The Housing Theory of Everything

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Feb 2023 - The Housing Theory of Everything

Check out below how the term "The Housing Theory of Everything" was coined.

The Daily
Isabel Fattal headshot

Isabel Fattal


Housing shortages color all aspects of American life, my colleague Annie Lowrey wrote over the weekend, including bagels, music, and education. The solution seems simple: Build more homes. But that’s much easier said than done, especially when Americans disagree about the basic facts of the crisis.

“Nowhere Is Immune”

A ‘For Sale’ sign is displayed in front of a home on February 22, 2023 in Miami, Florida.

A real-estate sign is displayed in front of a home on February 22, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Joe Raedle / Getty)

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“In my mind, bagel shops open at 6 a.m.,” my colleague Annie Lowrey wrote over the weekend. “That’s how it works. You should be able to feel caffeinated and carb-loaded at 6:03 a.m. every day of the year, including Christmas.” But in San Francisco, where Annie lives, it’s tough to find a bagel place that opens before 8:30 a.m. She blames the housing shortage.

Annie’s theory might sound a little far-fetched, but she goes on to explain the evidence to back it up: San Francisco is not building nearly enough homes to keep up with the jobs it has added in the past decade, and rents are higher in the city than pretty much anywhere else in the United States. This means that many families navigating child-care costs can’t afford to live in San Francisco; the city has the smallest share of children of any major American city. That’s all to say: San Francisco is not full of people “who might be up at 5:51 a.m. on a Sunday morning, ready to hit the bagel store.”

And this kind of cause-and-effect goes far beyond bagel stores, and far beyond San Francisco, Annie writes:

Housing costs are perverting just about every facet of American life, everywhere. What we eat, when we eat it, what music we listen to, what sports we play, how many friends we have, how often we see our extended families, where we go on vacation, how many children we bear, what kind of companies we found: All of it has gotten warped by the high cost of housing. Nowhere is immune, because big cities export their housing shortages to small cities, suburbs, and rural areas too.

A trio of analysts recently coined a term for this: a “housing theory of everything.” “You now hear it everywhere, at least if you’re the kind of person who goes to a lot of public-policy conferences or hangs out on econ Twitter,” Annie writes. The theory has caught on, she argues, because it’s true: “Housing costs really do affect everything.”

She explains:

[Housing costs are] shaping art by preventing young painters, musicians, and poets from congregating in cities … They’re shaping higher education, turning elite urban colleges into real-estate conglomerates and barring low-income students from attending. They are preventing new businesses from getting off the ground and are killing mom-and-pops. They’re making people lonely and reactionary and sick and angry.

So what do we do? The solution is simple on its face: “Build more homes in our most desirable places—granting more money, opportunity, entrepreneurial spark, health, togetherness, and tasty breakfast options to all of us,” as Annie puts it. But this fix isn’t easy to achieve, in part because many people struggle to even recognize that a housing shortage exists—even when the evidence is right in front of them.

My colleague Jerusalem Demsas reported on this problem a few months ago: “Before I get to the veritable library of studies, our personal experiences compel us to recognize that housing scarcity is all around us,” she wrote, in an essay aptly titled “Housing Breaks People’s Brains.”

Even the rich are struggling to find homes, a sign of how wide-ranging the shortage is. As Jerusalem noted, video clips have gone viral showing “hundreds of yuppies lining up to tour a single Manhattan apartment.” But many people don’t necessarily connect these real-estate woes with the reality of housing scarcity.

People also doubt the effects of building more housing: A study published last year noted that 30 to 40 percent of Americans believe that if a lot of new housing were built, rents and home prices would rise, when in actuality, the evidence—and economic theory—suggests that prices would fall.

In her article, Jerusalem offers a few theories for what’s behind these forms of denialism, but the consequences are clear: These types of thinking “push against the actual solution to the housing crisis: building enough homes,” she wrote. “After all, if there is no shortage or if building new homes doesn’t reduce rents, then no one has to tackle NIMBYism, no one has to work to bring down housing-construction costs, and no one needs to build millions of new homes in America’s cities and suburbs. In fact, this magical thinking goes, we can fix our housing crisis without changing much of anything at all.”

The first step toward solving the housing crisis might be aligning Americans around a shared reality—and as we’ve seen time and again, that’s not easy to do.

Mar 2023

Good one:

To fix homelessness, crime, drugs, families, and economies - build more housing. Article also has myths about homelessness debunked.


  • Liberals appear to be worse than conservatives in opposing multifamily housing [1]