Tag Archives: housing

If You Are Poor, You Are Not Alone.

The Big Picture

The U.S. is a rich country judging by its massive economy as measured by GDP, standard of living and availability of goods and services. Yet, the U.S. has one of the highest poverty rates in the world. Among OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) member countries, mostly developed countries, the U.S. ranks third highest in poverty.

When viewed as percentage of a population, poverty rates usually understate the misery. The OECD’s as well as many other measures of poverty count individuals living below a certain poverty income line. Therefore, individuals need to be countable and receiving some form of income, which leaves out people participating in underground economies and other invisible endeavors.

Income is defined as household disposable income in a particular year. It consists of earnings, self employment and capital income and public cash transfers; income taxes and social security contributions paid by households are deducted. OECD: Household Income and Wealth

The Smaller Picture:  U.S. States

The big picture shows the U.S. as having a significant GDP in relation to other countries, as well as a noteworthy poverty level. What drives such unfortunate poverty numbers? For example, what U.S. states contribute the most to the bleak figures?

Poverty rates

The above figures show the number and percentage of people living in poverty by state, using a 3-year average over 2015, 2016, and 2017. Additionally, these figures, provided by the U.S. Census Bureau on September 2018, are the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which factor in cost of living in each state. One state stands out: California.

The Golden State, Not So Golden

California has 7.5 million people living in poverty, the nation’s highest rate.  The next worse is Florida with 3.7 million — a little less than half of California’s numbers.  And remember these are the people that are counted, not living in invisible settings.

State legislators throw up their hands, blame the “housing crisis” in the state for the lamentable poverty numbers, and return to their business as usual: creating more poverty by insisting on restrictive land use, irresponsible fiscal policies, curbing mobility of residents (think rent control; think high property taxes and Proposition 13), and just plain brain washing folks against the idea of striking out in search of better opportunities. In California everybody is supposed to stay put, stay progressive, stay PC, and stay either very poor or very rich.  The strategy may not be working all that well considering the state’s net out migration, but California has mighty persistent politicians.

Were California less effusive in bragging about its economy – never mentioning its poverty rate as a self-inflicted wound, and seldom mentioning its unsustainable unfunded pension liabilities; and were California more focused on making efficient use of its enormous tax revenues instead of “resisting” change, it would have been mean spirited to pick on California as the lead contributor to the regrettable U.S. poverty rate. But, given the circumstances, it is not wrong to randomly throw the blame on the Golden State.

Laws, Policies and Consequences

The law of unintended consequences is as merciless as the law of gravity. This article lists three instances where the law of unintended consequences caused supposedly well-intentioned laws to turn into nightmares, especially for those of modest income.

Unintended consequences

The Fast Food Franchise Bright Idea

Chin Jou’s book Supersizing Urban America: How Inner Cities Got Fast Food With Government Help, published in 2017, should become a classic on the subject of unintended consequences.

The book recounts the story about the federal Small Business Administration setting up a program to help residents of inner cities become entrepreneurs. The SBA would guarantee loans to start business franchises. Dunkin’ Donuts stepped right up to help promote the program, followed by McDonald’s and Burger King. Once fast food companies realized inner cities had become a gold mine, they leveraged their prospects with advertising, and inner cities residents became faithful consumers of fast foods.

The unfortunate unintended consequence is unhealthy obesity.

The War on Terror and the Rise of Terrorism

9/11 was a tragedy where we experienced in real time, in U.S. soil, the death of almost 3,000 civilians. Therefore, the hurt and anger that resulted in the war in Afghanistan, and later Iraq, could be understood. George Bush sent troops to Afghanistan to clean out terrorist camps, and to Iraq to eradicate supposed weapons of mass destruction.

