Sunday, August 26, 2007

Good Idea

According to this article in yesterday's Washington Post, legislation is currently being drafted that would cut off home interest deductions on houses larger than 3,000 square feet. This would be part of broader legislation to curb carbon emissions, and would also include an increase of the gas tax.

Opposition from representatives of the "real estate industry" (there's a phrase that has become uncoupled from reality) has been predicatable, from the plausible to the ridiculous. One opponent cites studies that show a possible 4% drop in value of housing were such legislation to be enacted (maybe, but it might actually increase the value of smaller houses), while another raises the terrible hardship of accurately measuring the size of one's house.

My response to the first: this form of housing is going to be increasingly worthless anyway, so don't sweat the 4%. As for the second, here's a measuring tape. Notice it has actual numbers. If we differ by a few inches, we can split the difference.

One objection - from a 2x4 wood stud and drywall assembly lobbyist (what is amusingly called the "Home Building Association") - insists that such legislation takes the wrong tact, and that instead a stress should be upon increasing energy conservation and efficiency. The idea doesn't seem to cross this lobbyist's mind that we could BOTH cut off the deduction AND increase conservation; the two actions may not, in fact, be mutually exclusive. Or, could it be that this "argument" is ... disingenuous? Is it possible that he doesn't give a whit about energy reduction and just wants to ensure the continued construction of McMansion sprawl?

Such legislation would represent a hard adjustment for people who have already purchased such houses in the expectation of a full deduction, but would also have the very beneficial effect of financially deterring others from purchasing such monstrosities. It would accelerate the inevitable avoidance of these houses and the movement back to a higher residential population density. Not only would we use less energy in our houses, but reduce wasteful consumption on the whole, as public transportation would become more viable and local businesses could set up shop within actual neighborhoods. Better to nip this form of housing in the (rather large) bud to avoid the greater pain that will result from its future collapse, than to continue to subsidize the continued expansion of this unsustainable housing type. We should seek to limit such housing's inexpressible wastefulness (along with the attendant waste of its exurban "lifestyle"), the destruction of the farmland that such ridiculous structures typically entails, and its sheer tastelessness.

It would also make it easier for me to reconcile myself to our small closets.

Peter Lawler has previously expressed that his preferred way of discouraging SUVs is to laugh at their drivers. If this legislation were to pass (and I'd say the odds are probably nil), we could not only mock people who live in McMansions as well, but we'd have a good reason to. Call it the "Comic Relief Energy Package of 2008."

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