The Politics of Poverty, Part 3

Yesterday’s State of the Region speech by Met Council head Susan Haigh has received glowing reviews in all of the expected quarters.  As I describe in Part 2 of this series, the government agency in charge of local bus service and the regional water utility has decided to get into the income redistribution business.

Income redistribution?  Yes, it all has something to do with the Met Council’s sideline in housing.

In conjunction with Chair Haigh’s speech, the Council released an 8-page summary of its Fair Housing Equity Assessment report, along with a new draft of the full report.

The assessment paints an ever-bleaker portrait of what the Council terms to be “racially-concentrated areas of poverty” or RCAP.

As I point out in Part 1 of this series, every single one of these areas is, and has been for decades, under the direct control of the state’s most progressive Democrat politicians.  That every liberal policy ever invented has already been implemented in these areas appears to be no deterrent to prescribing more of the same.

This go around, the new twist appears to be the relocation of low-income families within RCAP’s to areas of higher income.  As the Council describes in their report summary (p. 8), they plan,
To promote expanded housing choices for people of all economic means by:

          − preserving existing affordable housing across the region

− encouraging new affordable housing, especially in areas well connected to jobs and transit
− investing in affordable-housing construction and preservation in higher-income areas of the region
− providing competitive rent limits to expand residential choices for holders of Housing Choice Vouchers
− supporting research into Fair Housing issues, discriminatory lending practices, andreal estate steering to determine how housing practices may be limiting housing choices

By “investing in affordable-housing construction,” the Met Council means that they will be using your tax dollars to build new public housing in “higher-income areas.”

Simply relocating low-income families to other areas will not, of course, raise the household income of the individual relocated families.  It however, will appear to close income gaps by lowering the average income of higher-income areas and raising the average income of lower-income areas.  RCAP’s will appear to vanish—not because poverty (the “P” in RCAP) is relieved—but because we have dispersed it (the concentration, “C” part).  On paper, the problem appears solved, even if the lives of the low-income families involved have not materially improved.

The Council’s report cites impressive statistics on how many new jobs will be created and how much additional economic activity would be generated by raising the incomes of low income families, rather than closing the gap by mere statistical legerdemain.

The whole exercise seems like begging the question:  showing what success would look like, but not indicating how the Council’s efforts would actually bring it about.

To where will these families be moved?  The Met Council’s draft report (Section 6, Page 5) maps what it calls “Blue Clusters,” areas characterized by good public schools and low crime, among other attributes.  These areas are found throughout the metro region, mostly in 2nd and 3rd-tier suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Besides good schools, the distinguishing characteristic of these areas is that they are now—or recently have been—represented by Republicans.  Whether or not moving low income households will succeed in raising their incomes remains to be seen.  What will occur is moving likely Democrat voters from areas of densely concentrated Democrats to political swing areas that now lean Republican.

If the object of this exercise is to elect more Democrats, count me out.  If we are trying to help impoverished areas, here are a few ideas:

·         More school choice

·         Parent trigger options for failing public schools

·         Consolidation of benefit programs into an expanded earned income tax credit