The Shift: Committing To Housing As Shelter For All, Not Investment Opportunity

37th Session of the Human Rights Council photo by UN Geneva is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Leilani Farha, formerly the UN's Special Rapporteur on Housing

Leilani Farha may no longer be the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Housing,1 but she’s still very committed to ending homelessness around the world. Her UN role has put her in a good position to lead an international campaign on a web site called The Shift.

COVID-19 has demonstrated that homes are safe harbours from the pandemic — essential places to preserve human health. Farha sees COVID as an opportunity for governments to change their housing policies. She is calling on them to commit to a view that housing is a human necessity and as well, a human right. It is a commitment that requires shifting away from a view of housing as an investment. She is sharing her ideas through The Shift to encourage people around the world to speak up on social media and encourage governments to commit to housing as a human right.

The site’s resources include:

  • weekly podcasts of Farha, and Fredrick Gertin, a documentary filmmaker, in conversation with other people who are participating in the campaign,
  • Gertin’s award winning film Push, which looks into the impacts of housing as investment,
  • video interviews with people who support a rights-based approach to housing,
  • guidance on rights-based policies and programs for decision makers and policy makers, and
  • an invitation to advocates to participate in the social media campaign.

You can check it all out here: THE SHIFT

First Voice Advocates Speak Up For Housing

Annie photo by Steve McKenzie is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Does anyone know what Annie thinks about ending homelessness? Has anyone asked?

Many people in Canada have experience of being homeless.1 As a recent meeting hosted by the Canadian Lived Experience Leadership Network showed, leadership from people with direct personal experience has changed the way homelessness services are delivered in Canada. It also highlighted areas where Canada’s National Housing Strategy could be strengthened to be much more effective.

Four speakers reflected on how their experience had driven their personal path to leadership. They generously shared their experience, which provides insight in ways that numbers can’t reflect. In seeking to change their individual situation, they became advocates. They gained deep knowledge of what was working and what wasn’t. They saw that any commitment to ending homelessness would require changes in the country’s systems and structures. And they didn’t back away from that knowledge: they set out to change it.

We are living with the concrete results of their work. Canada has recognized the right to adequate housing. It is in the throes of creating a National Housing Council and choosing a Housing Advocate. “First voice” advocates (which is preferred over “people with lived experience”) have been critical to making these changes.

Recognizing that housing is a human right marks the beginning of a process to change structures and systems so that all residents may enjoy adequate housing. The Council and the Advocate are there to help shape the path. The meeting provided a forum to think about what needs to happen next, and to ground that thinking in the wisdom of experience. Here are a few of the ideas put forward that would improve Canada’s national housing strategy:

  • seeking advice from first voice advocates in all aspects of the National Housing Strategy: research, policy design, program implementation, and monitoring,
  • setting a standard of 50% representation by first voice advocates,
  • establishing a principle of adequate compensation for participation, and
  • centring the National Housing Strategy on the principle that housing ought not cost more than 30% of income.

For people who are interested in more ideas about how to do things differently, the Network’s website is a valuable resource: Bringing Perspective To Homelessness In Canada Through Lived Experience

Homelessness is not limited to Canada. Other resources are coming on line from other countries that provide further encouragement to heed the voice of experience. Here’s one from Ireland: Eoin Ó Broin: We can end homelessness but absolute reform of the system is required

New US Education Secretary With Personal Roots In Public Housing

Let’s get right to the good news. Miguel Cardona, President-elect Joe Biden’s choice as Education Secretary, is a public housing alumnus! He apparently describes his earlier self as a ‘“goofy little Puerto Rican kid” born in a public housing complex in Meriden. It’s always nice to be able to celebrate a “world leader born in public housing” story to offset an American obsession with those inevitable, much cherished “criminal drug-dealing degenerates born in public housing” ones. Read more in Inside Higher Ed: Biden’s Choice for Education Secretary

So, is the Cardona appointment itself also good news? Cardona’s experience as an educator, most recently as Connecticut’s Education Commissioner, restores a public school focus to the national agenda. The outgoing Republican administration has been preoccupied channelling public funding to private schooling, to the detriment of an already creaky public schooling system. Read more in THE CONVERSATION: Through her divisive rhetoric, Education Secretary DeVos leaves a troubled legacy of her own

But is a Connecticut senior educator truly the man for the national job? A depressing article details the de-facto segregation of education in Connecticut thanks to what, superficially at least, appears to be an enabling conspiracy of both action and inaction at the state and local levels of government.

