How Sprawl Saved Dallas From The Worst of the Real Estate Bubble

Urban yokels like to complain about urban and suburban sprawl, but it turns out one of the reasons the DFW has been spared from the national real estate bubble is because — with the exception of the forwardDallas! plan — Dallas and the surrounding ‘burbs aren’t saddled with onerous “smart growth” regulations.

That’s the takeaway from this report from Wendell Cox at

Jump for the highlights of the report. (h/t Hit and Run) Three cheers for sprawl.

  1. Root Cause #2 (Micro-Economic): Excessive Land Use Regulation Exacerbated Losses: Profligate lending increased the demand for housing. This demand, however, produced far different results in different metropolitan areas, depending in large part upon the micro-economic factor of land use regulation. In some metropolitan markets, land use restrictions propelled prices and led to severely higher mortgage exposures. On the other hand, where land regulation was not so severe, in the traditionally regulated markets, there were only modest increases in relative house prices. If the increase in mortgage exposures around the country had been on the order of those sustained in traditionally regulated markets, the financial losses would have been far less. This “two-Americas” nature of the housing bubble was noted by Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman more than three years ago. Krugman noted that the US housing bubble was concentrated in areas with stronger land use regulation. Indeed, the housing bubble is by no means pervasive. Krugman and others have identified the single identifiable difference. The bubble – the largest relative housing price increases – occurred in metropolitan markets that have strong restrictions on land use (called “smart growth,” “urban consolidation,” or “compact city” policy). Metropolitan markets that have the more liberal and traditional land use regulation experienced little relative increase in housing prices. Unlike the more strongly regulated markets, the traditionally regulated markets permitted a normal supply response to the higher market demand created by the profligate lending. This disparate price performance is evidence of a well established principle of economics in operation – that shortages and rationing lead to higher prices.Among the 50 metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 population, 25 have significant land use restrictions and 25 are more liberally regulated. The markets with liberal land use regulation were generally able to absorb from the excess of profligate lending at historic price norms (Median Multiple, or median house price divided by median household income, of 3.0 or less), while those with restrictive land use regulation were not.

    Moreover, the demand was greater in the more liberal markets, not the restrictive markets. Since 2000, population growth has been at least four times as high in the traditional metropolitan markets as in the more regulated markets. The ultimate examples are liberally regulated Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the developed world with more than 5,000,000 population, where prices have remained within historic norms. Indeed, the more restrictive markets have seen a huge outflow of residents to the markets with traditional land use regulation (see:

  2. Toxic Mortgages are Concentrated Where there is Excessive Land Use Regulation: The overwhelming share of the excess increase in US house prices and mortgage exposures relative to incomes has occurred in the restrictive land use markets. Our analysis of Federal Reserve and US Bureau of the Census data shows that these over-regulated markets accounted for upwards of 80% of “overhang” of an estimated $5.3 billion in overinflated mortgages.
  3. Without Smart Growth, World Financial Losses Would Have Been Far Less: If supply markets had not been constrained by excessive land use regulation, the financial crisis would have been far less severe. Instead of a more than $5 Trillion housing bubble, a more likely scenario would have been at most a $0.5 Trillion housing bubble. Mortgage losses would have been at least that much less, something now defunct investors and the market probably could have handled.While the current financial crisis would not have occurred without the profligate lending that became pervasive in the United States, land use rationing policies of smart growth clearly intensified the problem and turned what may have been a relatively minor downturn into a global financial meltdown.