Friday, October 16, 2009

We Don't Need Houston Hope, We Need Houston Freedom

Houston Mayor Bill White, who previously proposed using tax dollars to help individuals pay off their debt so that they could qualify for a home mortgage, recently proposed an equally inane idea. He proposed using tax dollars to pay Realtors to sell houses for Houston Hope. (On Thursday White declared the proposal "dead".)

Under the Houston Hope initiative, the city has been foreclosing on tax delinquent homes, selling them to developers to redevelop, and then assisting buyers with their down payment. Qualifying home buyers can receive as much as $45,000 from the city. With the city currently owning 1,000 properties, tax payers could potentially be on the hook for $45 million.

If this strikes you as a gross injustice to tax payers--many of whom cannot afford a home because of programs such as this--you will be happy to learn that this will save the city money. According to the Chronicle:
Chris Butler, special assistant to White for neighborhood development, said the city saves money on each home because it is able to collect taxes, water bills and permit fees and does not have to mow the grass or require police to keep criminal activity away from such vacant properties.

He estimates that for 1,000 lots, the city could generate revenue and save money to the tune of nearly $1.7 million a year.
I don't think one needs to be an accountant to realize that spending $45 million to save $1.7 million is not a very good investment. Yet, this is the justification offered by our "businessman" mayor.

While a number of council members attacked White's plan to incentivize realtors, none questioned the Houston Hope program itself. In principle they have no problem taking money from some Houstonians to give to others. They just happen to think this particular redistribution of wealth is, as council member Pam Holm said, "pretty outrageous.” Mike Sullivan called it "poor public policy.”

Both Holm and Sullivan are correct, but there are certainly stronger and more accurate words to use to describe White's proposal. Immoral is one that comes to mind. But city council wouldn't think to use such words, because they share the mayor's moral premises. They believe that need constitutes a claim on the property of others. And they believe that the city may properly force us to meet those needs.

Programs such as Houston Hope garner lots of good press for White and his cronies. They are helping revitalize poor neighborhoods, and who could be opposed to that? The beneficiaries of their largess are visible and easily identified. They city can cite statistics showing the "good deeds" it has done, such has helping more than 1,500 people buy a home. But what we don't see, and the city ignores, are the hidden victims of these programs.

Every dollar used to fund Houston Hope comes from the pocket of some Houstonian--many of whom are trying to save for their own home. Why should they be forced to subsidize the home purchase of someone else? What about their needs? And more importantly, what about their rights? Of course, we do not hear politicians sob and moan about these individuals, because they are hidden and difficult to identify.

If city officials really wanted to give Houstonians hope, they would unleash the shackles that restrict how we do business. They would repeal land-use regulations, sign restrictions, and controls on where we can build a liquor store. They would get out of our stores and out of our bedrooms. And then they could slash taxes.

But to do that would require the rejection of the idea that we are our brother's keeper. It would require city officials to recognize and embrace the idea that each individual has a moral right to his own life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness. It would require men of integrity and courage to fight for our freedom. That such men do exist is what gives me hope.


Allen Lewis said...

Simple NPV of that proposal (spend $45 million to "earn" $1.7 million per year) is negative $30.8 million. Only a government bureaucrat could advocate that kind of a project with a straight face. Of course, it's not the government's money to begin with, so what do they care?

Brian Phillips said...

What amazes me is that they truly believe what they are saying.