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Reverse rent

April 3, 2013 - Brian Rowell
All the ongoing talk of wasteful government spending and the arrival of tax time reminded me of a story I covered early in my career as a journalist — the mid 1980s at a weekly newspaper in the U.P. The newspaper had an editorial staff of one — me — and I wrote about everything from weddings to county board meetings. One of the areas I reported on regularly was the local housing commission, which operated a low income housing program under the umbrella of the federal government and its bureaucracy. I had regular conversations with the housing director who was responsible for operating the program. One day he was lamenting about the ridiculous rules he had to follow per the federal bureaucracy. One of the examples he gave was a formula that was used to calculate the amount of rent tenants who lived in the low income housing units would pay. Under this formula, the final sum calculated for some rents ended up to be a negative number. One would think that if the amount of rent calculated was a negative number, the end result would be the tenant would pay no rent — zero. That would be sensible — and reasonable. Not so in this case. The local housing commission was actually issuing checks to tenants who had rents which were calculated as negative numbers. For example, if rent was calculated at -50 that tenant received a check for $50 each month just for living in their apartment. These people were being paid just for living where they lived — with the blessing of the federal government and funded by tax dollars. I wrote the story and it got quite a reaction. Eventually, according to the housing director, the practice of paying tenants eventually ended. I hope it did. I’m all for extending a helping hand for those who need it — and most of us do need that helping hand at some point in our lives. However, the idea of someone being paid (with tax dollars) just for living somewhere is absurd to me. Let those who qualify live there free, but don’t pay them for the privilege. This is one example of how taxpayers get slapped around. Rest assured, there have been many more instances of the government squandering your money since I penned that story in 1985. I think about this story every year around tax time. Twenty-eight years later, it still makes me angry. Things like this should make you angry, too, when you sit down to do your taxes.


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Brian Rowell