for the link to the website, HLS. I didn’t know it before.
I did know about Singapore’s social control, though. I lived there for more than five years; it took me a while, but eventually I understood how the government controls the population. Housing is definitely a big part of it. (Censorship is another; a Singaporean movie much like The Wire was banned on the grounds that the dialogue was in Hokkien, as is factually correct for the social class depicted, instead of politically preferred Mandarin.)