With some notable exceptions, state government in West Virginia has refrained from attempting to improve on the private-sector housing market. That task has been left largely up to the federal government.
A few state programs have been successful. Many West Virginians own their own homes because of state Housing Development Fund programs.
But now some legislators are thinking the state should become more involved in housing.
Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, earlier this year introduced a resolution calling for study of the issue. Clearly, he thinks the state should do more to ensure access to affordable housing.
That is a problem for many low-income individuals and families. It is a special challenge in some areas, including fast-growing Berkeley County. For a different reason - workers in the gas and oil industries who have flooded into this area and need housing - it also is a concern here.
Statistics may seem to indicate there is not much of a problem with the quantity of housing in West Virginia. The Census Bureau indicates there are nearly 880,000 housing units in the state, far more than the number of households (749,674.) In fact, the state has a far higher percentage of housing units per person than the nation as a whole.
But we have far fewer multi-unit housing structures than some social engineers - who like apartment buildings - would prefer. Just 12 percent of the state's housing units are of that type, less than half the rate for the U.S. as a whole.
Legislators should take a look at the issue - but should not embark on a major campaign to change things, for two reasons:
First, government intervention in housing markets often has unpleasant side-effects. One is that government housing complexes sometimes are planned and managed badly, becoming centers for crime including the illegal drug trade.
A second reason for caution is plain to legislators: The state simply does not have the money for a major housing campaign.
So while, again, an objective study of the problem may be a good idea, lawmakers should operate by old, often very wise advice: Look, but don't touch.