A guy just transcribed 30 years of for-rent ads. Here’s what it taught us about housing prices
Michael Andersen

When most people hear “affordable housing”, they probably think of “the projects”. Not particularly surprising that it’s hard to get political and popular support for that, unfortunately. The argument is fairly sound, if selfish — why should poor people get subsidized housing payed for by everybody else’s taxes when people making what should be middle-class incomes are living paycheck to paycheck because rent is so high?

To be clear, that’s not really my view — ”traditional” affordable and subsidized housing for the poor is clearly essential, and more is needed (and ideally much more money would go to it, at least until the economy is truly transformed).

However, people with lower-middle-class and middle-class incomes are being squeezed to the breaking point (and not just in the bay area, where I do live, currently). Many surely are becoming poor and/or homeless due to housing costs, and recovering from that position is extremely difficult.

So, what’s wrong with government-owned affordable housing aimed at the middle class (the lower middle class, at least)? Is it because socialist European countries (and, yes, even the Nazis) do or did that, that it’s politically impossible here?

Wages need to increase, that’s clear. Considering how hard that’s going to be (a lot of unpopular, in the short term, regulations), the other viable option is to build more housing. Since developers don’t have the incentive to do it themselves, this is a clear case of what government should be for — solving problems the free market can’t (or just won’t). Obviously, we’re not talking about building 200,000 new units — we’re not returning to the good old days of ubiquitous affordable rent pricing anytime soon, but every little bit of easing to the market would help.

Today’s conservative politics prevent anything that can even remotely be construed as “big government”, even in liberal places like the bay area, but again — the free market is never going to solve this fundamental societal problem without strict governmental regulations, or direct action by the government.