When Government Has “Affordability” to Sell


A journalist once asked me what “other side” there could possibly be to the unmitigated blessing of government’s buying up open space.  I responded with the basic point that economist Thomas Sowell makes here:

Housing prices in San Francisco, and in many other communities for miles around, were once no higher than in the rest of the United States.

But, beginning in the 1970s, housing prices in these communities skyrocketed to three or four times the national average.

Why? Because local government laws and policies severely restricted, or banned outright, the building of anything on vast areas of land. This is called preserving “open space,” and “open space” has become almost a cult obsession among self-righteous environmental activists, many of whom are sufficiently affluent that they don’t have to worry about housing prices.

From progressives’ point of view, this is all to the better.  They get to preserve pretty nature for their own enjoyment when they have a moment to pause and look at it or to make their morning commutes more pleasant, and they drive up the price of housing, so they can then turn around and buy votes with subsidies to those who can no longer afford their homes while also increasing their power to tell people how they have to live.

Remember RhodMap RI?  It came before RhodeWorks, which (we’ll no doubt find) precedes RhodeKill.  Well, RhodeMap is an excellent example of the plan in action.

A poor economy, tight regulations and zoning, and a growing portfolio of unavailable land are making it difficult for lower-income Rhode Islanders to find suitable housing.  The solution, according to government planners, is to force social engineering by pushing “affordable housing” into every corner of the state, which has the happy side effect for progressives of pushing people who tend to vote for their preferred candidates and policies into those corners, so no contrary perspective can gain a solid footing.

When implemented, RhodeMap-like plans will drive up the prices (and taxes) in areas that aren’t in the designated subsidy zones.  The subsidized areas will fill up, first, with politically preferred groups.  This combination of circumstances will create many opportunities for strife, among them being an increase in the sense of inequality and unaffordability, which will — surprise! — increase the calls for government to step in and solve the problems with new taxes and diktats.

It’s a fine machine, don’t you think?

  • Rhett Hardwick

    Notre Dame Cathedral, the Empire State Building, The Capital Building, Monticello, Beacon Hill, Williamsburg, were all, at one time, “open land”. I have had “open land” declared “wetlands”, accompanied by the suggestion that “since there would be no abatement of taxes, the best thing I could do was donate it to the town”.