The largest area of Utah public land, 22.8 million acres, is managed by the Bureau of Land Management in the Interior Department. Another 8.1 million acres is in the national forest system managed by the U.S. Forest Service in the Agriculture Department. On these lands, the most important decisions concern matters such as the number of cows that will be allowed to graze, the levels of timber harvesting, the leasing of land for oil and gas drilling, the prevention and fighting of forest fires and the areas available to off-road recreational vehicles.
Except in Utah and other parts of the American West, where the federal government still holds about half the total land area, such matters are the responsibility of private land owners and of state and local governments. It is time to end this antiquated system which has failed the test of time. Despite the possession of hundreds of millions of acres of land, and vast oil and gas, coal and other valuable mineral resources, the federal lands proved to be a money-losing proposition.
After his presentation at Mercatus on Wednesday, Bob Nelson recorded a podcast summarizing his research findings. At under 20 minutes, the podcast is a concise summary of the past, present, and future of sublocal governance in the United States. Listen here:
Recently, Bob Nelson discussed plans to bulldoze sections of Flint, Michigan to shrink the city to make up for declining population. San Franciscan Gordon Young discusses in Slate why he’s giving up the Paris of the West to buy a house in Flint:
As the veteran of a brutal San Francisco home-buying odyssey, there’s no denying the appeal of a place where desperate Realtors sometimes offer up houses by the dozen. But this is more than a quest for cheap housing. I have an almost unhealthy attachment to Flint. I want to do something—anything—to help my hometown. Maybe a “summer place” in what has been ranked one of America’s most depressing cities can pump a little life into the local economy. And I fear that after 15 years in San Francisco—sometimes described as 49 square miles surrounded on all sides by reality—I’m losing touch with my roots, drifting uncomfortably far from the factory town my grandparents moved to at the turn of the 20th century.
Lerman notes that around 2 million low-income households are now receiving more than $20 billion per year in total rental subsidies from the federal government. For example, a household might rent an apartment for $800 per month, and pay only $300 out of its own pocket, while the federal government picks up the remaining $500.
Lerman’s suggestion is simple. Partly because of the depressed housing prices today, if the federal government kept up the same level of payments, it would be financially workable for these households to purchase a home with the same amount of money – or often less – that is now going to rents. In Detroit, for example, a typical house in a lower to moderate income neighborhood now sells for around $70,000. At current rates, paying off a 30-year mortgage would cost about $400 a month, leaving up to the remaining $400 (from the $800 now being spent on rent) to cover taxes, maintenance, and other home costs.
With much of the mortgage payment in effect guaranteed by the federal government, a small down payment might be possible. Under this idea, many new households might be able to join the ranks of homeowners without any additional costs to the government. And if large numbers of households pursued this course, it might also help to stabilize currently stressed housing markets and prices in many cities across the United States.
Errata: This post originally showed Daniel Rothschild as the author. It is Bob Nelson.