An emerging issue on the Democratic side of the 2020 presidential contest is affordable housing, as liberal news websites have noticed.

HuffPost reported in March that this issue was on the table in a presidential election for “one of the first times in living memory.” Last month BuzzFeed declared that embracing the “Housing for All” plan offered by one activist group, which proposes having government build 7 million to 10 million affordable homes, should be a “no-brainer” for any Democrat in the crowded field.

It probably won’t discourage such thinking to note that the “crisis” at issue here has been exacerbated in many big cities that are run by Democrats who impose regulations that artificially limit the housing supply, thus driving up the cost to own or rent. Or that it’s unwise for the federal government to micromanage matters like zoning policies, as Sen. Cory Booker, one Democratic contender, proposed last week — although in Booker’s case, such meddling is understandable, since he was once a big-city mayor.

Housing, at its root, is dictated by people choosing where to live, and thus should be the ultimate local issue, regulated and managed by local authorities. The idea of Washington snooping in the local market or dictating local regulations to affect pricing should give us all pause.

Which is why we were heartened last week by a decision by the Lakeland City Commission.

The board conditionally donated two parcels along North Vermont Avenue to Talbot House Ministries, the longtime downtown nonprofit devoted to serving the homeless. What made the situation unique was that Talbot House had competition for the land: a developer, Premier Housing Investments of Lakeland.

What made it even better was that both Talbot House and Premier Housing wanted the sites for the same thing: to provide affordable housing to the critically needy.

As The Ledger reported, Brenda Reddout, executive director of Talbot House, had pitched the city a plan to rehabilitate the sites, which the city foreclosed on last year following a spate of code violations for illegal dumping and other criminal activity, into 400-square-foot units to house low-income, disabled individuals and military veterans. Reddout said rents would run $250 to $600 per apartment, and her agency would provide tenants caseworkers and services.

From the private-sector side, Chad Pettinato, CEO of Premier Housing, offered to buy the buildings for $240,000 in order to renovate them to house at-risk veterans who would receive rent help through a federal voucher program run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Pettinato has purchased four adjacent properties over the past five years and has worked with city staff and the Police Department to upgrade the entire neighborhood.

Both of these concepts are noble and worthy of support. In the end, commissioners went with Reddout. We applaud the decision.

That should not be seen as a judgment on Pettinato’s plan. Normally, our default is encourage private-sector, free-market activity to fix society’s shortcomings — and Pettinato’s plan certainly had potential to address both neighborhood blight and the plight of homeless veterans. Additionally, one downside to the commission’s move is that the city loses out on the proceeds from selling the sites and future property tax revenues.

Still, Reddout and her group have done yeoman’s work for years in trying to improve the lot of Lakeland’s homeless and downtrodden. This project aligns with that mission and we’re confident in her agency’s capabilities to create quality, affordable housing for some of our neediest neighbors.

The commission, however, has applied some pressure to Reddout. She must raise $600,000 for the project by Nov. 30. If not, the land reverts to the city. If that happens, commissioners presumably could still turn to Perrinato, if he’s patient enough to see how Talbot House progresses.

In an email, Reddout told us her organization needs $735,000 to remodel the sites. As it stands local commitments tally $350,000, which includes $50,000 from the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency. She added that Talbot House will “probably” seek $385,000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank. But, she added, “The more we can raise locally, the better, since there is no guarantee the bank will approve our request.”

Again, this is not a criticism of Perrinato, but we encourage those with available means to consider helping Reddout breathe new life into a decayed area, and provide stable, quality, affordable housing to a vulnerable population that needs it. Your assistance will keep Talbot House from going into debt to make this happen, with the added benefit of keeping it a locally and mostly privately funded venture — and your aid should be tax deductible.

Those interested can contact Reddout at (863) 687-8475.

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