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Irony in the Washington Post

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

This weekend’s Washington Post juxtaposed two pieces with, I suspect, unintentional irony:

  • Debbie Cenziper asserted that DC housing officials had authorized homeownership assistance at unsustainable levels, resulting in foreclosures, and she implied that HUD officials had not overseen the program sufficiently.
  • Courtland Milloy opined that inclusionary zoning restrictions, which induce developers to create affordable housing as a part of market-rate housing development, are over-regulated because public agencies have to verify that affordable homes are not being rented for profit and that the public funds which provide equity to the homeowners are used properly.

So, is it that we aren’t watching use of affordable housing funds carefully enough, or are we overregulating? One can certainly argue with the specifics of the pieces, and I’m sure others will. But the irony of them appearing together in the Post is hard to miss.

Sadly, neither piece deals with the reality that human enterprises are imperfect, both because of frequent human errors of judgment and infrequent human errors of conscience. Small and large businesses have to double-check their employees and government agencies have to double-check their counterparties. Double-checking adds cost and some loss of efficiency, and we’re continually adjusting to find the right balance between trust and verification. I’d rather see that nuance in reporting on affordable housing than the painful irony we found this weekend.

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