The unfortunate unintended consequence is well described by this paragraph,

What the US tends to forget, or intentionally ignores, is that armed reactionary groups like ISIS are born out of the destabilization created by Western military intervention … [H]ostile anti-American resistance groups gain momentum, sympathy and legitimacy from the actions carried out by Western forces.  Foreign Policy Journal, 2015

Fighting Climate Change

Everybody wants clean air, clean water, and the absence of extreme climate. Therefore, to ensure these graces, legislators have done what legislators tend to do – pass laws. The laws of preference favor transit-oriented development (TOD) intended to reduce automobile miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions.

TOD policies set strict urban-growth boundaries, establish vast conservation areas where development is not allowed, and encourage development only along transit corridors. Under such plans, density is promoted as desirable not only as means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also as an engine of growth and, therefore, tax generation.

The unsurprising unintended consequence of transit-oriented policies is unaffordability of real estate. As places to build shrink and neighborhoods resist high density, supply of housing decreases and prices for renting or buying a roof over one’s head go up.

California, a state that boasts its leadership in controlling climate change and forcefully promotes transit-oriented policies has chased away its working poor and its middle class, who cannot afford astronomically housing costs.

The problem is that high-density housing–that is, mid-rise and high-rise housing–costs 50 to 68 percent more, per square foot, to build than low-density housing. If California really wants to build housing that is affordable to low-income people, it needs to build more low-density housing. To build that, it needs to open up land that has been off-limits to development because it is outside of urban-growth boundaries.  Will Density Make Housing Affordable? New Geography, March 2018.

Examples Abound

Government policies apparently implemented in good faith can easily turn sour and result in unanticipated harm. Who can forget the mass displacement of residents in the 1950s -1960s in the name of urban development? Who can ignore the cost of health insurance after the Affordable Care Act? How many families have been torn apart and how many children have been caught in the cross fire of the war on drugs?  But these are all subject for future articles on the Just Vote No Blog.

Therefore, regardless of your party affiliation or political leanings, proceed with caution in supporting sweeping legislation, regulation, or executive orders at all levels of government.

Divide and Conquer: Now it’s NIMBY vs. YIMBY

Divide and Conquer GoetheNever let a crisis go to waste. And if there is no crisis, start one. When fomenting a crisis, it helps to encourage group identification, then to pit one group against another. This has been the modus operandi of political leaders going all the way back to Philip II, whose maxim “divide and conquer” served him well in transforming self-governing city states into one big Macedonian kingdom.

The latest California crisis (besides the coastal progressives’ obsession with “resisting” something or other in Washington DC they are not supposed to like) is housing, and the latest division is between NIMBYs and YIMBYs.

The Not In My Backyard faction identifies with older residents who like the way things are in their neighborhood. They like their neighborhood’s “character,” they own or hope someday to own a single-family home with a backyard, they prefer not to take public transit, and they fiercely defend their turf from outsiders who feel entitled to change it. Bastions of NIMBYism, such as the Bay Area’s Marin County and San Francisco’s Westside, have traditionally used city and county zoning to preserve their neighborhoods.

The current California YIMBY movement goes back only to 2014, with the founding of BARF, Bay Area Renters’ Federation, by a charming and articulate former math teacher by the name of Sonja Trauss. In a 2015 article, What’s Your Housing Utopia, Sonja states her case unequivocally,

I want the market to provide a unit I can afford… I want to consume housing the way I consume all other products: Buy used, old or out of fashion, buy scratched and dented, buy odd lots, split the cost with friends… How do we get market rate housing for all markets? Step One: End the shortage. If we need 100,000 units, we have a lot of work ahead of us. If you’re involved in opposing a new housing project, stop, just stop. Our need for housing at all price levels far outstrips our supply at any level. Are you preoccupied with whether the new units “match” the rest of the neighborhood? Matching is for your belt and your shoes. Housing supply is a serious problem. If you’re sentimental about the past, swallow your tears.”

