Newsflash: Politician Does Right Thing (Twice)

At Cato, we often point out when politicians do something wrong — and who can blame us given the target-rich environment? But we should also salute the rare politician who does something right (more or less). So let’s give two tips of the hat to New York mayor Michael Bloomberg for choosing not to inflame two recent situations that could easily have been exploited for political gain.

Last July, parts of Queens lost electricity for more than a week because several of the borough’s feeder cables failed, leaving about 100,000 people without power. During and after the blackout, several NY politicos piled on Consolidated Edison, which is a tried-and-true political tradition in New York City. But Bloomberg broke with tradition, publicly refusing to bash the utility. Instead, he worked to lower the political temperature, and he urged others to do the same.

Now, Bloomberg is also declining to bash yesterday’s announced $5.4 billion sale of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, two massive middle-income apartment complexes in Manhattan. Together, the complexes comprise more than 11,000 units in 110 buildings covering some 80 acres of the most lucrative real estate on the planet. The sale is reported to be the largest real estate deal in American history.

As the impending sale became public, many New York politicians and political activists ripped the deal because of fears of “gentrification.” But Bloomberg, to his credit, said simply, “MetLife owns it, and they have a right to sell it.”

Of course, housing affordability is a legitimate public concern. But the much-ballyhooed policy prescriptions — e.g., rent control, affordable housing mandates, “inclusionary zoning” — are window dressing at best and counterproductive at worst.

Fortunately, there is a far-superior policy response that also is market-friendly: government need only remove the restrictions preventing the market from satisfying the demand for affordable housing. This is argued well by Harvard economist Ed Glaeser and Wharton School economist Joe Gyourko in the Fall 2002 issue of Regulation.

If Bloomberg really wants to make my day, he should read Glaeser and Gyourko’s article and allow developers to build as much housing as the New York market demands.