Wednesday, February 25, 2009

But Seriously: Who's the Daddy?

We noticed that our mayor gingerly sidestepped responsibility for that obviously knuckleheaded proposal to subsidize the credit-worthiness of would-be Houston homebuyers with funds originally set aside for Ike-necessitated repairs. According to Wednesday's follow-up by the Chronicle's Carolyn Feibel
While the mayor is responsible for what appears on the council's weekly agenda, White placed the genesis of the idea with the city's Department of Housing & Community Development. He said the staff member's intentions were good.

"As the mortgage markets are collapsing, banks are no longer buying mortgages, then people who can afford a house are not able to buy a house and that's what the staff was trying to address," White said.
Setting aside the question of whether this is a matter a municipal government should "address"---it's not, but let's move on---and ignoring the faulty characterization of the would-be beneficiaries of the now-junked (?) program as "people who can afford a house," we must wonder aloud why White seems to be escaping blame for this hastily aborted (?) fiasco. The Chronicle editorial page, in a recently unprecedented display of timeliness, administered a quick tsk-tsking to the "World Class Folly" but in doing so turned uncharacteristically "playful":
Maybe, it was just some smarty-pants staffer's idea of an April Fool's joke played a month early.
No, please, let's give blame where blame is due: White's the mayor, making housing in the inner-city "affordable" has been one of his high-profile initiatives, and the way we've always understood it the mayor has an agenda director whose job is to do what that title suggests (direct the council agenda). The agenda director works for the mayor. We can only assume that Councilwoman Pam Holm, in blaming the proposal's emergence on "poor leadership," was referring to the mayor, although that would be an unusually direct form of finger-pointing that would deserve the striking of a commemorative plaque. Maybe she was just talking about some anonymous, well-intentioned smarty-pants staffer.

In any case, Feibel's reporting---and by the way, these are the sort of stories you'll miss when the daily newspaper goes the way of the mastodon, miss as in "I miss my mommy" and miss as in you'll never hear about it---has turned a fertile bed for further inquiry. The reporter quotes Housing Director Richard Celli---he works for White, too, right?---saying that only one of 872 home-buying families for whom the city has provided down payments and closing costs during White's tenure has been foreclosed upon. Hmm. That seems to be an almost unbelievably salutary figure, one we assume is documented somewhere on paper. Beyond the technicality of foreclosure, though, we wonder how many of these families are actually iving in the houses they contracted to buy, and what their presence has done for the blocks where they've settled (admittedly a difficult question to qualify, but maybe it's just all good and if so props to the mayor, etc.).

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