Thursday, March 04, 2004


Evoking this topic (again) may be like shooting fish in a barrel but it involves large amounts of our money. So, here we go again.

Many people worry about urban sprawl and dream of a transit revival. They put these together and argue (successfully) for large public subsidies to “get people out of their cars,” onto transit and into “transit oriented development”. Cities will then become “liveable”, etc.

Some $400 billion in public transit subsidies since the mid-1960s plus uncounted subsidies to various favored builders have not turned the trick, so the Smart Growth advocates cast an ever wider net.

Visiting the EPA website is sobering; it cites 207 Smart Growth programs and policies in place around the country. I expect that many more are virtual SG insofar as they are implemented on the wings of SG rhetoric.

Here is one. A recent federal housing finance innovation is the Location Efficient Mortgage or Smart Commute Mortgage. No kidding. Low-income home buyers are presumed to have more disposable income if they locate near transit – and, perhaps, use it in place of driving a car. They should, therefore, qualify for home loans that they might not otherwise get, given their actual income. This is all calculated in great detail -- in terms of likely dollars saved and made available for home payments.

A recent generally favorable review of the program (by Kevin Krizek, Housing Policy Debate, 14:4) mentions that, “to date there have only been a few dozen closings nationwide.” And, “they are likely to offer only marginal respite for problems related to regional growth management.”