Cause Area: UK Housing Policy

post by GMcGowan · 2022-01-11T10:17:50.718Z · EA · GW · 26 comments


  The problem
  One Solution
  My experience of grantmaking


I allocated just under £30k of my 2021 giving to improving UK housing policy and plan to give more in 2022.

TL;DR of my case for this:


We should have a high bar for funding interventions to help people in rich countries in the short to medium term. Being wealthy, their citizens can afford much higher rates of consumption and their governments can spend at much higher rates, so many of their strongest needs are met. Giving money directly to these relatively wealthy people is not as effective as giving to people who are roughly x100 poorer. Further, there are interventions ~ x10 as good as giving money to these poorer people. This leads to Open Philanthropy arguing that EA interventions in rich countries should seek to meet the x1000 bar.

It is difficult to find causes that meet this standard (though the x100 bar for simple cash transfers is easier to meet and arguably more relevant for the long term).

I think changing housing policy in rich countries is a plausible cause that meets this bar, particularly in areas with the highest costs of housing and highest productivity. Here is a rough cost-effectiveness model that suggests housing policy could meet the bar.

I think that the UK’s housing policy is among the worst of all rich countries, and to date has not received the funding or attention that US housing policy has. Founders Pledge commissioned a great report on this area, focussing on the UK. In contrast, Open Philanthropy has already put several million dollars into funding this cause in the US.

The problem

Others have summarised this far better than me. Skip to “One Solution” if you read any of those links, otherwise read on for my take…

House prices have been rising substantially in many developed countries:

For the headline price of a house, the proximate cause of this is easy access to credit caused by low interest rates. The basic story is that low interest rates allow people to pay higher prices for goods by borrowing more, as the cost of that borrowing is low.

Interest rates are not the full story. We do not see the prices of other goods rising substantially with greater access to credit. Cars for example have not seen the same level of price increase because as prices increase, more cars can be manufactured to meet the level of demand. So interest rates do lead to increases in price, but only if supply of a good is limited. For housing, increasing prices have not led to corresponding increases in supply due to remarkably low price elasticity in many countries. Interest rates also do not account for the variation in the rate of house price growth between regions in the same country.

A better metric for housing costs is simply rent price. Here too we see large increases in real terms (graph UK only):

Again, this is not what we would expect if interest rates were the full story. Lower cost of credit should make it cheaper for landlords to pay their mortgages, which should lower rents.

As we see in the figure above, and as argued most forcefully here, as a percentage of income, rents are decreasing, so in some sense things are getting more affordable. I think this is true but misleading. For one thing, rents can still be too high even if they are gradually shifting in the right direction. Most importantly, the quality/quantity of housing has not significantly improved during this period (in fact space per person is falling in much of England). So people are paying more money in absolute terms for the same or worse housing. Generally this is a sign that something has gone wrong with a market, and usually that thing is that supply is limited in some way.

Some argue that housing will always be scarce due to limited supply of land for housing in the most in-demand locations. But housing does not equal land. A plot of land can accommodate either a single bungalow or a twenty story block of flats. We can increase the supply of housing in a location massively by building taller buildings at a higher density. We can also allow land to move from lower valued uses (e.g. golf courses) to higher valued ones. This need not result in a hive city - many European cities are denser and more pleasant than typical UK cities. For example Paris has a population density of 21,000 people/km2 compared to London’s 5,666 people/km2.

Demand is so high in particular locations because of the economics of agglomeration, whereby productivity is higher and the cost of amenities lower in densely populated areas. Broadly speaking, this is why people want to move to cities: their salaries and quality of life are higher.

In theory, building more housing in a location could simply result in more people moving into that location, and not lower housing costs. Even if this were true, more housing would be a good thing. Firstly, more people could move to the area and get a higher salary and quality of life. Adding more people also adds to the agglomeration effect of the region, improving its productivity and the amenities it can sustain. So we should not completely focus on falling housing costs, though most models indicate costs falling in any case.

The fundamental issue is that the supply of housing is not increasing by enough to meet demand. The reason for this is primarily restrictive rules on what can be built where. This is easiest to see in the difference between an empty plot of land without planning permission to build and the same plot with planning permission, where near London the difference can be more than x100 (page 26). We can also look at the cost of a given house versus the cost to build it - using this method you find that roughly £3.7 trillion of the £5.5 trillion total value of UK housing is costs over and above what it would cost to build.

