Category Archives: “What-If” Analysis

What if all NYC housing policy ended tomorrow?

More than a few New Yorkers work two full-time jobs but live in homeless shelters. At the same time, New York has more vacant buildings and lots than it has homeless people. The study cited in the second article was produced by an organization called Picture The Homeless, that places much of the blame on market reactions to policy and not markets themselves. Other sources corroborate this idea.

My first instinct is to ask what would happen if those policies suddenly ended. Because I was raised by Bill Clinton Liberals, my following instinct is to assume things would get a lot worse. Consider the “rip the bandage” off analogy, except the bandage is actually stitches. There’s a research question in this: what would happen if all of New York housing policy suddenly disappeared, but nothing else was touched?

I think this could become a valid research methodology for understanding many different kinds of policy that have settled into “the long run.” First, it would require a researcher to compile, coherently, what exactly constitutes housing/healthcare/whatever policy at the relevant level, and then, with an explicit ceteris paribus assumption, to isolate the effect of ending exactly that body of legislation.

Rather than being an unrealistic view of policy, I think this is an excellent hypothetical framework for extricating the effects of one policy from another. A question like “why are there poor people in New York?” is too big to answer. A question like “what effect does housing policy have on homelessness in New York?” is slightly less too big, because the topic is small but the scale and scope of the answer are arbitrary. A question like “what would happen to housing markets if, tomorrow, x, y, and z policies ceased unconditionally?” is answerable.

The answer to this question probably won’t contain a solution to the problem. It would establish a set of first principles and a counterfactual baseline.

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