Last week, I submitted the following letter to the editor of the LA Times in response to a vicious, and more importantly, extremely misleading op-ed, decrying inclusionary housing as a development killer. (Shout out to reader Sala Udin for sending us the link.) Since it seems that I was a little late to get it published, I wanted to share it with Rooflines readers, with a few extra thoughts:
Contrary to Gary Galles’s ideological claims (op-ed. Jan. 6), multiple independent studies have shown that inclusionary housing policies do not slow production or raise prices. The study Galles emphasizes was builder-funded and has been roundly debunked. Among its many flaws, it didn’t look at comparable cities without inclusionary policies over the same time periods. Lo and behold, production also fell similar amounts in those places, leaving the study’s claim that inclusionary measures caused the drop with no supporting evidence.
Inclusionary housing policies are a win-win for everyone. Hard-working households struggling to make ends meet are able to live where they can get to jobs more easily and send their kids to better schools. Employers enjoy less turnover and more productive workers. And yes, developers win too by knowing what to expect and still earning a healthy profit while increasing opportunity in their communities.
I find it ironic that Galles has a book out that decries political decisions being made on the basis of bias rather than evidence, when that is clearly what he is doing here—relying on one extremely flawed study that supports his Econ 101 assumptions about how inclusionary zoning will affect housing markets to the exclusion of all the other much stronger studies that contradict those guesses. (Thanks to Victoria Basolo and Nico Calavita who took the time in 2004 to explain the study's flaws in great detail.) In the world of economics, “evidence-based” is too often trumped by a set of assumptions about the world that only hold true in the most simplified of situations. And the housing market is definitely not a simplified situation.
It's important to correct misinformation like this (that is often the theme of our Answer column), even though confirmation bias (which happens to all of us) is very hard to overcome. I'm sure Galles will never be convinced, but those who might read him should have acess to a full picture.
Still we could also see this op-ed as a good sign—hey, inclusionary housing is worthy of debate in the LA Times!
(Photo credit: Horia Varlan, via flickr, CC BY 2.0)