Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Affordable Housing Builds Community

Yesterday, for reasons unknown, I decided to address the subject of Affordable Housing.  This is a controversial, emotional, and polemic issue, yet also fundamental to how we order ourselves, how we live, and how we exist as a community.  Unsurprisingly, the discussion became somewhat heated (over the on the Facebook page), but I ended up learning much more than I had offered to begin with.  I believe that what I originally wrote may have been misinterpreted (in some cases intentionally), but the author is ultimately responsible for any confusion.

First, a point of clarification.  I have not transformed into some suburban NIMBY overnight.  I want full-spectrum housing.  I want a diverse community.  The questions I've raised relate to the means of doing so and whether there is a "better way" than a housing system that puts anchors on those it seeks to assist. 

With that, I thought I would share some new, in some cases contrary, insights many of you have offered in response to yesterday's post.

Wealth Creation

Affordable Housing is not for wealth creation.  While I understand this as argument, I think it is unfortunate as fact.  And most of you do too.  Whenever this argument was raised, it was done so "regrettably" as an acknowledgement of a fault in an otherwise important program.   The "Emperor Has No Clothes" of housing policy.  "Well, when someone says the Emperor has no clothes, you say 'The Emperor is not supposed to have clothes!'"

My friend Roy asked in the comments what I would propose we do with the in lieu payments instead of door-knobs, and I think this issue in particular lends itself to financial amelioration.  As many would acknowledge, Columbia has vacant housing stock, it just needs to be rehabilitated.  If there were a program that focused on this housing stock and allowed homeowners to keep the value of subsidized improvements, we would have a constructive solution that addressed a central flaw of affordable housing.

Diverse Communities

This is the most important consideration that I myopically omitted from my previous post.  We want Affordable Housing, with all of its warts, so that we avoid pockets of privilege and poverty.  We want the janitor to live next to the CEO, not because the janitor would benefit, but because "what is the alternative?"  There is an unstated presumption that success should come with its own zip code and Affordable Housing exists to rebut that presumption.  I get that and I'm disappointed I didn't get that before.

And this is a central point.  Affordable Housing is not necessarily intended as a poverty cure or any other social good other than "community building".  We can and should examine its flaws and I reject any contention that this is some sacred cow that avoids scrutiny.  Because as I showed yesterday, you can been pretty well entrenched in community affairs and still not understand one of its most basic concepts.

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!