Then there is SPUR, San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, renamed from San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Association in 1977, after the razing in the 1960s of San Francisco’s Fillmore District in the name of “urban renewal.” Gabriel Metcalf, president and CEO of SPUR, elevates the NIMBY/YIMBY war to the level of opposing views on private property – homes as property purchased and owned by someone vs. homes as infrastructure provided to all regardless of means.

I think there are more people understanding housing as a social-justice issue. While they might not like their communities changing with higher-density buildings, more people understand that they are necessary to live up to our values as progressives.

A recent article in the neighborhood newspaper, The Westside Observer reports on a community meeting discussion on California Senate Bill 827, which would mandate construction of buildings up to eight stories high along all transportation routes – bus routes as well as fixed rail – regardless of local zoning or neighborhood character.

What had started out as a community meeting slowly became a referendum on the land value of homes and apartments that younger generations would like to take away from older generations — right now!

The war, yet another identity-politics war, is on. Absent politicians never letting a crisis resolve itself peacefully, NIMBYs and YIMBYs, in spite of their vastly different outlook and needs, might have worked things out. However, that is not to be.

If we understand what is going on, we can choose our political leaders and our legislation with an eye to rejecting continuing crises provoked by identity wars. We can choose instead peacemakers who can encourage local solutions and compromises that offer remedies to challenges.

Identity Politics: Good way to Divide and Conquer

Divide and Conquer GoetheIdentity wars are useful when politicians wish to deepen or to widen their power over the populace. Such wars divide populations into smaller groups, which can then be pitted against one another. While each group is focusing on its own challenges and fighting other groups to defend its limited interests, all groups are ignoring the big picture. They are missing opportunities. They are ignoring their real manipulator. They have been divided and conquered.

So, we the people, divided and conquered, focus on a myriad of wars: class, race, gender, disabilities, environmental, social justice, gentrification, fetus-as-person, open space, climate change, drug, opiod. Meanwhile, our liberties are decimated unnoticed. We are slaves to the IRS, mandated to pay our pound of flesh under dire penalties if we do not obey. We are hostages to the obscene costs of healthcare and education. We are automatic criminals given the numerous laws and regulations at every level of government, of which we are bound to break some unwittingly. Our Bill of Rights is constantly under siege.

Some enclaves in these United States have become epicenters of identity wars. California is such an epicenter. The state’s residents never tire of group warfare, while they lose their basic constitutional liberties, such as free speech, self defense against tyranny, or local jurisdictional control of their destiny. At present California is fighting the “housing crisis,” pitting NIMBYs vs. YIMBYs, while politicians crank out laws obliterating local control of what gets built where and how.

As Joseph-Marie, Comte de Maistre, 19th century lawyer, diplomat, writer, and philosopher said every nation has the government it deserves. In a republic such as the United States, where the ballot box is available to all citizens, this maxim could be interpreted as meaning every individual has the government he/she deserves.

Smart Cities: Your Life in a Fish Bowl

Amazon-Dash-Image-Tide 2Smart Cities are a national, state and county goal, for whatever reason anyone can come up with. Here is the reason offered by the U.S. Department of Transportation,

In December 2015, we launched our Smart City Challenge, asking mid-sized cities across America to develop ideas for an integrated, first-of-its-kind smart transportation system that would use data, applications, and technology to help people and goods move more quickly, cheaply, and efficiently.

Sensors Are at the Heart of Smart Cities

* Builders are developing ways to use smart concrete to make bridges, highways, and buildings laced with carbon fibers able to respond to stress and monitor activity.

This new invention allows construction of smart concrete structures, able to detect even minute changes in the amount of stress inside. This new composite material is able to self-monitor for signs of cracks or stress.

In addition, smart concrete is expected to be used for building facility management, i.e. to weigh each room of a building to monitor the room occupancy in real time, thereby saving money and energy by allowing the lighting, heating, cooling and ventilation of the room to be controlled according to the occupancy level.

* Manufacturers are making smart appliances.

