Friday, February 15, 2019

Solutions to Gentrification

To follow up on previous posts about gentrification and rising housing costs (here and here), I've laid out some policy recommendations, most of which have already been articulated by the Obama Admin and the Urban Land Institute.

Much of the narrative around gentrification has been shrouded in confusion. The left-wing activists who have taken up this cause frame the problem in terms of race and class warfare, which might be emotionally appealing but is factually wrong. Rent hikes are not caused by malicious landlords intent on taking every last penny from their working class tenets, or white hipsters and yuppies conspiring to remove minorities from an area, but bad land use policies that drive up rents by restricting the supply of housing; landlords and yuppies, like other suspected bad faith actors, are simply following the incentives created by governing agencies.The negative affects of gentrification (i.e. pricing out low income often minority tenets) cannot be alleviated without eliminating the main contributing factor to astronomical rent hikes: artificial limits on the supply of housing. As I explained in the previous post, the main problem is local zoning and building code restrictions that prevent developers from creating enough housing to accommodate growing populations. One very straight forward solution is to allow more by-right development, especially for rent controlled and low income housing, and waive impact fees (Jakabovic, Ross, Simpson, & Spotts, 2014). This would not only expedite the construction approval process, eliminating the time needed to apply for multiple variances and entitlements, but also reduce the cost of starting projects (Jakabovic et al., 2014). Reducing or eliminating parking space minimums, restrictions on unit size and density requirements will allow developers to build accommodations for more residents (Jakabovic et al., 2014). Inclusive zoning that allows alternatives to single family housing, such as group homes, multi-family complexes, Accessory Dwelling Units, and mirco-units will not only provide more options but also make metro areas more affordable for more people. Additionally, allowing non-profit charities to build tiny houses for the homeless, which could be done as low income housing, would both reduce homelessness and alleviate the burden on city shelters saving local taxpayers money and providing the underclass with an independent living space and an opportunity to get back on their feet. Waiving impact fees would be a necessary first step to allow these types of projects. As the Urban Land Institute noted in their 2014 report on affordable housing, impact fees tend to impose higher costs on smaller projects when they fail to account for factors such as unit type and size. Offering property tax exemptions for affordable and low income housing production would also make it more readily available.

Streamlining permitting and monitoring processes and coordinating housing regulations across multiple jurisdictions would make new rental units, both market rate and rent controlled, more affordable, on the supply side. Urban regions often have multiple jurisdictions with different building and zoning codes (Jakabovic et al., 2014). Having to comply with multiple and sometimes contradictory sets of procedures and regulations burdens developers working in multiple jurisdictions; coordinating zoning and building codes or having a unified code for all land and housing regulations would reduce compliance costs (Jakabovic et al., 2014). Eliminating duplicative paperwork for the underwriting, due diligence, and monitoring processes for each lender and regulatory body would also reduce compliance costs (Jakabovic et al., 2014). Additionally, jurisdictions should provide developers with a clear permitting time frame to reduce delays in construction and holding costs (Jakabovic et al., 2014). Of course, housing markets are not monolithic so cities and states will have to tailor any land reforms to the needs of their residents.

Instead of trying to find a convenient scapegoat to blame for these problems, we could work together to find solutions without the unproductive protests and grievances. Unfortunately that would also require us to change the current narrative about gentrification which many people are politically and emotionally invested in.


Jakabovics, A., Ross, L. M., Simpson, M., & Spotts, M. (2014). Bending the cost curve: Solutions to expand the supply of affordable rentals.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

