If you’ve ever conducted a survey or hosted a focus group that allowed participants to freely voice their opinions, you know the risk that comes with that endeavor: a wildly disparate, mostly thoughtful, occasionally profane, and (almost) always insightful stew of comments that leaves you wishing you’d never asked the question in the first place.
So when I gave you, our readers, the opportunity to submit a write-in response to the question: “What’s needed to enable more affordable housing?” within our annual housing forecast survey (see the results here), I got what I deserved from more than 300 of you.
Among a lot of good ideas, patterns emerged. “Government intervention” was a common thread, but representing polar opposite views. One side was summarized by “Deregulate construction, deregulate banking, deregulate oil exploration, freeze environmental regulations, and stop raising taxes,” while the opposite end of the spectrum can be characterized by “Housing [that] enjoys government preference [if sold] only to urban, low-income families.”
There also were calls for the feds to place controls on materials costs, as well as the charmingly hopeful response of “Mutually beneficial regulation” and the simplistic “Get rid of the NIMBYs.”
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Others weighed in with ways to speed construction through technology (“Modular building methods ... can move people into homes in a matter of months instead of years”) and down-speccing (“Less fancy, more basic”) to help lower costs and (theoretically) prices. Some simply suggested improving the status quo (“An efficient project schedule has the biggest impact”), which is probably the best place to start.
The question brought out the cynics, too: “There has not been one customer since 2008 who has bought a standard home. Affordable homes are available, but buyers’ wishes and dreams put affordability out of the equation.” Put more concisely by one reader, “Not going to happen!”
Several readers threw their hands up in resignation, or admitted they could offer no solution to what has reached a crisis point for the American Dream.
But among all of the responses, the most provocative was this: “You have been told what to do every time you ask this question. Now what are you going to do about it?”
That’s a good question.