Since when did it become acceptable in the United States to dictate what a property owner can and cannot do with their real estate? The ongoing debate about the historical designation of downtown El Paso has forced me to ask this question once again. However, this is a question I’ve been asking myself for years when I finally understood homeowners associations and historical designators for buildings as well as the recent debacle concerning the US flag at Canutillo High School.
Let us take a step back for a moment from the rhetoric and let’s discuss this issue and why I believe it is important.
I have previously written that one of the most fundamental differences between personal economies in the United States compared to other countries, like Mexico, is that in the United States you can leverage your homestead into a business or an education. In my opinion, the “American Dream” is not home ownership but rather the ability to have a clear title to real estate that allows you to borrow against the equity of your home, or other real estate.
It took many years of hard work and families pooling together their savings to purchase a home in Mexico. It has somewhat become easier in recent years because mortgage options have increased although credit criteria is still extremely difficult to meet, however it is not as easy as in the US. Even after the recent mortgage crisis in the United States, a home can be purchased by a family with as little as $5,000 and access to mortgages are available even to those with bankruptcies in their immediate past.
The fundamental reason for this is that in the United States when you receive the deed to your house it is clear of encumbrances that could make your homestead lose its value immediately if they are not dealt with at the time of the purchase.
With clear titles on real estate, lenders have security over their loans via real estate and thus are more likely to loan money to purchase a home.
In Mexico, for example, real estate titles are notoriously weak and challengeable at any point by almost anyone. There are jurisdictions in Mexico where squatters can legally take over homes through squatters rights. Thus, lenders are reluctant to secure the majority of a loan through a home unless the borrower has invested a significant amount of their own money.
Additionally, it has always astonished me to listen to individuals, demand that a property owner adhere to certain standards just because they happen to own a home, or a building with “historical significance.”
First, “historical significance” is in the eye of the beholder. Consider the ongoing debate about the Confederate flag. Everyone can agree that the Confederate flag has significant historical relevance in the United States. Yet, many, including me, agree that it should not be flown over a state capitol building.
On the other hand, how about an old gas station on Route 66, should all of them be proclaimed as “historical significant” places that need to be preserved? El Paso used to be a historically significant city for “pleasures of the flesh,” yet almost everyone applauded when restricted covenants were enacted to shut down and restrict men’s clubs all over the city.
As you can see, anything “old” can have “historical significance” yet not everyone wants to preserve every old item or building for that matter.
That is my first issue with preservationists that insist on declaring a building a historical one.
In other words, someone who does not own a piece of property, who has never paid taxes on it or who has never paid to upkeep the building decides they like a building and thus feel they can impose their values upon it.
Think about that for a moment.
Do you really believe that liking a building bestows upon you the right to tell the owner what they can and cannot do with the property?
That is what historical preservationists insist upon when they demand that a property owner not tear down a building or tell them they cannot paint it a certain color.
That is not property ownership, rather it is property servitude.
Please do not make the mistake of equating health or safety standards with historical preservation. The two are incompatible in that they address two very different issues. A society needs health and safety standards in order to guarantee the safety of neighbors. Historical preservation does nothing other than to impose restrictions upon a property that the owner may not want or cannot afford.
Do I like old buildings? Most definitely. Chichen Itza is one of the coolest structures I have ever been on. The second coolest one are the Egyptian pyramids I had the opportunity to visit.
Unfortunately, the sad truth is that the owners of the pyramids were evicted so that I and other tourists could enjoy it. That is the agenda of historical preservationists who rely on government edicts and laws to impose preservation upon structures that they do not own, even though they are unwilling to admit it.