Matt Kahn and housing in liberal cities

Well, while I was brushing my teeth, Matt Kahn went out and published another very interesting paper:

Kahn, M E. 2010. Do liberal cities limit new housing development? Evidence from California. Journal of Urban Economicsdoi:10.1016/j.jue.2010.10.001.

The finding? Cities with a higher score on liberal voting also permit less housing.

It’s less clear what this finding reflects. Kahn brings up Berkeley’s attempts at growth control–which in some ways make no sense from an anti-sprawl perspective because already developed areas should be taking more housing, not less, to direct growth away from fringe areas. As my former colleague Jesse Richardson says, Smart Growth is not birth control, and if urban areas are to grow not on the fringe than existing areas have to take their lumps.

Kahn’s manuscript may be an indicator that California cities are not taking their lumps.

So why is this a problem? It is more evidence that cities can cherrypick Smart Growth and New Urbanist principles to take what they like and leave what they do not: the line from the New Urbanism as that we could, with more density, get plenty of housing–some of it affordable–if we simply stopped allowing suburbs and we deconstructed single-use, residential zoning. Unfortunately, the application appears to be to shifting housing to other jurisdictions or restricting housing permits overall–a far miss from the sort of densification that the New Urbanist and Smart Growth advocates envisioned.

This is, of course, only if the connection to liberal voting and housing permits occurs via this increased willingness to take on growth controls. It could be something else, as Kahn doesn’t have regulatory structure.