It’s pretty much a truism in free market economies that education is essential to provide an elevator out of poverty. Better education allows individuals and families to achieve higher incomes with which to migrate out of public housing and voucher-supported poor quality private housing.

For all of Cardona’s experience in the betterment of public schooling for middle and upper class Connecticut children, to what degree was he a fellow-traveller in a state with desperately inadequate schooling for children of low and no income residents?

Let us hope that Connecticut’s abysmal record of segregated education has developed in opposition to Cardona’s personal vision and entirely beyond his control as Commissioner of Education. Read more in CT Mirror: Billions in school construction in CT hasn’t made a dent in segregation — but this year, things could be different

A United America Needs Better Access To Public Housing

IMG_7704 photo by Elvert Barnes is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
What better way to welcome a new President than offer advice?

With the arrival of the Biden Democratic presidency in the USA, there are increasing calls for what can be described as “big government” solutions to the nation’s problems. This after decades of “small government” politics pursed by both Republicans AND Democrats. Those policies have historically dismissed many national problems such as truly affordable housing from public responsibility and consigned their solution to the the semi-magical workings of “economics 101” as practiced by the private sector.

There is no immediate reason for optimism that the centrist-leaning Biden government (beyond the fond wishes of the progressive wing of the Democratic party) will make any immediate return to big government initiatives, which are inevitably tarred with a “socialist” brush.

However, there are a great many who believe that government has hands-on responsibilities that transcend mere garbage collection. There’s always hope.

In the spirit of unity, Politico magazine has greeted Biden’s inauguration with a wish list for change from respected thinkers in a number of fields, some of which lean to bigger government rather than smaller. One of those wishes is for a decidedly big government solution to the nation’s truly affordable housing problems. That is a recommitment to public housing.

A year ago and more, even the most optimistic of US housing activists were ruefully answering queries about the prospects of new public housing in America with “not in my lifetime.”

Things are changing. Within the context of a Politico prescription for change is just such a call for a return to public housing by Thomas J. Sugrue, director of the Cities Collaborative at New York University. It’s set up as an “article” within a collection of them, unfortunately without it’s own URL to allow a direct jump to its location.

For those interested in this call for American public housing, either begin at the start and read the collection of diverse ideas until you bump into the public housing piece:  in Politico:  President Biden Wants to Unite the Country. How Can He Do It?

. . . or, once at the head of the article, use your browser’s search capability to find all or part of the following article header: Increase access to affordable housing.

Oakland Carpe Diem: When “Seize The Day” Became “Seize The Empty House”

ReclaimMLK_Oakland_IMG_8707-1 photo by Peg Hunter is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
The 2020 Martin Luther King March in Oakland rallied support for 'Moms 4 Housing.'

When opts to post about news events, we try to find those that showcase ideas and concepts that can provide encouragement about positive future change.

One news event that affordable housing action has followed was what seemed to be a spontaneous occupation of an empty Oakland, California house, by a tiny self-styled “movement” — less than a handful of homeless moms.

While empathizing completely with the plight of the mothers and their children, we assessed the efforts as half-baked hopelessness supported by a mis-directed political thrust towards law-abiding speculators (no matter how odious their practices) rather than towards the governments that allow the fundamental human need for shelter to be chronically ignored.

Reading the following article, though, we’ve come to realize how just how wrong our initial assessment was!

From Shelterforce: Homeless Mothers in California Show How Radical Housing Activism Becomes Lasting Change

Our previous, faltering attempts to grasp the “mighty oaks from small acorns grow” inspiration of this story: Evicted Oakland Squatter-Moms Buy That Vacant House — Updated

Support For A Struggling Single Person? Don’t Hold Your Breath

Finland road sign F35-4-409 photo by Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency is licensed under the public domain
$409. The difference between $733 (the maximum paid in social assistance to a single person) and $1142 (the average rent for a bachelor unit) in Toronto.

Bella DePaulo, writing in Psychology Today, is calling attention to a group of people who are largely excluded from social assistance programs in Canada and the United States: single adults who are under the age of 65. There are an awful lot of people in this category, and some are suffering completely unnoticed either by social services or by those who might advocate on their behalf.

