My Turn: What role should council play in housing?


Private sector the right answer

When the Page City Council met earlier this month, one local resident stood up and pleaded with the council to do something about the lack of affordable housing in the community.
Dennis Bodily, who moved to Page with his wife for a job, said something many local residents can understand — he wants to be here and work here, but if he can’t find adequate housing for a decent price, he will be forced to move.
“I want it noted that I work here. I’m not a tourist. I’m not here to stay a couple days and leave. I’m here to work, and I’m having a heck of a time finding any place to live other than a hotel, and the expenditures for a hotel room here would eat up more than my income,” he said.
I get it. I fully understand Bodily’s problems. In fact, if I didn’t have coworkers pleading with me to get a place the day I arrived in Page, I might be in his exact position.
But I still question what role the city council is supposed to play in providing affordable housing.
I’ve spent close to a week pondering this, and I have a hard time coming up with the answer. What should the city council really do?
I, for one, do not want the city government involved in housing, I don’t want the city building homes and I certainly don’t want someone at city hall acting as a landlord.
I do believe there are small things a city council could do, but those still require a private developer willing to come in and build new homes. Until that happens, there really is no role for local government in the housing argument. At least in my opinion.
As I’ve discussed this over the last few days, I have heard one thing several times — the council should limit the number of vacation rentals in the city. The general idea is too many homes are being rented out to tourists, which doesn’t leave enough homes available for residents.
At first thought, that sounds like a good idea. But the more I have thought about it, the more I have decided I don’t like it at all.
First, I don’t want the city council picking winners and losers in the economy. If the council approves the first 30, 50 or 100 vacation rental permits and then denies the rest, it makes the council king makers. Those who get approvals are in line to profit more than those who don’t. That opens the door to bribery and corruption, and I don’t like it.
Second, and this is probably even more important to me, I don’t want the city council infringing on private property rights. If I own a home, I want to decide what I want to do with the home. If I make the decision to rent it out for tourists, whether for one week a year or almost every week, that should be my right as a private property owner. The city has a right to make rules that I have to meet, but if I meet the regulations, I should be approved.
We need affordable housing. There is no doubt about that. We could use more apartments, more single-family homes and more choices. But I don’t want the city being in charge of that.
I would like to see a developer come in and build 200 or more new homes. In theory, if those were “affordable,” that would be great. But even if they weren’t, they would eventually lead to more affordable housing.
This is how it works. If 200 homes averaging $200,000 were made available, that would not constitute affordable housing. But it would open up homes for local residents to purchase. When they did, the homes they are moving out of would be put up for sale or rent, usually for lower, affordable prices.
People doing well could move out of apartments or trailer parks into those homes, which would open up the lowest rung, the really affordable housing, to others.
Will that happen? Hopefully, although I have not heard of any concrete plans.
But that’s how to fix the lack of affordable housing, not government intervention.

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