Thomas Sowell

No one asked how many hundreds of thousands of dollars would be added to the cost of an average home by "open space" laws, for example. Yet empirical studies have shown that land-use restrictions added at least a hundred thousand dollars to the average home price in dozens of places around the country.

In some places, such as coastal California, these restrictions added several hundred thousand dollars to the price of the average home.

In other words, where the problem was real, local politicians were the cause. National politicians then tried to depict this as a national problem that they would solve.

How would they solve it? By pressuring banks and other lenders to lower their requirements for making mortgage loans, so that more people could buy houses. The Department of Housing and Urban Development gave the government-sponsored enterprise Fannie Mae quotas for how many mortgages it should buy that were made out for people for low to moderate incomes.

Like most political "solutions," the solution to the affordable housing "problem" took little or no account of the wider repercussions this would entail.

Various economists and others warned repeatedly that lowered lending standards meant more risky mortgages. Given the complex relationships among banks and other financial institutions, including many big Wall Street firms, if mortgages started defaulting, all the financial dominoes could start falling.

These warnings were brushed aside. Politicians were too busy solving a national problem that didn't exist. In the process, they created very real problems. Now they are now offering even more solutions that will undoubtedly lead to even bigger problems.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate