Monday, December 21, 2015

Homevoters versus Growth Machine

Ahh, another "there are two types of people in the world" story, this time divided by what people think is wrong with America's housing policy.
There are two big theories about who controls the pace of development in American cities and suburbs.

One is the "growth machine." In this telling, developed by academics like Harvey Molotch in the 1970s, urban elected officials and zoning boards are highly influenced by coalitions of business and civic leaders interested mainly in economic growth and maximizing the price of the land they own.

The other, developed later by the economist William Fischel, is the "homevoter hypothesis." Fischel argues that real power -- at least in the small to moderately-sized municipalities in which the majority of Americans live -- is held by homeowners, who are also interested primarily in maximizing the value of their property: their homes.
Let's apply this model of the world to our own moderately-sized community, Richardson, Texas.

The "homevoter" camp suggests that in moderately-sized communities where most residents own their own homes, like Richardson, the homevoter influence should predominate. How would that manifest itself? City Observatory suggests by having downzoning cases outnumber upzoning cases. Downzoning is a zoning change that reduces allowed density. A study of such zoning changes in New York City neighborhoods revealed just such correlations.

"Land close to infrastructure and services, like rail stations and high-performing schools" was more likely to lead to downzoning than upzoning. "Parcels in neighborhoods seeing rapid population growth were 41 percent more likely to be downzoned." "Downzoning was very strongly correlated with whiter neighborhoods." "Parcels in tracts with high homeownership rates were 43 percent more likely to be downzoned."

All of this makes Richardson's recent experiences an outlier. For example, Palisades is close to infrastructure and services (Galatyn Park DART station, Prairie Creek Elementary School); it's near rapid population growth (CityLine, Aura One90, Jefferson Center, Eastside); the neighborhood to the west is overwhelmingly white (see Richardson's dot map) and filled with owner-occupied single-family homes. Despite all this, the Palisades land was upzoned, over the vehement opposition of many nearby homeowners.

The study indicated that the homevoters had the upper hand in New York City, which is, in the words of City Observatory, "one of the very last settings you would expect to find 'homevoters' in charge of development." If the homevoters have the upper hand in New York City, what gives the growth machine the upper hand in Richardson? Dunno. Theories anyone?

No comments: