October 27, 2012

Universal Sales Pitches to the Voters on Debt for Affordable Housing

Justin Katz

Two multimedia pieces addressing Rhode Island ballot question number 7 — to borrow $25 million through bond sales for affordable housing — are starkly different.  Both are essentially given over to advocates for the new debt, but in one case, the journalist does a reasonable job of raising possible objections, if not quite going so far as to play devil's advocate.

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”In a highly regulated state like Rhode Island —if it’s not the most, it’s close to it — it can be up to 36% of the total cost of the house.”

Most people have no real idea of these costs. While 36% seems high, I regard it as quite possible. First, you begin with the obvious such as lot size. The larger the requirement, the fewer houses can be built on given parcel, the more the builder has to get per lot. Limiting the number of houses on a dead end street has the same effect. Then you move on to requirements that came into being with the "bubble" when anything was possible, such as sidewalks standards, road construction standards, and code requirements for the building. Then we have Wetlands, nitrogen retention areas, and now the "Rivers Act". Buyer's don't get a separate bill for Wetland's Compliance, so they have no idea. The only break a buyer gets is that private sewer construction is about 1/3 the cost of public sewer construction.

"For my part, I continue to question how it could possibly be economically healthy to pump hundreds of subsidized low-cost housing units into a market that is unceasingly losing value even as its inventory continues to climb."

It would probably be cheaper to acquire existing buildings, but can you imagine the political fallout of evicting market tenants to move in subsidized tenants? It is also quite possible that existing buildings would not meet subsidized housing standards. Establishing a voucher system, similar to Section 8, would probably make more sense. I doubt all of those 3 deckers would meet current standards.

I remember taking a course at the Harvard School of Architecture before "affordable housing" was known to mean subsidized housing. Myself, and most of the class, thought the focus would be on new, low cost, construction methods. The distributed syllabus certainly gave that impression by referring to "methods". About 2/3's of the class walked out when the true meaning was revealed.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at October 27, 2012 9:03 PM

If you want more of something, subsidize it. Why, exactly, does RI want to attract or enable more single mothers or families that can't or won't support themselves? This will just drive increased taxes to pay for the housing, schooling, and other "needs" of these people. Result: increased middle class flight and business failure. Another noble idea that will eventually lead to misery and failure. Research Woonsocket.

Posted by: Mike678 at October 28, 2012 7:59 AM

Rent controls are a disaster. Section 8 housing is a disaster. Community Reinvestment Act is a disaster. Fannie and Freddie are a disaster. This should work out well.

Posted by: Dan at October 28, 2012 9:26 AM

"Section 8 housing is a disaster"

I hear unsubstantiated rumors from Massachusetts, which I doubt would ever be substantiated. Section * is being used to destabilize many towns and cities near Boston. If someone applies for a Section 8 certificate in Boston, they are told that none are available. Next they are told that if they are willing to move to (a list of towns) a certificate would be available. Consequently, they are exported to neighboring cities and towns. This may not be a plot, it may simply be making people "aware of their rights" and being helpful. I have some property in Attleboro,MA, I am distressed at what I see in terms of baggy pants and backward hats.

It is notable that large Section 8 landlords have their own police departments, which they term "security teams". In Attleboro, the former post WWII "Veteran's Housing Project" has been converted to Section 8 housing, it now has a police sub-station.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at October 28, 2012 12:33 PM

I had a question when listening to the FLo Janik report on WRNI. The financial needs of the children were an essential part of the story and an important justification for supporting the bond. Yet, no mention of their fathers and their obligation to help support their children, even if non-custodial. I think such an inquiry is automatically deemed paternalistic and sexist in NPR land, but I'd like to know the answer.

Posted by: observer at October 28, 2012 5:38 PM


"It's for the children" is always the battle cry.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at October 29, 2012 10:33 AM

"Why, exactly, does RI want to attract or enable more single mothers or families that can't or won't support themselves?"

Why? The same reason "we" want open borders, lifetime SSI checks to infants, free babysitters, retire at 40 public "workers" and state subsidized homosexuality complete with little boys supplied by the state for the "couples" to "adopt".
Because progressives are INSANE, that's why. Look at history from Robespierre to Marx, Baukinin, the Paris Commune of 1871, Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao, Katyn, etc., etc., etc.

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at October 29, 2012 1:22 PM

I am troubled by the unexplained sources of the other revenue. If the source is Federal, there are usually "strings" designed to make the unacceptable a requirement.

An anecdotal example. I have reason to keep an eye on Attleboro and North Attleboro, MA. Attleboro is a city, North Attleboro is not. Attleboro seems to seek a lot of federal funding for public projects.

As a city Attleboro can receive federal funds directly. As a town, North Attleboro receives federal funds by way of a state agency which washes it of federal "strings".

Although not that dissimilar in size, I note Attleboro has a great many more "halfway houses". These are easily determined if you drive by one on a summer evening. The porches are crowded with adult males, this results from the stricture preventing them from leaving the property (think "Quality Hill" in Pawtucket).

Posted by: Warrington Faust at October 29, 2012 3:49 PM
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