The Public Policy

Too Much Homework

Democrats are promising not only universal health care, but universal housing.

By 10.23.07

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America is in an affordable housing crisis. I know this because Democrats say so. But rest assured. The Dems are on top of it.

On October 10, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would set up a National Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Who cares? Normally, no one. But in this instance the Democrats seem to care -- a lot. The program isn't important because of what it will do but because of what Democrats think it will do. As one Democratic congressman said, it "restores our nation's promise of a decent home for every American family."

Democrats make no secret about what this means. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who sponsored the bill, readily admits, "The Trust Fund will be the largest expansion in federal housing programs in decades." It's a way "to get the federal government back in the affordable housing production business," said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA). It would allocate up to $1 billion per year to construct or repair 1.5 million low-income housing units in the next ten years. Anyone who's ever lived in a communist country can vouch for the success of ten-year plans.

No matter how lovely the intentions, it's not the federal government's job to build houses. Promising universal housing is bound to disappoint. The Soviet Constitution similarly guaranteed its citizens the right to affordable housing. Last time I checked, that didn't turn out very well.

It's true that Democrats do not want to replicate USSR housing policy. That would be too obvious. But they do want something vaguely similar, which is for government to "make" housing affordable (read: free) by decree. It's a simple idea, really. If government can make housing affordable, then -- voila! -- people can afford housing.

It's not easy to oppose this. But such is the stigma that plagues conservatives, who also hate health care and peace. Democrats have long had the advantage on the rhetorical front in domestic politics. Now that they are back in power, they are exploiting this advantage at all costs -- to the taxpayers. "It has been 17 years since the federal government last enacted a major affordable housing production program," said Mrs. Waters. "The time has long since passed to enact another one."

Are Democrats really concerned about housing, or are they more interested in patting themselves on the back for a job well done? Their rhetoric suggests the latter. One congressman has compared the new program to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, saying it proves once again that Democrats are on the right side of history. After the bill was passed, Congresswoman Waters said it must be "a very exciting day" for poor people because they finally "get a chance to see their government responding to one of the most critical needs in our society." Rep. David Scott (D-GA) declared, "It is us on the Democratic side that are clearly responding to the needs of the American people here."

But here's the thing: Who doesn't need affordable housing? Everyone needs it, just as everyone also needs breathable air, edible food and drinkable water. However, just because something is universally needed doesn't mean it should be collectively distributed.

The administration, to its credit, has threatened to veto the legislation. As the White House's Office of Management and Budget noted, the program is "redundant" and "duplicative," seeing that another federal program, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, already does essentially the same thing on a $2 billion budget. Furthermore, according to the Center for Community Change, there are already 600 housing trust funds in cities, counties and states that cost a total of $1.6 billion each year. In total, there are 34 HUD programs that already promote affordable housing for low-income Americans.

"Yes," admitted Rep. Al Green (D-TX), "there are other housing programs. Some say thirty; some say more than thirty. Every one of them is needed, every one of them." Clearly they must be doing a bang-up job, considering the housing crisis we're now in.

Why do we need more of the same? When is enough enough?

"We're creating, yes, and we're expanding," explained Congressman Scott. "Why? Because the problem has expanded."

This perfectly encapsulates the Democratic mode of thinking: Expand first, explain later. Democrats know the solution before most people know there's a problem. In fact, their answer is what leads them to the question. ("Subsidized housing is urgently needed. Why? Oh, because there's an affordable housing crisis. Good, now we can start building people homes.")

By and large, Democrats know ahead of time they want to expand government, so they must go searching for crises, real or imagined, to justify their programs. Their need for crises in part explains why there always seem to be so many and why, curiously, in every case the solution is always the same: more government.

The best way to guarantee affordable housing is for the federal government to get out of the way. If people kept more of their paychecks, they'd be better able to afford their own homes. Democrats think this is too much to ask of Americans. "Working," according to Maxine Waters, "is simply no longer a guarantee of being able to afford housing." In her view, the only jobs that can guarantee housing are those held by Democrats in Congress.

Accommodating the poor is a noble goal, but at some point permanent government housing is no longer a solution worth affording.

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About the Author

Windsor Mann is a writer living in Washington, D.C., and the editor of The Quotable Hitchens: From Alcohol to Zionism.