Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Liberal Cities Do Block Economic Development: The Case of Woodstock NY

This article by Peter Applebome has an excellent lead; "If they had decided to pave paradise and put up a parking lot, the issues might have seemed simpler. Instead, a protracted battle over a 53-unit affordable housing project is dividing this still-crunchy town where mellow ’60s vibes and liberal politics coexist uneasily with real estate prices increasingly out of the reach of the humbler classes."

He concisely sketches the tradeoff that I documented based on California data in this paper for the Journal of Urban Economics.  Here is my paper "boring" abstract

Traditional explanations for why some communities block new housing construction focus on incumbent home owner incentives to block entry. Local resident political ideology may also influence community permitting decisions. This paper uses city level panel data across California metropolitan areas from 2000 to 2008 to document that liberal cities grant fewer new housing permits than observationally similar cities located within the same metropolitan area. Cities experiencing a growth in their liberal voter share have a lower new housing permit growth rate.

In the case of Woodstock,  it seems that its residents seek to zone out the poor and use quality of life concerns as a more politically correct explanation.  To quote the article;

"Nobody would tell you they don’t want these people in our town,” said Jeff Moran, the town supervisor, who has been a conflicted supporter of the rental project. “Instead, they talk about the effect on the quality of life, ramping up the costs of services and those kind of things. But there’s a joke in town that the reason The Woodstock Times costs a dollar is because people don’t want change. People come here and they think they have an investment in the town being a certain way.”

Opponents, particularly in neighborhoods near the project site, said the issue was not Nimbyism or opposition to public housing but practical objections based on Woodstock’s small size (population about 6,000), charmingly Brigadoonish downtown and creaky infrastructure. "

Flipping things around, there hasn't been much discussion that in Republican Texas that it is easy to build and this keeps housing prices low.  As people move to these unconstrained cities, some jobs follow and this allows Gov. Perry to make his point that he is a "jobs creator".  But, how much of this jobs growth is due to relaxed housing development rules?