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I Wish That I Were In Need of Such ‘Protection’

Rowland Smith, a Cafe Hayek reader from New Jersey, sent to me this WNYC report on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to increase the supply of “affordable housing” in NYC.  (I’ve never heard of developers who build, or of homeowners who offer for sale, housing that is unaffordable – and I’d be stunned to encounter, or to learn of the existence of, any such people.  But that’s a tale for a different time.)

I know very little about Hizzoner’s scheme, save that it involves the use of the city-government’s zoning power – that is, use of the city-government’s power to unilaterally alter the uses to which the owners of real property may put their property.  But here’s the passage from the WNYC report that especially struck me (and Rowland Smith):

That’s where someone like Reverend David Benke comes in. He’s the pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in East New York, the first neighborhood up for local rezoning. Benke has made his home there for decades. His church is a community hub. His Councilmember, Rafeal Espinal, lives about a block away.

On a chilly Thursday last month, as the mayor was still trying to build support for the citywide rezoning changes, Benke attended a closed-door meeting with community leaders at City Hall in the Blue Room, where de Blasio normally delivers his press conferences.

Espinal was also there, joined by Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, who also represents the neighborhood.

They all sat around a square of tables. Each community leader was given an opportunity to speak and Benke went first. Dressed in his purplish-blue bishop’s regalia, he talked about displacement and the stress caused by speculators trying to push out homeowners.

“Our folks are being afflicted,” said Benke. “Every person here…receives a phone call, a robocall, a flier or a visit to sell their home. Every single day, they are afflicted with [someone] who says, ‘I can take this off your hands for cash now.’”

The mayor credited Benke with raising, “powerful points in the meeting.”

“We know right now that we can do a lot to stop evictions from rental apartments by providing legal services to folks threatened with eviction,” the mayor said in an interview with WNYC last week. “We don’t have as good a model to protect homeowners that might be the subject of speculators.”

If I understand this report correctly, some homeowners in NYC are now receiving an unusually large number of offers from people to buy their homes.  (Presumably, these would-be home buyers have reason to believe that the value of these properties will be driven up, in one form or another, by Mayor de Blasio’s scheme.)  Yet this report, and Hizzoner, seem to think that such offers are a problem for current homeowners rather than a blessing.

It’s true, I suppose, that one can be mightily annoyed at receiving an unsolicited sales purchase call in the evening, or be miffed at having to pull lots of purchase offers from one’s mailbox.  But speaking as a homeowner, I can truthfully report that I’d be more than pleased to endure such inconveniences.  The reason is that such inconveniences imply that the market value of my home is rising, and probably rising significantly.  I should be so cursed!

Mayor de Blasio’s response to this particular “problem” is, for lack of a better word, interesting.  I wonder if  the Mayor realizes that an easy and sure solution to not selling one’s home is already, and readily, available without any government intervention whatsoever.  This solution is simply for a homeowner to say “no” to any and all unattractive offers to buy.  No special legislation is required to implement this solution.  No government heroics are necessary.  No protests by community ‘activists’ are needed.  Every homeowner individually possesses the right to refuse any and all offers to buy his or her home.  Thus, current homeowners are already (to use the Mayor’s bizarre term) “protected” from speculators.

Of course, there is one set of instances in which homeowners are not so protected from buyers – namely, when buyers (I should say “buyers”) use the power of eminent domain to acquire property.  When eminent domain is used, current owners have no right to refuse to sell.  I wonder if Hizzoner is as ill-disposed to “buyers” who forcibly acquire property using the power of eminent domain as he seems to be toward “speculators” who merely offer to buy?  Alas, likely not.  From what I know of this clownish Mayor, he likely regards those who acquire property by force (through eminent domain) as progressive public servants while he regards private developers who acquire property only when owners voluntarily sell to them to be anti-social predators.


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