Tokyo’s solution to sky-high housing costs


Tokyo at Night (tetedelart1855 | Flickr)

Tokyo knows something San Francisco doesn’t. Housing prices in San Francisco and other booming American cities have become ludicrously out of reach for many. Tokyo is booming too, but not the price of its housing (Vox). How’d that happen? Turns out Tokyo tends to issue a whole lot more building permits than typical American cities (Financial Times) — and increased supply keeps prices more reasonable. Both these articles blame local activists in the US for fighting development that could lower prices, and urge us to set pro-building policies nationally, as Japan does. But maybe we shouldn’t aim to cut local residents out quite so fast. Neighborhoods might embrace more construction, and help it happen more organically, if they could trust that new housing would actually bring rents down.

Doing the math on Flint’s water bill. To save $5 million, the city of Flint, Michigan, decided to switch its water supply, with well-known disastrous consequences. The total estimated bill for its error: $458 million — $58 million in direct outlays, the rest in the long-term social costs of lead poisoning via lost productivity, welfare expenses, and costs to the criminal justice system. The Columbia scholar who arrived at these numbers (The Atlantic) says he hopes such data would help decision-makers think more clearly about the costs of action vs. inaction. Typically, taking action now incurs upfront and painful costs, and that gets our attention, while the bill for inaction is easy to ignore and defer — but ends up biting back much harder. That’s a good principle to keep in mind whether you’re making choices for a city, a company, or a family.

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