In a country that cannot adequately house all of its citizens, both government and private-sector actors will bulldoze more than two million homes in the time before us. Implemented on a vast scale already thanks to dollars from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), the pace of demolition will quicken as the winter months recede.
It does little good to dwell on the arguments made under the guise of practicality. Practicality dictates the sacrifice of one part of a neighborhood over another part. It’s as if all of America is now a metaphor for the Vietnamese provincial capital of Ben Tre where “it became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”
What was once spoken only in whispers is now a loudly advocated policy proscription (http://wapo.st/yamsnT). Gone is the rhetoric promoting home ownership as the principal path to wealth and prosperity for millions of families seeking a foothold in the ranks of the middle class. Gone too is the rage at the most recent example of “creative destruction,” as house after house collapses under the blade of the bulldozer.
If cities and counties are now going to ask for money to demolish existing housing, however dilapidated, let’s at least take the moment necessary to fix in our minds the lessons that brought the country to this situation.
- An over-emphasis on home ownership, and the tax benefits that accompany it, over any other option of residence;
- The characterization of home ownership as a superior tool for wealth creation rather than simply an economical method of domesticity and family stability;
- An over-reliance on home construction as a central component of the local, regional and national economy;
- An over-abundance of state laws that prohibit mixed-use development; and
- An over-reliance on the market to police itself against fraudulent mortgage processes and risk underwriting.
It costs upwards of $10,000 to tear down a modest single-family home. The price increases geometrically when one crumbling townhouse must be separated from another. Beyond the money, the far greater price we pay comes in terms of the lost opportunity to reduce the nation’s ill-housed population closer to the desirable level of zero.