DePaulo laments that the focus of social supports is devoted to working families. She argues that single people are overlooked. She refers to a Canadian report which discusses the levels of social assistance provided to single people in Toronto. At present, a single person can receive up to $733(CDN)/month in a city where the Low Income Measure (which calculates the amount needed to pay for basic needs) is $1,960(CDN). By comparison, families are doing a little better.1

In the United States, DePaulo reports similar results following her informal survey of three groups that advocate for single adults. DePaulo hopes that raising the issue will contribute to more systematic research. Read more in Psychology Today: The Single People Least Likely to Get the Help They Need

The United For ALICE reports also bear out DePaulo’s concerns. ALICE (which stands for Asset Limited, Low Income, Employed) compares wages with living costs across the United States. Unlike the Toronto study, ALICE focuses on people who are working. The most recent report (2018) states that 40% of one-person households in the United States earn less than the amount they need to pay for their basic needs. This translates to 22,545,000 people. Read more about this at the ALICE Research Center: Research Center • National Overview

Even though single people are overlooked and often excluded from assistance, it doesn’t make their situation any less real. To return to the Toronto example, the average rent for a bachelor unit is $1,142(CDN)/month — getting on for twice the amount a single person who receives social assistance is given to cover ALL of their costs. It is no wonder that so many people are experiencing homelessness. Hopefully DePaulo’s article will open the door for more support to people who are single.

Rent Banks: One Solution To Public Housing Circular Firing Squads?

Somerset County Courthouse, Princess Anne photo by Calvin Beale is licensed under the public domain
Historic Country Court House in Princess Anne, Maryland. Maryland courts receive thousands of applications to evict public housing tenants for non-payment of rent each year.

In order to fix a public housing problem, it seems that we need to identify a culprit. Classically, tenants point the finger of blame at management. Management returns the favour by blaming the tenants.

Here’s a classic example in which tenant eviction is the weaponized consequence of the finger-pointing. Read more in delvarma now: In Maryland public housing, a small debt can get poor tenants evicted

What this example reveals is that there are actually one or more third parties in what superficially seems to be just a dual of two: manager and tenant. The third parties are funding agencies, often local, regional and/or national, that do their level best to stay out of the limelight.

As a result of these third-party decisions, tenants and housing managers in the Maryland Public Housing situation (as well as many other others) are both caught between a rock and a hard place — held to blame in a false “either-or” situation.

The most satisfactory answer for all parties will come, not from this “either-or” hopeless trap, but from the funding agencies that have left management to spar with tenants in a lonely battle with no possible happy endings. It is these often publicity-shy agencies that actually hold the power of meaningful change.

Possible Solutions

There are solutions that can prevent the tragedy of losing individual or family housing over a $100 debt. Implementing those solutions requires the participation of all parties to the problem, not just tenants and their landlords/managers. And indeed, some of those solutions need not result in an unacceptable drain of funding dollars into the pockets of tenants, or management authorities/companies.

Public housing, which is a last resort of the most vulnerable, fails in its very purpose if it cannot, for whatever reasons, avoid evicting residents who are incurring at least temporarily unpayable small debts.

Ideas? Rent banks are one example in which funding agencies can both use their influence and authority (as well as resources) to help prevent unnecessary and inevitably tragic evictions that occur for trivial reasons. Try: Rent Banks — What Are They? How Can They Help Tenants Stay In Affordable Housing?

New Supportive Housing Project In Seattle For Native Americans

UIATF Pow Wow 2009 - Chief Seattle Club booth photo by Jmabel is licensed under GNU Free Documentation License
The Chief Seattle Club has been supporting American Indians and Alaska Natives for over 50 years. It currently leads a supportive housing project scheduled to open in October 2021.

Construction is underway in Seattle on an 80-unit housing project planned to help people leave homelessness. It is designed specifically for Native Americans and Alaska Natives. They are over-represented in the population of people who are homeless in that city.

The building will include space to provide traditional supports for the residents, including a health centre and café serving traditional foods. A community agency that has a long history of assisting American Natives is leading the project.

The building joins a handful of other projects in the United States that have been specifically designed and built to help Native Americans and Alaska Natives to leave homelessness. These peoples have experienced multiple and unique forms of discrimination for generations. Recovering from the trauma of these experiences is rarely a matter of simply moving to housing. Treatment and support programs that reconnect people with their heritage, as are planned in Seattle, have met with success.

This article will be of interest to anyone interested in creating programming that supports indigenous people on their journey to leave homelessness. Read more about the ʔálʔal project, at Bloomberg City Lab: As Homelessness Rises in Seattle, So Does a Native American Housing Solution

Youth Homelessness Part 3: Switching Gears

On the edge photo by Farrukh is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Why don't we reach out and help people before they are at edge of the cliff?

