EDITORIAL: Shelter from the Storm, Part Five

Read Part One

I mentioned yesterday that a couple of Daily Post readers have recently emailed comments expressing their questions and concerns about the housing crisis in Archuleta County. One friend sent a link to an op-ed piece on the conservative news website, The Complete Colorado, bearing the headline:

The seductive con of ‘affordable housing’

The opinion piece was written by Bruce Baker, a former member of the Westminster City Council who has reportedly written several papers about issues facing local government in Colorado. Here are a couple of quotes from that article:

“In the United States, government does not provide housing. Housing is not a constitutional mandate at the Federal, State or local level. The concept of government housing is incompatible with American Ideals, our values of individualism and respecting the varied and diverse tastes that our citizens have…

“The drive for the government involvement in affordable housing is a façade for connected insiders to make easy money, for political factions to ignore the difficulties society faces and for government to condescendingly help a selected few while failing the huge majority of other equally worthy people. The public must be allowed to see thru the deception that the affordable housing industry and its advocates promote.

“Housing affordability, on the other hand is neither a new or unjust goal. The role government should play is by knocking down restrictive growth-management and land-use practices that artificially inflate the cost of housing and empower the free market to serve the needs and wants of all the people in our society. Housing affordability was accomplished after World War II and it can be accomplished today…”

Mr. Baker makes some valid points.  As with any private business or public government effort, there will always be con men willing to commit fraud, and line their own pockets — in the name of helping the community.  We’ve seen that happen recently with our local San Juan Water Conservancy District.  The “affordable housing industry” has its share of such con men, and seeing through their fraudulent actions is a key role of government.

But the vast majority of government leaders and business owners are well-meaning, and truly want the best for the community in which they live — while also earning a living for themselves and their loved ones.

Mr. Baker is dead wrong, however, when he implies that the “housing affordability” accomplished after World War II — between 1946 and 1960 — took place without government intervention.  Federal and local governments here in America have been involved in housing solutions since the 1930s, and the involvement greatly increased following WW II when the federal Housing Act of 1949 authorized $13 billion in home mortgage guarantees, $1.5 billion for ‘urban renewal’ subsidies, and set a goal of 800,000 units of government-owned public housing.

More recently, the researchers at Smart Growth America released a report about federal government policies that promote certain types of housing — and simultaneously discourage other types of housing — in ways that continue to artificially inflate the cost of housing.  While some funding has indeed gone into public housing (such as the Casa de los Arcos complex here in Pagosa) the vast majority of federal subsidies over the past 50 years have actually gone towards promoting single-family suburban developments.

Our own local governments, here in Archuleta County, have spent the past 45 years promoting single-family, suburban subdivisions as part of a concerted (and ongoing) effort to sell Pagosa as a recreational and retirement paradise.  We are now reaping the ‘benefits’ of such local and federal involvement, in the form of a serious housing crisis in our rural community — and all across America.

Our local crisis could be summarized by the comments made at a Town Planning Commission meeting on Monday evening.

Here’s Commissioner Greg Giles:

“Speaking as a business owner and someone involved in the community, [the housing situation] is ugly. It’s downright ugly. There are more and more retirees and seasonals moving into this community, and there are no worker bees. I can’t find people to work in my business, and I need only two employees.”

Commissioner Peter Adams:

“That’s a national problem right now, particularly in Colorado, in the construction industry.”

Town Planning Director James Dickhoff:

“Obviously, there’s a lot of different dynamics involved here. Right now, you know, it’s supply and demand, and there’s not the supply of housing, and that just drives the prices up. We have the vacation rental market increasing in popularity.

“I hear the same complaint from every single business owner in the community. The resolution is to build more housing units. Not just low and moderate income housing, but housing in general. That people can live in.”

Easier said than done.

Yes, we desperately need housing. Except that — thanks to past government policies — we actually have a glut of empty homes in Archuleta County. According to the recent Archuleta County Housing Needs Study, about 41 percent of the homes in the unincorporated county, where 85 percent of the population lives, were classified as “vacant” in 2016.

Two out of every five homes: vacant.

(The study was not clear about whether some of those vacant homes are being offered as vacation rentals.)

We have lots of homes. What Mr. Dickhoff means is, we need more available homes. More rental housing, especially — or else very affordable condos or townhomes or single family dwellings.

Read Part Six on Monday…

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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.