Saturday, August 25, 2007

Is a 3,000 Square Foot House a McMansion?

Michigan Democrat John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and well known thorn in the side of environmentalists for blocking legislation to raise fuel efficiency standards for cars, is drafting a bill which would eliminate the tax deduction on mortgage interest for a house larger than 3,000 square feet. Dingell is quoted in the Washington Post as saying:

remove the mortgage interest deduction on McMansions -- homes over 3,000 square feet.

There probably would be a lot of support for removing this tax deduction for McMansions but does a 3,000 square foot really classify as a McMansion? While there is no agreed on definition, a house of 3,000 square feet seems a bit small to make the grade. In a post on this blog that I wrote earlier this month it was noted that nationally known land use law expert John Nolon from Pace University Law School uses the definition of 6,000 to 8,000 feet. He was quoted in the Guardian as saying that:

A 6,000 sq ft-8,000 sq ft house is a climate change disaster. If the country doesn't rein in the construction of these mansions the message to individuals is that they're encouraged to follow their urges. The phenomenon with McMansions is similar to that with SUVs: they express a certain sort of success, they're available and they're fun.

Nolon clearly is talking about very large houses when he uses the term McMansions. Dingell however is including houses that are only slightly larger than the average size new house. Why is he even using the term McMansion?

Perhaps Dingell is trying to appear green while proposing legislation which has no chance of passing. If he used Nolon’s definition and made the cutoff at 6,000 square feet that might be hard for the real estate and developer lobbies to defeat. The Washington Post article says that realtors and home builders are already up in arms about Dingell’s proposal. They probably won’t be the only ones.

Dingell is the chairman of an extremely important committee when it comes to the issue of global warming. We can only hope that he sincerely is trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and not just trying make it look like that is his goal.

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