Other explanations have tended to focus on distributional concerns, such as the share of housing that is publicly owned, the proportion of housing for rent vs owner occupied and the number of foreign investors in a market. I think these are basically all red herrings for producing what we actually want (more economic growth) and supply is the main game in town.

In my view, the main value of work on this problem is increased GDP growth by allowing more people to move to the most productive areas of the country, and allowing the most productive people in those areas to specialise more. Lower housing costs would have many other positive effects, but economic growth should be the main aim of interventions in this area.

A lot of economic growth is on the table if the problem is resolved. Estimates from the US show GDP growth being 36% lower than it should’ve been, had housing been unrestricted. One estimate (page 36) for the UK has GDP per capita rising more than a fifth (by increasing GDP growth by 2% for a decade) if housing supply were more optimal. The most pessimistic estimate has the damage of bad UK housing policy at over £600 billion per year.

One Solution

So the problem is large and solving it would produce a lot of economic growth. Great. Is it actually solvable though?

In some sense, the problem is easy to solve. The government could adopt a less discretionary planning system (to remove the power of locals to veto development) and switch to a zoning approach similar to the US or many European countries. Zoning restrictions could then be made fairly liberal, similar to the policies in Tokyo.

Alas, easy and comprehensive solutions like the above are politically infeasible. Previous attempts at solutions have largely failed due to the unpopularity of development amongst local residents. Why should this time be any different?

Enter Street Votes (FAQ), the main reform being advocated by the YIMBY (“Yes In My BackYard”) movement in the UK right now (and endorsed by the current housing minister).

It involves reform at national level, like the state-level reforms by the YIMBY movement in the US, but with the nuance that the proposed UK reform, instead of imposing a blanket upzoning, gives extra freedom for small groups to choose to allow more density. The central idea is to allow households on a street to vote by supermajority to allow more development on that street (within various guidelines, see the paper above).

Why could this reform work when previous attempts have failed?

  1. Policies similar to Street Votes have been implemented at a city level in some countries and succeeded, e.g. Tel Aviv and Seoul. Some local areas in the UK have done vaguely similar policies, which were popular.
  2. The policy is explicitly designed to turn losers from development into winners. Normally if someone on my street gets planning permission it is a) inconvenient and disruptive and b) may slightly lower my property value - so naturally I have every reason to oppose it and nothing to gain from it. This policy benefits me at the same time as my neighbour - our house prices both increase and we can both extend our houses if we so wish. So I have a reason to support development, instead of merely opposing it.
  3. The policy tries to concentrate developments on groups of people who want it, in that small groups of people have to explicitly opt-in to increased development. So blowback is less likely than policies which simply allow more development everywhere. Development would be most concentrated in areas where the profits are highest and willingness to build is greatest.

Of course, the reform may not work either:

  1. Street Votes may prove to be unpopular, which could lead to repeal before any benefit is achieved or the policy never being implemented. It could be unpopular if development was opposed by people beyond a single street, or if the requirement of a supermajority voting in favour was not enough to prevent opposition on a street.
  2. Advocates model the benefits of roughly extra 2m homes being built over 15 years (page 33). If a smaller than expected number of streets have the desire or coordination to vote for development, then the benefits would be lessened.

If no version of Street Votes gets passed (or if it gets quickly repealed) then it’s difficult to see what progress can be made. In theory the movement could try again with a similar policy designed to avoid whatever made it fail, or pivot to trying to get a zoning-style system implemented despite the political problems. I’m not particularly optimistic about either prospect.


There are several organisations which work on housing policy in the UK (Founders Pledge lists them at the end of their report). The two organisations I’ve ended up funding are London YIMBY and PricedOut, both of which are small and have limited budgets. Neither of them are currently tax-deductible, although that may change in the future (and tax deductibility isn’t a must [EA · GW] in any case). In my view, many other organisations in this area are not focussed enough on increasing housing supply, and instead focus on distributional concerns or interventions that I don’t find promising.

