EDITORIAL: Saving Ourselves, Part One

We’re setting sail to the place on the map, from which no one has ever returned
Drawn by the promise of the joker and the fool, by the light of the crosses that burned…

— “Ship of Fools” written by Karl Wallinger, as performed by World Party

Detail from ‘Ship of Fools’ by Hieronymous Bosch (1450 – 1516)

A Daily Post reader recently forwarded us an appeal from Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The essay addressed, in a somewhat distressed tone, the federal budget proposed by the Trump administration, which would cut the HUD budget by as much as 14 percent — about $6 billion — and further reduce the chances that America will solve an ongoing housing crisis.

The essay reads, in part:

The proposed cuts to Housing Choice Voucher rental assistance could result in more than 200,000 families losing that critical support. Many would be forced to pay even more of their limited incomes on rent, having insufficient resources left for food, healthcare, transportation and other basic needs…

Mr. Trump further proposes cutting resources that provide thousands more affordable homes for the lowest income seniors and people with disabilities. This would put residents at an especially high risk of eviction and homelessness, make it difficult for landlords to make their monthly mortgage payments, and erode the public-private partnerships that make these rental homes possible.

While Native Americans have some of the worst housing needs in the U.S.-suffering from extreme levels of poverty and substandard housing-Mr. Trump’s proposed budget would cut resources targeted to these communities by nearly a quarter…

Mr. Trump’s proposed budget would slash resources to repair and rehabilitate public housing developments by two-thirds. Even before these dramatic cuts, we lose an estimated 10,000 public housing apartments each year due to chronic underfunding; the capital needs backlog is close to $40 billion and grows at a rate of $4.3 billion per year. Such deep cuts would allow properties in which billions of dollars have been invested over decades to fall further into disrepair. Communities would lose a long-standing asset that has provided millions of people a place to call home and that-with the proper investment-can continue to do so for generations to come…

Based on the (admittedly limited) research done by the Archuleta County Affordable Housing Workgroup, I believe it’s safe to assume that Ms. Yentel’s figures are reasonably accurate, and that our nation is indeed suffering a backlog — bottleneck, scant supply, growing shortage — of housing, particularly for working class families and especially for American’s most impoverished citizens.

Meanwhile, here in Pagosa Springs, we continue to see new second-homes under construction, and existing second-homes sitting vacant for 90 percent of the year.

While Ms. Yentel has certainly justified in feeling distressed about proposed cuts to federal housing programs, we all realize that the federal government has grown steadily into a bloated and inefficient bureaucracy, populated with well-paid employees who sometimes care more about a steady paycheck than about careful, effective spending of taxpayer revenue.

But can we do any better, solving big problems, on a local level? Are we plagued by the same inefficiencies and bloated budgets here in Archuleta County — only on a smaller scale?

My own personal research into the idea of “local solutions” has lately included readings in the 1972 bestseller, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, by British economist E.F Schumacher. Mr. Schumacher included in his book a transcript of a speech he delivered to the India Development Group in 1971, at a time when India — then with a population of slightly less than 4 billion — was witnessing mass unemployment and a steady flight from the country’s agricultural areas into the already-overcrowded urban centers, as displaced farmers sought (mostly non-existent) jobs in big cities.

Mr. Schumacher’s suggestions, for the Indian leaders gathered in London in 1971, focused on a diversified, decentralized economy based on simple manufacturing processes aimed at domestic production — solutions that required plenty of manpower and less access to capital. He suggested that small-scale production material goods for local consumption would provide a superior solution to India’s economic woes. This small-scale-production model would provide local jobs in distressed rural communities.

He wrote:

The greatest deprivation anyone can suffer is to have no chance of looking after himself and making a livelihood. There is no conflict between.. the present and the future.. No country that has developed has been able to develop without letting the people work. On the one hand, it is quite true to say these things are difficult. On the other hand, let us never lose sight of the fact that we are talking about man’s most elementary needs, and that we must not be prevented by all these high-faluting and difficult considerations from doing the most elementary and direct things.

This approach was — to judge from Mr. Schmacher’s writing — sharply at odds with the current economic thinking among India’s leadership, which foresaw solutions based on foreign investment and technology transfer, via capital-intensive manufacturing systems centered in the (ever-growing) urban areas of India.

For some reason, the story caused me to think about Archuleta County in 2017, and in particular about “man’s most elementary needs.”

Food. Clothing. Shelter.

Once upon a time — a much simpler time, perhaps — the people living in southwestern Colorado were able to provide for themselves. They built their dwellings, sewed their clothes, and gathered or raised their own food.

Following two centuries of “industrial progress,” we find ourselves in a situation where very few of the fine people living in Pagosa Springs know how to — or are allowed to — build their own dwellings, sew their own clothing, and gather or raise their own food.

We know how to operate cell phones. We know how to shop for plastic bargains.

But we’ve lost the ability to meet our own essential needs. For that, we rely on a bloated network of taxpayer-subsidized multi-national corporations and a federal government with an insatiable appetite for deficit spending.

Can we save ourselves from this slowly sinking ship?

Read Part Two…

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.