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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Why would anyone build lower-rent apartments?

    Exclusive zoning may not be the only reason that little inexpensive rental housing is being built or renovated in Connecticut. Anyone interested in the housing issue would do well to read the fascinating report about a day in housing court published March 5 in The Day. It was written by journalism students from the University of Connecticut.

    The court was full of people whose landlords were trying to evict them for chronic failure to pay rent. Some of the delinquent tenants were hard-luck cases. Others were victims of their own irresponsibility in life. An indulgent judge, court mediators, and lawyers provided to the tenants by state government tried to arrange payment solutions and forestall evictions.

    But most of these efforts were probably impractical from the start. In the end, even patient and understanding landlords ended up seriously cheated. Evictions were dragged out for months but not prevented since the tenants simply couldn't or wouldn't pay.

    “If you need something," one landlord said, "you can't just take it, like a coat if you're cold. Yet if you take my product -- time, space -- and don't pay, it's not illegal. ... If someone steals from you, you can be made whole. But my product is gone, used, consumed.”

    The Day's report indicated just how mistaken the clamor at the state Capitol for rent control is, for the troubled people in housing court often can't pay any rent. They hold on by using the court to expropriate their landlord, sometimes for most of a year.

    Rent control would be expropriation. But in housing court expropriation is already policy.

    With rent control possibly coming on top of the expropriation any delinquent tenant can arrange in housing court, why should anyone want to get into the less-expensive rental business in Connecticut, even if exclusive zoning is overthrown as it should be?

    And yet the only solution to the housing problem is to increase supply.

    Submarine maker Electric Boat in Groton, just across the river from New London, plans to hire thousands more workers over the next few years. But no one has announced plans to build thousands of housing units for the new workers to occupy nearby. EB's growth will push housing costs way up.

    The problem bigger than the housing shortage is Connecticut's growing population of people not equipped to support themselves and their families -- people who are uneducated, unskilled, and often demoralized. Meanwhile, industry in the state is unable to find qualified applicants for tens of thousands of jobs with good salaries and benefits. (Contrary to the premise of public education in Connecticut, giving high school diplomas to people who never mastered their schoolwork doesn't make them educated.)

    Many people whose evictions are prolonged in housing court are in effect long-term welfare cases. To reduce evictions during the virus epidemic, state government has reimbursed landlords for some unpaid rents. The program continues but many tenants have exhausted the benefit. Maybe it should be enlarged to become like the Section 8 housing voucher program.

    But housing the incapable is government's responsibility, not the responsibility of any landlord. That's why delinquent tenants aren't really the ones expropriating the people who provide rental housing. The expropriating is being done by government.

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