ObamaHut — A Future History of Housing in America (Part 1)

by Mark Meed
Clash Daily Guest Contributor

As the pace of fundamental transformation accelerates with every “let me be clear” from our philosopher king, any  histories to be written of this period should probably be written now, while the lights are still on and the power button on your computer isn’t just a cruel joke. This “quick before it freezes” philosophy extends especially to things that haven’t happened yet, since by the time they do occur many of us will be too busy quarrying limestone in Northern Minnesota to worry about much of anything else.

Accordingly, for your consideration, a telegram from the not-so-distant future about government doing to your housing what they did to your health care.

In the aftermath of the rollout and implementation of the wildly successful Affordable Healthcare Act, and as a prelude to immigration reform (unaccountably stalled in the Senate over the question of how much to compensate “undocumented students/visitors/guests” for indignities visited upon them by “law-happy zealots”) it was felt that the next economic sector that could benefit from the Obama Midas touch was housing.

Accordingly the Affordable Sustainable Housing Act (or “ObamaHut” as it came to be known) was born.

The bill, whose preamble asserted the right of every citizen to an energy efficient home at no cost (memorialized on “Green For No Green” bumper-stickers everywhere) won wide bipartisan support when Republican consultants reminded their employers of the importance of the green vote, to say nothing of the growing constituency of individuals not inclined to pay their bills or honor their debts.

Among the many provisions contained in its twenty thousand pages (condensed to this size through the judicious use of six-point type and shorthand) some of the salient points that would so arouse the watchdog media — some of them in as little as five years — included:
— A mandate on all new houses to be 25% solar/wind powered with a sliding scale up to 75% in 2025
— A provision that grandfathered existing houses until they were sold or had “substantial” repairs, additions or renovation
— An annual penalty for non-compliance equal to 5% of the appraised value of the home
— A provision that no potential home buyer could be refused a mortgage irrespective of income or credit history
— A provision that all associated costs of home purchasing, mortgage, insurance and tax escrow payments would be eligible for government subsidies based on income level and “other circumstances”

As this new law worked its way through the legislative process, President Obama, in a breathtaking departure from precedent, went on the road to sell it with a flurry of speeches and town halls. Against a backdrop of poor people, indigents and an array of doe-eyed children, the President solemnly asserted that if you liked your home you could continue to live in it. The American people, with no reason to doubt him, took him at his word.

Perhaps the first indication of trouble came with the 50% decline in new housing starts in the the first year. It emerged that the market for over-priced homes with glass roofs and/or windmills in the front yard was softer than anticipated.

This, of course, didn’t apply to larger homes for the very rich whose purchasers simply absorbed the associated green penalties and constructed the same “stop the trolleys” energy sinks they always had. Ditto a surprisingly large group of constituents, who appeared to have nothing much in common except Harry Reid’s direct line on their speed-dialer, who were granted waivers.

Alarming also was the wave of bankruptcies and closings of virtually any business associated with home renovation or repair, since home-owners sensibly refrained from any improvement that would void their grandfather status.  Unhappily, some either didn’t realize the scope of the law — and discovered  that something as trivial as repaving the driveway had taken them off the happy path — or had no choice (when you need a new furnace, you need a new furnace). In either case, faced with large and unexpected expenses, and well outside eligibility for any subsidies, an increasing number of owners chose to sell their homes and get out while they still could. 

President Obama denied, then apologized for, his previous promises and assured a nervous populace that the worst was over, America had definitely turned the corner, and he really, really meant it this time. Subsequent generations would note that no part of that speech, including the definite articles and punctuation, contained an atom of truth. 

As we shall see in Part 2, they would also refer to a time when only some people lost their homes as “the good old days.”

Image: Modified from http://theinvisiblehand.typepad.com/the_invisible_hand/israel/

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