A proposal to sell government housing to tenants may be seeing the light of day in Washington ("How to Change the Facade of Public Housing," Trends, Oct.).
The plan has already done well in Britain, where the Thatcher government has sold more than a half-million public housing units to tenants. Stuart Butler, director of domestic policy studies for the Heritage Foundation, has adapted the idea to the United States, and it is apparently beginning to gain momentum.
Rep. Jack Kemp (R–N.Y.) first introduced an "urban homestead bill" in the House that would provide for sale of public housing to tenants, mainly to tenants' associations. Since then, a companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Steve Symms (R–Idaho). The legislation would broaden a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pilot project, announced in September, to let tenants' associations, public-housing authorities, and municipal governments jointly purchase public housing units. HUD said it would pick as many as 10 cities for the pilot project by early January.
Tom Humbert of the House Republican Conference told REASON that the Kemp-Symms proposal will be reintroduced in the new congressional session by February. He also said that although both Kemp and Symms are conservative Republicans, some liberal Democrats have expressed interest in cosponsoring the measure. (Liberal Democrats have supported such proposals in the past, including Robert Kennedy in the period shortly before his assassination.)
Meanwhile, we note that a shift of government-owned housing to tenant control has actually been practiced on a small scale in New York City for some time now. The city government takes over buildings—most of them old and unmarketable—from landlords who haven't paid property taxes. And a group called the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board trains tenants of those buildings to take over and manage their own buildings as a cooperative.
As the one-time tenants "learn about improvement costs, rent rolls and the other facts of ownership," noted the New York Times recently, "an amazing transformation takes place: Many of the tenants begin to sound like landlords."
RETRENCHING IN SEATTLE
Since 1979, REASON has reported several times on Seattle's experiment with deregulation of taxi fares. Most recently, in the June–July issue, we noted a study showing how minor problems with deregulation had been solved ("Driving to Market," Trends).
But apparently that wasn't good enough for the city and county fathers. Last fall, the city of Seattle and King County government, which had acted in tandem to deregulate taxis both within the city limits and in the suburbs, decided they'd had enough of free markets and they both reregulated rates. The way they went about it opened a new Pandora's box. Even though the Seattle metropolitan area is, practically speaking, a single market for taxicabs, the city and county came up with different regulatory schemes—the city set a rate ceiling of $2.60 for the first mile and $1.40 per additional mile that cab companies are free to undercut, but the county imposed a flat rate of $2.00 for the first mile and $1.20 for each mile thereafter. Thus, a taxi with the temerity to take a passenger from the city to a suburb, or vice versa, enters a legal no-man's land.
In October, Lorraine Brekke, the head of the county's Executive Administration Department, told REASON, "We are hopeful that the city and county can come up with a compromise plan." But she figured it would probably take two months to iron things out. Meanwhile, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, six cab drivers got warning tickets from the county for undercharging their passengers by 20 cents a mile. The passengers of Seattle must be thanking their lucky stars for such regulatory "protection."
• First Amendment follies. In January 1983, REASON exposed the Securities and Exchange Commission registration system for financial newsletters and its violation of press freedom ("Subverting the First Amendment"). Evidently, the powers that be in Washington were not persuaded. In October 1984, President Reagan signed legislation that increases the maximum fine to $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for publishers who put out an unlicensed financial magazine or newsletter. Newsletter Association official Glen Parker told REASON that to his knowledge, no one has ever been criminally convicted and paid a fine. In his view, the SEC uses the possibility as a veiled threat—they file civil charges, and harried newsletter publishers know that if they don't kowtow, the SEC has the option of the far more severe, criminal complaints.
• Winning the slot game. Auctioning off landing and take-off slots at airports, discussed in Trends in the June–July issue and in the Editorial in September, is gaining supporters. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director David Stockman supports the idea, as do commuter airlines hungry for slots that they're denied by the current cumbersome system of allocation. The Journal itself likes the idea. "A congestion solution points in the direction of auctioning the best time slots to the highest bidder, with airlines then free to buy and trade these rights among themselves in a secondary market," a Journal editorial said. But in Westchester County, New York, the White Plains Airport isn't waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to approve the controversial idea of bringing market efficiency to the management of a scarce resource. There, the County Board of Legislators has announced that it will be auctioning off all its slots to the highest bidders.