Friday, November 20, 2009

A Snowball Racing Downhill

Like a snowball rolling downhill, the Houston Hope program is picking up momentum and growing larger and more destructive. Mayor White has previously proposed that the city help consumers pay off their debt and and more recently he wanted to offer bribes to Realtors. Now he wants to pay developers to build houses. The Chronicle reports that the city will spend $620,000 to build 10 single-family homes.

One of the three council members to oppose the idea--Melissa Noriega--told the paper:
We can't afford certain kinds of luxury ideas, and this is a luxury idea. We're just giving money to developers to try to pull them into an area, and I'm just not comfortable with that at this time.
In other words, Noriega doesn't have a problem with the program as a matter of principle. Under different circumstances she is in favor of redistributing wealth. Under different circumstances she isn't opposed to "giving money to developers". Indeed, she told the paper as much:
Noriega said she could vote for the idea if it were part of a more robust multi-year housing plan.
To Noriega, the problem isn't that the city is stealing money from taxpayers to subsidize the housing costs of citizens, the problem is that the city isn't stealing enough. Subsidizing ten homes is wrong, but subsidizing 1,000 homes is something she could get behind.

Noriega's "logic" might seem twisted, but it is perfectly consistent with the moral premise underlying the Houston Hope program. If, as we are continually told, we have a moral duty to help those in need, then it is not acceptable to be so selective in extending that help. Until we help everyone in need we are falling short of that moral "ideal". So long as Houstonians accept the premise that one man's need is a claim on the life and property of others, no program will ever be sufficient--there will always remain someone in need.

This of course, will not stop city officials. Oblivious to the principles underlying their schemes, they merrily promote one boondoggle after another in the name of "quality of life", or "protecting neighborhoods", or economic stimulation.

While the city is facing a budget deficit and crime is increasing, city council finds it more important to throw money at feel good programs. Rather than protect our rights--including the right to spend our money as we choose--council would prefer to engage in give-aways like Houston Hope.

And while the city is selectively fighting development--such as the Ashby High Rise--it is simultaneously trying to encourage other development. It is using its muscle, and our money, to dictate and control what is built and where. City officials have a vision for Houston, and they will use whatever combination of coercion and bribery is necessary to create that vision.

City officials and their accomplices in the media love to point to the beneficiaries of their programs. KHOU for example, carried a story touting Houston Hope:

Gwendolyn Scott used the program to purchase a newly constructed 1,900-square-foot home for $110,000 after almost 20 years of apartment living.

She put $500 down, and her monthly mortgage note is $745.59. Through the home ownership program she received $37,000 in subsidy money, which came right off the price of her new home. That left the amount she had to finance at $73,000. She also qualifies for the federal government’s $8,000 new homebuyers’ tax credit.

What this story--and countless others like it--doesn't tell us is the negative impact these programs have on taxpayers. They don't tell us about the families that must continue to rent because their tax dollars are subsidizing Scott's home purchase. These stories tell us about the dreams that are magically fulfilled by government programs, but they don't tell us about the dreams that are shattered by those same programs. They don't tell us about the victims, and there are victims. Mayor White's program may be benefiting some, but it is also destroying the hope of many more.

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