This week the St. Cloud Times, a daily newspaper from St. Cloud, Minnesota, ran the most insightful and revealing series I have read on the impact of the housing crisis on towns and neighborhoods.
I start this post with a disclaimer. My wife is a reporter with the St. Cloud Times and was a principle author of this series. She heads up their investigative team as well as reporting on county government and environmental issues. Outside of being the person I have chosen to spend my life with, I can dispassionately say that she is professionally very good at what she does. She is also incredibly smart and, as such, does not need her husband to tell her how the world works. In fact, more times than not, it is she informing me.
We have two little girls, ages five and three. A few months ago between the continuous adolescent questions, endless giggles and squealing, book reading, baths and food preparation (all of which we love), she told me that she was working on a series on failed developments. We talked a little bit and, in the intervening months, swapped stories occasionally as her life and mine overlapped more than usual.
When I went to Las Vegas with her earlier this month for the Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference (and some R&R for me), I was able to meet her partner in this investigation, Britt Johnsen. It was interesting to get a glimpse into their thought process as they prepared to finalize the series, especially juxtaposed with our location in a city that hyper-reflected the trends they were uncovering.
I am reading this series for the first time this week just like everyone else, only I am giddy because finally someone is starting to scratch the surface on this Ponzi scheme we call "growth". Unfortunately for this blog, my wife is a big part of it putting the story together. It would be unfair to her, her sources (which she does not share with me) and her career for me to comment thoroughly on the series. Her professionalism and journalistic-ethic is something I am in awe of. I do not want to diminish her amazing work here by commenting in a way that may get mixed up with what she has produced.
So, as someone who is immersed in land use policy (but also as a husband who is very proud to be married to someone so brilliant), I am going to pass along to our readers this amazing investigative series. A quote from one of the articles will set this up for our readers:
Almost every community financial adviser David Drown works with has made some improvements to infrastructure, such as roads and sewer treatment plants. When the expected growth doesn’t happen, it puts financial strain on the city, Drown said.
Almost every city can handle a year or two of little or no growth, Drown said. “But if this were to linger three or four or five years, it’s going to be a significant problem for a great number of communities,” he said.
Cities should be looking three to five years down the road and restructuring debt if necessary, Couri said.
“If they don’t start working on it now, they’re going to be behind the eight ball,” he said.
Gambling on Growth from the St. Cloud Times
- Day 1: So many lots, so few houses
- Day 3: Moving ahead with caution