As the natural enemy of a free market system, an overbearing government harms the well-being of society when it unnecessarily regulates the economy. Not only federal, but even local governments place enormous burdens on companies and individuals, decreasing the productivity of the economy and ultimately making everyone worse off.
Case in point: for many years city regulations in Ithaca’s own College Town had prevented development of new housing for students. The most egregious regulation called for a certain number of parking spaces to be available for students living in apartment complexes—a bed-to-parking-space ratio.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Professor Garrick Blalock, applied economics and management, who is a member of the Ithaca planning board, on different aspects of the harmful regulations.
The minimum parking requirements were originally implemented with the intent to prevent students from parking in front of residential housing around Collegetown. This problem can be easily avoided by restricting parking in residential areas along with decreasing vacancy rates of public parking lots. The parking lot right behind the Cascadilla dorm is currently only at about 60% occupancy. This is unacceptable, as by forcing housing complexes to make their own parking spaces, they are decreasing occupancy of their own parking lots.
Minimum parking requirements increased the cost of Collegetown apartments, because the cost of creating the parking spaces was compensated for in higher pricing of housing. Parking spaces could not be filled at their free market value, as there were too many parking spaces.
Though it seems like a harmless regulation to most students, it has caused a shortage in housing, thus decreased the availability of affordable housing in Collegetown. The dearth of demand pushed the price of parking down, only to be subsidized by astronomically high apartment rents, at around $1200 a month per person to live in some of the nicer buildings in Collegetown. In Binghamton, as a site of comparison, rents are at $840 per month to live in high quality housing of University Lofts. Therefore, non-car owning apartment dwellers were subsidizing the purchase of parking spaces for car drivers.
Additionally, the parking spot regulation prevented development of new residential buildings for students in Collegetown. The requirement to build a parking garage or secure enough land for a parking lot presented developers with an insurmountable cost that disqualified Collegetown as an attractive investment opportunity despite the huge renting population.
With the parking regulations done away with, local entrepreneur Josh Lower is now moving forward with construction of a new student housing complex on 307 College Ave. In this complex, he will put a GreenStar grocery store, 103 beds, and a warm location for students to wait for the bus. As of now, Collegetown is in desperate need of a grocery store, as students must drive or take a bus to Wegmans to buy fresh produce. Also, the bus stop in College Town outside of Stellas is abysmal, as it is located on a crowded sidewalk with little shelter. This project will be a great addition to the community.
The previously-mentioned plan was only green-lighted after the parking lot regulations were eliminated. In addition to Lower’s project, numerous other projects are now in the works or getting started to add more housing in Collegetown. This will lower the price of housing for everyone, as simple economics tells us, because an increase in supply of housing will lower its price. Also, it will increase employment by bringing construction jobs to Ithaca. It is no coincidence or sheer luck that when free markets are allowed to reign, more people are better off than when living under the oppressive, nonsensical mandates of government.
The Cornell Daily Sun has published a few articles about the newly approved projects for building in Collegetown. However, in these articles they did not once mention the reason it took this long for these projects to be approved–the zoning regulations. As a left-leaning paper (though they claim to have no alignment), they wouldn’t dare bash government policies for creating inefficiencies in our local economy.
This example of regulations in Ithaca is a microcosm of overbearing government regulations as a whole. At the national level, there are regulations—too many to count--that harm the economy, creating systemic problems like high unemployment, high levels of debt, and inflation.
Benjamin Rutkovsky is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.