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Urbanization and Emerging Cities: Infrastructure and Housing  

Gilles Duranton and Anthony J. Venables

Urbanization is a central challenge of our times. At its core, it is an urban development challenge that requires addressing transportation and housing in cities. Transport improvements can reduce travel times and improve the spatial reach of urban dwellers. But these improvements may be crowded out by latent demand for travel and may lead to worse congestion, pollution, and other negative externalities associated with urban traffic. To evaluate the effects of transport improvements, direct travel effects must be measured. Then, an improvement in traffic conditions somewhere may spill over to other areas. Firms and residents may also relocate, so economic growth close to a transport improvement may just result from a displacement of economic activity from other areas. Conversely, better accessibility is expected to foster agglomeration effects and increase productivity. Valuing these changes is difficult, as it requires being able to quantify many externalities such as congestion delays, scheduling gains, and greater job accessibility. Housing policies present different challenges. More fundamental policies seek to enable housing construction by offering more secure property rights, up-to-date land registries, and competent land-use planning—all complex endeavors and all necessary. Other housing policies rely on heavy government interventions to provide housing directly to large segments of the urban population. These policies often flop because governments fail to link housing provision with job accessibility and appropriate land-use planning. Housing is also an expensive asset that requires significant initial funding, while credit constraints abound in the urbanizing world. Policymakers also need to choose between small improvements to extremely low-quality informal housing, retrofitting modern housing in already-built urban areas, or urban expansion. All these options involve sharp trade-offs, subtle induced effects, and complex interactions with transport. All these effects are difficult to measure and challenging to value.

Article

China’s Housing Policy and Housing Boom and Their Macroeconomic Impacts  

Kaiji Chen

The house price boom that has been present in most Chinese cities since the early 2000s has triggered substantial interest in the role that China’s housing policy plays in its housing market and macroeconomy, with an extensive literature employing both empirical and theoretical perspectives developed over the past decade. This research finds that the privatization of China’s housing market, which encouraged households living in state-owned housing to purchase their homes at prices far below their market value, contributed to a rapid increase in homeownership beginning in the mid-1990s. Housing market privatization also has led to a significant increase in both housing and nonhousing consumption, but these benefits are unevenly distributed across households. With the policy goal of making homeownership affordable for the average household, the Housing Provident Fund contributes positively to homeownership rates. By contrast, the effectiveness of housing policies to make housing affordable for low-income households has been weaker in recent years. Moreover, a large body of empirical research shows that the unintended consequences of housing market privatization have been a persistent increase in housing prices since the early 2000s, which has been accompanied by soaring land prices, high vacancy rates, and high price-to-income and price-to-rent ratios. The literature has differing views regarding the sustainability of China’s housing boom. On a theoretical front, economists find that rising housing demand, due to both consumption and investment purposes, is important to understanding China’s prolonged housing boom, and that land-use policy, which influences the supply side of the housing market, lies at the center of China’s housing boom. However, regulatory policies, such as housing purchase restrictions and property taxes, have had mixed effects on the housing market in different cities. In addition to China’s housing policy and its direct effects on the nation’s housing market, research finds that China’s housing policy impacts its macroeconomy via the transmission of house price dynamics into the household and corporate sectors. High housing prices have a heterogenous impact on the consumption and savings of different types of households but tend to discourage household labor supply. Meanwhile, rising house prices encourage housing investment by non–real-estate firms, which crowds out nonhousing investment, lowers the availability of noncollateralized business loans, and reduces productive efficiency via the misallocation of capital and managerial talent.