Moore: Attleboro Shows How Education and Affordable Housing Can Be Diametrically Opposed

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There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance that takes place in government policy. That’s because so much of what we do is what “feels good” instead of what makes sense.

We’re humans. And humans are, far too often, governed by emotion, not reason and logic.

I got thinking about this earlier as I pondered the situation in nearby Attleboro where the city needs to thwart the creation of 131 new homes because it cannot afford to educate all the students.

That means Attleboro must come up with $3 million dollars to acquire the now bankrupt Highland Country Club, located on Mechanic Street.

Affordable Housing Vs. Education 

If the City doesn’t buy the property, a developer plans to build roughly 130 houses on the 93-acre land.

Why would the city want to buy a golf course when a developer can buy it and build homes. It would generate economic activity. It would benefit real estate agents mortgage companies, banks, and so many other industries.

Why does the city want to get in the way of that?

It’s simple. The cost of educating children.

According to The Boston Globe, it cost $12,777 per year per Attleboro student in 2016. https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/09/14/spending-per-student-for-each-mass-school-district/mmFRPUkCvQgHBQa6Fev6iJ/story.html

The same problem plays out in Rhode Island communities every year. I remember hearing about this problem back in 2005 when i was covering The Chariho School District. 

Spend A Lot, Then Hope For No Students

Rest assured, that cost has only risen in the meantime. Also, the new houses that would be erected wouldn’t be taxed anywhere near $12,000 per year. Imagine what would happen to the school budget if each homeowner had two children? It would break it.

But less homes means less supply. Less supply means more demand. Higher demand means higher prices. And that means less affordable housing. 

Isn’t it too bad we can’t satisfy two of our bleeding heart urges at the same time?

Complicating issues is the fact that Attleboro’s newly elected Mayor Paul Heroux got himself elected, largely, thanks to his support from the local teachers union. They campaigned for him relentlessly.

Heroux even once sent out a press release saying that he would never do something the teachers union opposed.

The previous mayor, Kevin Dumas, played hardball with the union, and it cost him his job.  

Education is Expensive

It doesn’t take much intellectual firepower to understand that those next contract negotiations aren’t exactly going to be contentious.

Costs will be increasing. Ironically, that means the city cannot afford more children. So when people tell us that we need to spend as much as possible on education, they probably don’t realize that the incentive will be to discourage students from getting that expensive education. 

And that incentive that’s created by bloated education budgets, to limit the supply of new houses, doesn’t help affordable housing get created. Limiting the supply of homes only serves to make the existing houses more expensive.

Next time you find yourself thinking we need more affordable housing and we need to spend more on education, just remember that you’re arguing against yourself. Or don’t, ignorance is bliss, after all.

And I want you to be happy.

Russell Moore
Russell J. Moore is the publisher and founder of rirelevant.com. He’s been writing about Rhode Island since 2005. You should definitely follow him on twitter @russmoore713. If you want to send him email, you can send it to russmoore713@gmail.com
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