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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mendota Heights Vote--open space, development, and compassion

Once again, an issue on which conservatives could sell themselves as the party of compassion:

The people of Mendota Heights just voted, by a narrow margin, to spend the money (through imposing higher property taxes on themselves!) to buy a golf course (one of three in that city), to prevent the golf course from being turned into a housing development. Shame on them. The desire to limit housing development so as to maintain open space effectively limits housing options for the poor (the "working poor"--I don't argue people living off the government should have the opportunity to buy houses). Follow closely:

Although the Pioneer Press's article (pub. 4/22) wasn't entirely clear, apparently one option for the use of the golf course property in Mendota Heights--an option which would have fetched the owner significantly more for his property, by the way--was the building of 19 upscale homes. Now, upscale homes are unattainable for the poor, of course; but if there are more upscale homes available, then those with the means to afford them can vacate older, less fancy digs, opening them up to buyers with more limited means. Those people vacating mid-level housing make room for people coming up from low-end housing. And so on. In other words, there is demand pressure on prices for houses in the Twin Cities (where prices have fallen, but at slower rates than other parts of the country, and where long term pressures appear likely to prevent drastic losses in value any time in the foreseeable future). Even building at the top of the market, therefore, eases some of the price pressure further down the price ladder. I admit, I'd like to see builders more interested in developing entry-level single-family housing, but as a believer in the operations of the free market, I'm willing to take, for the moment, what I can get.

This leads to consideration of the proliferation of "developed open space" in general. In Saturday's Pioneer Press, Bob Shaw reported that, according to Metropolitan Council figures, 65% of the metro geographic area is open space (182k acres of "developed" open space, defined by the Council as "parks, recreation and preserves," and "undeveloped" open space of over 1M acres). Have you looked at the price of empty acreage lately, folks? It's appalling. It's no wonder it's hard to get builders interested in entry-level housing, and no wonder that the "entry-level" price point keeps going up, when a growing proportion of available land is being held empty by force of law, whether it be an open-space resolution or federal regulation of "wetlands" (but that's a subject for another day). I know, everybody wants to live in the country while living in the city--but it can't be done (as the oxymoronic nature of the sentence sinks in). And the effect of pursuing that desire, through votes like the one that just occurred in Mendota Heights, is to price out those at low income levels who'd really like to move the three kids and the dog out of that ratty apartment with the loud neighbors into a little rambler with a bit of yard.

Some of you are thinking, "but I really like [insert your nearby open space here]." I don't blame you. But think hard about whether you want to be the reason that those little kids don't get that yard to play in. Think hard about whether you want to live in a society where those that already have, get to keep, and those that don't have--well, they just have to suck it up.

And, to return to my opening phrase: isn't it about time we start showing the liberals who's really concerned for the poor, by showing how less government interference (in this case, buying up of available resources) leads to greater freedom and opportunity for those at the bottom? Time to make the case for housing development, starting with opposing set asides for more "open space," and maybe (gasp) advocating the return of land already held in the greedy clutches of the government to profitable uses, like opening up housing opportunities for the poor.

1 Comments:

Blogger Right Hook said...

Also keep in mind that when a government entity acquires land they end the revenue generation from property taxes. Guess where the lost revenue will be recovered from?

4/25/2007 2:37 PM  

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