Do you think capitalism can’t provide life’s necessities? That a “free market” just means letting big business exploit workers? Are you sure affordable housing will never be built until society agrees it is a “fundamental right”? Then read on, my friends. Give me 10 minutes to change your mind.
Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you Vail Resorts vs the Town of Vail. Vail Resorts, an evil, multibazillion-dollar corporation, wants to build affordable housing for its workers. The kind, wise, democratically elected men and women of the people, said no. I’m told it’s to protect a herd of bighorn sheep. I don’t buy that for one minute.
Vail Resorts isn’t doing this out of the kindness of their hearts. After all, they’re Big Business, by definition a bunch of predatory capitalists out to make money however they can. But that’s exactly why they want to build affordable housing. Because they need it to attract workers.
Everybody get this? They want to build affordable housing because they want to make money. It’s a textbook economic exchange, where both parties are better off.
Or rather, they would be if they were allowed to — which they’re not. The Vail City Council used eminent domain to condemn Vail Resort’s property, preventing them from building anything on it. With a stroke of the pen, they made an extraordinary amount of wealth vanish into thin air.
But the problem is deeper, going beyond simple stories of rich vs poor or big vs little. The problem is us. Once we’ve got ours, we’re happy to stop others from getting theirs.
Think about it. As a homeowner, how enthusiastic are you about building more housing in Colorado? What about in your town? In your ZIP code? Heaven forbid, in your neighborhood? There’s a public hearing for a zoning change to support it. If you were to go, what would you say?
Several dozen luxury homeowners bordering the Vail Resorts land are on record as being opposed to the affordable housing project. Somehow, I doubt zoological fascination is their primary motivator.
My experience is sadly similar. I’ve been fortunate to be able to buy homes and have them appreciate over time. I live in one now. When a proposal for an apartment complex nearby got to the city council, I tried to get my friends and neighbors to come with me and support it. I got nowhere.
Maybe people were genuinely concerned about fire evacuation, traffic, and yes, bighorn sheep. But what about the people who would eventually live there? Who’s concerned about them?
I understand a home is most people’s largest investment. I understand people want to protect it. But an investment requires risk. That’s what makes it an investment, and not an entitlement. Why is it OK to use the law to “protect” your investment at the expense of others, whose only crime is starting lower on the economic ladder?
In New York, Boulder, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, the story is the same. All over the country, laws and regulations restrict the supply of housing. Folks with homes are happy, folks without them don’t matter.
(Full disclosure: My daughter makes a good living but cannot afford a home, because she lives in a state with some of the most restrictive housing regulations in America. By the time I was her age I had bought both the houses she grew up in. This makes me really mad.)
So please, when it comes to housing, let’s stop with the “capitalism stinks”, “rich developers are the problem” and the other wrong ideas. Entrepreneurs, homebuilders, and developers are ready and willing to build homes at market prices. That’s all you need to solve housing crises. People moving up into new housing opens up lower priced homes for others, which in turn opens up homes for others, and so on down the line. The economic literature couldn’t be clearer about this.
But that can happen only if building housing is legal. Which, increasingly, it is not. When it comes to a housing crisis, it’s no mystery. We have met the enemy, and he is us.
Barry Fagin is a senior fellow at the Independence Institute in Denver. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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