How Zoning and Building Code Restrictions Increase CO2 Emissions

One of the biggest findings of an Obama Admin white paper on affordable housing is that local land use restrictions, particularly zoning ordinances and construction approval processes, is a major contributing factor to rising housing costs and its associated effects (i.e. urban sprawl and gentrification). The crux of the research draws on the widening gap between real construction costs and housing prices over the decades, particularly in the metropolitan areas of major cities like Los Angeles and New York. In fact, the manufactured housing crisis is almost exclusively a problem in metropolitan areas on the east and west coast. There are generally three types of housing markets: areas in which housing is priced below construction costs, areas in which housing prices are close to construction costs, and areas in which housing prices are significantly higher than construction costs (Glaeser & Gyourko, 2003). For the most of places in the U.S., housing markets fall into the first two categories (Glaeser & Gyourko, 2003). In some places, like California, there are almost no homes below or close to construction costs; in California, there are few homes priced below 1.4x the cost of construction (Glaeser & Gyourko, 2003). Mean housing prices in metropolitan areas haven risen at an average of 1.7% annually since 1950 (Glaeser, Gyourko, & Saks, 2005). Between 1950 and 1970 rising home costs mostly reflected improvements in construction quality; new home prices rose in an almost one to one ratio with physical construction costs (Glaeser et al., 2005). However, after 1970, housing prices continued to rise even as the cost of physical construction leveled off (Glaeser et al., 2005). For instance, construction costs in San Francisco only rose 4.6% and construction costs in Boston only rose 6.6% between 1970 and 2000. Over the same period, average house prices in San Francisco rose 270% while average home prices in Boston rose 120% (Glaeser et al., 2005). Rising land values and artificial restrictions on construction represented 75% of inflation in house prices (Glaeser et al., 2005). This was evident in diminishing rates of new construction. Between the 1950's and 1990's, the median rate of new construction in metropolitan areas fell from 40% to 14% (Glaeser et al., 2005). In Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York the median rate of new construction fell to well under 10% by the 1990s from previous highs of 60%, 30%, and 20%, respectively, in the 1960s (Glaeser et al., 2005). Higher house prices usually spur a surge in new construction, but burdensome land use restrictions prevented the housing market in metropolitan areas from meeting growing population demands.The rapid rise in housing prices and diminishing rates of new construction coincided with the rapid growth of land use regulations in metropolitan areas between 1970 and 1990 (Gyourko & Malloy, 2014). Population density only accounts for a small contribution to the declining rate of new construction and land only accounts for 20% of the value of new homes (Glaeser & Gyourko, 2003).

Metropolitan areas don't have low wage problems or overpopulation problems; they have zoning problems. In housing markets where prices far exceed construction costs, developers have to comply with multiple, and often conflicting, housing standards and regulations and are sometimes required to conduct separate appraisals, reviews and inspections for each source of funding (Jakabovics, Ross, Simpson, & Spotts, 2014). Developments that exceed zoning restrictions on the type and size of development must received approved variances and entitlements, which delays construction and adds to the overall costs (Jakabovics et al., 2014). Jurisdictions can also add density requirements, height maximums, size minimums and parking space minimums, which in aggregate reduce the supply of affordable housing units (Jakabovics et al., 2014). Parking space minimums also add to construction related costs and drive up rents; for instance, in San Francisco, the average parking space adds between $25,00 and $50,000 to construction costs (Jakabovics et al., 2014). In addition to these regulations, jurisdictions can also dictate where affordable housing can be located and can ban certain types of housing such as group homes, micro-units, and ADUs (Jakabovics et al., 2014). Building codes that dictate the type and size of certain amenities, as well as the aesthetic features of buildings, can also add to construction related costs (Jakabovics et al., 2014).

Implications for the Environment

The environmental implications of burdensome zoning ordinances should be obvious to everyone; it doesn't take a brainiac to figure this out. Rising housing costs push residents out of metropolitan areas resulting in longer commute times to work. In aggregate, longer commute times increases traffic resulting in more CO2 emissions. The Obama admin noted this very same conclusion in their white paper 'Housing Development Toolkit.'

The long commutes that result from workers seeking out affordable housing far from job centers place a drain on their families, their physical and mental well-being, and negatively impact the environment through increased gas emissions.

Any liberal effort (or democratic socialist as they are akin to calling themselves nowadays) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save the planet will be in vain if they don't address the affordable housing crisis in their own communities and it's manufactured cause of overly restrictive zoning ordinances. Electric cars aren't going to do us any good if people still have to drive 2 hours to work. Public transit isn't going to do us any good if people can't afford to live where it's available. The primary focus of any climate change agenda should be land reform.


