It’s expensive to live in Silicon Valley, and for years developers have pointed to the region’s many parks and conserved landscapes as a major reason for the high cost of housing. If land is conserved it cannot be used for homes, the argument goes, and this forces up housing costs, pricing moderate income buyers out of the market.
It may be a logical argument, but it not a valid one, according to recent research out of Stanford University, which released a story in mid-March:
In a study conducted by the university’s Bill Lane Center for the American West, executive director Jon Christensen, sociology graduate student Carrie Denning and landscape ecologist Robert McDonald analyzed whether land conservation efforts in Silicon Valley – which has about 116,000 acres of protected parks, forests, waterfronts and wildlife refuges – have hurt housing development.
Their findings, published online in the journal Biological Conservation, suggest that land protection may not have much of an impact on the number of housing units available in the region. That’s because most of the protected land isn’t suitable for development, they say.
Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle published its own story on the Stanford research.
Using a complicated measure to determine how development would have proceeded if more than 100,000 acres set aside for parks, wetlands and protected forest and wildlife areas had been left open for construction, the researchers found that only about 6.5 percent more housing units would have been built . . .
About 41 percent of those 51,000 new dwellings would have been in areas where the typical house is on a half-acre lot and sells for $1.5 million, which wouldn’t provide the affordable housing the Bay Area sorely needs.
As the Chronicle story suggests, the lack of land suitable for new homes is one more reason to increase the density of housing in already developed areas, especially those served by public transportation.