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Senate Forum Highlights Affordable Housing

Democrats vying for retiring U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes' seat squared off this morning during a candidates' forum at a Montgomery County affordable housing conference.

The crowded field of candidates backed tax credits for developers who build affordable units, vouchers for low-income households and full funding for federal housing programs.

But how would they pay for such programs, asked moderator Michael Isikoff of Newsweek.

It's a matter of priorities, said former congressman Kweisi Mfume and American University political science professor Allan Lichtman, who advocated freeing up money by pulling out of Iraq.

Congressman Benjamin Cardin pressed for taking on the pharmaceutical industry and blocking the repeal of the estate tax.

But none of those answers satisfied candidate A. Robert Kaufman, a community activist.

"Tax the rich, the super rich, and the stinking rich," he said, drawing a mix of laughter and applause from the audience at the Bethesda North Marriott Conference Center.

Ann Marimow

By Phyllis Jordan  |  May 3, 2006; 3:55 PM ET
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It's interesting that these Democrats seem determined to enact more government "solutions" to a problem created by the government itself. High property taxes, "smart growth" regulations, impact fees, and other instances of the government interfere in the marketplace and artificially raise the price of housing. If the Maryland politicians really wanted to do something to help those of us who are middle income and looking to buy an affordable house, they could start by reducing the burden of government. That would do a lot more to help us than putting more regulations on builders.

Posted by: MK | May 4, 2006 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Yes, because we all know how much builders have the public's best interests in mind.

Posted by: Mr. K | May 4, 2006 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Builders certainly have the public interest in mind much more than government does. Builders provide a service for people -- they provide houses for them to live in. That's a huge public service. They are compensated for that service, but they are providing a skill and product that people want. And, from housing prices in this area, people want that skill and product very much. These builders are engaged in a voluntary transaction with people who want homes.

That involves a lot more public interest than politicians who sit around fulminating and passing laws to restrict these voulntary transactions.

Posted by: MK | May 4, 2006 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Well yeah, we need an active and competitive housing market to make quality homes at affordable prices. That doesn't always happen. Did you know (and Doug Duncan people will be screaming about this) that in Montgomery County there were county laws that prevented developers from building new homes until the infrastructure was built? This law was repleaed in 2000ish under Duncan's leadership and influence from the developer's lobby. I have to say that I have enjoyed there being great infrastruture in Gaithersburg. We have large roads and even though it is pretty dense there is little traffic. My point is that if we didn't have some regulation to set the rules then builders would completely ruin the community by building stuff everywhere. Their main motivation is profit. All other considerations are secondary. I've always maintained that too much regulation is bad because it will stifle competition and innovation, but setting the reigns free will cause disaster in the other direction.

Posted by: Mr. K | May 4, 2006 4:57 PM | Report abuse

The problem isn't the middle class whites who want to buy a home out in the suburbs. It's the poor-middle class blacks who are extremely isolated and segregated in poor black communities. Required reading on this subject is Massey and Denton's American Apartheid.

Posted by: John | May 5, 2006 12:02 AM | Report abuse

Builders are acting in the public interest because they sell a product people want? If we follow your logic, crack dealers and tobacco companies are acting in the public interest, too. Didn't the deregulation of the utilities in Maryland teach you anything? Sometimes strict controls on free enterprise are in the public interest.

Posted by: Pepe le Moco | May 5, 2006 6:46 PM | Report abuse

Pepe, I don't think you can realistically compare builders to crack dealers. Home builders provide homes for people. That's a good thing. The government wants to frustrate this transaction, however, by imposing impact fees and regulations that artificially drive up the cost of housing. The government needs to step aside and let affordable housing be built.

Posted by: MK | May 9, 2006 9:15 AM | Report abuse

So, would you be in favor of abolishing the housing code? Builders could build things that are a lot cheaper if the government didn't require a certain minimum level of quality? And why not do away with zoning requirements? A certain amount of regulation is needed to protect the public. Builders are not going to build "affordable" housing if they can make more money building market rate stuff.

Posted by: Pepe le moco | May 10, 2006 2:27 PM | Report abuse




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