Glaeser, E., & Gyourko, J. (2003). The impact of zoning on housing affordability.FRBNY Economic Policy Review, 21-37. doi:10.3386/w8835

Glaeser, E. L., Gyourko, J., & Saks, R. E. (2005). Why have housing prices gone up? American Economic Review, 95(2), 329-333. doi:10.1257/000282805774669961

Jakabovics, A., Ross, L. M., Simpson, M., & Spotts, M. (2014). Bending the cost curve: Solutions to expand the supply of affordable rentals.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Grand Canyon University Should Let Ben Shapiro Speak

Last Friday, I received an Email from the school news regarding the school's decision to cancel an upcoming speaking engagement by Ben Shapiro. The rationale for canceling his appointment is to focus on opportunities that bring people together. It's not quite clear what they mean. The email goes on to list all of school's philanthropic causes and mentions campus diversity in passing, but never gives a substantial concrete reason for uninviting Ben Shapiro. The statement makes it clear that he was invited to address a specific student club, not the entire student body, so the reason why they think he should be bringing people together is beyond me. I'm not too familiar with Ben Shapiro. All I know is that he is a prominent conservative figure associated with the online anti-SJW movement and is often featured in click bait compilation videos dedicated to destroying libtards with facts and logic. While I recognize that as a private christian university, they have the right to not invite or ban any speaker they want, they should be considerate of their students' desire to listen to and discuss new ideas and opinions regardless of their popularity. Besides, we can only grow intellectually, and spiritually, by challenging old dogmas with ideas and information we have not yet considered. I attend GCU online and live on the other side of the country, so this recent turn of events is not personally relevant to me; however, for those student who live on campus or in the Phoenix metro area, the school should seriously consider their mission statement, which last time I checked, was about preparing students to become 'global citizens', critical thinkers, 'effective communicators, and responsible leaders. You can't do any of that living in your own echo chamber. Do the right thing; let the man speak.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

U.S. District Judge Rules Twitter is a Public Forum Setting New Precedent for Free Speech and Censorship

Sources: Duke Chronicle, Cornell Law Dictionary

Last year, several twitter critics of the sitting President sued Trump for blocking them and won. U.S. District judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, of the Southern district of New York, ruled that Trump had violated the plaintiffs' first amendment rights by excluding them from voicing their opinion on a 'public forum.'

We hold that portions of the @realDonaldTrump account—the 'interactive space' where Twitter users may directly engage with the content of the President’s tweets—are properly analyzed under the 'public forum' doctrines set forth by the Supreme Court, that such space is a designated public forum, and that the blocking of the plaintiffs based on their political speech constitutes viewpoint discrimination that violates the First Amendment.

This ruling should have wider implications than preventing Trump from blocking prominent twitter critics like Dr. Eugene Gu, who filed the lawsuit. Besides, Trump isn't the only politician that uses twitter to communicate with his constituents. Almost every representative, senator, justice and bureaucrat uses twitter to get their message out. In this sense, the 'private' social media platform could be considered a designated public forum for political discourse, and therefore should be open to all viewpoints. Unfortunately, there is no legal definition for online public forums. The Supreme Court outlined 3 types of public forums in the 1983 case of Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators' Association and all of them are defined in terms of physical space and restrict government officials from discriminating against certain viewpoints rather than public corporations like Twitter and Facebook. This could be a major problem when it comes to twitter itself banning or suspending certain users for unpopular political opinions or selectively enforcing their nebulous terms of service. Twitter's discriminatory actions keep people form engaging with their elected representatives all the same as being directly blocked by their elected representatives; the only difference is that the censorship is done by a corporation rather than a government agency or official. However, as I pointed out in a previous post, corporations are established by governments for the benefit of the public, and have no right to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, national origin, religion or any other protected class. It's only logical to add political affiliation and viewpoint, especially given the pertinence of twitter and other big social media platforms in our day and age.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Gentrification is A Land Use Problem

A growing concern on the left and especially among minority groups is demographic displacement, in certain cities and neighborhoods, caused by rising house costs associated with the influx of middle and upper-class, mostly white, young professionals. Due to economic illiteracy, the white yuppies and hipsters are blamed for rent hikes that make living in an area unaffordable for mainly poor minority tenants when, in fact, there is a third variable called land use policy (e.g. zoning ordinances, urban planning, property taxes) that has a much bigger impact on their rent. However, the left tends to frame this as a racial/cultural issue, which makes it simpler to talk about, but steers the conversation clear of any plausible solutions. Take for instance this gem that was featured on a liberal HBO show.

