It’s difficult to dicern if Jackson County Commissioner Jody Thompson’s call for more “affordable housing” in the county is a populist shrill just before the elections, or a real issue that merits further debate by county leaders.
Thompson alleged at a recent board of commissioners meeting that some of the county’s building codes and mobile home requirements were “anti-affordable homes,” meaning they are too strict and force up the price of housing.
In some places, such as resort communities, the issue of affordable housing is significant. Resort towns often have high real estate costs, but also require a large number of low-income workers to do landscaping and clean hotel rooms. In effect, many of those places have to import cheap labor because there is a lack of local affordable housing.
But that situation does not describe Jackson County. In 2007, the median family income in Jackson County was $55,154 and the median value of housing was $135,728. Even if you factor out much of the older housing and calculate newer units, the income to price ratio is reasonable.
In addition, much of the higher prices of new homes in Jackson County hasn’t been driven by additional regulations, but rather by the rapid rise in land prices from real estate speculation coupled with the rise in raw materials due to world-wide economic forces.
But Thompson’s point about county regulations regarding mobile homes is valid. For several decades, county leaders have been trying to push out mobile homes as a major part of the county’s housing. That’s because mobile homes typically depreciate in value over time and are taxed differently than built homes. In 2000, some 31 percent of the county’s housing was mobile homes. That percentage no doubt fell with the building boom of 2004-2006, but there are still a significant number of mobile units in the county.
There are those who believe local governments should use their power to artificially push up the cost of housing through regulations. The price of housing creates a demographic fault line — higher housing costs attract higher income families who typically have more education, greater financial stability and who often step forward to offer community leadership. A lot of people view attracting such demographics as a good thing.
Still, a community has to have a wide mix of demographics and income levels to be successful. Whether blue collar or white collar, it takes all kinds of people doing a variety of jobs to turn the economic wheels in a community.
Governments should not use their power to arbitrarily inflate housing costs through unreasonable regulations. Mr. Thompson has complained that this county is doing that, but has so far not produced evidence to support his thesis. If the county is doing that, it would be of interest to many citizens.
Over the long haul, market forces — supply and demand — will set the price of local housing. The best way for county leaders to affect the quality of local housing is not through regulations, but rather by creating the kind of community people want to live in and by helping create employment opportunities with higher-paying jobs to give citizens a chance to better their standard of living.