Affordable Housing

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 11, 2004

It appears we are short of it…but are we short of housing or short of affordable? Let’s take a peek under the covers. It really means, &uot;The place is OK but I just don’t have the money for the rent, or down payment, or mortgage payments. Not being able to afford housing of some kind is the end result of a lack of education, or a disability of the mind or body. In the case of the first, the potential owner of a home either did not want to be educated, or was unable or unwilling to be educated enough to get a job that paid real money. Mentally or physically disabled individuals with no family are doomed without the benefits of &uot;welfare&uot; and other forms of largess. There is plenty of that going around and society; our society at least, lacks the willingness to be taxed sufficiently to offset their pain. And our governments find other ways to spend/waste the money on wants rather than concentrate on real need.

Surely greed is a factor, true, landlords need money to pay for both government needs and waste so he raises the rent a trifle, or a lot, to satisfy his need for outgo. Simple…if largess falls behind, the victim is out in the cold, no affordable housing. So the Council is suddenly in a panic to create some reasonably priced shelter. This usually means tear down housing that has not stood the test of time and use shoddy methods of creating cellblock housing that will also fail in a decade or two. I said, &uot;usually.&uot; And this housing crisis requires quicker progress than the efforts of the wonderful volunteers who give up their time building Homes for Humanity.

So the bids go out for the developers who must build, much like a beaver that constantly needs to chew down trees to keep its teeth short. In the case of developers it’s a different story but I won’t get into that. I keep thinking of that lady who had a bag of potting soil fall out of her pickup and by the time she turned around a developer had built a house on it. Under the rules of our current UDO the affordable homes will be constructed, up to snuff and color coordinated. They will not actually be &uot;affordable&uot; but our Redevelopment and housing folks will make it so. Have you priced a sheet of plywood lately? A few years ago you could build a garage for the current price of an outhouse.

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But our city manager and other officials are neglecting the onrushing wave of unaffordable housing headed our way like a tsunami. What caused this overwhelming, crushing, heartless, unrelenting attack upon the populace that will guarantee hundreds of homes across the entire city will become unaffordable? Property assessments…the endless annual sales tax on the home you bought. Our council, that studies everything including how to choose a mayor, how much to pay cops, and whether or not to evict VDOT, better study the harshness of property taxes before the revolt. This devastating tax tactic of government can eventually force the &uot;limited income&uot; breadwinners out of their cherished home to again seek a place they can afford, but this time not nearly as nice.

I built a home back in 1980, not a terribly long time ago. It’s sufficient for a retiree and wife and we looked forward to late life on a fixed income that could not possibly increase except for Social Security handouts, or going back to work. Our property tax the first year was less than three percent of our income and we assumed we could maintain our home and have a pleasant if not luxurious life. Yet today the city of Suffolk demands, not asks, demands ten percent of our income and further crassly threatens us with an additional ten percent penalty. Action is long overdue to consider the plight of thousands of homeowners and their failing attempts to remain in &uot;affordable housing.&uot;

How many have been forced to dip deep into their life savings; money they were told was a wise thing to set aside for their &uot;old age?&uot; That nest egg might have provided some fun for them as they walked down that last trail, which has now become a trial. What might have paid for vitamins and necessary drugs is now flying from savings to fund city wants, not theirs. What might have afforded them a chance to travel a bit is now seeping away to pay for Council’s desire to make our down-town an exciting place for tourists and those who live in it’s environs.

They have not yet reached even the studying phase. They sit blithely on their hands while concerning themselves with panhandlers, something we might all become if there is no refuge from property tax increases. So we expect that Council, while studying affordable housing for the &uot;poor,&uot; will consider how out of control assessments are creating more of the same for many others. Or, like politicians at every other level of government, acknowledge the problem but do absolutely nothing about it.

Robert Pocklington is a

regular News-Herald columnist.

E-mail him at