Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Property Rights vs Human Rights

Over the past several years, since the time that our work led us deeper and deeper into the issues related to developing affordable housing for low-income working people and permanent supportive housing for our disabled homeless neighbors, I've learned more and more about the opposition to such work.

Just last week, while in discussions with city leaders about housing for the homeless, the power of the opposition became more evident than ever as we discussed the political realities of acting against the interests of home owners.

Property owners enjoy amazing power in our nation and in our economy.

The result?

A disproportionate percentage of affordable housing developments end up in neighborhoods and communities where the number of home owners is low and where the home owners who are present are not well organized.

NIMBYism is a well known problem for developers who seek to provide fit and affordable housing for communities. "Not in my backyard" is a cry we hear often, even before project plans are fully developed or made known.

We were dealing with it again last week at city hall. It became clear to everyone that a plan to develop a piece of property in the more affluent northern part of our city to benefit homeless men and women would be impossible.

What is it about property and property ownership?

Who says that ownership entitles people to completely lock up and fundamentally control housing development, city zoning and community planning functions?

Is it as simple as this: The rich just have more power because they are rich? Are the poor largely powerless simply because they lack material resources?

Is that how a democracy is supposed to work?

It certainly seems to be the way our democracy works here in Dallas when it comes to property owners and those who have very little in terms of material resources.

As I pointed out in the meeting at city hall last week, we must finally reach a point where someone needs to remind everyone that civil and human rights still count for something in this country and city.

And, if we determine that they don't, we should go to work making sure that they count again for everyone.



Anonymous said...

I suspect that most opposition to affordable housing projects is traceable to criminal behavior that is associated with them.

In our society poor people have the tacit right to behave criminally and to live parasitically, and they are usually free to exercise those rights as long as they only affect other poor people.

People who can afford to isolate themselves from people who are exercising such rights invariably choose to do so.

No surprise there.

If we could agree that society had an obligation to provide housing, and that the residents of such housing were thereby obligated to live by the law and adhere to some rudimentary social norms, and we enforced this mutual obligation, there'd be no problem. The people who cause the problems would be weeded out.

I'm all for that.

But people should not be entitled to housing, no strings attached. That's a bankrupt idea.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:29:

You are painting with an awfully broad brush. Poor = crime. Affordable housing = no strings attached. Those things don't resemble most of the people or neighborhoods I know.

Most poor people are quite honest. And of those who aren't, most go to prison. That's why poor people and minorities are over-represented in prisons. They get no "free pass" to commit crime that I've ever seen. In fact, most are punished disproprotionately to their crimes because they do not have access to the top notch lawyers that get white collar criminals a slap on the wrist.

Affordable housing is just that - affordable, not free. People pay what a formula determines they can afford (as a percentage of income) and live with considerable rules - no overnights by anyone not on the lease, any drug conviction (even simple possession of < 1 ounce of MJ) disqualifies you, on and on. There are lots of strings attached.

I don't know where you get your information or ideas, but they do not match the real world I see. Homeowners may or may not have legitimate concerns, but it does not advance the conversation to speak in hyperbole and go off on ideological rants.

Lorlee said...

I wonder if the first poster takes into account that we subsidize housing for the rich through the tax breaks they get -- far outstrips the amount of money that is used to help provide affordable housing for those less well off.

c hand said...

Property rights are fundamental to human rights. Can someone point out a society that upholds human rights but not property rights?

Anonymous said...

I would not contradict that, c hand, but what's your point? NIMBY property owners are not trying to control their own property per se, but are using zoning and other levers to stop something from happening NEAR their property that they don't like. No one is trying to boot NIMBY property owners off their own property; rather, NIMBY owners are trying to keep someone else from using their property as they see fit - say, for affordable housing.

Anonymous said...

Lorlee - you need an education about these so called "tax breaks". But my guess is you don't want to know the real facts about the amount of taxes I pay and the "tax breaks" i get. Instead, it is easier for you to spew the typical response to anyone that busts their tail to be successful. Comments like the one you make simply reinforce the reasons people respond to this housing issue. Instead of using a strategy that would encourage people to get on board, you want top attack those people for having money. Keep up the good PR.

Anonymous said...

Study after study has shown that no matter their income, all Americans pay about 40% of their income in taxes (all taxes, not just income tax).

The one exception is the very rich, who, of course, pay less.

Anonymous said...

As you likely know, C Hand, many people believe that property rights are useful only insofar as they protect human rights. That's why a remark like yours has rhetorical effect.

But, of course, no society completely upholds either property rights or human rights --- in part because no one knows what those words actually mean. So your remark is in the territory of canards.

There is, however, plenty of evidence of people using legal protection of property rights to deny human rights. Faced with (a) your ideology and (b) the known facts, I'll go with the facts.

People need protection from those who would claim property rights.

Jeff W

Lorlee said...

Well, at least my name is out there rather than anonymous.

Not being snide at all, I simply stated a fact that the tax deduction for housing far exceeds the amount of money the country spends on housing for those of lesser means.

We made a decision that it was in the national interest to promote home ownership. However, I wonder why I should subsidize someone who wants to buy a million dollar house when there are people without a roof.

Anonymous said...

anon 9:51

If what you say is true, then affordable housing should be alright. To be sure, some of it is. But lots of it is not.

I stand by what I wrote. Of course it's broadbrush and does not take into account every specific. Neither does the post on which I'm commenting.

"Most poor people are quite honest. And of those who aren't, most go to prison."

Maybe this is true where you live. It is most certainly not true here. I could take you to an affordable housing development in my city that would terrify and outrage any sensible person. I could take you to many such places, such that by the end of a day spent visiting them, you'd be numb to shock.

The people who are actually living real-world lives in these places are all living with all the HUD regs and rules, the local ordinances, the state laws, all the attached strings that you mention. Problem is, those things are not meaningfully enforced.

In any event, this is not about ideology. It's about what I've seen in real life, in real time, in real places. Rules on paper? We've got billions of tons of that. Doesn't necessarily affect reality.

Anonymous said...

funny how few folks address the point of Larry's post. . .why should property owners be able to shut down so many worthy projects???

Pauline W.

Anonymous said...

Pauline W.: Larry didn't really make "a" point. He made several.

"Who says that ownership entitles people to completely lock up and fundamentally control housing development, city zoning and community planning functions?"
People who own property tend to be voters and contributors to political campaigns. Politicians tend to respond to their wishes when it's in the politicians' interests to do so.

"Is it as simple as this: The rich just have more power because they are rich? Are the poor largely powerless simply because they lack material resources?"
Yes. And they tend to lack organization, motivation, education, and significant contacts within the political establishment.

"Is that how a democracy is supposed to work?"
Well, it's how ours works in the US, not just in Dallas. Money makes things happen. That's its function. People tend to use it in self-interested ways. Sometimes those ways are expressed politically in ways that are harmful to other people. Other times they benefit other people.

Anonymous said...

Lorlee - you are not subsidizing anyone that has a million dollar home. If that person makes enough money to buy a million dollar home, that person has paid way more than his/her fair share of taxes. It is your type of ill - informed statements that show what is really at play here is anger and envy because no one that understands the taxation system would make such a comment. And I - like the other poster that you scolded for not using their name - will also remain anonynous so I don't end up getting ridiculed like CHand ( although he holds his own here ) and others that disagree with some of the viewpoints expressed on Larry's blog. I just don't understand how you and others of your way of thinking can actually believe that it is fair to pay 40% of income in taxes. Do you think that is a tax break? If you do, you need anger management. If the government learned some fiscal responsibility and cut out the pork, you could get all of the programs you want ( but probably not) without your "robinhood plan".