Saturday, March 26, 2022



The great big thing that will not go away in Howard County is the issue of housing. Over the years I have tried investigating it from any number of angles, to no avail. It’s complicated. 

If it’s not complicated to you I envy you, although I’m not entirely sure I want to be you. Frankly I think we’d be better off if more people acknowledged that housing/land use is complicated rather than huddling together in separate teams that have it all figured out. But differently.

One thing I wish we could separate out and do away with forever is the practice of ascribing motive to the people we don’t agree with. We can truthfully say, “I don’t agree with you.” Is it accurate to negatively label anyone with a differing point of view as being motivated by something terrible? Is it helpful?

  • Developers are motivated solely by greed.
  • People who support increased density are in the pockets of wealthy developers. 
  • Or useful idiots for corrupt politicians who are in the pockets of wealthy developers.
  • Those who oppose housing are motivated by a desire to hoard opportunity.
  • They don’t want to live near poor people or non-white people. 
  • They’re determined to maintain a status quo of white supremacy.

I frankly don’t know the motivation of most people. Some of the above may be entirely true or not even remotely so. You, of course, are welcome to come to your own conclusions.

Here is my question: how is the continual motive-bashing move anything forward? If it wins people to your side, does that mean that they are the sort of people who are motivated solely by motive-bashing? Is it likely to promote open conversation between opposing sides? 

That seems unlikely.

About a year ago I wrote a piece about housing called “It’s Not Enough” in the aftermath of the County Council’s failure to include the Housing Trust Fund in the budget. 

I have a question for those who say they support affordable housing but keep opposing opportunities for the same whenever they arise. Can you please point me towards communities in the US where they are “getting it right” in the way you envision? I have read descriptions of how we shouldn’t do that; we should do this. I have read many of them. 

It’s not enough for me. Show me. Give me concrete examples of cities and towns that are handling affordable housing “your way” and that are succeeding in addressing housing insecurity needs in a meaningful way. 

Today I have a different question. If ascribing selfish and/or ingenuous motives is the best way to resolve housing/land use disputes, then why isn’t it working? It certainly isn’t working here in Howard County. Can you point to some other locale where it has produced concrete, positive results?

This is not one of those “why can’t we all be nice?” sort of posts which aims to flatten disagreement because it’s just too uncomfortable. We have disagreements. It would be ridiculous to deny that. But what would happen if we kept our focus on:

  • This is what I support
  • This is why I support it
  • How can we work together to resolve these important issues?
Will it make things any easier? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that we are continually infecting and reinfecting one another in a way that makes fruitful collaboration impossible. If we convince ourselves that the other side has evil motives, there can never be trust. And without even a scrap of trust, there is nothing to hold a community together during difficult times.

We don’t have to do that. We could choose not to. 

I can tell you that there are people out there in Columbia/HoCo whose response to this will be, “I am done trying to reason with those people.” Perhaps they know things that I don’t know. But I do know that when we start saying things like that we have more or less painted ourselves in a corner. 

Comments are welcome here.

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