There are limits to what upzoning can do; that said, upzoning appears capable of making a difference

Like many people, I’ve been following the land use story related to a new policy of permission, as of right, of Multiplexes across the City of Toronto. I do not follow the story closely. However, I’ve been intrigued with arguments advanced at an April 27, 2023 meeting of Toronto’s Planning and Housing Committee claiming that more intensive density across the City of Toronto will lead to lower rents as in Auckland, New Zealand and Minneapolis, Minnesota. We will see in five years time whether Toronto rents would decrease as has been the case in the latter two jurisdictions.

At this post I refer to some articles concerned with upzoning. What is of interest for me is the pursuit of evidence and frames of reference (ways of seeing) related to worldwide issues concerned with housing affordability and the broader question of the viability of human existence given the climate crisis.

A May 23, 2023 New York Times article is entitled: “Imagine a Renters’ Utopia. It Might Look Like Vienna.”

An excerpt reads:

Auckland, New Zealand, might seem like a more applicable example. In 2016, the city, which has one of the most expensive housing markets in the world, “upzoned” 75 percent of its residential land, increasing its legal capacity for housing by about 300 percent in an effort to encourage multifamily-housing construction and tamp down prices. In areas that were upzoned, the total number of building permits granted (a way of estimating new construction) more than quadrupled from 2016 to 2021. As intended, the relative value of underdeveloped land increased, because it could suddenly host more housing, and the relative value of units in densely developed areas decreased, tempering sky-high prices. But there are limits to what upzoning can do. Often the benefits of allowing greater density are captured by developers, who price the new units far above cost. It doesn’t offer renters security or directly create the type of housing most needed: affordable housing.

A June 19, 2023 New York Times article is entitled: “Where Housing Prices Have Crashed and Billions in Wealth Have Vanished: In New Zealand, high interest rates have sent property prices sliding nearly 18 percent since November 2021.”

An excerpt reads:

Property values in New Zealand are also highly susceptible to the rise and fall of interest rates. Unlike U.S. mortgages, which are effectively backed by the government and often set for as long as 30 years, home loans rarely have fixed rates of more than a couple of years. Buyers and homeowners with mortgages now face interest rates of at least 6.5 percent on new loans, up from about 2 percent in 2020.

Housing problems touch virtually every corner of the population, including those on painfully long waiting lists for public housing, underserved renters for whom property ownership seems out of reach and more affluent people who bet big on property and are now seeing their investments fall in value.

April 27, 2023 Pew Charitable Trusts article

An April 27, 2023 Pew Charitable Trusts article, which provides another perspective on these matters, is entitled: “Rigid Zoning Rules Are Helping to Drive Up Rents in Colorado: Jurisdictions with updated regulations to allow more housing have held rents in check.”

An excerpt reads:

At the same time, jurisdictions that have begun allowing more housing have succeeded in sharply slowing the growth of rents. This is especially true for lower-cost forms of housing, such as apartments, accessory dwelling units, and homes on small lots or without required parking. At a time when families are spending a greater share of income on rent than ever before, the experiences of jurisdictions that have reformed their zoning to allow more and lower-cost homes hold clear lessons for improving housing affordability.

Housing viability

A related topic concerns housing viability in the climate crisis era. In the current era, viability within any form of imaginable housing is at risk. Among concerns are heatwaves, the air we breathe, and the interface between humanity and forests. A post of relevance is entitled:

Fire Weather (2023) presents a compelling biography of The Beast which drove 88,000 people out of Fort McMurray in May 2016

In Fire Weather (2013) a key message is that a fire in a boreal forest is a part of Nature. John Vaillant notes that

  • A fire in the boreal forest is as certain as death. Fire is the principle mechanism by which the forest regenerates itself.
  • Settler colonial settlements (unlike Indigenous communities going back 10,000 years) live and grow by different means and rhythms than boreal forests and wildfires.
  • Alberta’s bitumen industry follows a similar growth pattern as a forest fire, with market forces standing in for weather.

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