Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Shortages in everything -- affordable housing edition 

A few years ago I wrote an article based on the experience St. Cloud was having with a local group pushing an affordable housing ordinance. The ordinance itself died, but the group still claims victory for a joint powers agreement that ties the five municipalities in the St. Cloud area to a plan to offer 15% of new construction as affordable, a goal they have trouble meeting.

Some money to help build homes has been found, but part of the program was to make available "gap loans" to help families get into first houses. But, we learn today, the affordable housing proponents in St. Cloud can't seem to find the bucks.
A housing program that makes new homes more affordable wants more participation, and it's asking area city councils to raise the income level needed to qualify.

St. Cloud City Council members voted 9-0 Monday to approve the changes. All five cities � St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids, Sartell, Waite Park and St. Joseph � must approve the changes.

Raising the qualifying income would allow people who do not need mortgage assistance to participate. It also may help an ongoing issue: More homes are designated than funds available for gap loans.

The Life Cycle Housing program has run out of funding for gap loans in the past and is quickly going through money granted in April, which will help about 13 people. There are more than 400 yet-to-be built homes designated.

"What we don't have enough of is the gap loans that would help moderate families," said Dan Finn, who sits on the housing board. "As a result, we won't be able to help families with as low of incomes. We can help families with slightly higher incomes."
Finn has a degree in economics, so let's help him out with the analysis here. Dan, it's called a shortage. All your proposal does is remove some of the excess demand. Does it add more houses? No. It chooses to kick some people out of the queued excess demand on the basis of income.

Producers create goods with the expectation of profit. Affordable houses are not built because the loan money isn't there. Meanwhile, house prices continue to skyrocket because land that could be used in production of housing people both want and can pay for is set aside in the increasingly vain hope that it can be used to create affordable housing. This set-aside is actually helping to keep property values high here, which of course means property becomes less affordable, etc.

One detail is more interesting yet.
Other proposed changes [include] allow[ing] gap loans to be repaid without interest after selling and charge a $1,000 fee to cover administrative costs.

Secondary mortgage markets have rules against charging interest for such loans, which officials originally wanted so participants did not have upfront costs, Finn said.
Did nobody think of this before?