Morgan Liddick: Affordable housing program is changing … after we voted
Well, now we’ve seen how it will work, and I must admit I’m impressed. As an example of masterful political prestidigitation coupled with a supreme sense of impudence, the recently unveiled “voluntary affordable housing transfer fee” has few peers. Abracadabra, the temporary fee Summit Countians imposed on new construction to fund “affordable housing” will become a permanent tax levied on any buyer – even those purchasing a permanent residence for themselves. And all, with a wave of an adjective, invisible to the restrictions of TABOR. Wow, what a slick trick. On all of us.Have a close look at the juicy details: instead of dealing with a 10-year, temporary impact fee on new construction (including additions, for all those locals who would like to improve their homes), builders can choose to impose a permanent .33 percent “transfer fee” on all future sales of the property, through a deed restriction. The initial sale would be exempt, of course; borrowing from the tried and true playbook of the drug pusher, the first hit would be free. But every subsequent transaction would generate revenue for the affordable housing program, forever. Some builders may choose not to impose the “voluntary transfer fee,” but I suspect that the incentive of an impact fee waiver coupled with an exemption for the first sale would be very hard to resist.
After all, kicking the can down the road is a time-honored method of dealing with tax and revenue problems, and if enough builders opt into the transfer tax dodge, the Summit Housing Authority can count on a very respectable income stream – in perpetuity, without renewal or review, no matter what. Extending the tax to sales of existing properties will be the next step, and for those of you who are dubious, remember: We live in a place where “temporary” seems to have acquired a rather unorthodox definition, and where the mantra of the “need for affordable housing” smothers reasonable objections like the mud of May covers hiking boots. According to reports in the Summit Daily News, County Commissioner Thomas Davidson calls this transfer fee a “big favor” to future generations. It is actually a bait-and-switch tax on Summit County property owners, including those precious future generations – who will pay the bulk of the price for this unsound piece of social engineering.Aside from the questionable methodology used to sneak this new tax onto the books, there are deeper objections to the whole business. At its base, the entire structure and enterprise of “affordable housing” in Summit County boils down to two poisonous behaviors: the transfer by government fiat of assets from one person to another, and the appropriation of public funds for private benefit.
Make no mistake: Any demand by a government that one of its subjects transfer an asset to another at a price determined not by the market, but by political calculation, is confiscation of that private asset for the purpose of indebting the recipient to the government providing the boon. It is payment made for support, or in the expectation of support at some future time. The ward-heelers of 19th-century New York City were very familiar with the principle, and it seems they have ardent disciples in our fair county. Understand as well, payments to individuals from the public purse are also made in the expectation of a return. In the case of monies allocated to ‘affordable housing,” it is clear that two classes will benefit at the expense of everyone else: employers who have large numbers of low-wage workers, and laborers who want to live in our beautiful county, but who lack either the skills or experience to demand a salary sufficient to purchase a home here.
We must, therefore, understand and accept that we are paying public money for a private benefit: subsidizing hiring patterns that are driven by a search for the lowest employment costs possible – emphasizing hiring the young, the inexperienced, even the noncitizen. This pattern ensures other costs – for schools, for social services, for public facilities and even for police – will also spiral upward. Those costs will have to be covered as well, and “soak-the-tourists” will only take us so far. After that, get ready to open your wallets. You didn’t think all this would be free, did you?So to all our local politicos involved in this impressive bit of financial chicanery, my compliments. It’s always exciting to watch pros work. And to all you folks who thought that soaking Summit County’s rich second homeowners on a one-time basis was a great way to reward all those poor, low-wage workers – and their employers – well … Maybe P.T. Barnum was right after all.Summit County resident Morgan Liddick pens a Tuesday column. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, comment on this column at http://www.summitdaily.com.
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