I plan on mostly filling these organisations short-term funding needs myself, but there is probably scope for mid/long-term funding aimed at building a more powerful political coalition. However this would likely require funding multiple full-time employees which is unfortunately beyond my means.

London YIMBY currently primarily advocates for Street Votes, as well as promoting examples of positive development in London. I gave them £17.3k of funding in 2021.

The Founders Pledge report recommended supporting London YIMBY and reckons they have a funding gap of £50k/year. This year, they were not quite able to absorb this much money but hopefully they will be able to in 2022.

The founder is self-funding and works pretty much full-time for free. Extra money allows for them to “buy” reports from other think tanks and to hire support staff for the founder.

I’ve given them funding for several reports, designed to make the case for Street Votes/general reform from a variety of different perspectives (e.g. business, traditionalist conservative, egalitarianism). I think this is valuable as it increases the number of MPs vocally endorsing the policy, making it more likely to be passed.

The founder has not yet hired support staff, other than very briefly, but I am optimistic about this happening soon and increasing the organisation’s output. I think this will be the main expense going forward.

PricedOut has a broader purpose, generally advocating on behalf of people for whom housing is unaffordable. They tend to spend most of their time advocating for increasing the supply of housing and are relatively agnostic about how this should be done. They spend some time advocating for increased renter protection as well. I gave them £11.1k of funding in 2021.

While PricedOut is on the longlist of organisations considered by Founders Pledge, they ultimately didn’t recommend funding them. Based on a few conversations with PricedOut, I think they are worthwhile. I think it is valuable to have an organisation that advocates primarily for increasing housing supply and is relatively neutral about the means through which that is achieved, in case Street Votes doesn’t pan out.

PricedOut is a volunteer run organisation. At the moment, I am funding them to produce a report on the planning system and how it impacts housing supply. I expect my future grants to be similar. In the future, I think they could accomplish a lot more if they had a full time staff member, as well as money for various other support expenses. This would probably look like £50k+/year but I haven’t approached them for details about this.

My experience of grantmaking

I found researching and funding this cause very fulfilling, much more than my usual donations to EA funds or GiveWell. I list the reasons for this below. None of these reasons are truly altruistic and I didn’t get into this area purely for these reasons, but they are nice side benefits. I think I found this fulfilling because:

I also think it helped me to build skills as a grantmaker that may be applicable to other causes.

I would highly recommend that people in a similar situation to me try this kind of grantmaking, if they can spare the time.


Arguments for EAs to be involved in UK housing policy:

Arguments against our involvement:

Thank you to Alex Robson, David Nash & Michelle Hutchinson for helpful feedback on a draft of this post. This post was shown to Anya Martin of PricedOut & John Myers of London YIMBY to give them opportunity to comment - they did not request significant changes to their sections. All errors and omissions remain mine.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by John G. Halstead (Halstead) · 2022-01-12T12:15:08.635Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for this. One additional point on the case for restrictions of supply, rather than interest rates or speculative property developers, being the problem. The chart you show which show incomes rising above rents is average across the UK. But the affordability crisis is biggest in the most productive cities like London, Oxford and Cambridge. There, rents are rising faster than incomes (as I know from bitter personal experience)


Advocating for street votes seems like a good high income country donation opportunity, though probably still worse than GiveDirectly, which is what we concluded from the Founders Pledge report. 

Replies from: GMcGowan
comment by GMcGowan · 2022-01-12T12:35:22.861Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Great graph. I should probably have included some discussion of this being largely a regional problem.

Yes, to be clear Founders Pledge did tell me that this was probably worse than GD/other things all things considered, so I am going against their recommendation to do this.

Replies from: Halstead
comment by John G. Halstead (Halstead) · 2022-01-14T10:35:25.190Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

One argument for this being better than GiveDirectly might be that there is large value of information from the policy. If street votes gets through and produces large economic benefits without annoying the nimbys, then other countries could copy the approach. Proving it works in a large economy could have huge demostration effects since pretty much all rich countries have big supply problems. This could be a very big deal - it's arguably one of the top constraints on global growth along with immigration controls, limited R&D funding etc. 

comment by Peter McLaughlin · 2022-01-13T13:48:31.344Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for posting this - I'm going to get a bit critical in this comment, but I think this is a super important topic (one that I've cared about since long before I seriously engaged with EA), and I'm happy to see someone post about it.