It’s basically when, for me, it’s a lot of white people come move into the hood and kick everybody out that’s there. I’ve been a witness of it since I was a small jitterbug so I mean now that I’m grown up and I’m seeing it, I understand it a little more,” he said during the interview with Maher, according to the news outlet.

Or how about these bozos, who protested an Austin, TX restaurant for moving into a building that was formerly occupied by a Mexican-American owned tire shop and using Spanish words to advertise their merchandise.

Activists with Defend our Hoodz — Defiende el Barrio on Friday announced via Facebook of their plans to protest outside Lou's Bodega on 1900 E. Cesar Chavez St. Since its recent opening by a pair of high-profile developers, the development has been widely lambasted by East Austin residents already anxiety-raddled over the brisk pace of gentrification that's resulted in soaring property values and residents' displacement.

The growth of commerce and population density will always raise land values; in this sense, gentrification is inevitable wherever new development occurs on relatively cheap land. Like any other market, higher demand raises the cost of housing, but since real property is fixed in supply to certain locations, unlike cars or smartphones, the market can only reach an equilibrium by lowering demand, which in the current case means raising rents. But the housing market does not have to be a sum-zero game. Removing artificial restrictions on the supply of housing can make it more affordable for low income minority renters. Zoning ordinances, such as those which restrict new development to single family housing, excluding group homes and multifamily complexes, require a minimum number of off street parking spaces, reducing space for potential residential units, restrict residential conversion, prohibiting the conversion of former office space into residential property, combined with lengthy permitting processes for new construction artificially inflate property values and rents in dense urban areas. Ordinances that dictate the minimum size of units, such as those in Oakland also drive up the cost of housing. In a white paper on housing development, the Obama admin noted that gentrification and other problems associated with surging housing costs are, for the most part, caused by local land use restrictions.

When new housing development is limited region-wide, and particularly precluded in neighborhoods with political capital to implement even stricter local barriers, the new housing that does get built tends to be disproportionally concentrated in low-income communities of color, causing displacement and concerns of gentrification in those neighborhoods. Rising rents region-wide can exacerbate that displacement.

The Obama Admin's Housing Development Toolkit drew from previous research on housing development, land use restrictions, and the widening gap between construction costs and new home prices. Previous research has concluded that for most U.S. regions, the price of new homes is only marginally greater than the construction costs. The exceptions are major cities, particularly in coastal regions, such as Los Angeles San Francisco, New York and Boston.

Researchers have also documented a sharp increase in the gap between home prices and construction costs, with stringent housing regulations now driving cost increases previously shaped by construction costs and quality improvements. Localized studies have supported these national conclusions – documenting sharp increases in zoning and other land use restrictions in metropolitan Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

The effect that increased zoning restrictions place on housing costs is best illustrated by these examples. For instance, in 1960 Los Angeles was zoned to accommodate 10 million residents when it only had a population of 2.5 million people. Today, the city is only zoned to only accommodate 4.3 million people with a much larger population of about 4 million people. Of course, the same problem has transpired accross the California coast.

Emerging research has shown that in areas with high-cost housing such as California, zoning and other land-use controls contribute significantly to recent sharp cost increases, reflecting the increasing difficulty of obtaining regulatory approval for building new homes.

Most importantly, cities and states experiencing 'gentrification' should, along with reducing zoning restrictions, shift property taxes from building values onto location values. This would further incent new construction and improvements to existing residential properties, while simultaneously discouraging real-estate speculation and recapturing the value that new amenities and businesses add to rental and selling prices. This would ultimately generate more tax revenue that could be wisely spent improving public transit, reducing traffic congestion and the demand for more parking spaces, which is a win/win for the environment.

