Government tends toward the attitude that if you build it, they will come.
Everything it does—including community development—is saturated with this idea.
But individuals and local organizations are better suited for solving challenges—like job creation or securing affordable, decent housing for low-income residents—than taxpayer-funded government offices.
Lexington County runs a Community Development Block Grant program using approximately $1.4 million annually, funding it receives from the CDBG program by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
These kinds of government initiatives are subject to inefficiency, waste and abuse.
In a 2009 article1 published by the libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, Tad DeHaven wrote—
“After 30 years and more than $100 billion it should be easy to demonstrate the program’s success, but it’s hard to find any examples of city rejuvenation created by the program. Instead, numerous cities, such as Detroit, which have been major CDBG recipients, have fallen further into decline.”
DeHaven also cited examples nationwide of CDBG funding landing in wealthy neighborhoods for renovations needed there, rather than poorer areas in need of revitalization.
To Lexington County’s credit, it often works with non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity to secure needs for low-income families for affordable housing. And project proposals are detailed on the county’s website for each fiscal year.
Despite this transparency, the federal government’s community development efforts as administered by the county, haven’t lifted residents of Lexington County—many of them living in rural areas—out of poverty.
According to data collected by the federal Census Bureau, the rate of people countywide and statewide living below the poverty level—$23,850 for a family of four in 2014—is increasing. From 2006 to 2010 the percentage of people in poverty in Lexington County was 11.1 percent, while the rate of those in poverty was 16.4 percent statewide2. From 2009 to 2013 those rates increased to 13.2 percent and 18.1 percent, respectively3.
The state Commerce Department also plays a role in administering these block grants. Through its CDBG program, also funded by HUD, the agency gives grants to local governments that don’t receive funding for community development directly from the federal government.
This CDBG funding as administered by states and municipalities represents a misallocation of resources.
Many households and businesses would pour more into their communities if resources weren’t taken up by heavy tax burdens. Instead, the federal and local governments skim resources off the top to cover administrative costs.
If we want to build better communities, we can’t look to government. It’s up to non-profits and community leaders in businesses to innovate development and solve the challenges of poverty, joblessness and other issues affecting many of our neighbors in Lexington County.
1 Source: www.downsizinggovernment.org. Downsizing the Federal Government is a Cato Institute project that tracks and publishes information on federal spending.
2 Source: United States Census Bureau.
3 Source: http://www.lex-co.sc.gov/. 2010 Census data for Lexington County published by Lexington County government.