Still, though, I don't think a convincing case has been made in this post that funding UK housing policy orgs is cost-effective (even though I suspect that it actually is cost-effective - at least, that it crosses the 100x bar). Some thoughts:

- I have doubts about PricedOut as an organisation. I vaguely know a few people who volunteer for them and I think they are generally very interesting, smart, and capable, but I am not particularly convinced that their interventions are sufficiently effectiveness-oriented. Would be interested to know what convinced you otherwise in conversation with them.

- I'm not so sure that this issue really is timely, unfortunately. Gove's support for Street Votes seems to have been a passing thing, and the window for action may well have closed. This is especially true given the very weak position of the government at the moment: a couple of years ago this government would have had the power to push through reform, but I don't think that's true any more. (Consider: the planning reform bill was basically gutted after a single by-election loss last year that, with hindsight, didn't actually seem to turn on housing and planning; now that the government's popularity and Tory poll numbers are in freefall, and backbenchers are much more empowered to rebel, the government would probably be much less likely to risk offending its core of homeowning voters and its many NIMBY backbenchers.)

- It seems to me that Street Votes just wouldn't produce enough homes. There are a few reasons for this, but the big one I'm worried about is culture: while the analyses that have been done are completely correct on the economic incentives, there are pretty strong cultural incentives that point in the opposite direction. The UK (as well as much of the Western world) has a powerful culture of homeownership, meaning not just 'owner-occupied dwellings are valued' but that there's a certain mythology to the goal of owning one's own home and having control over it. Consider, for example, the incredibly strong political taboo on cutting subsidies on social care even to wealthy homeowners, precisely because paying for social care might require some of them to sell their house - not to become poor, they'd remain wealthy, just to sell their house and start renting. (If you missed the latest re-emergence of this controversy, just look at the tone of this coverage.) I think these will push quite strongly in the direction of people not endorsing building, because the market-driven logic of Street Votes pushes against the mythology of homeownership. Anecdotally, I have discussed Street Votes with a pretty substantial number of homeowners in various contexts, and I very rarely have gotten the positive response that advocates imagine.
It's very hard to measure these cultural effects, which makes it completely understandable that analyses have left them out so far; but I think it's impossible to ignore them in a full analysis of housing policy, not least because it's a culture of homeowning that leads to supply restrictions in the first place. Perhaps when push comes to shove, the reality of the economic benefits would overcome cultural hesitancies, but I am not as convinced of the strengths of economic incentives in this area compared to a lot of YIMBYs.

- These orgs seem quite concentrated in and around London. On the one hand, this makes sense, as that's where the crisis is most acute; but from a political perspective, it seems hard to see how any reform passes in the short run without at least some work in more rural areas,* for three reasons: 1) opposition to reform is concentrated in these constituencies; 2) in the short run, Tory governments are at significant risk of rebellion from MPs representing these constituencies; 3) any potential Labour government would not have increasing housing supply as a high enough priority to force it through without support from CLPs outside London. But reducing opposition in these areas seems substantially less tractable.

Ultimately, I second MaxGhenis' hope that someone might write up a rigourous and comprehensive EA analysis of housing policy interventions: both your post and the FP report are really solid stuff, but unfortunately they largely leaves out all the positive externalities on climate, migration, quality of life, etc. beyond growth. It's really these that convince me this is probably an area worth funding. (For example, I am of the opinion that housing policy is the primary driver behind rising inequality in the Western world, and so the downstream effects of improvements to housing policy would be pretty enormous both economically and politically.)

*I'm specifically thinking about the seats the Lib Dems are targeting using the label 'Blue Wall'.

Replies from: John_Myers, GMcGowan
comment by John_Myers · 2022-01-13T18:37:32.378Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for posting this Peter. I agree that the uptake for street votes is likely to be low. (This may be like cryonics, where those who opt for cryonics assign a lower probability to cryonics being successful than those who do not.) I would highlight two things: (a) the fact that the Strong Suburbs report models enormous housing production from an uptake rate of only a few percent, and (b) the enormous, life-changingly large incentives to take up street votes - literally over a million pounds per household in some cases. I have spoken to over a hundred homeowners who are interested.  I agree that many comfortable middle class families will not want to be disturbed. But some of those in more difficult circumstances may find the large incentives very appealing.

