Increase Austerity, and Welfare Becomes More Popular!

New Orleans   Something very surprising, and I think very important, is happening about attitudes about welfare.  Finally!  Unfortunately, it’s happening in the United Kingdom, rather than in the United States, but let’s take the wins where we find them, because there are lessons there that politicians and policy makers need to heed about the limits to the abuse of lower income families.

The biggest takeaway seems simple.  If the government proposes and implements draconian austerity programs that scale back benefits, and worse, attack the benefit recipients, there will come a point when the public reacts and pushes back to support more generous benefits and to oppose further cutbacks.

In the USA, in recent weeks in the middle of the a 10-year economic cycle of success for corporations and the rich, we see current rule proposals that would take four million off of food stamps who are automatically certified since they are on TANF or welfare benefits.  Similarly, it would knock a half-million children off of automatic certification for free or reduced school lunches.  This is just the latest attack in a decades’ long erosion of protections for the poor that was only momentarily relieved in the worst days of the recession under President Obama.

In the UK, there’s a big, fat backfire, as reported in The Economist.  After the conservatives promised $18 billion in cuts to welfare benefits, they rode that to election victory in 2015.  But what they accurately call “the political pinata” isn’t working now.  Polling in Britain indicates that where more than 50% once thought benefits were “too generous,” and now that number has fallen to only a bit above 40% in just two years.  More importantly, 56% now believe that cuts “would damage too many people’s lives.  That’s huge!

Furthermore, the Ronald Reagan lies about “welfare Cadillacs” and other scurrilous attacks on recipients aren’t working in the public square either.  A study of news’ mentions of welfare fraud and abuse in the UK, finds that they have gone from almost 700 annually in 2010 down to less than 200 in 2018.  It’s not working to use the poor as a kickball there, so they’ve had to dial it back and tone it down.  Praise, lord!

It’s not all cheery in old England of course.  The numbers have also dropped because immigration from the European Union has been reduced, and part of the opposition had been to so-called freeloaders from abroad.  The Economist refers to a report by Professor Ben Baumberg Geiger at the University of Kent arguing that these changes are not systemic as much as they are “thermostatic…Once policies become harsher or softer than the level preferred by the public, voters send a signal and the government adjusts the policy ‘temperature’ accordingly.”  They cite the current government slightly increasing the working-age benefit as an example of climate change on this issue.

Sounds like magic, doesn’t it?  Not sure when this wand will wave over the United States or whether or not we have hit the bottom of the thermometer that would move politicians to release their death grip on the necks of poor families, but let’s hope we’re close to point where benefits must rise, so families can survive.

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Please enjoy “Can I Go On” by Sleater-Kinney. Thanks to KABF.

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Inclusionary Zoning Short-Term Rental Nightmare in New Orleans

New Orleans     Let’s be clear:  inclusionary zoning is a good thing!  The problem is a bit like fake news though.  What is real inclusionary zoning versus something that just claims to be creating affordable housing, while doing very little past the claim?  This nightmare is unfolding in different versions repeatedly in New Orleans offering warnings and lessons for policy makers around the country.

One problem turns out to be the consultants.  If you hire consultants that have worked for AirBnb to front for the benefits of short-term rentals, you are going to have problems coming up with good regulations.  Or, if you hire consultants for inclusionary zoning that have done namby-pamby studies for other cities, don’t be surprised if you get a lame-ass ordinance which allows a city council to claim they have a policy, while enacting one that does virtually nothing.  All of this is happening in New Orleans

The inclusionary zoning proposal passed in recent months was Swiss cheese.  The number of loopholes was a developer’s dream of inclusionary zoning estimated to yield – are you sitting down – a whole 57 units of affordable housing from new developments per year.

Now the city and so-called consultants are debating how to manage short-rentals in commercial developments rather than residential homes, and it’s shaping up to be not simply contentious, but another policy disaster.  The city council’s initial proposal, according to the Times-Picayune New Orleans Advocate, “would have limited commercial short-term rentals to 25% of any property and would have required owners to provide one unit of affordable housing for every unit that is used as a short-rental.”  That’s not a bad place to start, since a commercial location’s short-term rentals are basically hotels with another name located in neighborhoods.

In the next block from our house a former hot dog factory has been converted into a condo-complex called the Saxony for specious reasons that insult some of the German worker families that once lived in the Bywater.  Currently, 67 of 75 available units are allowed for short-term rental!  Yes, 67 of 75, because the current regulation allows short-term rentals in commercial properties without restrictions.  That’s normally called a hotel with a couple of penthouse condos.  In this nightmare, we could say that any new regulation that limited them by any means would be something of a dawn.

The consultant is recommending that instead for the council’s proposal that they should collect higher fees on the short-term rentals in commercial properties, claiming that would create more affordable housing than the one-to-one ratio.  What refried baloney is that?!?  The city is in no position to develop affordable housing itself, so they would be paying or subsidizing a developer to do so, as opposed to requiring the developer to have to create affordable housing from the “get go” if they want to have short-term rentals.

A lesson that hopefully New Orleans – and other cities – will learn in this short-term rental versus affordable housing developer and consultant scam is simple:  fool me once, it’s on you, fool me twice, it’s on me.  New Orleans needs to not be fooled yet again by developers and their huckster allies.

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