…select Whirlpool® smart appliances now support the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, allowing families to control their appliances from anywhere in the house with simple voice commands. So whether in the other room helping with homework or cooking dinner with messy hands, families can care for their loved ones better, faster and smarter.

Technology Companies Are Leading the Way

Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Microsoft are the natural candidates in the building of smart cities. They already thrive on collecting and evaluating data. Microsoft is building the city of Belmont in the state  of Arizona.

Belmont (as the town will be called) will feature 80,000 residential units, public schools, and commercial buildings. Everything in the 25,000-acre property will be built around a flexible infrastructure model, which is why many are calling the proposed town a smart city. In many ways, Belmont will be a location where the latest technologies and innovative designs can be tested on a actual community, creating a real-life blueprint for how cities of the future could be run.

The Internet of Things

Thus, in a smart city we reach the pinnacle of The Internet of Things, where all is connected, watched and evaluated.

The Internet of Things really comes together with the connection of sensors and machines. That is to say, the real value that the Internet of Things creates is at the intersection of gathering data and leveraging it. All the information gathered by all the sensors in the world isn’t worth very much if there isn’t an infrastructure in place to analyze it in real time.

Watch for the Downside

Since Biblical times knowing where you live is understanding who you are.

I know thy works, and where thou dwellest (Revelation 2.13)

Now imagine not only knowing where you live, but also where you are at all times via your phone, your appliances, your city. Imagine not only knowing where you are, but also what are you doing or buying. Or do you for a moment think that the information gathered about you is not inventoried, catalogued, evaluated, and used?

Not everyone is happy with smart cities. Critics are concerned about the rise of the tech oligarchy.

The tech oligarchs who already dominate our culture and commerce, manipulate our moods, and shape the behaviors of our children while accumulating capital at a rate unprecedented in at least a century want to fashion our urban future in a way that dramatically extends the reach of the surveillance state already evident in airports and on our phones.

The drive to redesign our cities, however, is not really the end of the agenda of those who Aldous Huxley described as the top of the “scientific caste system.” The oligarchy has also worked to make our homes, our personal space, “connected” to their monitoring and money machines.

Your Life, Your Choice

Do you want maximum convenience because you are so pressed for time? Do you want to keep up with your peers and have the latest tech gadget on the market? Is your desire to help stop climate change high enough for you to actively support housing-dense villages filled with sensors that constantly monitor your use of energy?

If so, then you need to accept your life in a virtual fish bowl, where your actions can be relayed to a cloud server and analyzed for purposes beyond your control. You need to accept the possibility that the information gathered from you might be about you in particular, not just about what everyone does in the aggregate. And you need to accept the risk that in a future you do not at present foresee, someone possessing considerable power may not like what they see in the data gathered from you.

Just Vote No If Big Data Does not Appeal to You

Technology, the Internet, smart phones have increased our productivity, enriched our lives and given us power as individuals to express our thoughts and share our discoveries.  Therefore, it behooves us to ensure that the positive blessings of technology remain friendly towards us.

However, it appears that Big Data might be developing in ways akin to Big Pharma.  Regulation has been suggested for both biggies, but can one really regulate away people’s natural profit motives or the market’s unforgiving forces?  Probably not, or at least not without ushering in tyranny.  If the free and open market demands smart cities, great! However, if they are foisted on an unsuspecting public by interested parties, that’s not so great.

If you are not a supporter of Big Data, you might consider choosing leaders who do not use your tax dollars to subsidize developers of smart cities.  Find out if your city or county leaders are falling all over one another rushing to give technology companies tax breaks, while your small business has none.  Be aware of who wants to change things in your neighborhood, and just vote no on tax proposals sure to be on your ballot to support such changes.

California’s Vanishing Neighborhoods

California is labeled a “progressive” state by mild voices and a “Marxist” state by more aggressive voices. Interestingly, the true progressives/Marxists occupy only a thin strip of land along California’s coast, but are so numerous they are the state’s deciders. Even within the progressive/Marxist coast, there are small pockets of conservatives that, for the most part, have little say.

