When Kansas City Leaders Got It Right
We often use this blog to criticize city leaders for their bad ideas. City leaders rush to spend public funds on airports and convention hotels and streetcars. They pursue economic development policies that enrich developers while diverting city funds away from important basic services. But a new study from Wendell Cox suggests that the greatest thing Kansas City leaders ever did was… nothing.
More specifically, Kansas City leaders have not adopted land-use policies that have made cities like Portland and Denver so expensive. To demonstrate the impact of these regulations, Cox uses a “median multiple,” which he calculated by dividing the median house price by the median household income:
In 1990, the three metropolitan areas [Denver, Portland, and Kansas City] had similar housing affordability. The median multiple in both Denver and Portland was 2.4. Kansas City’s median multiple was 2.3. By 2015, the median multiples in Denver and Portland had more than doubled to 5.1. By comparison, the increase in the median multiple was much less in Kansas City, at 2.9.
Other cities also saw housing prices rise without a commensurate increase in median household income:
Sydney, Australia, which was among the earliest to adopt urban containment policy, now is among the least affordable housing markets internationally, with a median multiple of 12.2 in 2015, while San Jose and San Francisco have median multiples of 9.7 and 9.4, respectively. In these metropolitan areas, which had median multiples of under 3.0 before adopting strong land-use regulation, residents now face median multiples that are more than three times as large as those in Kansas City.
Kansas Citians are constantly told that we need to be like Portland and Denver by streetcar aficionados, Dallas for folks who want a new airport, or Indianapolis by people pushing a new convention hotel. But Kansas City is not those places, thankfully. And our greatest strength—housing affordability and the cost of living it allows—exists exactly because we didn’t follow their lead on land use regulation.
Kansas City needs to be Kansas City, and Cox’s paper is required reading for anyone who wants to understand how we can promote ourselves to the world.