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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Letter to the Editor: Opponents of new housing are wrong

In the Nov. 10 article “Plan Commission passes motion to build luxury apartment building despite resident opposition”, several residents were quoted arguing against the approval of a 10-story, 148-unit apartment building at 402-412 East Washington.

Two of these arguments are as follows:

“Every time the city approves market-rate apartment buildings, it’s very clear that they’re communicating that our unhoused population and low-income population are not a priority.”

“We already have enough high-rises Downtown. They’re occupied by rich, white college kids or people with jobs that are earning more than Madison’s median income. They won’t face homelessness anytime soon, but the rest of us will.”

These arguments are the latest in a constant debate about development in Madison, concerning what the effects of approving new “luxury” housing are for affordability. What should be uncontroversial to either side of the debate is the need for new housing construction in Madison. As the developer in the article points out, “The city expects to add 70,000 new residents in the next 20 years and needs to build roughly 40,000 units to meet demand.”

With that demand established, the question now turns to what type of housing should be built to accommodate it. The people quoted in the article criticize “luxury” and “market-rate” housing as being unaffordable for low-income residents of Madison. But all developers try to find the highest and best use for a piece of land when deciding what to build. The idea that anybody would voluntarily build below market-rate housing for an area is akin to a manufacturer spending years and millions of dollars researching and developing a product only to debut it at a price much lower than they could charge to maximize profits. Any business that engages in that behavior doesn’t tend to stick around for very long — their assets eventually get sold off to someone who knows the true value of them.

Keeping this in mind, opponents of developments like these are not just opponents of luxury housing, but all newly proposed residential construction. But adding new housing units at a higher income level has affordability benefits for lower priced units as well. If we assume that the questionable claim that all of these apartments will go to “rich, white college kids”, advocates for affordability should be glad for that fact. Adding housing geared towards “rich, white college kids” will remove at least 148 of them from competing for more affordable housing on campus, reducing demand and the upward pressure on rent.

In general, it is possible for the government to either partner with or regulate developers to offer housing below the market rate. The regulatory side — rent control, inclusive zoning, etc — is something we won’t see in Madison for a long time, as these are more or less prohibited by state law.

Using government funding to create housing below the market rate is an option, but these methods rely on the ability of Madison to come up with that money, which relies on increasing Madison’s property tax base, which in turn relies on approving new development. By growing the quantity and quality of the housing stock in Madison, you open up new funding to promote affordable housing initiatives.

Zhou is a junior studying finance. Do you think more housing options promote affordable housing? Do you think such developments are detrimental? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com

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