Significant investment in affordable housing

CorrespondentJune 27, 2014 

The Chapel Hill Town Council recently approved almost $700,000 for affordable housing. Wow. That’s a significant investment of local monies into what I consider to be a public good. I know that some of my more conservative friends disagree with that last statement. I’ve heard it said on more than a few occasions that the government has no business intervening in the housing market.

But of course, the government’s fingerprints are all over the housing market. I realize that pure free marketers would prefer no government interference in any markets. Markets, they say, are most efficient when left alone to find the natural balance between supply and demand. But, although some markets may be free of any sort of intervention, housing is not one of those and most people would prefer to keep it that way.

Almost all levels of government have impacts on housing. At the federal level, home owners who have mortgages are allowed to deduct the interest on their mortgages from taxable income. Property taxes are also deductible. Who doesn’t like that? State governments have impacts on housing values based upon where highways are constructed and where interchanges are built. Someday mass transit may have similar impacts.

Of course, at the local level, zoning and land use ordinances have a tremendous impact on development. These regulations tend to be the most controversial in Chapelboro. So, given that government is involved in many different ways, why shouldn’t they be involved in helping to create more affordable housing options for lower income people who work in town?

Wouldn’t it be preferable to have at least some of our teachers, bus drivers and firefighters be able to live close to where they work? If the free market is not providing that housing, should these folks be forced to commute from another county? Wouldn’t it be preferable to maintain, or even increase, the diversity of our community?

I think so. I applaud the Town Council’s decision to allocate local funds to affordable housing. We need it and we can afford it. I realize that taxes are high in Orange County, but we pay for services other communities don’t get — like an excellent public school system and free buses. These affordable housing funds will cost the owner of a $400,000 home about $38 per year. Isn’t that worth it to allow some of our public sector employees to able to live in town?

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