Daily Bread for 9.27.22: Housing Opportunity and Opportunity’s Adversaries

Good morning.

Tuesday in Whitewater will be partly sunny with a high of 56. Sunrise is 6:48 AM and sunset 6:42 PM for 11h 53m 38s of daytime. The moon is a waxing crescent with 2.8% of its visible disk illuminated.

 Whitewater’s Finance Committee meets at 4:30 PM.

  On this day in 1777, Lancaster, Pennsylvania becomes the capital of the United States for one day after Congress evacuates Philadelphia.

In Whitewater, for many years, there has lingered the notion that one can govern and influence through statements, press releases, or marketing efforts. While one can try to do so, one cannot do so effectively and beneficially for the community. One’s claims, one’s advocacy, must align with human nature and present conditions to be effective and beneficial. Nature and present conditions set the bounds of effectiveness and benefit. 

In the alternatives of maneuver (through press releases and awesome, wow! declarations) and  attrition (as the influence of present conditions to wear away the past and produce something new) it is attrition that prevails. The obstinacy of a few (bankers, landlords, public relations men, boosters, purveyors of toxic positivity) is, over time, futile. 

They don’t see that, but yet it remains true. Time takes its toll, and hubris invites Nemesis. 

Consider housing, the bugbear of Whitewater for generations. A tiny clique of landlords has for years addressed this issue opportunistically. At one time, these few wanted to liberalize Whitewater’s ordinances to permit more student housing. And so, and so, there were more student apartments in the center of town. Ah, but when competitors sought approval to build on Prince or Tratt Streets, an incumbent landlord (and sometime public official) used one claim after another under the city’s ordinances to prevent or restrict those competitive projects.

These are proud, private businessmen right up until the time they hold public offices or entreat public bodies to bend to their special-interest desires. 

Adequate, affordable housing is a national topic. Only on September 25th, Emily Badger, reporting for the New York Times, wrote of  national trends in Whatever Happened to the Starter Home? (‘The economics of the housing market, and the local rules that shape it, have squeezed out entry-level homes’):

As recently as the 1990s, when Jason Nageli started off, the home-building industry was still constructing what real-estate ads would brightly call the “starter home.” In the Denver area, he sold newly built two-story houses with three bedrooms in 1,400 square feet or less.

The price: $99,000 to $125,000, or around $200,000 in today’s dollars.

That house would be in tremendous demand today. But few builders construct anything like it anymore. And you couldn’t buy those Denver area homes built 25 years ago at an entry-level price today, either. They go for half a million dollars.

The disappearance of such affordable homes is central to the American housing crisis. The nation has a deepening shortage of housing. But, more specifically, there isn’t enough of this housing: small, no-frills homes that would give a family new to the country or a young couple with student debt a foothold to build equity.

The affordable end of the market has been squeezed from every side. Land costs have risen steeply in booming parts of the country. Construction materials and government fees have become more expensive. And communities nationwide are far more prescriptive today than decades ago about what housing should look like and how big it must be. Some ban vinyl siding. Others require two-car garages. Nearly all make it difficult to build the kind of home that could sell for $200,000 today.

(Emphasis added.)

Whitewater’s Common Council, by a vote of 5-2 at its 9.20.22 session, sensibly approved on first reading the creation of an R1-S zoning district for detached, single-family homes on smaller lots. A zoning change that offers some builders and buyers, even in limited areas, more options is, prima facie, the right decision.

Updated with video of Council discussion:

A few observations:

1. The city’s and consultant’s discussion of the proposal was notably concise and thorough. This libertarian blogger is inclined neither to city officials nor city-hired consultants, but these were solid presentations worthy of one’s respect. 

 2. A council member may be ‘shocked’ that the city’s current regulations allow for 800 sq. ft. homes, but then some people shock easily. His proposal — in a community that has too little of single family-housing — is to increase the minimum square footage. 

A long-tenured politician looks around and sees too little, and now wants to make whatever might be, even as a possibility, less likely by regulation. 

3. These Community Development Authority men, serving now and having served (landlord here, public relations man there, council member also), are against regulation until they’re for it. So be it: they can fill their boots with contradictions, hypocrisies, and self-interested special pleading. 

4. To the rest of the city: for private or public? for free or regulated? for the situational or the long-term? modest, single-family detached homes or nothing? 

If the market — buyers and sellers freely selecting — chooses modest homes of limited square footage, then so be it. If private citizens in a free society want to live in larger homes, then they will find or buy larger homes. 

5. Men who have mixed private and public roles in Whitewater for years, without once solving Whitewater’s single-family home needs, now presume to guide others despite their own generation-long public-policy failures. 

6. How odd, and absurd, that in a small town some few members of the government would speak as though they were contractors or interior designers. That’s not government’s role, and most certainly not in a community that has too few private, detached single-family homes. 

If residents need advice about home design, they should talk to an architect at their own expense; no one needs to pay taxes to government for opinions on design choices that should be between private buyers and sellers.  

7. How snide, how very smug, to think that a modest single-family home would be junk. How ignorant to think that there would not be families who would be happy in these homes. If one doubts as much, one has not looked around at how families in the Midwest now live — these would be upgrades for many families. 

8. The discussion of how public money might be directed would be more convincing if it were not conducted by CDA alumni who have over the years spent hundreds of thousands on capital catalyst start-ups that amounted to nothing

These are self-described surgeons who keep dropping their scalpels; one would do well to look elsewhere for medical advice. 

9. One last point, small but notable: about those opposing this simple, sensible proposal, on Council or as residents: how is it that they all repeat the same phrase, about being ‘shocked’ or finding this ‘shocking’?

Do they only have one word of description among them? Could not a talking point be more varied? The English language, having borrowed and evolved from so many other tongues, offers hundreds of thousands of words. There must have been at least one other word choice that opponents could have offered, to give a veneer of independent thought to each opinion.

Someone must have a thesaurus somewhere in the city…

For the community, the Council majority’s support for this proposal to offer another detached, single-family home option was the right choice. 

Success — DART hits asteroid Dimorphos:  

Previously: DART mission explained.

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1 year ago

There is big eye rolling when that duo walks into a room. It goes like this. Everyone knows that their projects haven’t worked except them.It’s like Mount Pleasant thinking Foxconn will become useful eventually. Not happening.There should be a drink ing game but nothing would get done.The part about using the same phrases is completely true and funny. It’s really strange that some people get sucked into it.

1 year ago

The other comment sums it up basically. What you call the “CDA alumni” have a point of view but it’s Walker Era from the first term. For crying sake there are like ten people in the state who still believe that crap. Republican or Democrat doesn’t matter. Everybody has moved on. Believe me it’s always the same message we have to hear from them and it JUST HASN’T WORKED for Whitewater. (They think it has so that’s problem number one right there). There is zero evolution or creativity from them. Same old same old.

Are you surprised that they get a few people to spout their points? Don’t be. New people can get pulled in and think that it’s the ticket to success.

The smarter ones catch on/walk away and the rest stick close but can’t get the skunk smell off.