The $25 million for Housing Bonds that is on the ballot on Nov. 8 is according to those in favor of it to help people who live in substandard housing. But the bonds would provide the wrong kind of help and is the wrong direction for the city.
The Housing Bonds are an example of giving people fish instead of teaching them how to fish. If the goal of the City Council is to help those in poverty have better living conditions, a much better use of the $25 million would be to spend it on economic development to attract more and better jobs to Greensboro.
With the Housing Bonds, what Greensboro will be doing according to City Councilmember Mike Barber is attracting people who need housing assistance to Greensboro. It is not designed to bring jobs to the city, which is what Greensboro needs according to the city councilmembers. If the $25 million instead were spent on bringing jobs to Greensboro, some of those who now need housing assistance would be able to get better jobs, and instead of needing a government handout to get decent housing they would be able to afford decent housing on their own.
Another problem with the Housing Bonds is that it rewards rental property owners who have let their property fall into a state of disrepair. If the bond passes then the taxpayers will pay for these rental units to be repaired. The renters will benefit from the repair of their homes, but the big beneficiary is the property owner because their property will be repaired and will increase in value.
Some work will be done through loans, but some through grants, which means property owners get rewarded for not taking care of their rental property.
Finally, the bond also includes money to help families with incomes of over $79,000 a year, or an individual with an income over $50,000, buy new homes. Families with incomes of $79,000 and individuals who make more than $50,000 are not poor and shouldn’t require government assistance.
If they do need government assistance to buy a home, what they really need is some help with income management. They may not qualify for a home mortgage now because they have acquired too much debt, but with proper management of their income, in a couple of years they should be able to do so on their own. Instead, the city wants to reward those who don’t spend their money wisely by helping them buy a more expensive house than they could otherwise afford. Once again it won’t fix the problem because the problem is not that those receiving assistance don’t have the income to afford a house, it’s that they don’t manage their income well.
Affordable housing programs where people who have problems managing their income wisely have been given assistance in buying homes have been financial disasters, from the Greensboro Episcopal Housing Ministry to Project Homestead. There is a reason that the city got out of this business. The reason was that long term it didn’t work. Project Homestead, run by the late Rev. Michael King, did a much better job than most, but in the end it was a financial disaster that cost the city millions of dollars.
With this $25 million in Housing Bonds we are starting down that same track. It seems that Project Homestead was long enough ago that people have forgotten about it and are ready to make the same mistake again.
Nobody knows how the $38.5 million Community and Economic Development Bonds money will be spent. The City Council talked briefly about streetscaping, but the city has no plans or cost estimates. How many blocks can be streetscaped for $25 million? The best answer I’ve received is that it will go a long way.
But then there is also $4 million that is just mad money. It is listed as infill development, but all of those involved give a different version of what that might mean. It is simply $4 million for the City Council to spend on anything that tickles its fancy.
There is also $2 million for east Greensboro, but there isn’t any money set aside for north, south or west Greensboro.
As if $25 million in housing bonds was not enough, the Economic and Community Development Bonds package also includes three separate housing projects. What it doesn’t include is anything for economic development.
The $28 million in Transportation Bonds are for repaving streets, buying electric buses, building bus shelters, sidewalks, intersection improvements and the Galyon Depot. According to the city propaganda pieces, $18 million is for repaving streets, but that is an amount negotiated in about two minutes and could just as easily be negotiated up or down if the bonds pass.
If the money is spent on repaving streets, that is the wrong use for bond money. The maintenance of the roads and streets should be paid for from the regular yearly budget. It is a constantly recurring expense. Bond money is supposed to be spent on one-time capital needs, not on the daily operation of the government. If there isn’t enough money in the city’s yearly budget of over $500 million to maintain streets, then the City Council needs to eliminate a less vital expense – funding a few preferred nonprofit agencies and giving money to the International Civil Rights Center and Museum are two expenses that are not essential to running the government. If the city is going to use bond money to repave streets, what’s next? Bond money to pick up garbage or pay police officers?
With the highest property taxes of any comparable city in the state, the city should certainly be able to carve out enough money to maintain the streets.
The Parks and Recreation Bonds have some worthy projects listed, but the city has been working on and promising the completion of the Downtown Greenway for 15 years. The idea that the citizens have to vote to have their taxes raised so the Greenway can be completed is insulting.
In the $34.5 million Parks and Recreation Bonds, $7 million is to complete the Greenway and start a bike share program. Since when is buying a bunch of bikes a major capital expense? It doesn’t seem that this should even be an eligible bond expense. There is also $7 million to complete the A&Y connector to the Downtown Greenway.
This bond also has $6 million to spend on various projects, which means it’s more mad money to spend on whatever suits the City Council.
It is no wonder the City Council is in support of the bonds. It will give them a lot of money to play with and a great excuse to raise taxes.