The left can either choose to whine about gentrification and stay in a state of perpetual victim-hood or take meaningful action by reforming their obtuse zoning regulations and property taxes instead of protesting people for following the incentives their own governments create or asking for more rent control and subsidized housing, which only creates a housing shortage by forcing prospective tenants into a queque for affordable units. Gentrification could, and should, become a bipartisan issue, but the left would have to abandon their race baiting tactics and stick to hard economic analysis for that to occur.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

A License To Speak (part 1)

Source: Institute for Justice

In some states it is illegal to offer dietary advice without the government's permission. Florida resident, military spouse and health coach Heather Kokesch Del Castillo learned first hand how far state's will go to protect their cartelized industries. In this instance, she ran up against the Dietetics industry and the state was willing to censor her. Heather moved from California to Florida in the summer of 2015 after her husband, who is in the Air Force, was transferred to a base in Fort Walton Beach. Heather earned a private health-coaching certification in 2013 from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. The state of California did not require Heather to become a licensed dietetician to give diet advice to willing clients, but Florida's Dietetics and Nutrition Practice Act defines 'dietetics' so broadly that it inlcudes offering any dietary advice for compensation. The Florida Department of Health first contacted Heather when they conducted a sting operation against her. One of their agents emailed heather pretending to be a man named Pat Smith who was looking for information that could help him personalize a weight loss program. In response, Heather offered him a free consultation and asked for his health history. The agent was not charged for any of the information provided to him and he was not solicited to buy anything from her. Heather does not sell supplements, perform diagnostic procedures, or claim to be a licensed dietetician. Her health coaching practice only involves talking to clients, on an individualized basis, about their food choices for compensation. She helps them sift through information that is already available to the public online. The Florida Department of Health subsquently issued a cease and desist and fined Heather $750 for giving dietary advice without a license. In order to continue her Health coaching service, Heather would have to spend 4 years getting a bachelors in Nutrition Science, complete 900 hours of internships, and pay $200 to take a board certified exam, but Heather has neither the time nor the money it would take to meet the state's requirements and neither does the vast majority of the population.

Similar cases have arisen in other states. Perhaps the worst example occured in North Carolina back in 2011 when the Board of Dietetics threatened a paleo blogger with imprisonment if he didn't stop offering dietary advice on his website or even through emails and phone calls. The blogger in question did not even demand compensation for his writing, he was simply offering his experience with different foods and supplements. If talking about food is restricted speech it is not hard to conceive that the government could place more contentious subjects behind licensing barriers. The recent fake news and Russian meddling hysteria, originally orchestrated by the Democratic establishment against the alternative media, offers ample opportunity for state governments to find fertile ground for the censorship of critics via licensing requirements.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Trump Signs Feminist Foreign Aid Policy Into Law

Sources: White House, Congress, Center for Family and Human Rights, USAID

Trump signed the little noticed Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act January 9th, likely at the behest of his daughter, who lobbied for it in congress where it was put on hold in the senate. While the new law seems well meaning and does contain some good provisions, it also gives professional feminists or 'gender advisers' power to dictate foreign aid policy mired in inter-sectional feminist restrictions on the design and implementation of all USAID policies, grants and programs.

As the Center for Family and Human Rights noted, it is very ironic that Trump would enact Obama's gender policies, especially ones informed by a radical left-wing cultural perspective that includes the whole spectrum of LGBTQ (and whatever other letters they'll add in the future). It is very likely that he didn't even read the bill and just signed it to make his princess happy. Whether he agrees with the law or not is irrelevant at this point. He approved it; he put his name to it; he owns it now, especially the parts that seem to run counter to his domestic policies. The Obama era gender policies in question are outlined in ADS chapter 205. The document details steps for implementing 'gender integration' through all USAID programs, making gender equality the main focus of all USAID projects, and by equality they don't mean legal equality or equality of opportunity. Apparently, the goal is to close gender gaps in status, access to resources, participation in the labor force, and leadership positions, presumably until they are about the same. The Bureau for Policy Planing and Learning, which shapes development policy, is mandated to have a full time gender adviser for this purpose.

