While others still ponder, Hong Kong already taps the bounty
Local politicians look at getting site rent, key to major benefits
We trim and blend six ’06-’07 articles: (1) “Homeless worries on minds of many Americans” by the Associated Press (Nov 14); (2) “Filling New York's 'Vacancies'” by Jeremy Miller in the Gotham Gazette (Jan 7); (3) “Mayoring 101, from those who should know” in the Philadelphia Inquirer (Jan. 6); (4) “Land tax call to speed up home building” in Scotland’s Edinburgh Evening News (Dec 26); (5) “Smart Transport Emission Reductions” by Todd Alexander Litman in VTPI Special News (Dec 7); and (6) “Budget boost for welfare reviews” in Hong Kong’s The Standard (Jan 7).
AP: Homelessness is bigger than those who are living on the streets. Nearly a third of Americans have at one point worried about becoming homeless. Nearly a half are taking in friends and relatives needing a home.
Overwhelmingly, those polled -- 92% -- said more effort is needed to solve homelessness.
The majority of homeless folks are not crazy but chronically normal and poor; they need money. The lack of affordable housing nationwide is a main cause of homelessness.
JJS: Pittsburgh once shut its homeless shelter not from lack of funds but from lack of clients. There were very few homeless because housing was so affordable, the most affordable in the nation for a major city. What Pittsburgh did differently was shift the property tax off buildings, onto land, both lowering the cost of housing and raising the supply of housing.
Even dense cities have lots of room for more homes. Three leaders push public recovery of ground rent to heal cities.
Miller: Manhattanites pay $3,000-a-month for a studio apartment. Partly because some land on that small island is left idle. It has over 2,000 vacant properties -- 505 lots and 1,723 buildings. Those weed-choked parcels and boarded up buildings remain chronically undeveloped, blighting communities, creating eyesores or providing breeding grounds for vermin and crime.
Enough vacant and underutilized property, such as parking lots or partially-occupied buildings, exists in Manhattan to provide 24,000 units of affordable housing.
As much as 7,600 acres of brownfields exist throughout the city -- a terra incognita more than eight times the size of Central Park.
Manhattan.Borough President Scott Stringer advocated setting the property tax on the unimproved value of the land.
Under the conventional property tax system, an owner will not be highly assessed if he lets his property run down or builds nothing at all. This is a major reason for the current desolation of American towns and cities.
Inquirer: John Norquist, mayor of Milwaukee from 1988 to 2004 and now president of the Congress for the New Urbanism and author of "The Wealth of Cities", says phase out the job-killing wage tax and replace it with fuel, parking, or land-value taxes.
Evening News: The Edinburgh City Council wants Scottish Government ministers to consider taxing land that increases in value once planning permission has been granted for development. The Scottish Capital needs at least 12,000 more affordable homes over the next ten years.
JJS: As owners build homes, cities get in-filled, which cuts trip lengths and that spares the environment.
Litman: There are two general approaches to reducing transportation emissions: reduce emission rates per vehicle-kilometer or reduce total vehicle-travel. The first often seems easier, but if done correctly, the second provides far more benefits, such as congestion reductions, crash reductions, consumer savings, and improved mobility for non-drivers. (http://www.vtpi.org/wwclimate.pdf)
Mobility management programs are considered difficult to implement. Such programs often involve multiple stakeholders, such as regional and local governments, employers and developers, and various special interest groups. As a result, they tend to seem difficult and risky compared with other emission reduction strategies that only require changes to utility operations, fuel production or vehicle designs.
JJS: Once a winning coalition is put together, a permanent improvement is possible if instead of legislating the control approach -- e.g. zoning or mandating reduction -- legislate the context approach -- recovering site rents.
Most cities have so much site value that if they collect a healthy portion -- Hong Kong gets about 40% -- it can afford generous welfare payments or even pay all residents a dividend, enabling everyone to live in a home.
Standard: The government of Hong Kong’s surplus is set to break the HK$100 billion mark when the current fiscal year ends. The government announced a 2.8%, or HK$419 million, increase in welfare and handicap allowances from February. But persistently surging inflation has forced it to review the payments more frequently.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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