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The Homevoter Hypothesis: How Home Values Influence Local Government Taxation, School Finance, and Land-Use Policies

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674015951
ISBN-10: 0674015959
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Although other commentators have bemoaned voter apathy and the lack of civic engagement, Fischel shows how democracy thrives at the local level. As the ‘homevoter’ looks at all the factors that affect property values―good schools, effective management of traffic, fewer undesirable uses such as landfills and prisons―he or she becomes politically engaged… The Homevoter Hypothesis…[is] an important contribution to the ongoing conversation about how best to manage growth. (Anthony Flint Boston Globe 2001-12-27)

Fischel…describes ‘homevoters’ as homeowners whose votes determine the character of local government. From their ranks comes the median voter, whose needs are most likely to be met by democratically elected officials… Fiscal efficiency in local government, Fischel argues, requires close correspondence between taxes and the services they fund… Fischel rounds out his brief for local government with examples, anecdotes, and further suggestions for reform. Though best characterized as advocacy economics, the work is well documented and thoroughly researched, encouraging the diligent reader to engage in the debate. Recommended. (R. S. Hewett Choice 2002-05-01)

The Homevoter Hypothesis is a valuable contribution to debates over how to allocate land use and environmental regulatory authority among the federal, state, regional, and local governments. Fischel bring sorely needed balance to those debates. He systematically builds a theory favoring local control over land use by bringing a large and wide-ranging literature to bear on the problems of localism versus federalism. It is a very important book. (Vicki Been, New York University School of Law)

The Homevoter Hypothesis was a pleasure to read. Fischel has a unique style for an economist. This book is full of anecdotes and personal observations, yet underlying these stories and observations is very impressive scholarship. Fischel has read and internalized everything worth reading in this area, and this scholarship comes through very clearly. This book shows a different and refreshing prospective; it is rich in detail and content, but also very coherent. (Jon Sonstelie, University of California, Santa Barbara)

Review

The Homevoter Hypothesis is a valuable contribution to debates over how to allocate land use and environmental regulatory authority among the federal, state, regional, and local governments. Fischel bring sorely needed balance to those debates. He systematically builds a theory favoring local control over land use by bringing a large and wide-ranging literature to bear on the problems of localism versus federalism. It is a very important book. (Vicki Been, New York University School of Law) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (February 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674015959
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674015951
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #925,508 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Michael Lewyn VINE VOICE on January 5, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The “homevoter hypothesis” of this book is that local governments make land use decisions based on the views of the typical homeowner. Because a house is a large and illiquid investment, a “homevoter” (Fischel's word for a home-owning voter) often focuses not on maximizing property values, but on reducing the risk of a decline in property values. As a result, homevoter-dominated local governments shun new residential development (especially apartments or anything that might bring in poor people) or commercial development near housing, because even if those developments aren’t going to reduce property values, why take the chance? In addition, homevoters prefer small suburbs to consolidated regional governments, because larger governments might favor the broad public interest in new housing over homevoters’ neighborhood concerns.

Generally, Fischel seems to think that this is fine. For example, he thinks that homevoters are likely to maximize environmental protection, because pollution is bad for property values. Fischel rejects “environmental justice” claims based on the proximity of polluters to poor neighborhoods, reasoning that these neighborhoods benefit from cheaper housing, bigger commercial tax bases and closer proximity to jobs. Fischel also defends use of local property taxes to fund education, because good schools help property values, so homevoters will be willing to support high property taxes in order to improve schools.

Fischel thus attacks attempts to equalize school finances between property-rich and property-poor towns; as he points out, property-poor towns are not always full of poor people, since troubled urban areas often have fairly strong commercial tax bases.
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Format: Hardcover
There are scads of good books on state and Federal government, but few on local government. William Fischel's The Homevoter Hypothesis is an exception and is an apparent classic on local government. Fischel's book advances more than an "hypothesis." It is a "correlation" that convincingly describes from case studies and case law how real estate economics drives local government. Fischel reports that housing equity in the U.S. is eleven times as large as liquid assets among all homeowners. Home equity value is the largest asset of private wealth. But this equity value is constantly under threat from external forces ("externalities") beyond the control of property owners except by government intervention. Homes are an immovable asset whose value can't be insured against a wipeout of equity. Homeowners will consent to the impositions of municipal and school district financing, zoning, growth controls, and environmental regulations only to the extent that they protect home values, or can be "capitalized" (converted) into higher property values. Fischel advances what he calls the "Tiebout Hypothesis" (from Charles Tiebout) that "people vote with their feet" by moving or shopping for a locality to maximize their wealth. Actually, because real estate is an immobile asset, Fischel's theorem might be more accurately restated as "people put their feet to the vote" or "stake their home value to the vote."
Fischel sometimes uses elegant terms ("homevoter," "unlovely land uses"), classical phrases ("people who buy houses are more careful about it than almost any other transaction, save perhaps getting married"), and even employs a reverse golden rule of sorts ("municipalities will foist disamenities on their neighbor that they would not do unto themselves").
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the best books on local government I have read. The core thesis is straightforward yet explains so much about why cities make the planning and growth decisions they do. Stylistically, this is a somewhat easier and more digestible read than you might expect. The tone is more that of an interesting graduate seminar than a dry economics course. I particularly enjoyed the focus on local government history/ political economy in California and Washington state. If you live in a city or suburb with growth issues you will find this relevant and provocative.
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This makes a great required second book in a local government/administration course. As a matter of fact, it should be required reading for city councilmen all over America.

Fischel does a good job of proving the "people vote with their feet" hypothesis, but more importantly, he ties property values to virtually every local government action (and inaction). Virtually everything that city government does is capitalized into property values -- sometimes with negative effects and sometimes with positive effects. Americans are extremely mobile, moving every 4 years, so we really do vote with our feet to a greater extent than most city governments care to accept.
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