The developed world’s wealthiest cities are facing housing crises so acute that not only low-income workers, but also the middle and creative classes, find them increasingly difficult places to afford. Redfin, the real estate website, recently found that there was not a single home on the market in San Francisco that would be affordable on a teacher’s salary. And that was just for buyers; in many cities, renting is even more expensive.
Luxury towers are sprouting up, adding density to unlikely places, from the Brooklyn waterfront to San Francisco’s Mid-Market district. But adding inventory to the high end does nothing to help the middle — one of the many irritating peculiarities of the 21st-century boomtown housing market. Building new apartments can actually push rents higher, and amenities for the masses, like transportation and parks, may have the effect of pricing them out. Everyone wants to live in these places, so no one can afford to. What’s a global city to do?
There is one city that has managed to surmount this problem. The achievement of near-universal affordable housing in a place with limited land mass might be a beacon of hope, were it not for the fact that it is Singapore, a sovereign city-state with one-party rule, wonky leaders, an economy that has grown rapidly in the last half-century and one of the highest per-capita incomes on earth. There, more than 80 percent of the population lives in public housing designed with walkability, ethnic diversity and green space in mind.
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