Section 3 of the law subjects all USAID strategies, projects, and activities to 'gender analysis' and 'gender integration'. Gender analysis is defined as:

a socioeconomic analysis of available or gathered quantitative and qualitative information to identify, understand,
and explain gaps between men and women which typically
involves examining differences in the status of women and men and their differential access to and control over assets, resources, education, opportunities, and services

This could be interpreted in several different ways, but it seems to imply that the goal is equal outcomes between genders, rather than equal opportunities or more practically equal liberty. If they meant to imply equal opportunities or equal liberty they could have made this clearer by wording it different by, for instance, stating their goal was to remove legal and cultural market barriers for women in developing nations; however, this is not the case. It becomes clear that the goal is equal outcomes in section 4 (b), which introduces a gender quota for financial assistance.

50 percent of all small and medium-sized enterprise resources shall be targeted to activities that reach enterprises owned, managed, and controlled by women.

However well meaning this may be for women's' empowerment abroad, it will also have the unintended consequence of hurting entrepreneurs in developing countries where women are nowhere near 50% of total small and medium-sized enterprise owners or managers. Hypothetically, lets say a certain developing country x has 20 small and medium-sized businesses in need of financing; 15 of them are owned by men and 5 are owned by women. Under the provision in section 4 (b), we would only be able to provide financial resources to 5 businesses owned by men and 5 owned by women, leaving 10 small and medium sized businesses without assistance. This is especially damaging given the fact that the authors' of this bill own findings that '50% of small and medium-sized businesses, in emerging markets, lack access to formal credit'. Imposing a gender quota on these businesses isn't going to make it any easier for them to get credit through any USAID development program.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Florida Couple Penalized For Growing Vegetable Garden in Their Front Yard Redeemed

Source: Miami Herald, Lawns v. Crops in the Continental U.S.

A few years ago, a story broke about a couple in Miami Shores who were penalized by their municipal government for violating an ordinance against growing edible plants in front yards and were forced to remove their garden after an 11th circuit court judge ruled that they did not have a right to grow vegetables and that the city's preoccupation with certain aesthetics took precedence over their property rights. Well it seems the pendulum has swung the other way and they may be getting the last laugh because a bill to ban municipal and county governments from banning front yard vegetable (and possibly fruit) gardens has been introduced in both chambers of the Florida Legislature: one in the state's senate community affairs committee and a verbatim version has also been filed in the state's house of representatives. Elizabeth Fetterhoff, the Republican representative that introduced the House bill articulated very good reasons for allowing residential vegetable gardening on whatever side of the fence:
Just yesterday, I toured a garden in my district that is being set up to help educate and empower its community through self-sustainability practices like gardening, Fetterhoff said. Yet in some areas of our state, local governments place arbitrary restrictions on their citizens’ right to provide for themselves using their own private property.

It is also worth mentioning that Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll made more efficient use of their land by using it to grow vegetables instead of simply growing grass, which consumes more water without fulfilling any basic needs (you can't eat it or sell it at a farmer's market).

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Illegal Immigration is Declining Despite Trump's 'Humanitarian Crisis' Hysteria

Sources: Department of Homeland Security: Office of Immigration Statistics, Pew Research Center, Border Patrol: Total Illegal Alien Apprehensions By Fiscal Year, Employer Fined $96 million for hiring illegal aliens

What Trump was missing in this 8 minute rant was context. Illegal immigration has been declining over the past decade and is at a historic low, but you'd never know that listening to Trump's propaganda about it being a 'national emergency' and his millions of mindless followers. According to DHS, there are around 12 million illegal aliens residing in the U.S., which might seem like a lot and enough to declare a national emergency, but the vast majority of illegal aliens are not new arrivals. 80% of illegal aliens (about 9.6 million) have been here since at least the W. Bush admin when illegal immigration peaked at 470,000 people per year before rapidly dropping off during and after the recession. Not surprisingly, the Bush administration also had the highest number of illegal alien apprehensions in this millennium and was topped only by the Clinton administration in the 90's. There were 3.38 million illegal alien apprehensions between 2004 and 2006 alone. In 2001, the first year of the Bush admin, there were over 1.2 million illegal alien apprehensions. However, this pales in comparison to illegal alien apprehensions in the 1990's, under the Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations, when there were over a million apprehensions every year except 1994 when apprehensions briefly dipped to 979,000 before rising back to 1.27 million in 1995. Illegal alien apprehensions dropped under 500,000 during the Obama administration and has not come close to the 1990's and early 2000's numbers since then. In 2017, Trump's first year, there were about 300,000 illegal alien apprehensions. The number of illegal aliens in the labor force has similarly declined from a peak of 8.2 million or 5.4% of the labor force in 2007 to 7.8 million or 4.8% of the labor force since the end of the Obama Admin in 2016.

