CHARLOTTE LAWS - DREAM AND ACHIEVE TOGETHER
on the American Homeowner
By Charlotte Laws
percent of Americans are homeowners, and they are under siege. A number of
"unfriendly" policies, proposals and court decisions within the past
year have produced an atmosphere which is arguably antithetical to the American
dream of carving out a slice of the apple pie and plopping a single family
residence on it.
assault weapons have catchy titles, such as inclusionary zoning, smart growth,
density bonus incentives, eminent domain and mortgage interest tax reform. It
could be said that corporations and developers attack from one side while
politicians and government officials, acting in the interest of the less
well-off, attack from the other.
the tug-of-war between the "have a lots" and the "have a littles,"
the flag shifts back and forth in an effort to balance interests, and those in
the middle are swept along for the ride.
argument is more than a refrain of "the gap between the rich and the
poor" tune as sung in Kevin Phillips' Wealth and Democracy, Lester
Thurow's Fortune Favors the Bold or Lawrence Mishel's The State of
Working America. The "middle" encompasses more than the
middle-class. Most homeowners are at risk.
domain" refers to the government's right--with fair compensation--to seize
private property for public use, such as when residences could be bulldozed to
make room for much-needed freeway. But in this "property assault era,"
the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the word "public" can be
synonymous with the word "private." Do you remember what the
definition of "is" is?
private property that can produce greater tax revenues in the hands of a more
enterprising private property owner, such as a corporation that plans to build a
shopping mall or high rise, could be plucked away for so-called public benefit.
Attorney Dana Berliner said of the ruling, "This is a dark day for American
"attempted assault" emerged recently from President Bush's tax-reform
panel, which proposed replacing the mortgage interest deduction with a meager
tax credit equal to 15 percent of the homeowner's mortgage interest. According
to Al Mansell of the National Association of Realtors, this could translate into
a 15% decline in home prices in some parts of the country; and therefore, a
significant loss of equity for homeowners. Fortunately, Congress is not expected
to countenance the recommendation.
measures related to eminent domain and mortgage interest tax deductions are
criticized by a vocal majority, they are unlikely to become permanent policy.
However, inclusionary zoning, smart growth and density bonus incentives are
another matter altogether.
growth" (SG) is supposed to be smart, but it can be short-sighted. SG
advocates generally promote taller structures near mass transit lines, greater
use of the existing infrastructure, conversion of obsolete and distressed
commercial and industrial buildings into mixed-use properties and preservation
of the countryside from urban sprawl. While
these goals are noble and often sound, the impact of high density building upon
existing residents must be factored into the equation.
growth" could be likened to a finely constructed ship. Without fuel, a
place to dock and an unobstructed sailing path, the boat is useless. "Smart
growth" proponents must consider the capabilities of the existing
infrastructure to fuel new growth; they are often not upgraded to handle
additional customers. They must factor in the parking and traffic
situation--especially along mass transit lines which may already be
congested—and the current density figures for the target area. Los Angeles,
for example, is the densest city in the country with just over 7000 people per
square mile. The plan which means smooth sailing in Oklahoma City may stall in
or incentives aimed at providing affordable housing for low or moderate income
residents are touched upon in most "smart growth" plans, but they are
integral to "below market rate" (BMR) housing programs, such as
inclusionary zoning and density bonuses. BMR initiatives ignore market
forces--such as the law of supply and demand and the natural "trading
up" homeownership process--by requiring or incentivizing builders to set
aside a portion of their sale or rental units at below market rates for those
deemed unable to afford current prices.
addition to density increases, government may permit BMR developers to erect
taller structures, skirt parking and open space requirements and dot single
family neighborhoods with townhouses. Homeowners—from the
"struggling" to the affluent--may, in turn, feel assaulted by the
resulting traffic congestion, parking problems, loss of backyard privacy and
inferior quality of life on previously serene streets. It could be likened to a
cramped elevator; as passengers flood through the doors, claustrophobia
increases as well as a fear that the community will exceed its capacity and
plummet to its figurative death.
programs exist in at least 134 cities, towns and counties in America, and in the
following states: California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New
York, Vermont and Wisconsin.
We cannot stop growth, but we must be intelligent about it. Above all, we must not take homeowner assault with a grain of salt.
Tolucan Times - To be published in Dec. 2005.