# Sprawl

The best news you didn't hear about yesterday

A House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing featuring two low-profile cabinet members won’t make a splash even on a slow-news day, and certainly not when a juicy story like the AIG outrage has so many angles to explore.

But take my word for it: big news came out of yesterday’s Congressional testimony by Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan and Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood. The cabinet secretaries announced

a new partnership to help American families gain better access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs. The average working American family spends nearly 60 percent of its budget on housing and transportation costs, making these two areas the largest expenses for American families. Donovan and LaHood want to seek ways to cut these costs by focusing their efforts on creating affordable, sustainable communities.

I explain why this is important and welcome news after the jump.

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10 ways to combat asthma (in honor of Asthma Awareness Month and World Asthma Day)

Asthma has been on my mind lately, because a child in my extended family was recently diagnosed with it after going to the hospital for respiratory problems. The chronic disease is one of the leading causes of hospitalization in children.

In addition, at least 20 million American adults are estimated to have asthma.

Today is World Asthma Day, in connection with Asthma Awareness Month.

Join me after the jump to read about five policies our society should implement, as well as five steps individuals can take, to reduce the incidence and severity of asthma in our households and across the country.

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Iowa's largest home-builder lays off entire staff

If you aren’t already convinced that the housing market is in big trouble, maybe this article from Saturday’s Des Moines Register will change your mind:

Iowa’s largest home builder, Regency Cos. of Des Moines, has laid off the entire staff of its home building business and left behind 300 homes that lenders and buyers will now have to sell or finish.

Jamie Myers, president of Regency, told 103 people working at Regency Homes offices in West Des Moines and Cedar Rapids on Friday afternoon that their jobs had been eliminated and that construction would halt. Myers said it became impossible for the company to continue after a lending agreement with Wells Fargo & Co. ended in December without a renewal.

“We don’t have the cash flow to pay them,” he said of employees.

Myers said it’s hoped that enough money will be generated from the sale of homes already built to pay lenders and contractors.

Myers didn’t rule out a bankruptcy for the company, which concentrates in the Ames, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Iowa City areas.

The prize for the most absurd spin of the week has to go to Rich Krier of Krier Homes Inc. in Indianola, who

didn’t see Regency’s troubles as a particularly bad omen for the Iowa home building industry. “It’s like a borrower having a problem with a bank,” he said.

He cannot be serious. Regency is not just like any old borrower. We are talking about the giant among home-building firms in Iowa. If Wells Fargo pulled the plug on their loan arrangement, they must be pretty sure that the housing market is in a severe downturn.

The archives of the Bonddad Blog have plenty of material explaining the housing bubble and subsequent downturn.

I wish we could get back some of that prime farmland that home-builders turned into suburban housing. Clearly the new housing that has been built in recent years exceeds market demand in Iowa.

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News flash: new retail around Jordan Creek hurts older business districts

In one of the least surprising stories I've seen lately, the Des Moines Register reported on Saturday that retail sales increased by 500 percent between 2004 and 2006 in the parts of West Des Moines that are in Dallas County (around the Jordan Creek mall, which opened in 2004, and the several other strip malls in the area).

“We knew this was going on, but we didn't know the magnitude of losses, especially to the city of Des Moines,” said David Swenson, a research scientist and economist at ISU, who completed the study with Liesl Eathington, an ISU economist.

It was obvious from the beginning that Jordan Creek and the explosion of big box stores were going to hurt business at existing shopping malls and strip malls in the metro area.

Mall officials had said Jordan Creek would draw shoppers from at least a 100-mile radius, but the declines in nearby cities suggest that the booming retail center in West Des Moines is adding shoppers at the expense of places like Des Moines, the portion of West Des Moines that sits in Polk County, Perry, Guthrie Center, Earlham and Adel.

The shift in shopping patterns has also siphoned away local-option sales tax revenue from Polk County school districts.

Thanks to these economists for pointing out the direct connection between the explosion of new retail in Dallas County and the funding shortfalls of school districts in Polk County. The Des Moines Public Schools have been most affected, but even the West Des Moines School District has had to cut back on some school renovation plans because of funding shortfalls.

One thing I would have liked to see in this article is some detail about how much taxpayer money has gone to subsidize the sprawl in the Jordan Creek area.

Polk County residents might have some clue that the new shopping out west is hurting the older malls and businesses in the metro area, but are they aware that they have paid for much of the infrastructure supporting these new shopping centers west of Des Moines?

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