George mentions the London YIMBY brand but it is worth noting that the broader YIMBY Alliance campaign is a cross country campaign and is highly supportive of street votes. There have been endorsements from politicians from a wide range of areas, in different parties. 

Replies from: Halstead, Peter McLaughlin
comment by John G. Halstead (Halstead) · 2022-01-14T10:38:22.722Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

John - great that you are participating in this discussion! Could you say more about the prospects that the Tories will take this on? They got burned quite badly from their last attempt at planning reform. Will they try again? A lot of the impetus for planning reform came from Cummings, who has now left. 

Is there any chance that Labour could take this on?

Replies from: John_Myers
comment by John_Myers · 2022-01-14T17:21:07.417Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks John! We are still getting encouraging signals from the current regime that they would like to take this on, and I am not aware of significant political opposition within the Conservative party; on the contrary, street votes seem to be broadly supported. Their last attempt at planning reform was always going to be deeply controversial because, unlike street votes, it was not designed to be as politically palatable as possible. I cannot say I was surprised that it ran into difficulties.

Street votes are vastly less controversial, because they have gone through years of design changes based on feedback from those most likely to oppose, and considerable work on framing and coalition building. There is still a strong impetus within government for planning reform of some kind. I think any such reform is likely to be included in a wider bill on Levelling Up, and will deliberately be presented in a conciliatory way, not in the contentious fashion that was found in the White Paper. 

The key point I think is that this is very much not a non-zero sum game, and the details of the attempted strategy matter hugely. Most analysis misses that fundamental point.

In short, I think there is still good hope. To answer your question, yes Labour could also take this on if it has not happened before the next election. We have listed the current wide coalition of support including Labour and social housing voices at Street votes are now also supported by over 25 Conservative MPs, not all of them listed there. Another paper in similar vein will be published later this month, again with a wide range of endorsements.

comment by Peter McLaughlin · 2022-01-14T07:45:31.117Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree that many comfortable middle class families will not want to be disturbed. But some of those in more difficult circumstances may find the large incentives very appealing.

Just to record that this has changed my mind substantially - I think I was being overreliant on anecdotal evidence which suffered from a selection bias I wasn't taking full account of. Thanks for pointing this out, I've now updated towards you.

Replies from: Halstead
comment by John G. Halstead (Halstead) · 2022-01-14T10:39:48.147Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

 just anecdotally and on the intuitive level, I could see take-up for this being high in places with fairly transient populations in expensive but bad housing, eg in parts of London. In the row of poorly made and poorly insulated single glazed houses I used to live in Hackney, I think quite a lot of people would take the opportunity to retire ten years early by selling on. 

comment by GMcGowan · 2022-01-13T21:50:56.273Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for this comment! Hard for me to give satisfying answers to everything which is the sign of a particularly good critique IMO. Re: PricedOut I will speak to you privately.

Gove's support for Street Votes seems to have been a passing thing, and the window for action may well have closed.

Unless you have private information then I don't really see how you're inferring this? He publicly supported it around the end of November and has said little since then. My understanding from his public statements are that they are still deciding exactly what to do and how to implement reforms so everything is still to play for.

I agree government instability makes the outlook worse here. What we can infer from the failure of the previous reforms would be a post in itself, but briefly I think they were overambitious, tried to ram through much higher housing targets and took away a bunch of local consent for development. Street Votes does less of this, I see it as a much milder and politically palatable policy. The previous policy immediately got a bunch of opposition in the press and Street Votes has seen very little of that after Gove's support. Of course, it may see more opposition if it were to become official policy!

Which leads us onto...

I think [the culture of homeownership] will push quite strongly in the direction of people not endorsing building, because the market-driven logic of Street Votes pushes against the mythology of homeownership. Anecdotally, I have discussed Street Votes with a pretty substantial number of homeowners in various contexts, and I very rarely have gotten the positive response that advocates imagine.

