Low-income housing opportunities

There’s talk afoot, including last week’s presentation before the City Council and Housing Authority board, about turning part of downtown Madera into a location for new low-income housing, and that might not be a bad thing, because there are ways of turning low-income housing into an asset for a relatively poor city like Madera.

For example, when you build a high-end planned development, there are requirements that a certain number of those units must be built for low-income people.

Developers of high-end neighborhoods don’t like those requirements, and for good reason.

(1) Developers make more money building and selling high-end houses than they do by selling low-end houses.

(2) People who buy the high-end houses don’t necessarily want the low-end people as neighbors and may not want to buy into high-end developments with low-rent requirements.

(3) Low-end houses generally drive down property values of neighborhoods made up of otherwise high-end houses.

(4) Low-end neighborhoods can create overcrowding problems for schools, for public transportation, for roads, for parks and for other public facilities that suddenly become overused by virtue of an influx of low-end dwellings, which tend to become crowded when more than one family moves into a dwelling built to accommodate a single family.

So over the years, the geniuses in Sacramento have come up with cagey ways of getting around the low-income housing requirements. One of those ways is for richer cities to pay other towns, like Madera, to build low-income housing that is close enough to high-end housing to make it possible for low-income buyers and renters to get housing they can afford, and to provide an inventory of high-end housing for those who would be customers of such dwellings.

Another nice things about these arrangements is that governments often finance such arrangements through schemes such as Cap and Trade, which creates money by taxing carbon creators (that’s us, folks, unless we don’t drive any cars or trucks).

Madera built plenty of quality low-income housing through that wonderful program called the Madera Redevelopment Agency in years past, until the governor and legislature did away with redevelopment agencies and used the money for other things, such as increases in wages and pensions for government workers over on the coast during the just-concluded depression. Now the state is gouging the cities and counties for that money, and now the government is faced with having to figure out where to put all the new houses, high end and low end, that will be needed in the next few years to take care of California’s demand.

Madera may be the answer for the low-end problem. Downtown Madera could sprout low-end apartment houses that could take care of hundreds of new people, not to mention some already here.

And remember, we already have experience in providing low-cost housing. Half the dwellings in Madera, we are told, are rentals, and not very many of those are high-end.

And Madera could realize a pretty penny in grant money from cities that need a place to locate their share of low-income housing somewhere close to their jobs or within easy commutes.

We should grab this before it goes to other cities who already are, or wouldn’t mind becoming, low-income bedroom communities.