July Fourth is the celebration of freedom. The United States is the living embodiment of freedom. There is nothing like it. Real estate is a piece of that possibility. Development is the essence of free enterprise, while investing in some of it -- a building, a parcel of land -- personifies taking a risk when one has the choice to do it. We risk pride, money and the embarrassment of possible failure. Yet it is so worthwhile.
I am disappointed in real estate only when I notice the absence of free choice -- actually, the presence of no choice when families cannot afford whatever is available for purchase or rental. Developing housing is like going to church; it turns the builder into a supplicant begging for the mercy of a powerful politico or staffer. "Come on," you say, "these builders own the political system and get what they want and charge what they will." There is an immediate disconnect between the builder and the deprived consumer who cannot afford any of the products offered. "He who mocks the poor insults his Maker; he who rejoices at their calamity will not go unpunished."
The irony is that at "Ground Zero" or any place of sudden deprivation, volunteers pour into the scene, with goods, time and assistance to solve the needs of the deprived. All of a sudden there are no strangers, only the deserving. Then why is it that when a portion of the San Diego population loses any chance to ever afford a home or decent shelter, there are no political giants, no pouring in of compassion, no help with the humans requiring our attention? Why does it take a crisis to galvanize the feelings of the "haves," after years of being unseeing and unhearing to the need?
By the same token we cannot expect that everyone will be able to afford a home. However, my feeling is that America is built on the premise that everyone deserves decent shelter. The capitalistic system is based upon supply and demand in a "free market," but seldom does the average capitalist fight for a deprived family's right to find that decent shelter.
So last Saturday I found myself monitoring a charette of the Bronze Triangle, a series of neighborhoods somewhat east of the new ballpark under construction. There were many dozens of citizens interacting with planners, designers, financial institutions and other helpers and facilitators at a series of tables. Interaction is necessary for solid communication. It is also vital for solutions. As I listened to the three generations of residents: grandparents, parents and the young, I quickly realized that so many felt they had lived through this before, only to be ignored or saddened by the lack of effort or follow-through. This feeling can defeat the purpose of any charette, any interaction, if it destroys the hope of a family to ever find solutions for themselves or the next generation. A famous philosopher said that if we choose to ignore history, we are doomed to repeat it. But political leaders ignore the lessons of history; their eyes are focused on re-elections rather than alleviation of past neglect.
Yet real estate is investment in the present marketplace, though it may take years of tolerating the blindness and redundancy of entrenched bureaucracy. Real estate is the intensity of patience and time passage no matter how much demand there is for the product. Real estate is the script for hope that this home will be bought, loved, will last and appreciate when finally deliverable.
During any class I teach on real estate or economic development, I always plead with the adults to have a plan to solve the need -- the demand for what they will be investing in, or creating. Yet no matter how deep and legitimate the need/demand is, no matter how much is collected in special added-on taxes, no matter how deserving the families are, their hopes are dashed by the amount of unyielding red tape, the lack of funds, the refusal of the powers to allow innovation or experimentation so that progress can be made, solutions created. We worry about terror and the next sabotage of a building. I worry about the daily hopelessness of so many San Diegan families who have lost any sense of optimism.
Yet my hopes were reinforced as I observed the Bronze Triangle charette; humans still sharing their hopes, communicating in the most passionate and polite manner, examining each of us to determine whom they should trust to help solve their needs and fulfill their family's hopes. They realized that communication was still worthwhile with someone who has the power to assist in the solutions. The family is worth that risk.
Goodkin is an international real estate adviser and strategist, and has been a housing analyst since 1956. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.