And so here we are: The government simply has relatively little power to create more affordable housing in the face of massively increasing demand for homes in desirable cities like Washington, New York and San Francisco. It can create some units that will benefit a few people. It can slow the process of gentrification a bit. But the dream of adding all those new, affordable-housing-advocating, affluent young people to the city, while allowing the former residents to stay in place, seems to me to be just that: a dream. A nice dream. But still a dream, which like all dreams will eventually evaporate as reality overtakes it.
McArdle suggests the economic and political realities are too tough for affordable housing to do well and to limit gentrification. I would also suggest that this hints at the ongoing influence of race and class. While this could be spun as the result of economic laws (supply and demand) and politics (certain urban residents have more of a political voice and ability to influence decision-making), race and class underlie much of this. Who are the people who live in affordable or subsidized housing? Who are the people who tend to live in more exclusive communities or who are doing the gentrifying? These patterns of race and class are much broader than just the hot neighborhoods in major cities; they influence many of the settlement patterns across the United States.
Despite the pessimism here, this also means there is a big opportunity to figure this out. Are there contexts where affordable housing on a big enough scale works? Places where race and class matter less? Methods where both protecting property rights and providing for those with resources can coexist?