Affordable Housing

Published in the Hollister Free Lance, February 1, 1999
Dear Editor:

There have been a couple of letters in the Free Lance lately commenting on Dick Lusink's column in that "other" paper. The latest was from Herman Fehl on January 15.

Mr. Fehl makes a case for low-income housing and the low-interest loan (about 1%) supporting the organization building that housing. Unfortunately, I believe Mr. Fehl has missed Mr. Lusink's point.

Mr. Lusink wasn't so much complaining about low-income housing (although he did call it a "questionable development" in his latest column) as he was about loaning money at 1% that was earning 5.5%. Mr. Fehl did say that "low-interest loan programs are not new to governments", but I don't believe that was what Mr. Lusink's argument was about.

If you look at interest rates, I think you'd be hard-pressed to get a loan at 5.5%. Mr. Fehl mentioned other low-interest loans for education, VA housing, small businesses, agriculture, and disasters, but how many of those come with a 1% interest rate?

I would argue that the Supervisors could have loaned the money to the housing organization at 5.5%, which would still be a low-interest loan, without losing tax-payer money. If the housing organization can't afford 5.5% interest, then I wonder how efficient they are.

As to the issue of low-income housing in general, I think Mr. Fehl is again off the mark. He cites numerous statistics about how expensive housing in San Benito County is, and how someone earning a median income can't afford a median-priced house. Well, given what California housing is like, I'll believe those numbers.

However, he then attempts a preemptory strike at those who would suggest that people who can't afford to live here should move somewhere they can afford to live. He said that "those individuals will be the same ones that will complain in the future when they can't find someone to work in their office or do yard work for less than $20 an hour."

Give me a break. First, just because someone might want to live here doesn't give them some right to do so, if doing so forces other people to subsidize their living here. To exaggerate the point, if I wanted to live in Beverly Hills, should the people there have to pay for me? I don't think so.

Second, there are other options besides moving out of the area. Rentals, condos, townhouses, and mobile homes are all alternatives to moving somewhere else. Granted, we may have a shortage of rental properties in the county, but perhaps that's the issue that should be addressed.

Third, moving is not that outrageous a suggestion. I lived in San Jose for almost 12 years. When I couldn't find a house that met my needs there at a price I could afford, I didn't complain to the government to pay part of my housing costs -- I moved where I could afford a house. Do I enjoy the hour-long commute (or 90 minute commute during rush hour)? Not one bit.

Fortunately, it turned out that I really like Hollister, so even if I could afford a house in Silicon Valley, I'm not sure if I'd move back, but the fact is that I DID move to get more affordable housing.

Of course, I really doubt I would have qualified for a low-income loan in Silicon Valley anyway, but I'm hardly rich. I consider myself middle class, and as usual, the middle class is getting the shaft. Low-income people can qualify for programs to help them buy houses, rich people don't have to worry, but the middle class is stuck, well, in the middle.

This isn't the first time this has happened, of course. For example, low-income people qualify for free lawyers, rich people can afford high-priced lawyers, while the middle class can exhaust their savings if legal assistance is needed.

I personally think that if the government wants to extend housing breaks to people, it should do so to ALL the people. However, before you jump on me complaining that rich people would snap up the houses, look at the houses typically available for low-income buyers. They are usually fairly small, with smaller yards, and sometimes in "less desirable" neighborhoods, so I doubt a lot of rich people would want them. But government should not discriminate against someone based on their income.

The criterion government should be addressing, if it has to get involved at all, is to provide affordable housing, not just low-income housing. Affordable housing is available to everyone.

If private charities want to select people for housing breaks based on income, that's their right as private organizations funded voluntarily. However, as Mr. Fehl points out, "government has a responsibility for providing services for all of its citizens." I find it difficult to reconcile that statement with providing housing incentives only to those with a specific income level. What housing services is government providing to non-low-income people -- other than collecting their property taxes?

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