It’s a troublesome predicament for Santa Fe up-to-the-minute news junkies that SFR publishes on Wednesday. Elections are held on Tuesdays, which means we go to print without knowing the outcome. Of course, coverage of such things can always be found on our website and blog, but for those of us who prefer the feel and smell of good old-fashioned newsprint in our paws, such a dearth can jump-start junkie-style shakes.
For example, the outcome of the March 10 city excise-tax vote is unknown at press time (Now we now it failed). If passed, the city will be able to use an excise tax to channel 1 percent of funds from home sales in excess of $750,000 and up, into an affordable-housing trust fund.
Pass or fail, the result will demonstrate Santa Fe’s character. Going into the vote, opponents of the tax (primarily realty professionals) had outspent supporters by more than 7-to-1. The tax’s passage, then, would demonstrate a populist smackdown of elite, private interests. Failure would provide more proof that spending is king in the pudding of politics.
But watching the argument unfold through the wired, online world of message boards and social networking sites (OK, I’m a junkie for virtual information, too) in the days leading up to the vote has been instructive and mildly astounding. The realty professionals who landed on Sustainable Santa Fe’s Facebook page argued persistently that taxing people is bad, especially in a recession, and that the tax won’t solve Santa Fe’s affordable-housing problem.
In other words, blind faith in the kind of unregulated free-market, trickle-down economy that recently crippled this country is alive and well. Even though deep tax cuts and a lack of infrastructure and social spending have cornered us into a nightmarish economic catastrophe, there are diehards out there who believe contributing to affordable housing in Santa Fe will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
But the people and pundits who argue social spending and the federal stimulus package create debt we’ll never pay down are the same people who enjoyed unprecedented growth in personal wealth while the bones of the country crumbled. Through several federal administrations, both Democrat and Republican, we have failed to keep up roads, energy grids and social services—always because people don’t want to be taxed—and we have fallen badly behind more recently developed industrial nations. The health care and infrastructure spending we are now poised to adopt actually makes good on the debt already accrued by politicians (who are too scared to publicly acknowledge the true cost of our standard of living).
All the while, our military and security spending has increased radically, but we now know that such spending has simply left us badly vulnerable in terms of innovation, global competitiveness and the economic and physical health of our families and communities. Without thriving families and communities, one can assume all our military force protects little of substance beyond corporate interests.
In this week’s Devour issue, local-food advocates point out the relationships between healthy eating, renewable energy, strong local economies and, indeed, national energy and economic security.
The shin bone, as this column has harped on before, is connected to the knee bone. Before refusing to sacrifice for affordable housing—whether through taxes, changes in zoning regulations, higher densities, etc.—we need to take a good look at affordable housing’s impact on other issues. People decry declining rates of public participation and claim that Santa Feans no longer have a stake in the community’s values. But how often does that disconnection correlate to the declining rate of home ownership? When people own homes, they become invested in their neighbors and in their communities. They are more likely to vote, volunteer, participate in neighborhood associations, coach youth sports teams, attend school board meetings and add value to a city.
Affordable-housing opponents claim that people who work hard and make enough money to buy a home in an expensive market like Santa Fe are penalized when others are given a governmental leg up, especially if that assistance comes from taxes. But what about the hardworking people who choose careers that simply don’t have high-income potential? When we fail to invest in a broad range of affordable housing mechanisms, we fail to value people who choose work with income ceilings.
People who claim this tax won’t solve affordable housing are quite correct. There are no panaceas on offer. No one is going to play dress up and announce “mission accomplished” on affordable housing.
Rather, each mechanism that is developed touches on a different part of the community’s viability to support itself. If we can recognize food as being critical to our economy and our health, surely we can recognize shelter as its necessary counterpart. After all, when a family owns a home, they have a place to plant a garden.