Indirect subsidies to rental property owners: The ultimate in “elitism”?


And I’ve turned inside out and ’round about and back and then,
Found myself right back where I started again.
–Jim Croce, “Age”

Can you tear a rotator cuff by shrugging?


Spin it any way you like. Point selectively to one ordinance rather than another. Advocate starving an arm of government even while you’re criticizing it for underperformance. Repeat trite homilies so often that even your dog turns tail and runs for cover. Try to square as many circles as you please – go on; no one’s counting, primarily because no one ever learned to count. Transform personal grievances into relentless crusades. Change the subject. Howl at the moon. Pretend you’re a college professor. Switch personalities the way some people change ball caps.

It’s all immensely entertaining to me. Now, sweep all the subterfuge and evasions aside, and the fundamental questions still remain:

Why does the city of New Albany have such difficulties enforcing its own laws?

Why does a culture of ownership mean so little to so many who steadfastly (and hypocritically) claim to believe in market-based, democratic precepts?

Why is it so difficult to grasp that New Urbanism is little more than leveraging usable existing resources to create greater opportunities for greater numbers?

Is there something we’ve missed in the evolution of New Albany, beyond the obvious fact that anti-intellectualism is the only true religion that unites disparate elements within the city’s gates?


It can’t be denied that at some point in the dim and distant past, the community deemed it fitting and proper to provide a regulatory regime for its housing stock. If this were not so, there would be no pertinent codes on the city’s books, and yet they’re right there.

Evidently the community is – or at least was – in agreement on this point.

Notwithstanding the devil’s advocacy of a relative few who somehow smell the stench of elitism in the impossibly radical notion that rule of law might constitute some form of a level playing field, it would appear that these building and housing codes amount to commonly agreed-upon standards, and as such, they pertain to minimum considerations of safety on behalf of all, but especially those, like children, who are most in need of protection.

Significantly, such standards also are a cost of doing business for those seeking to rent housing space to others.

However, seeing that a rule of bathos continues to define everyday political life in New Albany, it has been apparent for years, perhaps decades, that the city has chosen to abdicate significant portions of its responsibility to enforce these standards. The practical consequences of such negligence are horrid, they are damning to the legacies of those who have aided and abetted it, and only the blindly disingenuous among us have failed to note them.

Not only has the city’s housing stock deteriorated, with commensurate damage to the efforts of current and future generations to preserve the city’s viability, but the cynical and seemingly perpetual abandonment of the poor and the powerless to vicious recurring cycles of vastly reduced health, safety and hope have contributed immeasurably to an abysmally wretched civic reputation that unfortunately has been fully earned.

If all that were not sufficient for compensatory show trials to begin immediately, this historical abandonment of enforcement, and our persistent neglect of standards, has in reality amounted to an indirect subsidy for rental property owners, one that reduces the cost of doing business as a landlord. Whether such a situation increases the owner’s profit margin is a scenario that readers may contemplate on their own time, but I don’t believe it is far-fetched.

Given the prevalence of federally subsided housing, ineffective or infrequent HUD inspections might constitute yet another indirect subsidy of this purportedly “market-based” system of warehousing people. Whether or not this is the case is for others to determine, but the central point remains: Indirect subsidies that result from a relaxation of accepted standards surely reduce some costs for rental property owners, but at an unfairly high price for the city as a whole.

It is my contention that subsidies might be deployed in a far more productive fashion.

Just about everyone, occupying all sides of this and other issues, agree that while rental property always will be a fact of life, and in fact should be a fact of life, the community is better off as a whole when more people own their homes.

Rather than the indirect subsidy given rental property owners when standards are not enforced, which we can reasonably infer does much to enable the less functional aspects of neighborhoods filled to the brim with rental properties, doesn’t it make more sense to enable home ownership through any measure possible? Indirect subsidies, direct subsidies – whatever and whenever possible. Shouldn’t we seek to enable a culture of ownership?

Americans seldom grasp satire, but disingenuousness would seem to be a birthright. The “market forces” referred to earlier this week by commentators like Knighttrain currently aren’t “free market” at all, any more than exurban sprawl represents a “free market,” because we all subsidize that particular “free market” mechanism, too. Don’t we have both a right and an obligation to examine the myriad ways that direct and indirect subsidies provide for both the continued exploitation of the underprivileged by unregulated landlords, and inflict ever greater individual expense to prop up widened public services in expanding exurban areas?

Why aren’t we demanding a “full investigation” of these incredibly expensive phenomenons?

Ah, politics in spring. As we’ve seen throughout this week’s threads, there are many – my 3rd district Uncouncilman almost certainly foremost among them – who will shamelessly seek to transform this issue of a truly civil society’s basic community standards into a completely different (and self-aggrandizing) tug-of-war touting have-nots vs. haves, us vs. them, and little people vs. elitists. It’s simply not true.

It isn’t elitist to seek economic development that makes the pie bigger for all.

It isn’t elitist to suggest that we directly subsidize home ownership rather than indirectly subsidize exploitation.

It isn’t elitist to posit that without investing in the future of the community, there is little hope of the community’s future.

Elitism? That dog won’t hunt, and at least some of you know better than to imagine that it might. If you’re looking to defend the indefensible, you’re going to have to come up with something stronger than populist blather.

Right, Steve?