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A Narrow, Novel Solution for the Nation’s Housing Shortage

    That the United States faces an acute housing shortage should come as no surprise. Eviction moratoria, increased unemployment benefits, and other measures spared many owners and renters from losing their homes at the height of the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fully one third of renters used some kind of government assistance to pay the landlord, according to a recent article in The New York Times. Unfortunately, lower-income families are still vulnerable, particularly with benefits coming to an end, and now Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies reports that surging home prices are adding new pressures to the housing market—pressures that new construction are hard pressed to alleviate, given community opposition to development, limited availability of materials and land, and other forces.

    A study by University of California, Los Angeles urban planning professor Adam Millard-Ball proposes a particularly bright, common-sense method for making the most of limited space in new developments: simply reducing the width of streets. The United States, with its long-standing car culture and auto-oriented planning conventions, has some of the widest streets in the world—the median residential street is 50 feet wide in 20 of the most populous counties. By contrast, since 1990, the average new street in Tokyo is a mere 16 feet wide. Calculating streets by area, rather than linearly, Millard-Ball estimates that the land beneath the residential right-of-ways in the 20 aforementioned counties is worth nearly $1 trillion. That’s quite an incentive to update government planning standards and requirements.