Constituent policy

Why housing is the key to a real human migration policy

I’ll let you in on a dirty secret about journalism: Most of what we write – good, bad or otherwise – is as evanescent as yesterday’s rain. Readers can get most of their news digitally rather than in print these days, but the old adage still holds true: Today’s news is tomorrow’s fish wrap.

Every once in a while, however, the writers on Deadline produce something of lasting value, insight that sheds light not only on today, but also on the past and the future, something that helps explain why we are where we are. we are.

The article by Sam Bowman, John Myers and Ben Southwood “The housing theory of everything», published a year ago in Works in Progress, is a key. “Try to list all the problems in the western world right now,” they wrote. From Covid and slowing economic growth to climate change and declining fertility, they all had one root cause in common: “A housing shortage: too few houses are being built where people want to live.

Their argument was as simple as it was true: as long as housing supply remains constrained in America’s most economically productive cities, so will the country’s potential. Whatever else the United States wanted to do — solve climate change, reduce economic inequality, allow people to have as many children as they wanted — solving the long-standing housing problem had to come first. . Everything else was just hot air.

Once you start to understand the housing theory of everything, you start seeing it everywhere. Including on a small, well-heeled island off the coast of Massachusetts called Martha’s Vineyard where last week dozens of migrants were jettisoned by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in a stunt as inhumane as it was, unfortunately, probably politically effective for them with many Republican voters.

passion versus politics

Don’t get me wrong, what DeSantis and other Republican governors like Greg Abbott of Texas are doing by sending thousands of migrants to Democratic-run towns far from the border — like some real-life Twitter trolls, with real people – is almost entirely for their own political glory. DeSantis received a standing ovation of GOP voters at a political event in Kansas on Sunday.

If DeSantis thought the predominantly Democratic citizens of Martha’s Vineyard would respond to his trick of treating migrants arriving on their island as he would, the governor was wrong. Migrants fleeing Venezuela received a warm welcome from the locals before being voluntarily sent forward to a military base for humanitarian support.

Title of an article by Jonathan Chait in New York magazine Put the“DeSantis tries to prove liberals hate immigrants as much as he does, fails.”

But if it is clear that the inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard, of New York or of Washington DC, do not hate immigrants and will mobilize to welcome human beings who are innocent pawns in a political game, that does not mean that ‘they will put their weight behind the policies that are really needed to support the masses of migrants who want to come to the United States for a better life.

That’s because perhaps the number one thing migrants need — and for that matter, many American citizens as well — is more housing in cities that have jobs. And whatever the leaders of these mostly deep blue cities say when DeSantis or Abbott drops off a migrant bus or plane on their doorstep, they seem unwilling to deliver it — and too many of their constituents apparently feel the pain. same thing.

Refugees are welcome here – they will simply have nowhere to live

In Martha’s Vineyard, the affordable housing problem is so acute that the only hospital with emergency rooms on the island is operating with a quarter of its jobs unfilled, according to the Washington Post. When the hospital’s CEO offered 19 jobs to healthcare workers in January, every one of them was turned down, largely because even the doctors couldn’t afford year-round housing.

Or take New York, which I call home and where you can often see “Refugees Welcome” signs in the windows of beautiful brownstone homes, side by side with flyers decrying a new development. Between 2000 and 2020, New York enlarged by more than 800,000 inhabitants, but less than 450,000 new apartments and single-family homes were built during this period. Unsurprisingly, in May, the median rent in Manhattan achieved a record $4,000 – but if you’re willing to get by in Brooklyn, you could get away with $3,250.

And San Fransisco? Well, San Francisco executives seem to treat housing construction like golf, where the idea is to get the lowest possible score; community opposition and restrictive regulations cause the city is on the right track build only 3,000 homes this year, with an average construction cost that is the highest in the world per square foot. (Although somehow San Francisco still approved more new housing per 1,000 population between 2010 and 2019 than New York.)

Even worse than cities, there are lots of suburbs surrounding them. From the suburban counties of Nassau and Westchester outside New York to the suburban towns surrounding Boston, even fewer housing units were added per 1,000 residents in the previous decade than in New York itself. that in turn increasingly drives low-income residents away from jobswhich further weighs on economic growth.

As “The Housing Theory of Everything” put it, even though everything from televisions to cars to refrigerators have become cheaper to buy based on hours worked over the past 50 years, housing in the big cities became much, much more expensive. As a result, people who have not had the good fortune or the privilege of buying at the right time are forced to spend more and more of their household budget if they want to live in New York, Boston or San Francisco. .

True to the rhetoric

It is true that the United States faces a border crisis. On average, 8,500 migrants and asylum seekers encounter the authorities every day, what Axios called a “surprisingly large number” and towns along the border are trouble managing the flow.

It’s also true that people will continue to come. Between economic factors, pressure from climate change and concern for security, the flow of migrants from the south is likely to increase in the years and decades to come.

Republican officials have their own solution to this challenge: try to stop the flow at the border by the harshest methods possible, and make political hay while doing so. If progressives are to live up to their rhetoric, they must support policies that will create the housing supply needed to absorb the influx of newcomers – and, in doing so, help reduce the extreme cost of living that is also hinders long-time residents.

Otherwise, refugees and migrants may be welcome, but they will not be welcome to stay.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Future Perfect newsletter. Sign up here to subscribe!