Monday, July 10, 2006

The appeal and limits of "workforce housing" ...

   Just as the great moderation of American politics requires everyone to speak only of helping "working families" -- no one except far leftists actually speak of helping the "poor" anymore -- the effort to foster affordable housing is being refocused on laws to provide "workforce housing" -- that is, housing for the essential public workforce of teachers, firefighters, police officers, etc., that every locality needs.  It appears to be politically unmarketable to argue that laws such as minimum lot sizes and zoning against apartments unfairly hurt lower income people, in general, looking for housing:  How would aiding such people as a group help the current homeowners who dominate the vote in the local government?  But market the problem as one of "We need to house the local police" and maybe affordable housing advocates will get some sympathy, because this type of housing might actually aid the existing homeowners who need their houses protected.

   One of the most successful and effective ways to facilitate low-cost housing is laws to require a housing developer to provide a certain percentage of less-expensive housing as a condition for a permit to build.  Such rules give the developer -- who needs to get the permit -- an incentive to build the low-cost housing quickly and efficiently.  This sort of requirement has been used for decades in big Montgomery County, Md., which, in part because of the rule, has become far more diverse racially and economically than it was 30 years ago.

   Here's a story about developers getting approvals just before a new set-aside rule goes into effect in Palm Beach County, Florida.  What does the county consider affordable housing?  Houses in the range of $164,000 and $304,000.  This might be affordable for a firefighter, but not a janitor or store clerk, of course.

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