They have the word “luxury” in the name. They’re not even trying to be cheap, are they?

House from Up

Times and areas change. Economies of scale do not.

I saw a sign this morning that read “Students for Affordable Housing”. It was placed near an apartment tower with the word “Luxury” right in the name, so I assume it was a subtle protest.

This got me thinking about housing and affordability. First I wondered why developers seem to only want to build “luxury” apartments anymore. Among all the new development Downtown and elsewhere, no one’s building “modest apartments” or “cheap townhomes”.

Then I wondered if part of the reason students are feeling pinched is because they reasonably want to live near their campus, and in the case of IUPUI and Butler, neither are in what we’d call “cheap” neighborhoods. Then again, these apartments keep getting filled so clearly there’s a market for people who want to live there.

Indy should probably keep an eye on loose regulations here. So many luxury apartments end up with high prices because of things like parking minimums, requirements for patios, requirements for dog relief areas, etc. The result is a single student with no car and no dog ends up paying for things they aren’t using. That’s changing as the zoning and variances have changed lately, which is good.

What’s most vexing for government is the conflict in affordability to service coverage. The cheapest way to makes housing affordable is to build cheap houses. Those vinyl suburban-style houses are, for better or worse, pretty cheap to build and own. They are not, however, cheap to maintain long-term. And their lack of density makes it hard for governments to provide police, fire, sewer, trash, etc. to those spread-out homes. And herein lies the friction between economies of scale for developers and the municipalities.

Government is much better off when people live in a bunch of three or four-story condos or apartment buildings. But those are more expensive to build, and not everyone wants to live that kind of lifestyle.

Hamilton County has taken the route of setting square footage minimums. They know how much it costs to build a sewer and any new house had better be able to support it. But that just means vinyl houses get bigger, and suddenly they’re not so cheap anymore.

Marion County still has available land in the outer ring of the city, and plenty of in-fill opportunities. I think it’s silly to not recognize highway construction is also a heavily subsidized form of transportation, but we already have the highways. So if Marion County wants to maintain affordable housing, we might as well let developers build single-family detached houses out there. It wouldn’t be close to campus, but living in Franklin Township is closer to IUPUI than Brownsburg — especially if you’re set on maintaining a car.

Ideally, though, we may need to set a new deal with new neighborhoods that turns control of their cul-de-sac over to the neighborhood and not the City. And recognizing there are tradeoffs to living further away from the fire department and snow plows. For people willing to make those tradeoffs, they should be free to choose to do so.

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Justin Harter for District 12