This post is the final one in a three part series of resources to plan for a COVID recovery that includes ending homelessness for young people and preventing it from happening in the first place.1

Homelessness work has not historically focused on preventing homelessness. Young people who have experienced homelessness often report that they knew they were in difficulty before they became homeless and sought help, only to be turned away, dismissed or ridiculed. Even though it seems fairly obvious that prevention programs would stop homelessness from happening in the first place, it has been hard to direct funding to prevention initiatives.

Before the pandemic arrived, program planners, policy makers, decision makers and front line workers were building prevention elements into programs and services. A program piloted in Australia supported teachers and social workers in schools, who were often aware that individual students were in difficulty. With ideas and training, the teachers and social workers were able to help students in difficulty to avoid homelessness, or shorten the time they were homeless.

The same program also demonstrated the benefit of including family supports when helping young people who are experiencing homelessness. But, (and it’s an important ‘but’), family support isn’t always helpful. Front line workers and service managers need to be able to assess whether connecting with family would be helpful in each individual case.

COVID has taught us that we can deliver services differently and demonstrated that new resources can be developed quickly to help workers change their program orientation and develop new skills. Does this flexibility suggest new ways of working to shift toward preventing homelessness?

A new resource from the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness provides an example of how the potential for families and natural supports (such as schools) can be integrated to procedures and protocols and add prevention elements to services going forward. Read more at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness: Research Brief #1 – Engaging Families & Natural Supports

Youth Homelessness Part 2: Ask The Experts

Girl with squeegee, north-east corner of Queen Street West and Bathurst Street photo by Ivaan Kotulsky via Toronto History is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Squeegee kid. Only an expert on greasy car windows? Not true. She’s an expert on homelessness

This post is the second of a three part series of resources to plan for a COVID recovery that includes ending homelessness for young people.1

Program planners, policy makers, decision makers and front line workers don’t have to wait for the end of  COVID-19 to build a more robust framework for supporting young people who are homeless. Important research was completed before the pandemic arrived and can accommodate learnings from the pandemic experience.

People who experience homelessness throughout their adult lives often had their first experience of homelessness before they were 25 years old. If we want to end homelessness in the long run, this suggests a need to put extra effort into ending homelessness for young people.

Research undertaken before the pandemic showed supporting people to leave homelessness is not as effective when there is a “one size fits all” solution. And while each person has an individual path to homelessness, we have learned that there are some situations that are common across a lot of young people’s individual experiences.

We have also learned that asking the experts – those young people who have experience of homelessness – will help to shorten the time that young people are homeless. Getting the advice of young people who had been homeless has also emphasized the value of preventing homelessness from happening in the first place. A report from the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press draws on the experience of 100 young people in Canada.

This is a great time to review the advice from young people with lived experience of homelessness. After spending much of 2020 adapting to provide services to limit the spread of COVID, the arrival of vaccines means we can think in a more focused way about recovery. The advice from young people identifies structural and systems changes that are needed to prevent homelessness from happening. These kinds of changes will especially be needed to ensure that the COVID emergency measures do not translate to even more homelessness during recovery.

The report also discusses ways to engage young people which will help programs to adapt as conditions change going forward. Read more at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press: What Would It Take? Youth Across Canada Speak Out on Youth Homelessness Prevention

Youth Homelessness Part 1: Where Are They?

Sagebrush Pals Club House in Dewey, South Dakota, from road photo by Runner1928 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
People experience homelessness in rural areas, too.

This is the first of three posts about young people are who are experiencing homelessness. Each one highlights resources for planners and front line workers to use. The second part (Youth Homelessness Part 2: Ask The Experts) will report advice from experts— young people who have experience of homelessness themselves. The third (Youth Homelessness Part 3: Switching Gears) will talk about introducing effective ways for service providers to support young people who are leaving homelessness.

It is often said, “young people are our future.” But there were plenty of signs going into COVID that society was ignoring this important idea. In countries like the United States and Canada, young people have been saddled with debt after obtaining higher education. The prospect of obtaining work at a reasonable pay level is limited. These and other factors are tipping young people into homelessness.

And while there is tremendous media focus on COVID and a vaccine right now, we shouldn’t lose sight of planning the path to carry us forward in the battle to end homelessness. We need to be thinking about the structures and systems we want our society to be built on in the future. Young people need to be part of that plan.

