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  • By Neil Stein, Kaplin | Stewart

A Tale of Two Cities Solving the Affordable Housing Problem

No Charles Dickens here, just the opinions of a land use lawyer with opinions about how best to solve an affordable housing shortage. Start by comparing Seattle and Vancouver, close neighbors in different countries. Most of the newly constructed housing in Seattle is of the “luxury” rental type. In Vancouver, for-sale condominiums dominate the market. Why? Canada carefully manipulates housing affordability, principally by eliminating certain tax advantages which make apartments a more expensive investment. This system creates a greater supply of affordable housing and an increase in home- ownership opportunities at all income levels. Is that really free market capitalism at work? The feverish pace of luxury apartment construction in this country is a product of greater financial reward and less risk in a free market setting. Unfortunately, new luxury apartments come with higher rents. For the less affluent renter, too large a share of their income is spent on housing costs, leading to difficulty in paying for other necessities such as food and medical care. For those who cannot afford rent or the costs of owning a new home, the only option it to remain in older, less desirable housing. The same problem has arisen in suburban communities, where land prices are higher, zoning regulations are more restrictive and rental housing still carries a stigma.

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