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No area of law and policy presents more important and pressing questions, or ones more central to human well-being, than that of housing. Yet academic discourse around housing is too often siloed into separate topical areas and disciplinary approaches, while remaining distanced from the contentious housing policy debates unfolding in communities across the nation. In June 2016, the Kreisman Initiative on Housing Law and Policy at the University of Chicago Law School convened a conference in downtown Chicago with the goal of breaking down these barriers and forging new connections – between different facets of housing law and policy, between different disciplinary approaches to housing issues, between academic inquiry and applied policy, and between the lessons of the past and adaptations for the future.

This volume is the product of that conference and the dialogue it provoked among academics, practitioners, and policy makers. Its baker’s dozen of contributions comprises cutting-edge interdisciplinary work on housing and housing finance from leading scholars in law, economics, and policy. The pieces individually and collectively showcase how research and policy can come together in the housing arena. We hope the end result will have lasting relevance in setting the course – and identifying the obstacles – for housing law and policy going forward.

This book is organized around two interlocking roles that housing serves: as a vehicle for building community, and as a vehicle for building wealth. These facets of housing carry implications both for the households who consume residential services and for the larger economic, political, and spatial domains in which housing plays such a primary and contentious role. Cumulatively, the pieces here confront, and respond innovatively to, the dilemmas that these two facets of housing create for law and policy at different scales of analysis.

Part I takes a wide-lensed look at how housing fits into the larger metropolis and the communities and spatial structures contained within it. The contributions in this part consider the ways in which decisions about land use controls, transportation, and housing affordability shape where and how people live. Zoning regulations heavily influence the quantity and location of different kinds of housing stock throughout the urban landscape, and their restrictiveness plays a key role in inflating home prices. William Fischel’s chapter pushes beyond these well-documented findings to interrogate the causal mechanisms at play. Restrictive zoning policies are not just the cause of rising home prices, he posits; they are also the result of rising home prices. In his view, escalating home prices in the 1970s turned homeowners, who had previously seen the home as just a place to live, into a powerful interest group – “homevoters” – bent on employing local politics to protect the value of what they now saw as a growth stock.

Homeowners thus became intensely motivated to mobilize against development, which they perceived as a threat to the value of the household’s single largest asset, the home. One way they did so, Fischel explains, was by allying themselves with the then-nascent environmental movement, which provided protective cover for their less-than-selfless goals. This account underscores the connections between different land use agendas and interest groups, as well as between different elements of housing policy. Fischel argues that tax breaks for homeownership help fuel a cycle of overinvestment in housing that contributes to overprotective land use policies and higher housing prices, which in turn reinforce a vision of the home as a household’s primary growth asset. His analysis also emphasizes path dependence, as homeowners sort into communities that feature the restrictive land use policies that they favor, further entrenching the political will to preserve or tighten those restrictions. In this way, housing policy begets housing policy, and breaking the cycle requires rethinking the forces – including tax policy – that contribute to this entrenchment.

Interconnectedness and path dependence also feature heavily in David Schleicher’s contribution, which examines interactions between land use controls and transportation innovations – from the now-familiar GPS systems for cars, to popular ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, to emerging developments in autonomous vehicles. These and other transportation innovations might make one’s existing commute easier, but, as Schleicher explains, their real power lies in their capacity to transform where housing can be located relative to workplaces and other points of interest. Schleicher argues that innovative shifts in transit could make useful new forms of “distributed density” possible. But if the real estate development that would produce these patterns is prohibited by existing land use controls and cannot be readily changed – and Fischel’s analysis suggests some reasons why this might be the case – transportation technologies may be unable to fulfill their potential in contributing to more functional urban agglomerations. In fact, Schleicher suggests, we might see new transit technologies used in the service of increased sprawl as autonomous vehicles and similar innovations enable longer commutes by rendering them less tedious and unproductive.

Whether one urban pattern is to be preferred over another is of course a normative question, one that raises broader questions of what makes for a good city or a good way of life. While land use controls can thwart the realization of preferences, they can also at times solve collective action problems and address costly externalities.



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