Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Wrecking-Ball Response?

From The Economist:
TUMBLING house prices in America, rising foreclosures and a glut of unsold homes have produced a variety of unusual, even desperate, responses from policymakers. Of the 129m housing units in America, 18.6m stand empty. At 2.9%, the home-owner vacancy rate, which measures the share of vacant homes for sale, has reached its highest point since measurement began in 1956. At the end of the first quarter there were 2.3m empty homes on the market, an increase of more than 160,000 from the end of 2007. There is a vicious circle: the huge number of houses on the market pushes home prices down, and as prices decrease, mortgages become harder to refinance, leading to more foreclosures, vacancies and so on. The more homes are on the market, the less chance that prices will stabilise.
In prepared remarks for a speech earlier this year, Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, praised programmes that seek to demolish the most ramshackle units in order to “mitigate safety hazards and reduce supply.” Unlike mortgage bail-outs, this policy does not encourage risky lending. However, it requires cities to spend money on demolition merely to lose money through reduced taxes...

I've just never felt that demolishing homes could really be the best possible social solution. Then again, maybe Puerto Rico's example teaches us that a demolished home is better than a decrepit one.

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