I don’t have the time, right now, to dig into it, but something’s been nagging at me concerning the HousingWorks RI study claiming that Rhode Island is going to lack affordable housing options in light of demographic projections. According to a table on the first page of text in the report, HousingWorks projects an 11.5% loss of population in the mid-to-late-career, higher-earning range of the population (45-64) by 2025, which will combine with an 8.1% increase of those aged 20-44 and a 39.6% increase of those aged over 65.
The insinuated need is for the state to, one way or another, subsidize housing for those groups, but perhaps we should be asking different questions.
Let’s start with public policy of the last decade as a sort of baseline, meaning that we accept the policies that brought us recent shifts as the status quo and are considering policy changes moving forward. And let’s accept the premise that housing is going to be a problem for early-career families and retired households.
How much sense does it make to push policies like tax exemption of retirement income and tax-based loan forgiveness programs for recent college graduates? Putting these approaches together increases the tax burden on the segment of the population that’s disappearing from the state (and which we’re assuming can better afford the housing that we actually have) while subsidizing the segments that are already projected to increase (and which we’re assuming are going to have difficulty making ends meet). Add to that the increased tax and cost-of-living burden that the government may impose in order to address the housing projections.
To some extent, this is the dilemma of helping people while not encouraging choices that increase our social and economic challenges, and a fully considered policy would require some balancing of benefits versus costs. But even if one concedes that smart policy makers could make the right call, given the chance, which is a point that I absolutely do not concede, our local conversation is nowhere near considering both sides.