A common argument about housing prices that I’ve personally noticed popping up frequently in the last few weeks is that they are as high as they are here in King County thanks in very large part to the Growth Management Act (GMA). Specifically, the argument claims that the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) has so limited the available land to build on that the supply of new homes simply has not been able to keep up with increasing demand.
Here are two simple reasons that the UGB argument is nothing more than a red herring and a canard:
Reason #1: The UGB pre-dates the present run-up by roughly 10 years.
The UGB was put into place in 1992, and has remained largely unchanged since. If the UGB were to blame for high home prices, one would expect to see home prices begin to shoot up shortly after its enactment.
From January 1993 (the earliest month I have data for) to January 2002, the median closed price of single-family homes in King County increased an average of 6.3% per year. However, from January 2002 to December 2006 (the most recent month I have data for), the median increased 11.1% per year.
If the UGB is to blame for the ridiculous run-up in prices, why were its effects not noticed until ten years after it was enacted? That makes no sense.
Reason #2: King County was not alone in the home price run-up.
Many cities and counties across the entire country have experienced runaway home price growth over the past five years. UGBs cannot account for this near-nation-wide phenomenon. Absolutely zero evidence been provided to explain the notion that even though King County home prices jumped up by an unprecedented amount, it was not due to the factors that drove home prices up elsewhere in the country. If it is granted that these macro-economic factors had a hand in driving up King County home prices, why blame the UGB?
It would take quite a stretch of the imagination, combined with a healthy dose of tortured logic to attempt to claim that although home prices in King County were skyrocketing at nearly the same time as the rest of the nation (delayed by ~1 year), it was for an entirely different reason. Oh, and by the way that reason is a law that was passed ten years ago.
Yeah, that’s the ticket.