Fortunately, researchers were investigating homelessness among young people well before COVID arrived. This means there is a good body of evidence to help in planning a recovery that includes ending homelessness for young people as a priority.

This first post explores the results of a study to investigate rural homelessness among young people. The findings may come as a surprise.

Chapin Hall is a research team based at the University of Chicago. It specializes in research about young people.1 Chapin Hall completed an in depth investigation of homelessness among young people in rural areas before the pandemic. 2 Going into the study, available numbers showed that homelessness was less prevalent in rural areas. The study results showed that the levels of youth homelessness in rural areas of the United States were virtually the same as in urban areas.

The in-depth research uncovered differences between urban and rural areas which had contributed to the idea that homelessness was primarily an urban phenomenon. Young people are more likely to be couch surfing or living outside in rural areas, where there are fewer shelters and support services. Although it focuses on the United States, the Chapin Hall report provides useful data and recommendations for all people who are concerned about homelessness among young people in rural areas.

For example, employment and education are both important factors that can contribute to homelessness among young people. COVID has emphasized the value of access to high-speed internet as well as the reality that people living in rural areas do not have access to the same level of service as people who live in cities. Service planners and service providers in rural areas may need to adapt program responses to overcome this technical barrier.

The Chapin Hall report and our COVID experience show that there are resources for program planners, policy makers, decision makers and front line workers in rural areas to plan for and begin a recovery that includes homes for young people. There is no need to wait. Read more: Rural Counties Lack Services for Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Updated – Domestic Abuse: Can/Should Social Landlords Handle It Better?

In the early days of COVID-19 we described temporary measures in Scotland to assist people experiencing domestic violence. Two groups led the design and the implementation of the temporary measures: Scottish Women’s Aid and the Scottish Housing Regulator. Then the two groups worked to support agencies that assist people experiencing domestic violence and housing providers to implement the temporary measures. The two groups have now published a report, which makes recommendations for the Scottish Government to consider going forward.

The report recommends that the temporary measures should become permanent, as well as some new ones intended to add more safety and security for people who experience domestic violence. The Scottish Government seems enthusiastic in its response. You can more about the recommendations and the response in the Scottish Housing News: Aileen Campbell: Protecting women experiencing domestic abuse

One new measure would enable housing providers to end the tenancies of domestic abusers. This would clear the way to support people who are victims of abuse to continue to live in their homes. Housing providers have spoken up to support this measure in The Herald: Housing associations Scotland: End tenancies of domestic abusers

Advocates and service providers on the other side of the Atlantic have also spoken up in support of requiring the abusers to move. Try: Intimate Partner Violence: New Directions For Programming

Below: Our post discussing temporary measures to assist people experiencing domestic violence during COVID-19.

The COVID-19 response draws attention to our homes and how we live together. Some issues that we were struggling to fix before have been made even worse. Domestic violence is one example. As people have been told to stay home, incidents of domestic violence have increased around the world.1

One of the key challenges to domestic violence responses, at any time, is a supply of housing that can be available on short notice. In Scotland, social housing providers were expected to have domestic violence policies and procedures before COVID-19. Now, the Chartered Housing Institute has gone a step further and issued guidance to its housing providers, which is intended to improve access to social housing for people fleeing violence.2 The Institute partnered with Scottish Women’s Aid, a national agency that provides domestic violence services, to prepare the content. The guidance describes the domestic violence in the context of COVID-19, instructs housing workers and tenants on measures avoid infection and relaxes some of the rules to lower the up front costs of moving in. It also suggests actions the housing providers could take to support local domestic violence services and provides contact information.

For more on this announcement, and the details of the guidance, see Glasgow Evening Times: Women’s Aid Issues Guidance For Social Landlords In Glasgow To Tackle Domestic Abuse and Scottish Women’s Aid and Chartered Institute of Housing: Guidance For Social Landlords: Domestic Abuse: COVID-19

These actions are directed to housing that is publicly supported, a small but significant share of the country’s total housing stock. Domestic violence does not discriminate by race or class. Private landlords who want to get on board could use the guidance as a template to be adapted.

In the longer term, a UN-based initiative has begun developing gender responsive standards, with a view to reducing, among other things, the incidence of domestic violence. For more on this work try: Gender Responsive Standards For Housing, Please!

Is There Room In Your Country For “Ella’s Law?”

AirQualityLondon1 photo by Etan J. Tal is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Data from air quality monitors in London were critical to a coroner's verdict of death from air pollution.

