Thursday, 14 March 2013

On the correct design of land-user charges

As we all well know, "shotgun shacks" were not made specifically for storing shotguns, they are so-called because they are narrow, and in theory could be cleared with a single blast of a shotgun. And why are such narrow houses/buildings so common in certain areas of the USA..? From Wiki:

Shotgun houses were most popular before widespread ownership of the automobile allowed people to live farther from businesses and other destinations. Building lots were small, 30 feet (9 m) wide at most. An influx of people to cities, both from rural areas in America and from foreign countries, all looking to fill emerging manufacturing jobs, created the high demand for housing in cities.

The New Orleans housing taxation structure contributed to the design of the shotgun in its region. The shotgun utilized a minimized lot frontage, when taxes were based on lot frontage, then when that was subverted by untaxable second floor additions of space AKA the "Camelback", the tax was shifted to number of rooms, which equalized the taxation per square footage within a property.

Remember: it's the frontage, the access to the road, that is the most important bit; it's important for retail/passing trade and narrow fronts shortens walking distances in residential areas (assuming roads radiate outwards from the centre). So the New Orleans land-user charge system encouraged efficient use of roads (and hence land). Where they went wrong was then charging more for two-storey buildings.

Here's an example of a land-user charge which gets it wrong from The Daily Mail:

Barbara Grace, 62, and partner Alan Sarfas, 57, were outraged when they were told that the ground rent for their hut which they use all year round was set to go up to £787 from £702.

But they found that they could get round the increase by reducing the overall size of their 10ft by 8ft 6ins hut overlooking the North Sea at Felixstowe, Suffolk. Instead of paying the extra cash, they used an electric saw powered by a generator to slice off 18 inches from the rear to reduce its overall floor area.

The whole point about beach huts is that they overlook and have direct access to the beach and an uninterrupted view. Those are the "front row seats" and you cannot increase the length of the beach front; once people have plonked themselves down there, the view is being "consumed".

But quite how the huts extend backward is more or less irrelevant. For example, if your hut is 8 yards wide and 4 yards deep, you are  "consuming" twice as much view as a hut which is only 4 yards wide and 8 yards deep, it would be daft to make both land-users pay the same charge; the wider hut should pay twice as much. So as a result of the badly designed land-user charge, this couple has lost some interior space; the council has lost a bit of income and nobody else has gained anything (i.e. the total number of beach front huts has not increased).

If the council charged per running foot width, then there would be incentive to shuffle the huts closer together, instead of having twenty eight-foot wide huts with two-foot gaps, they'd have twenty-five huts with no gaps, or they could have two blocks of twelve huts and a reasonably wide path down the middle so that the hoi-polloi have easier access to the beach.

Just sayin', is all.


. said...

Didn't the (old) Dutch have this idea about right? Those narrow tall houses are very efficient. The whole polder model of raising investment to expand the amount of available land for the community's benefit?


. said...

And the great Victorian building boom was housing for rent which meant the builders had a huge incentive to design good streets and communities.


View from the Solent said...

. has it right. Back in the Golden Age, the city fathers of Amsterdam taxed by frontage. Which is why in the old city the houses are narrow and tall (except for the mansions) with incredibly steep staircases.

Mark Wadsworth said...

BE, yes and yes, respectively. The height doesn't really matter; the bonus is shorter walking distances, shorter pipes, shorter cables, more Dutch merchants with a canalside home/warehouse etc.

Mark Wadsworth said...

VFTS, the staircases are a waste of space actually, better for neighbouring houses to share one.

Fierce Rabbit said...

I thought Dutch houses were narrow and tall because the Dutch are, er, narrow and very tall.