Viewpoint: Turning streets into housing
Keywords:streets, housing, homelessness, liveaboards, RVs, autonomous vehicles
I argue that wide residential streets in US cities are both a contributor to homelessness and a potential strategy to provide more affordable housing. In residential neighborhoods, subdivision ordinances typically set binding standards for street width, far in excess of what is economically optimal or what private developers and residents would likely prefer. These street width standards are one contributor to high housing costs and supply restrictions, which exacerbate the housing affordability crisis in high-cost cities. Planning for autonomous vehicles highlights the overprovision of streets in urban areas. Because they can evade municipal anti-camping restrictions that restrict the use of streets by unhoused people, autonomous camper vans have the ability to blur the distinction between land for housing and land for streets. I propose two strategies through which excess street space can accommodate housing in a formalized way. First, cities could permit camper van parking on the right-of-way, analogous to liveaboard canal boats that provide housing options in some UK cities. Second, extending private residential lots into the right-of-way would create space for front-yard accessory dwelling units.
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