If Trump is so concerned about illegal immigration, why not remove the incentive to illegally immigrant here? If you'll notice, illegal immigration follows economic trends, rising during boom periods and falling during downturns. Illegal immigration is inextricably linked to the economy, so why not penalize employers who hire illegal aliens and make e-verify, or some other system for checking work authorization, mandatory for all employers? Illegal aliens are less than 5% of the work force, but constitute 24% of agricultural workers, 24% of maids or house cleaning workers and 15% of construction workers and contractors; that should give you a rough idea of where to look first. I'm sure landscaping and lawn care also have a disproportionate percentage of illegal aliens compared to the national average; any industry where people can work under the table is going to be ripe with illegal aliens. This approach would be far more effective than any border barriers. Businesses are much more receptive to laws than illegal aliens. The story of a tree-trimming company, Asplundh, being fined $96 million for hiring illegal aliens and having one their mid-level executives sentenced to prison illustrates the possible disincentives that could be introduced to ensure U.S. companies only hire U.S. citizens, lawful residents, or foreign nationals with work visas.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Build Border Wall Only On Federal and State Land

Source: CATO Institute, USA Today, Geography of Border Wall, Reuters, Business Insider, Texas Tribune, ProPublica

However much Trump and his supporters might want the border wall to be a continuous physical barrier their fantasy will inevitably run into logistical and constitutional problems that will make it a piece meal wall at best. A continuous border wall would be feasible if the entire stretch of the southern border was nothing but flat desert land but it's not. The southern border includes mountain ranges like the Jacumba Mountains, bluffs and canyons like the Rio Grande Canyons, lakes like Lake Amistad, and Peninsular U.S. cities like Los Ebanos, which is enveloped on three sides by the Rio Grande river, that would be cut off from the rest of the country by a continuous border wall and did I mention a certain river that would erode any border wall every time it floods its banks. Of course, geography isn't the only problem for a continuous border wall. Two-thirds of the land along the southern border, mostly in Texas,is owned by private landowners, Indian tribes, and state governments. If we assume the Army Core can easily obtain permission from states, especially Texas, that still leaves unwilling private landowners and tribal governments who are almost unanimous in their unwillingness to allow a border wall.

Since the government shutdown, Trump has contemplated declaring a national emergency so he could mobilize U.S. troops and use the DOD budget to build the border wall. He has even floated the insane idea of using executive power to take private land, which is on par with something a third world dictator would do, like Trump's friend Mohammed Bone Saw. In all seriousness, what Trump may be referring to is a declaration of taking, a legal tool established during the great depression to expedite public works projects. This allows the Army Corps or any other federal agency to take possession of private land on the same day that it files a declaration of taking without having to worry about negotiating a price with the private landowner.

During construction of border fencing authorized by the 2006 Secure Fence Act, about 360 private landowners refused to voluntarily sell their land to the federal government, resulting in hundreds of condemnation suits some of which took several years to settle. Many landowners were ripped off in the process receiving either no compensation or compensation that was less than the actual land value that was taken from them.

An investigation by ProPublica and the Texas Tribune shows that Homeland Security cut unfair real estate deals, secretly waived legal safeguards for property owners, and ultimately abused the government’s extraordinary power to take land from private citizens.

