The Rent Is Too Damn High by Matthew Yglesias | Book review
The Slate.com columnist tackles urban planning and housing regulations.
The title of Slate.com columnist Yglesias’s new e-book takes its name from the political-party-cum-Internet-sensation kicked off by Jimmy McMillan’s 2009 run for New York governor. Though the sideburned, gloved McMillan scored viral-video fame by representing the Rent Is Too Damn High Party during highly entertaining gubernatorial debates, Yglesias sees meaning in the meme.
While most understand now that rising, bubbling and bursting home prices are inextricably tied to the country’s economic health, most of the larger discussion centers on the purchasing of houses. The only time rental costs enter into national or local discourse is under the rubric of affordable housing for the poor. But Yglesias notes that rental prices and home prices are interwoven, and that middle-class families are being squeezed by high rents without any acknowledgment from policy makers.
Yglesias fingers draconian and byzantine zoning regulations as the primary culprit, largely those that restrict density. The author’s argument is simple: There are two ways to lower rental costs: lower demand or increase supply. Lowering demand generally means lowering the quality of life (worse schools, more crime), so the answer is to increase supply, and adjust zoning regulations to make that happen.
A quick and engaging read, the 64-page e-book is more of a primer and polemic rolled into one than a heady urban-planning text (and there’s an expansion of his controversial “mirage of gentrification” argument that got him in hot water online a couple of years back). It’s a worthy starting point for discussion, and you could even read the whole thing while sitting through a marathon zoning hearing.