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News - Gentry sentry

Revitalizing can hurt, but that's life

After decades of declining population, particularly of middle-class residents, recent census figures show that people are moving back into Atlanta proper again, buying and remodeling homes and condos and bolstering the tax base.

But, rather than turning handsprings as they ought, the socialist engineers down at City Hall (not to mention the liberal do-gooders on the editorial page of the Journal-Confusion) are wringing their hands over the supposed pitfalls of gentrification.

Promises have been made that committees will be formed so solutions can be found. Taxpayers, grab tight thy wallets.

The fracas over gentrification has two different, and somewhat contradictory, components.

Lower-income homeowners are complaining that newcomers are buying in their neighborhoods, driving up property values and taxes, which forces them to sell.

Of course, these neighborhoods are often safer and better maintained than they were, and longtime residents can now fetch three or four times as much for their homes as they could before their neighborhoods became popular. Thus, their primary asset has thus outperformed the stock market or even the lottery. But who are we to let such obvious benefits get in the way of a good whine?

This line of thought reached its nadir a couple of years ago when a gentrifying gay couple successfully sued to close down a crack-house in their East Atlanta neighborhood. Longtime residents rose up in indignation — against the gay couple.

It is doubtful the city could, by fiat, prevent people from buying and selling property, as Georgia's constitution contains an airtight protection for private property rights. However, the city could devise schemes to relieve the property tax burdens on lower-income homeowners beset with rising values. Alas, this would have the unfortunate effect of pushing up the taxes paid by everyone else, eventually creating grave disincentives for those wanting to move into the city.

That would be good news for entrenched politicians such as City Councilwoman Sherry Dorsey, who are seeing their political bases weakened by newcomers not inclined to endure Atlanta's bad government indefinitely. But it will stop the city's residential renaissance in its tracks.

The second component of the gentrification debate involves developers coming into the city to rehabilitate or build new housing stock.

It's bad enough that the city and Fulton County are handing out tax breaks to developers to encourage projects that wouldn't be economically feasible if not for this feeding at the public trough. But now, city officials are heaping stupidity upon largesse by insisting that said developers, in return for tax breaks, set aside space for "affordable housing" — next to what I guess we should refer to as "unaffordable housing."

All housing is affordable to somebody, or it wouldn't be built. But what are the chances that people will invest $200,000 or $300,000 in a home that sits next to a bevy of $400-a-month apartments? Pretty slim.

OK, well, maybe Jane Fonda would. More than likely, though, taxpayers are going to have to provide even more subsidies — paying developers to make up for the financial disincentives built into projects by the city's own policies.

There's a little hypocrisy here, too. When higher-income people are forced to accept lower-income people in their midst, it's progress. But when lower-income people see higher-income people moving into their neighborhoods, it's time for a task force.

If city leaders pass a raft of rules to counteract gentrification, they are also going to have to hire a big bunch of bureaucrats to police the thing. Then, this being Atlanta, they are going to have to hire somebody to watch the bureaucrats to make sure they aren't using the program to dispense favors to the politically connected.

The question is, to what end would Atlanta do all this? If the city were bereft of "affordable housing," an argument, albeit weak, could be made for such a scheme. But there are still plenty of ungentrified neighborhoods where lower-income people can buy a home or rent an apartment.

The fact that poorer people tend to live in certain areas of the city and not in others may offend our egalitarian sensibilities. So be it.

Life isn't always fair. And no amount of meddling by Atlanta politicians is going to change that.??





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