In the United Kingdom, a court finds that a child’s death has been caused by air pollution.

In Nunavut, easternmost of Canada’s arctic territories, dangerous public housing is on its way to a becoming a coronavirus tragedy.

In Scotland, a “clean air” company warns of the legal sword now hanging over public housing. It follows many years of housing authorities belittling household air quality problems as just one more dripping tap in a neverland of underfunded, postponable building repairs.

In the United States, the Trump administration declines to hobble cosseted industries and their transport connections with stricter smog standards.

What ties all these stories together?

The deadly health effects of poor air quality impact disproportionately on those with low or no income, who live in poorly ventilated accommodation and/or in areas where the outdoor air is effectively poisonous to health.

One landmark legal ruling in the United Kingdom has changed the playing field for those governments, businesses, and individuals who might now be held responsible for air quality conditions causing illness or death.

The trigger of many recent concerns about air quality (except perhaps in the United States, currently morbidly focussed elsewhere) is a court ruling that a child’s death in London was caused by pollution from the outdoor air. This landmark decision establishes a legal link between ill health and air quality. Read more at EcoWatch: 9-Year-Old Girl’s Asthma Death Officially Linked to Air Pollution in Unprecedented Coroner Ruling

Certainly millions, perhaps even billions of dollars have been spent over time to avoid such a link being made. Some fifty years ago, this writer worked with a Hamilton, Ontario university health clinic on a video series for the province’s television network. The challenge was to explore the perspective of health through “wellness” as opposed to the largely medical concept of “illness.” It was an idea just coming into vogue.

The clinic was funded by the steel industry that still dominates the cityscape. Accordingly, the only topic off-limits to this video project was the slightest hint of any link between lung disease and the frequently poor (at that time) air quality levels.

The recent ruling in the United States, which declined to require reductions in air pollution, is a strong indication that industry spin doctors are still spinning away and continue to effectively bribe the political system to make the issue of air quality go away. Read more in Common Dreams:  ‘Our Kids Deserve Better’: Despite Pandemic, Trump EPA Refuses to Strengthen Smog Standards

It’s been a long, hard road for Ella Kissi-Debrah’s mother to find justice for her daughter. This article is from the Guardian: Ella Kissi-Debrah: how a mother’s fight for justice may help prevent other air pollution deaths

In Scotland, a firm is taking up the challenge of the legal ruling, calling for an “Ella’s Law” that would prevent negligent air pollution. Purer Clean Air’s focus is on preventing indoor air pollution. For years, authorities charged with the health and safety of public housing residents have ignored signs of illness from indoor air. Mould is evidence of poor ventilation and not just an unsightly nuisance that can be safely ignored. Read more in Scottish Housing News: Air pollution will be ‘a huge issue for property owners, social housing and others’

Which brings us to the blessed isolation of the Canadian arctic. Blessed because it’s difficult for carriers of COVID-19 to get anywhere near the regional population.1 Cursed, unfortunately by a chronic epidemic of another respiratory disease — tuberculosis.2

The government is responsible for housing in the arctic, where rents are predominantly based on income. The federal government has been well aware of a poor air quality problem in northern housing for years, if not decades. Their band-aid solution is to ship tuberculosis patients thousands of kilometres south for long curative stays in better conditions. But, with little investment in improving arctic housing stock, people who recover return to mould-ridden housing and the poisonous indoor air quality that continues to threaten them

Increasingly, we have come to understand that coronavirus thrives in the same crowded indoor conditions as tuberculosis, where there is mould and other signs of poor ventilation. Thanks to federal inaction regarding this tuberculosis epidemic, many northern communities are now ticking time bombs. COVID-19 has yet to arrive in most arctic communities, but when it does housing conditions will allow the coronavirus to spread like wildfire. Read more at Canada’s far north Nunavut Territory faces major COVID-19 outbreak

Court findings in countries founded on English Common Law often have influence in other, similar jurisdictions. We can only hope that an “Ella’s Law” will find its way into Canadian practice, and force the Canadian Federal Government to clean up its act.

Minimum Wage . . . Living Wage. Will Ever The Twain Meet?

Calculating a Living Wage photo by Guest2625 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
One model for calculating a living wage.

“Minimum wage” is a common name governments use in their quest for wage “fairness.” It is the lowest wage legally permissible to pay a regular employee.1

As for the term “living wage,” it is much less frequently discussed as a concept. Nonetheless it is both informally and formally considered, described and measured by a variety of means to specify the income necessary for an individual or family to stay alive — sheltered, fed and healthy.

