Monday, October 21, 2019

Rise in Long Commutes Links Housing Affordability Problem

Yesterday our chapter tweeted out a clip from a recent blog post by the State Economist. Though it does not ask the question outright, it invites it: Why do we subsidize free and easy driving so much but make housing so expensive?
The number of Salem area residents who commute to work outside of Salem really jumped last year. Now, this isn’t a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the real world. Local growth has been strong and I-5 has been a parking lot during rush hour for some time. But the Census data really hadn’t been showing any increases until now. It was hard to reconcile anecdotal evidence and stories with the hard data. Well now they’re both signing the same tune. Commuting is up and at least 70% of these workers are heading north to Portland for work.
This is worth more attention. Our policies are backwards!

By percent, lots of Salemites have a long commute

And the trend of long commutes is increasing
In a preliminary way they relate the commuting pattern to housing prices, especially for people who live in Salem and commute north.
...[S]ome of this is housing-related. At the real estate event, Portland State’s Gerry Mildner noted that there is about a $100,000 price differential in home prices between the Portland and Salem markets. In our office’s previous look, the Portland migrants to Salem who bought homes basically split the different. They bought homes that were about $50,000 more expensive than what local buyers bought, but those prices were about $50,000 less expensive than what home buyers in Portland paid.
But what their post - admittedly a start on presumably a longer, and more detailed note later - omits is that if housing is too expensive, drive-alone transportation is too cheap. The long commutes are only reasonable because we spend so much on highway and road expansion, offer free and underpriced parking, don't charge anything for road use itself, keep gasoline and carbon pollution underpriced.* In so many ways we subsidize driving and don't take action for more affordable housing.**

We don't talk about this enough - April, 2011
Instead of making abundant road capacity and free car storage, what if we made abundant housing so it was easier for people to live near where they worked and then priced road use and car storage? This would help transit, too!

What we need, really, is less asphalt socialism for cars, driving, and roads; and more socialism for affordable housing. More free-market action on cars, and more market intervention on housing.

Interestingly they say "I’ll write up much more on the Mid-Valley outlook in the next week or two." So maybe there will be more to say then.

* See "Talking about Gas Prices the Wrong Way" and "The Laws for Compulsory Autoism at The Atlantic" for more on that part.

** The car/maintenance/insurance is expensive, but if you have enough income for that wealth check, then the marginal cost of one more trip or one more mile is very small. That's the big part that's underpriced.

See this recent Sightline piece, for example, on abundant housing.

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