However, once in a while, the fiscally conservative, free market, private property loving silent minority rises up in fury and hits the tax-and-spenders where they hurt – the ballot box. They rose up in 1978 and passed Proposition 13, which ended the bountiful distribution of property owners’ hard-earned cash. They rose up in 2003, and engineered the successful recall of Governor Grey Davis, who had plunged the state into a squabbling war among special interests. They helped elect Donald Trump in 2016. They are not happy campers today, and seemingly ready for another “Revolt” like the one in 1978.

Outside of progressives/Marxist eyes, observers can cite ample reasons for another cultural uprising: generous largess supported by high taxes, continuous mandates voiding local decision making, mounting state debt, an army of bureaucrats earning six-figure salaries, a legion of unelected officials doing what elected officials should be doing, and the huge elephant in the room that will not budge – uncontrollable unfunded public pension liabilities that have crowded out basic services.

Of this laundry list of grievances, one seems to stand out: state mandates that obliterate the ability of local property owners to decide the character of their neighborhoods. By character, residents mean appearance, density, tranquility, safety, ease of using one’s transportation of choice.

Sacramento has been cranking out legislation that allocates specific numbers of new housing units to each jurisdiction, requires such allocated housing to be built for all income levels in all neighborhoods, and voids decisions by local planners.

The latest example is Senate Bill 827 introduced January 3, 2018, requiring dense housing at all income levels within one-half mile of a bus stop, regardless of neighborhood. The proposal, supported by the now ubiquitous YIMBYs (Yes In My Back Yard), elicited this furious comment on the Crenshaw Subway website,

Like the Colonizers before them, YIMBYs claim the ‘Hood as Theirs! The bill is backed by group that calls themselves YIMBYs, which stands for “Yes in my backyard.” Like the colonizers whose agenda they seek to replicate, it takes a certain entitlement/ supremacist mindset to call a community they didn’t grow up in, don’t live in or are new to as “theirs.” It’s NOT their backyard – it’s ours. And we’re not about to give it up. WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED!

Ouch! The fury continues with a list of obvious housing injustices ignored by YIMBYs, such as,

…they could care less about the predatory lending that led to the greatest evisceration of Black wealth in decades – it wasn’t their grandma whose mortgage became unaffordable overnight.

The article ends with a battle cry,

It is time that we put our war paint on, soldiers. SB 827 is bill that must be killed.

Another piece of legislation particularly disliked by conservatives and small businesses is Senate Bill 1, signed into law in April 2017, mandating a $0.12 per gallon increase in gasoline taxes. SB1 claims roads and bridges have been long neglected and need funding to upgrade.

However, there is enough talk in the bill of “sustainable communities” and “greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets,” code words for top-down mandates from Sacramento, to have elicited a proposed voter initiative that as of this writing has achieved over 25% of signatures required for ballot status. “Repeal the Gas Tax” would require that all increases in gas taxes be presented to voters from approval, including that included in SB1.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses issued the following statement in opposition to SB 1,

NFIB/CA is opposed to this Main Street Menace, which adds 12 cents per gallon in new taxes to gasoline, which is already the most expensive in the country. It also increases the high price of diesel by a whopping 22 cents per gallon, and adds $70 in new registration fees to each vehicle. These new taxes are supposed to be used to fix California’s ailing highways, a problem that government has failed to address for decades. The politicians have diverted budget money to other pet projects for years and now want consumers and businesses to pony up more hard-earned dollars to bail them out without offering real reforms.

Ford GoBike
Is this legislators’ idea of upgrading California’s infrastructure?

Politicians’ favorite “pet projects” are the “sustainable communities” mandates conservatives do not like either.

If the gas tax repeal initiative gets on the ballot, and passes, progressives/Marxists, as well as YIMBY “colonizers,” will likely experience great distress, since the event could signal the first salvo of the The New Tax Revolt.