I basically agree with John's comment on this. I would add that streets can also make themselves look nicer by adopting a particular design code for the street, which could lead to some support independent of financial benefits. Most streets won't do this, but enough might to make it worth it. Or not! But I think the proportion of streets which vote for development is a grey area about which we can reasonably disagree.

from a political perspective, it seems hard to see how any reform passes in the short run without at least some work in more rural areas

Yeah, I don't have a good answer to this. I would say again that I think these reforms are pretty politically palatable and don't force as much development onto rural areas as the previous plans.

I second MaxGhenis' hope that someone might write up a rigourous and comprehensive EA analysis of housing policy interventions

I third this hope! For me, the economic benefits loom largest and are easiest to quantify but certainly there would be many other benefits of improved policy here.

Replies from: Peter McLaughlin
comment by Peter McLaughlin · 2022-01-14T12:17:36.563Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Just on the Gove point: I have no private information, and perhaps I should have hedged more (the verb 'seems' was an attempt to communicate uncertainty, but reading my comment back I wasn't clear enough); but just going on Gove's patterns of behaviour, I have quite low confidence that he's still particularly enamoured with Street Votes, albeit with large error bars on that number.
Perhaps I am inferring too much from an absence of evidence, but Gove definitely has a pattern in basically all the portfolios he's held: he appears to value novelty in policy for its own sake, and jumps at a lot of proposed reforms that are radical and 'clever'; but, precisely because of this, is very fast-moving and goes through policy proposals very quickly, leaving a lot on the table that he seemed to be a big fan of. I make no judgment on the value of this approach, but I think it's relatively clear that it is Gove's approach. This is partly explained by the time he spent with Cummings as his SpAd, but only partly - I think it's more generally just part of his political 'style', that maybe he learned from Cummings but has retained since then.
The endorsement of Street Votes seemed to me to fit this pattern; and because he's since become relatively silent on housing policy, my confidence that he still cares much about Street Votes is low. But I've got large error bars because (a) I'm inferring from Gove not saying something, which is always a risky way of figuring out what someone thinks (b) my reasoning is based on trying to identify patterns of behaviour in someone I don't actually know or have any particular insight into, and (c) a lot of the evidence could be explained by the alternative hypothesis of 'Gove genuinely believes in the policy, but hasn't said much more because the government has just been putting out fires for the last few months'. My prior for 'Gove says he likes a policy just because it's novel and clever, but has no real commitment to it' is thus doing much of the work here, and you can very reasonably make a different judgment.

I don't have much to say about the rest of your comment except that, yes, I think your considerations are totally reasonable; I think there are some legitimate differences of judgment here.

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2022-01-15T17:21:32.595Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Metaculus forecast on street votes:

51 forecasters.

I think the resolution criteria on this question aren't great (I wrote them, sorry all) so I think possibly they understate the likelihood (they ask for plot use to be voted on , which in hindsight may have been too high a bar).

Also, Michael Gove, the Cabinet member and head of the UK Housing Department recently supported the idea.

"Homeowners will be able to band together with their neighbours to hold a referendum on adding extensions to their properties, Michael Gove has said. This from the Times of London (ht an EA, Philipp Schoenegger)

The housing secretary said he supported the “cracking” idea of Street Votes, which would allow property-owners to add hundreds of thousands in value to their suburban homes.

Under the plans, 20 per cent of residents or ten homeowners, whichever figure is higher, could apply to their local council to hold a referendum on a design code for their street. The code, which would need the support of 60 per cent of residents, would determine the height, size and architectural style of new properties and allow residents to add extensions to their existing homes."…

comment by ElliotJDavies · 2022-01-12T09:29:40.377Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Low quality/haven't thought about this for very long: 

It's unintuitive to me that a small organisation could make a big difference to an area of policy that (from the outside) seems to get a lot of focus. Take for example the changes the UK Government has made to planning permission in the last few years. Being from the south-east, everybody seems to have an opinion on housing supply, so it doesn't seem to be a neglected issue when it comes to public attention. 

Replies from: Stephen Clare, GMcGowan
comment by Stephen Clare · 2022-01-12T14:20:27.206Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think there's also a coordination problem here. A lot of people care a little bit about this, but it's hardly anyone's top priority, so there have been basically no serious, committed, focused campaigns to actually create and promote specific policies.