Needless to say, the definition of “living wage” is unimportant to those with low and no incomes. Those less fortunate folk all too often live its absence, through homelessness, starvation, or ill health that is unaffordable to treat.

What is most disconcerting about these two standards for basic human survival? The fact that the minimum wage is almost invariably below that of the living wage. What collective insensitivity to the plight of others allows the populations of countries to allow a minimum wage that is less than the income essential to survival?

To his credit, Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheál Martin chose Christmas 2020 to explore merging the minimum wage with the living wage. Read more in DublinLive: Low-paid workers to see wages go up by €2.20 an hour as government consider living wage

Top-Down Promoted “Affordability” Definitions Run Aground in P.E.I.

At the Island of Rugen in Germany photo by Goya60 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Social housing? Must be, if that's what politicians say it is!

When it comes to housing, what to make of the term “affordable” these days? Aided and abetted by the housing industry in search of funding, as well as national and regional governments that want voter support,1 the term “affordable” has reverted to its original captivity in the eye of the beholder.

Is this housing — any housing — affordable? Of course it is. Every house is “affordable” in the eye at least of someone with a suitable pocketbook.

It seems that other useful terms for discussing housing affordability crises are also being redefined into mushy nonsense, if events in North America’s tiniest federal “state,” Prince Edward Island, are to be considered.

What is “social housing” and for that matter the term’s almost-always synonyms, “public housing” and “council housing?” All of these terms seem to be coming apart at the seams, their disintegration actively abetted by federal government with a political agenda.

An opinion piece in the local media aims to set the record straight. Read in The Guardian: Opposition housing outrage is perplexing

Updated – From Tents Without Rents To Sheds With Beds: “No Thanks” Either Way, Say Neighbours


Tiny House photo by Amber Case is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Tiny houses can supply some of the affordable housing desperately needed in many cities.
Just over two years ago, we reported on tiny home communities that were being built in Seattle and other cities across the United States. Today, we’re checking in again, this time about how these tiny home communities are faring during COVID-19. There was no transmission in tiny home communities in Seattle at the start of the pandemic, while there were outbreaks in congregate emergency shelters. The City of Seattle was so impressed with the results that it approved funding for another 50 homes, even though the housing doesn’t qualify for national COVID emergency relief funding. As the author points out, there are many other benefits as well. You can read more at Shelterforce: The Case for Building Tiny House Villages During the Pandemic

Below: our post on homelessness initiatives using tiny homes.

In the neighbourly United States, homelessness belongs somewhere else, it doesn’t matter where. And what about homes to house the people experiencing homelessness? They also belong somewhere else. It also doesn’t matter where. Just so long as it’s not here.

This conundrum and complication further stresses non-profits and government agencies that struggle to find the resources needed to actually get the people experiencing homelessness into housing. Even with funding in hand, they are continually faced with fierce neighbourhood opposition, not only towards homeless people, but also to homeless people who have successfully become housed.

Activists working to end homelessness push back, demanding that formerly homeless people be allowed to participate in a community, not languish in a ghetto of formerly homeless people built far away from prickly neighbours in some industrial or rural backwater.

Inevitably, the opposition towards housing the homeless in a neighbourhood is fierce, and temporary solutions may be needed. One solution in British Columbia involves modular buildings designed to be erected in one neighborhood, then dismantled at a later date to be moved to a fresh and equally hostile neighbourhood. Try Seattle Eyes Vancouver’s Modular Housing Attack on Homelessness

For an in-depth report of attempts in the United States to build small and affordable private houses that allow homeless people off the streets and out of shelters, read more in the Washington Post:1 Tiny houses multiply amid big issues as communities tackle homelessness

Mapping Inequity In The United States

Outline and Index Map of Brooklyn, New York. photo by G.W. Bromley and Co. -- Publisher is licensed under CC0 1.0
An index map for an Atlas of Brooklyn from the late 1800's, which is stored in the New York Public Library's archives. Today, current and historic atlas information has migrated online.

People looking for evidence of racial inequity in the United Sates need look no further than the National Equity Atlas. Data is organized using 31 indicators, of which three focus on housing and affordability issues. The site also shares examples of strategies that are working to undo the inequities.

All of the indicators are accessible at different levels of geography. The site is intended to be a living resource, with plans to add information going forward. The site identifies a gap in information about disparities experienced by people who are lesbian, gay, transsexual, two spirited or queer.

