If we build it, will they come?

There’s a wonderful little experiment now under way that puts to the test our ability, as academics, to build policies.  A small collection of UBC and SFU economists is now promoting the BC Housing Affordability Fund, connected to a modest property tax levied against vacant housing.

The basic idea behind the policy itself is two-fold: 1) reduce the role of rampant speculation and tax avoidance on local real estate markets – especially across the Lower Mainland, and 2) start gathering data linking properties to vacancies and taxes paid into local economies.  The full proposal, in all its two glorious pages, can be found here, (the third page is just the signatories).  There’s also a supporting website.   It’s pretty!

Those business school people really know how to sell a policy!

Which is mostly what I want to note here.  Hopefully I’ll have more to say about the plan itself soon, and I’ll be tracking its progress as carefully as I can (it appears its authors will be doing the same!).  But in the meantime, I want to draw attention to what sociologists can learn from this crew.  We, too, can work toward building things.

Too often we offer criticism rather than construction.  We tear apart rather than construct.  What would it look like if sociologists (and all our kin) more regularly engaged in building things?  I have in mind new regulations, policies, tools, and standards.  (But no need to stop there: I’ve got one of my classes working on constructing buildings for me too).  Early sociologists, like Jane Addams (yes, I’m claiming her), clearly had this sort of work in mind.

Could it work?  If we built it, would they come?  Good question.  It’s one of the reasons I’ll be watching what happens with the BC Housing Affordability Fund proposal with great interest.

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