Replies from: John_Myers
comment by John_Myers · 2022-01-13T18:30:04.094Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree with that Stephen. I might nuance it to say that there have not been such campaigns to promote policies that are optimised for political achievability.

comment by GMcGowan · 2022-01-12T10:47:46.458Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree that the outside view of changes here looks grim.

I think it isn't exactly neglected when it comes to public attention, but the focus on supply isn't really there and most policies that are proposed are not very good. So IMO there is space for orgs that focus on supply and promote actually good policies.

comment by MaxGhenis · 2022-01-12T04:47:40.648Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

In addition to GDP effects, liberalizing zoning ties to other EA cause areas. For example, density allows for more immigrants and averts climate change. This study finds that

...doubling the population density would entail a reduction in the total [per capita] CO2 emissions in buildings and on-road sectors typically by at least 42%.

I'd love to see all these factors tied together in a cohesive EA analysis, from a dollar donated to the number of homes legalized and downstream benefits of those homes. I've contributed quite a bit of volunteer time to YIMBY groups, but haven't given much money; I suspect it's cost-effective, but I'm highly uncertain about it.

Replies from: GMcGowan
comment by GMcGowan · 2022-01-12T10:38:21.723Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Indeed, there are potential other positive effects (as with many causes). The biggest one for me would be if this lowers the perceived cost of immigration by reducing competition for relatively fixed housing, and thus enables more immigration. I think that's pretty speculative though, so I didn't include it in the post.

Alas, such an analysis is beyond me!

Replies from: Halstead, MaxGhenis
comment by John G. Halstead (Halstead) · 2022-01-12T12:16:03.560Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

this recent post argues that more dense urban housing would have lots of benefits for the climate , inequality, falling fertility. 

comment by MaxGhenis · 2022-01-12T19:55:28.397Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This blog post establishes some links between housing scarcity and immigration:

Only the wealthiest, best-educated immigrants move [to California], and most refugee resettlement agencies no longer place families in San Francisco because of the city’s high housing costs. The city accepts 95% fewer refugees than just a few years ago. Who actually welcome immigrants and refugees? Cities like Houston, Phoenix, and Atlanta that have lower costs of living.

Cavaille and Ferwerda (2017) provide a well-identified channel:

Empirically, we leverage an EU legal directive that resulted in an exogenous increase in the intensity of competition between immigrants and natives over public housing in Austria. Our findings indicate that support for anti-immigrant parties is highly responsive to perceived scarcity resulting from immigrant receipt of in-kind benefits.

comment by Richenda · 2022-01-12T20:52:10.383Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm a UK civil servant working on housing policy. I am flattered by this post 😂

comment by Khorton · 2022-01-13T00:42:00.147Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I really like that you tried grantmaking, posted about it, and even included good arguments why you might be wrong.

I am not convinced this is cost-effective enough to be competitive with GiveWell charities

Replies from: nathan
comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2022-01-15T17:16:05.744Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I thought the Founder Pledge cost effectiveness he linked made a good case for the cause area in general:

I'm less sure about the specific interventions.

comment by evelynciara · 2022-01-11T23:31:11.639Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm very glad that you're thinking about EA-aligned policy advocacy outside the United States!

For what it's worth, Open New York has had recent victories - due in part to their advocacy, the city council has approved rezonings of the Gowanus and SoHo/NoHo neighborhoods in NYC. Also, a relatively small amount of money can go a long way - ONY's budget is not large, and they just hired an executive director recently. Together, these points make me think that advocating for rezonings is highly tractable. 

comment by Arepo · 2022-01-12T12:31:09.114Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Interesting analysis - I think even if stuff like this doesn't pan out, there are large intangible benefits to EA of giving people who might be interested in specific issues a way to optimise within their parameters.

Out of curiosity, what made you decide to research the area in the first place?

Replies from: GMcGowan
comment by GMcGowan · 2022-01-12T16:03:23.305Z · EA(p) · GW(p)


I'd always been a bit interested in the area as a bystander. In the first half of 2021 I realised that a) I had more money to donate over the next few years than I expected and that b) the EA movement had more money [EA · GW] than I'd thought. This made me think that I should try to find something a bit unexplored to do with my donations. I went through the Founders Pledge research reports and this struck me as a good bet, where my donations would fill up a lot of the RFMF.