American Hobbit Houses

Soon after President Obama took office, a proposed plan to “develop federal policies to induce states and local communities to embrace ‘smart growth’ land use strategies” was announced.

This “Livable Communities Program” is intended to save land and clean up the environment. It is seen as encouraging denser housing arrangements to deter automobile use and accommodate the transit industry, according to goals set by the Secretaries of HUD, EPA and Transportation.

One potential downside to this plan comes from the transit industry’s Moving Cooler study, which argues that the Administration’s greenhouse gas reduction proposals “may result in higher housing prices, and some people might need to live in smaller homes or smaller lots than they would prefer.”

If you want to see how this might work, look at the U.K., which imposed strict land regulations in the Town and Country Planning Act in 1947. This effectively froze the supply of land for a growing population, leading to soaring house prices, particularly in the area around London.

With the land available for development frozen, house size decreased as well, leading to new British homes garnering the nickname of “Hobbit houses.” New British homes are a little more than a third as big as new U.S. homes (818 sq. feet compared the U.S.’s 2,303 sq. feet).

The question is whether or not the Federal government should be granted the ability to limit housing standards. Currently, this responsibility lands in the lap of state and local governments.

Can President Obama afford to add the President of the (Hobbit) Homeowner’s Association of the United States to his title?


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I have a couple problems

I have a couple problems with your article:

Firstly, you are asking us to compare a plan proposed in 2009 to a plan implemented in Britain in 1947 (I hope we've evolved since then). Secondly, you take one argument out of "Moving Cooler" and suggest that denser housing leads to smaller houses & higher housing costs. However, you neglect to proffer any benefits of such a system and you do not put forth any of the other side's arguments. Please consider:

1. Denser housing does not automatically mean higher housing costs - Usually denser developments are built on land that is more valuable. So initially, it does cost more per unit. However, if you build a sufficient amount of units on that land (e.g. build a 10 unit condo complex, as opposed to a single-family home), the cost per unit decreases. So the denser you build, the cheaper it costs because you distribute the land costs over a greater number of units.

2. Denser housing does not require "Hobbit Houses": There are condo units in many downtowns that rival suburban homes in square footage. At the moment, those condos cost a lot because the demand outweighs the supply. However, if zoning laws were modified to allow supply to reach the demand (i.e. let the free market reign), the cost of denser residences would be more on par with cheap suburban single-family homes. That is, the main reason downtown condos cost so much is because local governments limit the number of such condos that can be built.