‘Affordable housing’ sounds so good. State legislators and city councils throughout the Denver area make passionate pleas to promote the idea. In the media, it is jammed into the public’s mind both thru advertising and in program content. In public discourse, rarely a single word opposed to affordable housing is heard. In reality, affordable housing is a con.
Many people think ‘housing affordability’ when ‘affordable housing’ is said, but they are not the same. Housing affordability describes the bleak reality of how the Denver Metro Area grew from 2.3 million in 2000 to 3.1 million today and that competition combined with growth management has dramatically raised prices for a place to live.
Affordable housing is a government program that builds and subsidizes so few housing units that it has no effect on housing affordability. The various programs around affordable housing subverts the role of government, deceives the public, enriches connected insiders and entices Coloradans into an ever-increasing acceptance of dependency.
Subverts the role of government: In the United States, government does not provide housing. Housing is not a constitutional mandate at the Federal, State or local level. The concept of government housing is incompatible with American Ideals, our values of individualism and respecting the varied and diverse tastes that our citizens have. Government provided housing undermines the personal accountability that ownership or renting imposes on a resident.
Deceives the Public: Government has very few housing units to give away compared to the people that meet the ‘needs’ guidelines. In a presentation by the Adams County Housing Authority (ACHA) to the Westminster City Council, the Authority reported 4,000 qualified applicants seeking 150 openings for housing assistance. The inequity of having 150 winners compared to the 3,850 decent, worthy, honest people that lost is staggering. If the possibility of government housing was not present, all of those 4,000 applicants would equally have to find a way to be self-sufficient. Moreover, the people that did not get assistance rightly question the fairness of such a system
Enriches Connected Insiders: For example, consider the City contract with Eaton Street Affordable Housing, LLC at the New Downtown in Westminster. With tens of millions in government subsidy, cost controls on the developer that the marketplace would have enforced vanish. Additionally, the City contract allowed the developer to inflate the value of their equity. Then, wanting even more profit, the developer formed an In-Name-Only ‘partnership’ with the Jefferson County Housing Authority (JCHA) to avoid paying property taxes on the project. If all that manipulating the system was not enough, after 30 years, the privately-owned project sheds all affordability requirements and the taxpayer money spent will have purchased nothing that endured.
Increased Dependency: According to the JCHA, 2/3rds of the current recipients of their program will never earn their way out (1). The research that JCHA shared predicts that only 1 in 4 children will earn more than their parents. The income of a person is a primary factor in housing affordability, so it is understandable that JCHA and ACHA expects their caseloads to soar. Moreover, if public housing only helps 1 in 25 today, we might well watch that meager help to shrink to 1 in 100.
The drive for the government involvement in affordable housing is a façade for connected insiders to make easy money, for political factions to ignore the difficulties society faces and for government to condescendingly help a selected few while failing the huge majority of other equally worthy people. The public must be allowed to see thru the deception that the affordable housing industry and its advocates promote.
Housing affordability, on the other hand is neither a new or unjust goal. The role government should play is by knocking down restrictive growth-management and land-use practices that artificially inflate the cost of housing and empower the free market to serve the needs and wants of all the people in our society. Housing affordability was accomplished after World War 2 and it can be accomplished today. The involvement of government in subsidized affordable housing will only engender anger and envy of the select few that get benefits versus the majority of people who are shut out of these government giveaways.
Bruce Baker, former member of the Westminster City Council, is author of several papers on the issues and challenges local governments face and solutions that should be explored.