To really understand the problem in 2011, you need to rewind to 2003 / 2004. St. Thomas had just spent a decade expanding its student population to around 4,500 plus, and despite new on-campus residential buildings, student populations started to creep further and further into the neighborhood....Except , um, your conclusion's not what your argument's telling you, bub. The natural conclusion of this argument is the problem is (land use) zoning because zoning artificially constricts supply relative to demand. (Remember that we do have to separate out zoning classification: land use and form-based zoning are two different things.) To put it another way, land use zoning is an attempt to manipulate the market--and market manipulation has some rather nasty unintended consequences. For one thing, demand doesn't go away. When supply is constricted--particularly artificially constricted--this forces the price per unit product (in this case, a student apartment) up. Which, in turn, forces a roundabout way of meeting demand. In the St. Paul case, this involved subdividing the structures in a particular way to meet demand: a particular way that actually increased the student population in the neighborhood--which has, again, become a problem, forcing more draconian supply controls. Which, in their turn, will also force developers into increasingly roundabout and circuitous ways of meeting demand. (By the way the law is worded, boarding houses or "extended-stay hotels" are possible next steps.)
Well-intentioned members of the City Council decided to increase restrictions on rental properties and limiting each rental home to include only up to four (4) unrelated people per household. Meaning, large 5, 6 or 7 bedroom houses could only house 4 students.
St. Paul tried to defy the laws of supply and demand. Now, this is where the law of unintended consequences kicks in. They restricted the supply of student housing while the demand remained the same. The market reacted and two things happened as a result:
Now, the City Council’s next step is …
- 1. Property owners did what was reasonable and responded by splitting large homes into duplexes so they could fill up the empty space. The market had an increase in duplexes, and often times, landlords took the time to add extra attic studio apartments. This lead to the situation to actually become worse. Now, instead of 5 people in a 5 bedroom house, you now have 6 or 7 people in a recently split duplex or triplex.
- 2. By limiting supply, the ordinance increased overall rents; thus making it more appealing to convert a single-family home into a rental unit. In a way, the 2003/2004 zoning restrictions actually motivated more homeowners to convert smaller homes into rental properties.
The latest moratorium would prohibit conversion of one-family homes into two- or three-family homes and two-family homes into three-family homes. The resolution also would bar one-, two- and three-family homes that are owner-occupied from being exclusively occupied by students unless a student owns the home [Link].The problem isn’t zoning. The problem is demand.
This is similar to how land-use zoning was first used to enforce segregation (by both race and class), as Charlie Gardner has shown. The difference being that then zoning restricted supply to the point that the price per unit of supply cost more than the customers' willingness to pay (no wonder poorer households flooded into the urban cores where land use was a lot less restrictive! You've gotta live somewhere.) whereas here we're dealing with a relatively monied population--or, more accurately, a population whose parents are well-monied--which, in turn, induces developers to circumvent the increasingly draconian attempts at limiting supply, which in its turn is simply making things more problematic for the surrounding neighborhood.
This St. Paul example is also an example of the natural tendency for politicians to favor (usually organized, wealthier, voting) homeowners over (usually disorganized, poorer, nonvoting) renters. It's playing a constituency game, but such games are almost never what's best for the neighborhood as a whole, since the attempt at promulgation of the status quo leads to serious market imbalances, which in turn produce deeply adverse consequences. In the hands of very competent planners, land use zoning can be made to work to promote a better city (but relatively few planners are competent enough to make it work); in the hands of politicians, it becomes akin to playing with fire: you'll get burned.
The bottom line is: Land use zoning is the problem. It's clunky, inefficient, and oftentimes subverts its own goals (unless your goal is disurbanization). Form-based zoning is much more flexible (keeping in mind Paris' zoning is essentially form-based).
There is also a jurisprudence angle to this. Our land use zoning was legally rooted in nuisance law (in essence, land use zoning is nuisance law on steroids, an attempt to zone away anything that might become a nuisance). It has deep court precedent. Because of this, the need to come up with an effective legal argument against this type of land use abuse is pressing: this zoning is an over-distortion of the market that has become its own nuisance. I would suggest that Friedrich Hayek's key observation--that the government only has access to the same amount of information as the market--would be a place to start*. But I'm not a lawyer...
* Whatever else one may think of Hayek, and the Austrian school he was the grand doyen of. I'm a fan of neither: Hayek mainly winds up arguing that something is complex because it is complex (...uhhh duh?), which misses the point of complexity theory entirely, which is that complexity is a mode of explanation--a place you have to get through from here to there. In this regard, Hayek, like Smith and Keynes, is great precisely because he had one good idea, which is a lot more than most economists can claim. (In case you haven't noticed, I think economics as a discipline has gone completely off the rails. My forays into economics journals, like Urban Economics, don't help things much either. Like sociology, it has devolved to being basically formalist philosophy with kinky numbers attached.)