The local daily has some coverage of the recent housing summit. Robin Merrell of Pisgah Legal Services is looking out for poor people and she means well, but we disagree on approaches. She said:

The market may be able to do quite a bit for market-rate housing, but it really can’t for low-income housing, for affordable housing . . .

During last night’s Asheville City Council meeting, I was wondering why no economists ever seem to get elected. Business people, those who have to make things work if they want to eat, are a different breed from those with the luxury of sitting around tables making policy. Why, I asked myself, does nobody in government grasp the simple concept that market distortions (viz. government regulation), by definition, raise prices? Why do people prefer redefining free markets as unholy crony alliances to freeing bound markets of unjust tilting of the playing field?

In a truly free market, if housing prices are too high and there is a tremendous demand for low-income housing, more than one enterprising innovator is going to see he could make a profit on making cheaper housing. But they can’t because we have minimum housing codes. Allowing tiny houses to be constructed is a terrific step in the correct direction.

Last night, members of city council argued against Airbnb’s. Councilors said they converted potential affordable housing to short-term rentals for transients. Few chose to look at the people allowed to keep their homes because of the short-term rentals. They can rent a room at $100 a night rather than $500 a month; some might not even have the right zoning to become a multi-family home. Council, of course, voted only to tweak their Airbnb regulations instead of scrapping them.

Also at the summit was Paul Szurek:

Paul Szurek, chief financial officer of Biltmore Farms, distilled those challenges to a list of three obstacles: a rampant ‘not in my backyard’ attitude in the community, evolving building codes, and regulatory interpretations.

‘It’s an expensive process to get approvals both at the zoning and entitlement levels and at the building level for housing. It’s like anything, the more you build up the base cost of something, the more you have to raise what you charge for it if you’re going to pay your lenders, if you’re going to give your shareholders a return and therefore keep your jobs,’ Szurek said.

Back to Merrill, again meaning well, she said half the homeless people who died last year in Buncombe County had a housing voucher in-hand. (I don’t know if we’re talking about 2 or 50.) I realize some people are too free-range to want to be caged-in, but of those who died wanting housing, how many might have survived if they were double-bunked in a warm dorm somewhere?

The thought is appalling to leaders who insist we can’t have that because the homeless need wraparound services. They need counseling and meds and coaching and resume preparation services and skills training and food stamps and free healthcare. They can’t just have a roof over their heads so they don’t die.

By the way, the Airbnb meeting last night was very interesting. One guy, who I am trying to run down, told of putting up a $1000 wall to convert his residential structure into something that could be rented, but then the city changed its mind, so he had to tear it down. Now he’s being fined $500 a day for noncompliance, and he didn’t know if he should wait until the next spin of the fickle finger of regulation or issue refunds with all the $50 penalties to all his Airbnb customers, who have him slam-booked through March. Hopefully, I will remember to link you to a write-up when one hits the press.