Sunday, October 16, 2005

Another toothless animal

On the heels of the failed committee studying farmland preservation, another county "task force" seems poised to address a big problem--increasingly unaffordable housing--with small solutions.

The task force has made no formal recommendations but is examining initiatives to aid first-time homebuyers and the developers the county is relying on to build the housing.

The inducements include:

  • A deferral of county property taxes for several years, perhaps as many as 10. The taxes would be paid at the end of the grace period or when the residence was resold.
  • Levying property taxes only on the percentage of the home owned by the resident. It is presumed that many of the units built will be partly owned by the Department of Housing and Community Development.
  • Allowing developers to build affordable units immediately, despite county restraints that typically delay construction for several years. The number of units built would not increase, but developers could build lower-priced housing sooner.

Property tax exemptions? When the county council voted against a plan to transfer 100 units of housing from the west to the east to be used for affordable housing, I thought the outcome would be for the best. The 100-unit transfer program was another temporary solution to an endemic problem, and would likely have exacerbated the affordable housing mess by providing politicians with the false belief that they had actually accomplished something when in fact a comprehensive approach to affordable housing and growth is the only way we can make any headway into this problem. The idea that property tax exemptions are going to have any impact on housing affordability is preposterous and doesn't recognize the immense power of the real estate and development market right now.

Granted, there may be a larger plan in the works for affordable housing, but it doesn't say so in the article, which is the only source of news I have. I hope that this post is completely off-base, that the task force dealing with this problem is actually thinking about meaningful solutions, but something in me thinks that they are approaching this as another consensus-building exercise, producing yet more watered-down solutions in a county that's been diluted enough.

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