The major findings:
  • Homeland Security circumvented laws designed to help landowners receive fair compensation. The agency did not conduct formal appraisals of targeted parcels. Instead, it issued low-ball offers based on substandard estimates of property values.
  • Larger, wealthier property owners who could afford lawyers negotiated deals that, on average, tripled the opening bids from Homeland Security. Smaller and poorer landholders took whatever the government offered — or wrung out small increases in settlements.
  • The government conceded publicly that landowners without lawyers might wind up shortchanged, but did little to protect their interests.
  • The Justice Department bungled hundreds of condemnation cases. The agency took property without knowing the identity of the actual owners. It condemned land without researching facts as basic as property lines. Landholders spent tens of thousands of dollars to defend themselves from the government’s mistakes.
  • The government had to redo settlements with landowners after it realized it had failed to account for the valuable water rights associated with the properties, an oversight that added months to the compensation process.
  • On occasion, Homeland Security paid people for property they did not actually own. The agency did not attempt to recover the misdirected taxpayer funds, instead paying for land a second time once it determined the correct owners.
  • Nearly a decade later, scores of landowners remain tangled in lawsuits. The government has already taken their land and built the border fence. But it has not resolved claims for its value.

In theory the 5th amendment guarantees just compensation; in practice, just compensation is a function of how much money you have. As usual, landowners who could afford an attorney to litigate for years were able to get much higher offers for their land that reflected the actual selling price, while those who couldn't were ripped off and forced to settle for the first offer.

Retired teacher Juan Cavazos was offered $21,500 for a two-acre slice of his land. He settled for that, figuring he couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer.Rollins M. Koppel, a local attorney and banker, did not make the same mistake. A high-priced Texas law firm negotiated his offer from $233,000 to almost $5 million (21x the original offer) — the highest settlement in the Rio Grande Valley.

Of course, there are also landowners who have yet to be paid for their land, having to spend tens of thousands of dollars and several years in court to get a correct appraisal. This was the case for the Los Santos family, who almost had their land stolen outright when DHS paid their ranch hand instead of them.

The Loop family spent more than $100,000 to defend their farmland from repeated government mistakes about the size, shape and value of their property. The government built a fence across Robert De Los Santos’ family land but almost a decade later has yet to reach a settlement for it. Ranch hand Roberto Pedraza was accidentally paid $20,500 for land he did not even own.

It is also exceedingly difficult to a appraise land values when the government is the only possible buyer and there are very few sales to go by. DHS found a way to circumvent this problem by adding an exception to the Uniform Act, which was supposed to protect landowners from low ball offers, that allowed them to avoid conducting formal appraisals and price negotiations for land worthless than $50,000 before suing the owner.This allowed them to take 90% of the tracts they needed to build the Rio Grande Valley fence without formal appraisals. In place of formal appraisals, the Army Corps used, in some cases, non-certified appraisers, who were not required to abide by federal standards for pricing land, or find a legal description of the property, or determine the property lines or even find the legitimate owner, which in many cases resulted in payments to people who didn't own land. To make matters worse, the Army Core left gaps in the fencing, that are still there today, where they were supposed to install gates for farmers and ranchers to access the rest of their land, making the fence practically useless expect as a water barrier.

Unlike private citizens, tribal members are protected from these same thuggish tactics by their sovereign dependent status. For starters, Indian trust land cannot be taken through eminent domain. Trump would need a bill from congress with super majority approval in the Senate and the House, which given the Democratic majority in one and the slim Republican majority in the other, would take an act of God. Many tribes that live along the border such as the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and the Tohono O’odham, whose ancestral lands occupy 62 miles of the southern border and extend into Mexico, have been vocal in their opposition to the border wall for the potential environmental and cultural damage it could cause. The Tohono O’odham tribe have the most to lose. A border wall would split their homeland in two and separate them from fellow tribal members in Mexico. They currently have low lying vehicle barriers with a gate in a middle that allows them access to their land on the other side of the border. The tribe also maintains watchtowers and helps CBP apprehend human smugglers and drug traffickers that attempt to cross their land. Given their isolation from any urban centers, a 30' wall would be completely pointless because its physically impossible for migrants to get their on foot; most would end up dying of dehydration or exposure in the desert.