Housing surplus, the monster in the closet

There are many places where economic meltdown and environmental problems coincide. Petroleum importing to the U.
Written by Harry Fuller, Contributor

There are many places where economic meltdown and environmental problems coincide. Petroleum importing to the U.S. Burning coal for "cheaper" electricity than you can get from solar, ignoring the pollution costs. People driving older inefficient vehicles rather than buying new, more efficient, ones. But the one area that's going to be ever more crucial is so scary to most economists, they won't talk about it. Pols and real estate agents and financial advisers can't even say the words, "housing surplus." Yet in some parts of the country, expecially the once revered "Sun Belt" you have whole communities crushed by empty housing that nobody wants or can afford. In Mississippi it's sky-high insurance rates keeping homes empty. Explain to me again why it is somebody's inalieable right to live in a home near sea-level in hurricane country? Clearly the actuaries don't think it;s such a hot idea. Right now more than one-tenth of American homes are EMPTY. That spells waste, higher crime, continued erosion of housing values. It just might be that letting developers decide where and how to build is not the best public policy? If we allowed barbers to set hair policy, you and I would have shaved heads. In my case maybe that'd be an improvement but...you get the picture. So developers took the easy money from lenders, built houses on spec in places where NOT everybody wants to live. Like Rialto, California. Henderson, Nevada. Florida's west coast. On and on it goes. Nobody asked "where will the water come from?" Or "how far do they drive one way to shop or work?" There was no attempt to measure need for housing, or possiblility that folks could find work or that retired people could afford or desire the places where the homes were built. Nope, we just cranked out the cement (and the necessary greenhouse emissions to make it), cut down trees, burned petroleum, made windows (another big pollution source), imoported cabinets from China with lumber shipped fromCanada, and built these mega-homes where the prices were rising the fastest. And then sold them to suckers who can't unload them. This was a bad idea for the lenders, the buyers, the victimized communites who dreamed of being the next Las Vegas and continued to trash the only enviornment we have. The numbers are clear, empty houses are mostly found among new homes built after 2000, often in places where they were not really needed. But new mega-homes promised a quick profit when the market was hot. Some land use experts are predicting that Americans have finally grossed out themselves on sprawl and exurbia. We may be ready for more efficient living, closer to work and play, perhaps even "Just Say No" to developers who want to turn prairie or sagebursh into millions of dollars. One housing expert points to the slumming of suburbia in the near future. Huge homes going begging because nobody needs them. Here's part of a piece on Miller-mccune:"By 2025, predicts planning expert Arthur C. Nelson, America will face a market surplus of 22 million large-lot homes (a sixth of an acre or more), attracting millions of low-income residents deeper into suburbia where decay and social and geographic isolation will pose challenges few see coming.

"As a society, we have fundamentally failed to address our housing policy,' said Nelson, director of metropolitan research at the University of Utah. 'Suburbia is overbuilt and yet we will keep on building there. Most policymakers don't see the consequences, and those who do are denying reality'." [poll id="92"]

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