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Is it really 'affordable'?
(Published May 1, 2006)

Hard-working Americans should not need a government subsidy to keep a roof over their heads. Yet, that is exactly the direction in which government policy seems to be heading as the so-called "affordable housing" movement picks up steam.

Many Washingtonians across the economic spectrum are beginning to question with good reason the definition of "affordable" being used in some proposals. Draping new projects in altruistic language about building "diverse" communities and helping residents with "special needs" may be merely disguising a scheme that continues to shovel millions of tax dollars into the pockets of wealthy developers, who have plans to build even more luxury housing with taxpayers' financial help.

In recent years, that gravy train has shifted most of the financial risk for new housing development in the nation's capital from private builders to the taxpayers, with most of the financial benefit escaping the public's coffers. The outflow of taxpayers' money to developers would continue unabated under the recommendations made last month in the final report issued by the city's Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force. The panel's composition was heavily weighted toward the local development industry, so protecting its interests in the task force's recommendations was no surprise.

Local elected leaders, who are long on voicing their support for "affordable housing" but often short on details, could make a significant impact legislatively to help residents who are being forced out of their homes by rising costs. Among the options that Mayor Anthony A. Williams and D.C. City Council could take:

Elected leaders abdicate their duty to D.C. voters when they allow developers to decide this city's future. That decision belongs to the residents of the District of Columbia not to the so-called "stakeholders" to whom the city's leaders too often turn for advice and consent.

Maintaining and improving the city's current housing stock, in part through stricter government enforcement of the housing code and low-cost loan assistance to resident homeowners, would help preserve the historical character and relative stability that remains in some D.C. neighborhoods which is especially important to the people who call the nation's capital their hometown.

To assume that the city's future progress is dependent upon attracting 100,000 new residents an assertion often made by Mayor Williams and reiterated as the premise upon which the housing task force's recommendations are based disrespects the rights of every taxpaying citizen who lives in the District of Columbia.

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator