The title of this column should include the subtitle “Why is there a shortage of housing?” because the current shortage of housing can be attributed to a few distinct reasons.
First, seniors. I’ve read a lot about seniors and how their brains think. As people age, their brains have been hard-wired through repetition. For example – if they have been going to the same coffee shop for decades, their brains turn on their internal autopilot and they don’t even have to think about how to drive there. My mom is like that. She could easily drive to the same places each week, like the hair salon, but not to anywhere unfamiliar.
Then along comes a developer who proposes to tear down their coffee shop or hair salon, upsetting that whole delicate balance, forcing a re-routing of their drive and a re-wiring of their brain software. It can be very upsetting – even if the proposed development is the best thing for the future of the community.
Likewise, seniors have a lot of time on their hands, and I find that many of them are in coffee klatches where they talk amongst their own circle of friends, with no outside contrary information.
It’s only natural, therefore, for seniors to be opposed to change – any change. They are comfortable with their lives as-is and don’t want to risk upsetting their habits and ingrained brain waves that get them through their daily routines.
Second, local politicians’ personal agendas. I noticed over many years locals will use a proposed new development as their ticket to get elected to the council, or re-elected, or to climb the ladder – using a project to go from council to mayor or mayor to assembly, etc. I’ve seen this so many times. These individuals have their own political agendas as first priority even though they’re supposed to be working on behalf of the voters, and they don’t give a crap about their local community. They’re so desperate to get to higher office, and they try to paint the proposed project as bad for the community, in spite of the need for housing, the need to redevelop a blighted area or to improve the downtown. They’ll even tell dozens of lies and engage in a misinformation campaign.
This has happened even in small communities like Waunakee, Watertown, and Wausau, not just Madison. It’s really sad, but it happens a lot.
Third, city regulations ever increasing. New regulations usually come from Berkeley, California, New York, Boulder, or Portland. Hair-brained ideas that get passed along in city conferences to Madison. Then after Madison implements them, they leak out to other Dane County communities and, within five years, they spread like a cancer across Wisconsin. The fact that these adverse regulations increase the costs of housing and make it that much more difficult to develop doesn’t matter; they love the new regulations, they love being the person who helped push it through, and they don’t care about the negative impacts.
Ironically, developers are probably right up there with lawyers and used car salespersons in terms of dislike, yet unlike those others, developers are necessary. There would be no housing, no retail stores, no offices, no neighborhoods, no industrial facilities, no hotels, and no entertainment venues if it weren’t for developers. But of course, everyone forgets that.
If residents ever want to see lower rents and lower housing costs, they need to gang up on the local politicians and make it clear that more housing is needed. It’s easy to be a Debbie-downer, a Larry-loser, or a negative-Nancy opposing development, and sure, you’ve got your house or apartment, so it’s your children who pay the price.
Think about that next time you want to oppose a new development or choose not to show up to support a new development at a public hearing.
T. Wall holds a degree from the UW in economics and an M.S. in real estate analysis and valuation and is a real estate developer. Disclaimer: The opinions of the writer are not necessarily those of this publication or the left!