Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cities also deploy the law of unintended consequences

Cities typically require condo complexes being built to set aside 10% of the units for sale to low income people. Such units are called BMRs--Below Market Rate units. This is, of course, an unfunded mandate. Cities administer the program, and don't let BMR owners profit from appreciation of the units' value over time (or depreciation too I guess).

That way people who qualify for BMRs--often city employees in the lower ranks--get to live in the city they work in instead of having long commutes.

OK, that sounds good if you believe we should all be required to help others. Which I do to a degree.

But here's the rub: BMR owners can be depended on to vote against special assessments.

Suppose your condo complex needs an earthquake retrofit? Many older complexes are unreinforced "soft story" buildings (homes built over garages), which also often have unreinforced cripple walls, and are inadequately secured to the foundations...stuff like that. It costs usually $9-12K per unit to bring older buildings up to modern existing building retrofit standards.

Our complex just lost such a vote, by only a handful of votes. In all likelihood it would have passed if not for the BMR voting bloc and always "just says no."

Now all our city needs to do is require such retrofits. But they won't. Neither will yours.

I say if a city's going to indulge in social engineering, it should take responsibility for the negative consequences of that social engineering.

So if it's going to force us to have those of more modest means among us, it needs to keep that requirement from killing us. Otherwise the city is guilty of future negligent homicide.

Don't we teach our kids to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions? Seems like we ought to expect cities to do likewise.

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