BY LEN CABRERA / JULY 23, 2019
The HBO miniseries “Chernobyl” is art imitating life on several levels. The reenactment of the horror of the nuclear disaster is the obvious lesson, but the more applicable moral for Alachua County is the danger of uniform adherence to political ideology while ignoring dissenting opinions. This was most evident in a scene in the second episode, when the fictional character Ulana Khomyuk (a nuclear physicist who represents the dozens of scientists who worked at the Chernobyl site) confronts the local party boss Garanin:
Garanin: There has been an accident at Chernobyl, but I’ve been assured there is no problem.
Khomyuk: I’m telling you that there is.
Garanin: I prefer my opinion to yours.
Khomyuk: I’m a nuclear physicist. Before you were Deputy Secretary, you worked in a shoe factory.
Garanin: Yes, I worked in a shoe factory. And now I’m in charge. <raises his glass> To the workers of the world.
The Alachua County and Gainesville City Commissions are in a competition to see who can implement the most “transformational” policies. In doing so, they surround themselves with like-minded acolytes and ignore comments from citizens with actual experience in the areas the commissions intend to “transform.” (Read the commissioner bios at the links above if you want to be depressed by just how little real-world experience they have.)
Consider the sudden push for “affordable housing,” one of many feel-good buzzwords to justify increasing the size and scope of government. (Gainesville will begin considering their Rental Housing Subcommittee Draft Recommendations in their General Policy Committee meeting on July 25th.) In the County Commission meeting on June 27th, Commissioner Hutchinson proposed a 20-year 1% sales tax to support several projects, including “affordable housing.” If you listen to his arguments (2:14:30 into the video), it’s clear that he doesn’t understand the housing market (or supply and demand in general); worse, he has no specific plan for what the county should do with the tax money or how many people will actually be helped. He dismisses Commissioner Byerly’s concerns, even though Byerly is probably the most qualified commissioner to discuss housing since he owns and manages rental properties. To Hutchinson, Byerly’s experience taints him because Byerly profits from the private rental market and that would compete with the county’s projects (which Byerly rejects, implying that his tenants are well above the $500/month range).
The county and city commissioners’ limited understanding of basic supply and demand is disturbing. They lament the lack of affordable housing but continue to purchase more and more land for conservation areas, seemingly ignorant of the fact that as the amount of land available for development decreases, the remaining land becomes more valuable; hence, property values (and rents) increase. The commissioners also push well-meaning policies to increase energy efficiency, not realizing that these regulations increase the costs to landlords, who will have to increase rents to recoup the costs. (The same is true for the higher property taxes that Gainesville will likely pass for FY20.) If officials simultaneously pass these laws with tenant protection laws to prevent rent increases, fewer rental properties will be available as a result. Either way, the policies will increase the cost of housing. (If the county does purchase housing to provide for low-income families, that reduces the housing available for other residents, raising their property values and rents.)
Rather than deal with economic realities, the city and county commissions try to slip their “affordable housing” initiatives into law by tying them into other pet projects. Hutchinson’s sales tax plan lumps affordable housing in with solar power, high speed internet, and conservation projects. He said he added solar because “we can get solar passed; solar polls extremely high.” Byerly admitted that tying anything to conservation will pass because “it passes every time.” City Commissioner Johnson’s solution to affordable housing is another typical response from the political playbook: “raise the minimum wage.”
Rather than confront the commissioners with obvious questions, the local media, in an increasingly common practice, seem to be running the PR campaign for the ill-informed policies, as we’ll see in part 2.
Photo credit:Nader Moussa – Myself, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5435624