CHRIS POWELL: Population gains don't help if housing doesn't keep up

Published on Wednesday, 9 February 2022 21:20

Maybe all those people who in the last year or so have given up on New York City and its inner suburbs and moved to Connecticut are not so good for the state after all.

While they have offset the decline in population that Connecticut long has been suffering relative to the rest of the country, they also have driven up the state's housing prices and rents and have worsened its housing shortage. People who own their homes may be glad of their unrealized capital gains, but these gains come at huge expense to people who don't own their homes.

Average rents across the country are estimated to have risen 14% to nearly $1,900 a month last year, which should shock the many homeowners who can remember paying rents less than $500 when they were young. Of course housing price inflation has come amid enormous price increases in all other necessities, including food, energy, and medicine. Altogether lately inflation is running well above 10%, double the federal government's deceitful official figure.

This is what happens when the government hobbles the economy with ineffective epidemic restrictions and then pays people not to work, whereupon production of goods and services declines and prices rise still more. Inflation has far overtaken wage gains for ordinary people while enriching the already wealthy -- the owners of real estate and stocks, which soar with inflation.

Even three years ago, according to Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, a quarter of renters in the United States were paying more than half their income for housing. That burden for renters is surely far heavier now.

The virus epidemic and government's mistaken responses to it are the first cause of the worsening madness and despair in society – the crime, drug abuse, and general hatefulness. But when it consumes half or more of people's income, the price of housing is a big part of what brings them to the end of their rope.

Since most people in Connecticut have adequate housing – housing they can afford and even achieve capital gains from – the state is largely indifferent politically to the harm done by rising housing prices. A housing scandal in Danbury is receiving little attention outside the city, whose Zoning Commission is refusing to let a social-service organization, Pacific House, continue to operate a shelter for the homeless in a former motel building.

Pacific House would like to turn the building into what is called "supportive housing" – housing that includes medical and rehabilitative services facilitating recovery for residents. But the commission wants none of it. The commission is ready to push these troubled people back out on the street – in the winter, no less.

State government purchased the former motel for Pacific House's use, and without zoning approval the shelter is able to operate only because of one of Governor Lamont's emergency orders. Those orders are to expire in a week.

The General Assembly should extend the one applying to the Danbury shelter and demand some humanity from the city's Zoning Commission and the shelter's neighbors, who haven't been any more inconvenienced by the shelter than they were when the building was operated as a motel.

The cornerstone of the campaign of the likely Republican nominee for governor, Bob Stefanowski, is an effort to make Connecticut more affordable. That objective will resonate widely.

But most Republicans, who ordinarily celebrate property rights and an "ownership society," and most Democrats, who ordinarily pose as friends of the poor and struggling, are not enthusiastic about housing construction, at least not outside the already densely populated cities. No one wants more neighbors.

Even in the cities themselves, few people want greater population density and more facilities to help the troubled. Lately hundreds of New Haven residents have mobilized to block an addiction treatment clinic in their neighborhood, though the city is full of people needing such treatment – as are the suburbs.

Connecticut's state motto sometimes seems to be "Not in my back yard." But shunning problems doesn't solve them. It worsens them and makes them more expensive. More housing could make the state less expensive.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Column on Wednesday, 9 February 2022 21:20. Updated: Wednesday, 9 February 2022 21:22.