The News recently published a story about how Yale’s on-campus housing shortage, combined with a “decades-long underproduction of units” in the surrounding city, has forced upperclassmen to find housing off-campus, leading to New Haven residents being priced out of apartments.
I would like to propose a solution: the city of New Haven should reform its zoning regulations to allow for the construction of more market-rate housing.
Hear me out. I know that many readers may instinctively cringe at the idea that the free market, left to its own devices, will solve this problem. You might think that the real issue is a shortage of affordable housing. After all, if we cut these regulations, what is to stop developers from just building unaffordable luxury condos?
The reason why Yale students are outcompeting New Haven residents for apartments is the same reason why used cars became much more pricey last year. When supply is constrained, people with more money will be able to outbid those with less. But the fundamental issue is the lack of supply. The primary roadblock to expanding the supply of housing is zoning regulations.
According to data compiled by Desegregate CT, a YIMBY — or,“Yes In My Backyard,” a movement that advocates for the production of more housing — advocacy organization, only 33.8 percent of land in New Haven allows multifamily housing to be built, while 57.5 percent of the land is zoned for exclusively single-family dwellings. Even if the owner of a plot of land wants to build a three-story condominium and their neighbors have no objections, that’s illegal in over half the city.
These are not safety regulations; we have known how to build safe, accessible multistory buildings for some time now. These zoning laws are intended to preserve a certain low-density aesthetic and lifestyle. Now, if you are a homeowner and like the way your single-family home looks, that’s fine. Don’t turn it into a condo. But your neighbor should be allowed to do what they please with their property, as long as it passes the safety code.
Housing is a really big deal. It’s the single largest expense for almost every household, and over 80 percent of the city’s tax revenue comes from property taxes. There is robust evidence that lack of housing —not drug addiction or mental health — is the root cause of homelessness. Empirical research has found that new units reduce prices for apartments. For the city of New Haven, legalizing more housing would mean more tax revenue. That frees up funds that could be used to lower the property tax rate for individual homeowners, spreading the burden out more. It could also go towards improved public services or reductions in other taxes.
And zoning reform would benefit homeowners, too, because it increases the value of their land by increasing the number of things they can do with it.
The University has quite a hefty chunk of change in its endowment and should absolutely build enough housing for its students. But the fundamental problem here is a lack of housing in the city at large — that’s something Yale can’t fix. But New Haven can, by amending the zoning rules to legalize more multifamily housing in more places.
MILAN SINGH is a first year in Pierson College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.