Big part of the problem is local land use and zoning policies
Originally Posted by Christy319
I don't think anyone here is arguing that low density is an environmental good. This is about housing costs. And high density does not equal lower housing costs--if it did, Manhattan, Vancouver BC and San Francisco would be the most affordable places in North America, not the most expensive. (This is a huge issue in cities feeling the housing squeeze right now, like Seattle and SF--there is plenty of evidence to show that density based on new development just drives up housing costs, as it usually replaces older, affordable housing, and the new units almost always cater to higher income buyers).
Also, what ski towns are "mandating huge lots"? Do you have examples? I suppose that might happen, but when I think of the towns with the highest housing costs--Telluride or Ketchum, for example--homes are not generally on large lots, and these are compact towns. Think of how compact and relatively dense (for ski towns) Vail and Whistler are, and think of how expensive these places are. Are you thinking of developments outside of towns, where developers are carving up former ranches and building McMansions on huge lots? I agree that kind of sprawl is gross, but that's not happening because adjacent cities are telling those developers the minimum house size is an acre and they have to build 10K sf houses. The developer is doing that because that's where the money is.
It is certainly true around here where the "environmentalists" fight every development and usually wind up getting the density and the number of units reduced--see Sierra Watch, Mountain Area Preservation Foundation, and a whole host of others. These folks think they're environmentalists when all they really are is nimbys. The joke will be on them when they have to bump their own chairs and fix they're own frozen pipes because no one who can do either can afford to live here.
If these were to be rent controlled, or specifically for people making only a certain income, etc then you have a point. But if this was just market rate housing (or something that people will use for second homes, or vrbos...) and this is an expensive area, then the development will just be driving up housing costs, and they'll be fixing their own frozen pipes anyway.
Your first point--about SF, NYC, Vancouver--one reason these places have high density (I'll take your word about Vancouver) is because high housing prices force it. These places are expensive because they are desirable and because they are geographically constrained. Can you imagine what prices would be like if the high density housing were replaced with 1 house per acre?
Your second point--examples. Truckee. see the zoning map http://www.townoftruckee.com/home/showdocument?id=11807 and key http://www.townoftruckee.com/departments/planning-division/zoning-administrator/zoning-maps. Truckee has higher density areas--mostly much older neighborhoods and there has been some multi family affordable built more recently, but at this point buildable land is zoned for lower densities.
Your third point--yes, density alone wouldn't solve the problem. Mandated affordable housing will be essential, and will only be practical from a developers standpoint if they are allowed to increase density. And maybe you could explain how building more units drives up housing costs? A devloper can make more money selling 100 small units for 100K each than 10 units for 1M each, due to the higher cost per sf of the latter. If your planning mandates small high density units the rich won't buy--rich people don't want 500 sf condos in high rises. They'll just drive up the cost of the existing big houses on big lots. So even without subsidies and income caps the small units will be affordable.
Housing affordability is of course driven to a large extent by the increasingly gross disparities in income and wealth in the developed world, and development policy can only affect it to a degree, but
ski towns have a choice to make between maintaining a picturesque, semirural ambience and facilitating a higher density, more urban, more affordable environment. So far it appears most have opted for the former. Part of the problem is that ski towns love expensive second homes owned by people who don't vote and which generate large property tax revenues without using public services, especially schools, and also utilities, waste services, and parks and rec. (Truckee has a park and rec program that would be the envy of any big city.)
Edited by oldgoat - 1/26/16 at 7:14pm