When Elected Officials Are Above and Apart

This post accidentally spooled out over the weekend. Since it seemed to be somewhat popular on the Twitterz, I’m reposting it:

A point I made long ago in the context of transportation policy bears repeating: for services to work well, those who govern said services must use them–and suffer when they fail. In a more general sense, elected officials can’t be above and apart from those they serve because they lack an understanding of what people actually experience (there are exceptions).

This, of course, is a post about housing policy. Gordon Chaffin reports (boldface mine):

A notable dynamic of ANC 3C’s FLUM [Future Land-Use Meeting] fight is how the vote came down: the six YEA votes came from Commissioners who live in multi-unit buildings and the three Commissioners voting NAY live in single-family homes. Of the three NAYs, two own their homes. Cmmsr. Gersten’s home was last assessed at $1.8 million and Cmmsr. MacWood’s home valued at $2.6 million. Five of the six Commissioners voting YEA own their apartments/condos; all last assessed for less than $450K. That’s based on the Commissioners’ publicly-listed addresses and public tax records for those parcels. Assessed values for homes usually underestimate the market value a little to a lot.

The DC-area’s land-use and housing decisions are made by elected and appointed representatives, most of whom live and/or own single-family homes. Arlington County’s [VA] residents, for example, are majority renter with half the population living in multi-family buildings. However, it was just recently that its five-member Board had a single member renting their home. For a more inclusive democracy and policy changes for more sustainable and just land-use, ANCs and other decision-making bodies must have more apartment- and condo-dwellers.

I’ve pretty much adopted the strategy of, whenever possible, voting for state territorial officials who rent and use mass transit. That’s the best way to get good housing and transportation policy.

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