Affordable Housing: Henry, It Was a Great Idea, But…

Henry Cisneros gets himself into trouble again:

A grandson of Mexican immigrants and a former mayor of this town, Henry G. Cisneros has spent years trying to make the dream of homeownership come true for low-income families.

As the Clinton administration’s top housing official in the mid-1990s, Mr. Cisneros loosened mortgage restrictions so first-time buyers could qualify for loans they could never get before.

Then, capitalizing on a housing expansion he helped unleash, he joined the boards of a major builder, KB Home, and the largest mortgage lender in the nation, Countrywide Financial – two companies that rode the housing boom, drawing criticism along the way for abusive business practices.

Honestly, I have a soft spot for Henry.  He’s an Aggie and so am I.  Aggies stick together.

I’ve noted elsewhere that no less of a left-wing pub than the Village Voice has pointed a finger at misguided government policies as the root problem in the current financial crisis.  In their case, they focued more on Andrew Cuomo, who succeeded Cisneros.  But such a crisis is too large for one person to pull off.

The interesting thing is this: we have to be the only nation on earth who would dream of improving the housing of economically disadvantaged people through single-family or low-density home ownership.  Most do so through the construction of large housing developments (“estates,” as they’re called in the UK) which make affordable rent possible.

Such a scheme avoids messes such as we have now.  However, the government–or the well-placed landlords who are “allowed” to build such things–keeps title to the place, or at worst has to concede condominium rights to the tenants.  The result is a nation of perpetual renters; ownership becomes the exception rather than the rule.  That in turn centralises control of the life of the nation.

My guess–especially with an Obama administration–is that someone in our government will push for this.  They will argue that we can afford neither financially nor environmentally afford the low-density housing we have had for so long.  So they will use both of these avenues to encourage this (and discourage the alternatives) and make it a reality.

Although this may sound entirely sensible for New Yorkers, the rest of us will probably not find it to our taste.  It will be politically unpopular.  But then we will run into the next problem: with restricted credit and a slower economy, people’s choices will be restricted.  And with other changes afoot, people’s political choices will be cut back.

Our system only works in an environment where discipline comes from somewhere other than the state.  It must come from God (a concept that escapes anti-fundamentalists) and/or from the free market.  When either or both are distorted, we have problems, as we have now.  We end up with a different country, where the state is all.

And, as noted elsewhere, it will not be nice.

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