Liddick: No one is forced to live here
Summit County, CO Colorado
The house could charitably be described as “dilapidated.” Built in 1887, its wiring and plumbing had seen better days. The single street-side window gave light into two front rooms. The floor was wavy, and moved in places. In the kitchen, a small overhead bulb gave what light there was. The bedrooms were tiny, the stairs to the attic room narrow and creaky.
Outside, the porch was missing boards, and what landscaping there was, was dead. Truck traffic was intense on the road, and the stench from nearby food-processing plants was overpowering. We decided not to buy it.
Before doing so, we had a conversation with an older fellow who was strolling along the sidewalk. He had lived in the neighborhood for many years, and knew both the previous owners and the house. It was, in his words, “A nice place.” He was sincere.
His words caused me to think about how people live, and how attitudes about housing are ” to say the least ” an example of comparative analysis.
Most immigrants began their lives as Americans in relative squalor. The Germans, the Irish, the Italians, Slavs and all who followed them inhabited tenements, hovels, flops and other forms of housing described as execrable by the reformers of the day. Yet in most cases, this housing was seen by immigrants as an improvement of their condition, and not only because it was physically better. There was also the possibility to better their lot and over time, many did so.
This was not an easy process, and still isn’t. It requires dedication, hard work and sacrifice. And the results are not guaranteed; our Declaration of Independence enumerates only the right to pursue happiness, not the right to have it. Which, despite the proven successes of the past, strikes some people today as wrong.
Thus the “affordable housing” argument in Summit County. At its simplest, it states that we all must chip in and pay for housing that some of our workers cannot afford. Teachers, firefighters and police are the most-mentioned beneficiaries, but there must be a myriad of others, given the estimates of need we’ve seen. Some support the idea out of a sense of right and “justice”; others for the baser purpose of garnering votes. Whatever the motive, it is misguided.
No one is forced to live and work here. Like the majority of immigrants to America, everyone who is in Summit County chose to be. We have come, and remain, for a variety of reasons: an opportunity to improve our lot; a love of outdoor sport; clean air and dark skies; the charm of a “small mountain town;” it doesn’t matter. It was a conscious decision.
Jobs and housing are part of the calculation. If one isn’t aware of it before arriving, one quickly discovers that in our fair county, pay is low and housing dear. One stays despite, not because of, these facts. To argue that the situation is a surprise, or that taxpayers must convert the private cost of workforce maintenance into a public expense, is disingenuous at best.
One of the problems with government subsidies of this type is the distortion they introduce through the conscious picking of winners and losers. Under an “affordable housing” regime, those who have saved, lived modestly and bought what they could afford in Summit County are to be passed over in favor of others who for various reasons find themselves in favored classes of employment or income, and whose purchases they will be taxed to support.
This is distinct from a market solution, which is an efficient tool for allocating resources through cost: What you value most you will pay for, despite any rhetoric to the contrary. If we don’t want to pay our teachers a living wage, perhaps the school district will have to explore other options than importing talent. If lift operators are central to our major industry, perhaps their employers are going to have to take steps to retain them. Or not, and face the consequences.
There is also the problem of the infinite scope of human wants. I would really like a new, 4,000 square-foot house with a great view. So, I imagine, would a large majority of people who don’t have one. I can’t afford it, so that is that. But when political favor supplants economic constraints, productivity, sacrifice, prudence and saving are replaced by petitions to the government for special consideration. One no longer works long and hard to move out of the house with the single front window and dim light in the kitchen; instead, one looks for a politician to provide a shortcut, and to stick someone else with the bill.
Is it just me, or did someone mention a “new era of responsibility”? Apparently, not here.
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