Why your house was so expensive

By Derek Thompson | The Atlantic

There’s no hiding from America’s housing crisis. Do you want to buy a place? Home prices recently surged to all-time highs, after the inventory of available homes plunged to a record low. Want to rent, instead? Rents in June rose at the fastest pace in four decades, in part because new housing construction relative to the total population was lower in the 2010s than in any decade on record.

America’s housing crisis doesn’t just show up in higher prices. It shows up insurging homelessness in states such as California that do a miserable job housing its population. It shows up in climate change, because the inability to build sufficient homes in and near cities pushes more people out to the suburbs, where their carbon footprint is higher. It shows up in declining fertility, because the cost of housing discourages families from having as many kids as they’d like.

Name just about any problem the U.S. has suffered from in the past decade. Inequality? Obesity? A vague, pervasive sense of doom? You could tell a housing story about all of them. In the essay “The Housing Theory of Everything,” the writers Sam Bowman, John Myers, and Ben Southwood argue that the housing shortage in the Western world—“too few homes being built where people want to live”—prices out middle-class workers from high-productivity zones, forces people to spend more time sitting in their cars to commute long distances, and reduces the availability of homes and overall growth rates. There you have housing’s contribution to more inequality, obesity, and gloom. And this generalized Western trend is especially bad in the U.S. Although homeownership is strongly encouraged by federal tax law, America has fewer dwellings per thousand inhabitants than the European Union or Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average.

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