The Chicago Tribune reports on Tuesday’s meeting in Winnetka regarding a proposed affordable housing ordinance. Here is how the comments at the meeting were summarized:
Rick McQuet, a Winnetka resident, said at the meeting that the affordable housing plan is intended to help young families and recent college graduates.
“That young family was me about 15 years ago, a new degree in hand and aspirations of becoming a member of a truly great community,” he said.
Northfield resident June O’Donoghue received applause after she said she opposes the proposal because it interferes with the housing market.
“Housing is affordable to the people who can afford it. That is a simple thing,” O’Donoghue said. “I think you need a referendum for people to vote to see if they want to go through all this social engineering.”
In recent weeks, the plan’s opponents have said it amounts to “hand-outs” for people with lower income that could result in Section 8 housing, decreased property values and increased crime. Supporters have lashed out at the opposition as bigoted, arguing that the plan would allow teachers, clergy and other employees to live in the community in which they work.
Some thoughts about these comments (which may or may not represent everything that was said at the meeting):
1. The first comment I included above is interesting in that it refers to a common understanding of affordable housing in suburbs: it is not about helping the disadvantaged in society but rather “young families,” “recent college graduates,” and often elderly residents of the community. While this may be a good goal for a community (particularly if residents want their own family members in these categories to live in the community), this is a different understanding of “affordable housing.” Perhaps this is what has to be done in many suburbs order to counter the plan’s opponents who are quoted as saying this is really about helping lower-income people. But overall, there are needs for cheaper housing in society beyond people who might fit a profile of a community but simply don’t have the money.
The plan seems to play to this more suburban understanding of affordable housing:
The proposed plan would apply to new developments, in which 15 percent of owner-occupied units must be affordable to households earning at least $75,000 per year, while 15 percent of rental units would be affordable to those earning at least $45,000. Current residents and senior citizens would receive priority, the plan says.
According to the Census, the 2009 median household income was $49,777 so the part of the plan for people making at least $45,000 is still drawing from near the top 50% of American incomes.
2. “Social engineering” is always an interesting term to think about. In finishing my taxes for this year, I was reminded that our tax code is riddled with all sorts of “social engineering” in terms of promoting or incentivizing certain activities. We as Americans value homeownership so we have a home mortgage interest deduction (which some argue should be taken away). We give deductions for giving money to charities. Is all social policy “social engineering” or just policies that some people don’t like?