The site is a collaborative effort and supported by charitable foundations in the United States. It will be particularly useful in thinking about and planning an equitable economic recovery from COVID-19. The site design and data methodology should be of interest to researchers and community foundations in other countries as well.

Here’s a link to the National Equity Atlas

The Consequences Of Stepping Off The Road To Health Equity

La route qui mène vers le coté obscur photo by Unknown is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5
Public policy decisions set the path for a country's population.

Sir Michael Marmot doesn’t mince words. As head of the Institute of Health Equity, he is critical of the United Kingdom government’s COVID 19 response. His objections are based on a detailed analysis of pandemic measures that have widened inequalities in income and regional disparities in the country, while doing little to help the people with the highest mortality rates.

And although he’s critical, he also sees the pandemic as an opportunity to rejig government programs during recovery to undo the income inequalities and regional disparities that have been growing in the country for the last decade. He offers short, medium and long term changes to put everyone in England on a better health footing in the coming years.

The Institute is responsible for monitoring and advising on the social determinants of health1 and the progress the country is making to ensure that all residents enjoy the same prospects for good health. Sadly, over the last ten years, much of the “progress” to report is in the negative direction. These findings were available in February 2020 and could have been used in planning the COVID-19 response. In the latest report, Marmot and his team demonstrate that their earlier advice has fallen on deaf ears.

His comments and recommendations about housing focus on condition, cost and homelessness:

  • Housing condition This includes damp and mould, which contribute to ill health. These effects were exacerbated by the lockdown, which required people to stay home. The report calls for improvements to housing conditions, with special attention paid to people in temporary housing and housing in disadvantaged areas of the country.
  • Housing cost This means a disproportionate amount of money is spent on housing, leaving little to purchase healthy food and medicine. The emergency measures to close businesses meant loss of income, which has hit low income families particularly hard. The report also identifies that many more families have had to apply for emergency social assistance, which falls far short of the levels needed to continue to pay for housing. The report forecasts a much larger number of people becoming homeless and recommends changes to help prevent this from happening.
  • Homelessness This contributes to shortened life expectancy and higher rates of severe and chronic illness. The report discusses the “Everyone In” program, which swept people who were living rough off the streets and into temporary accommodation. It also calls for more comprehensive supports to ensure that people do not remain homeless for extended periods of time.

Although this work is based in the United Kingdom, the social determinants of health are widely acknowledged as a health planning framework in other countries. For this reason, the report will be of interest to readers who deliver health and housing programs in other countries. It will also be helpful to local decision makers who are thinking about recovery measures and how they will affect specific groups within a larger population.

You can dip into the report by the Institute of Health Equity here: Build Back Fairer: The COVID-19 Marmot Review

Truly Affordable Housing? Public Sector Can Do it Better . . . Or Maybe Not.

Woolwich, Beresford St - Macbean St vacant lot photo by Kleon3 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Regardless of whether social housing is publicly- or privately-built, good management is critical.

Who can best build truly affordable housing for low- and no- income citizens? The private sector? That’s been a popular government assumption, tried and tested in Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) where Public puts up the bucks and Private demonstrates how they can do it better. That is, “better” when it comes to building highly profitable not-so-affordable housing with tagalong caboose-sized handfuls of social rent housing add-ons — all there is to show for significant public investment.

One result: in some countries there has been at least a verbal backlash to an unfulfilled “private sector can do it better” mantra. That’s been a foundation of truly affordable housing construction for a quarter of a century and more in countries where Thatcherite “small government” philosophies have dominated regardless of the political party in power.

Here’s an example of an Irish city council’s indignant backlash. Dublin has totted up the costs and benefits of contribution to private enterprise housing schemes and now cries out for a public do-it-yourself solution for truly affordable housing. Try: Council-Built Housing: Pure Tomfoolery or Plain Good Sense?

A more recent article quarrels with this council presumption: Read more in the Irish Times:  Idea that only councils should build social housing is nonsense

It’s certainly seems left-leaning city councils with hands-on ambitions should beware. Life’s not that simple. In the United Kingdom, a growing number of city councils have decided that they can manage their social housing needs by setting up their own arms-length development countries.

A recipe for success? Not necessarily.

Maybe The Public Sector Isn’t Capable of Doing It Better

Here’s an article describing how the London Borough of Merton Council, has just finished scrambling to scrap just such a wholly owned council-owned housing company. Read more in Inside Croydon: Merton scraps building company to avoid Brick by Brick failure

Merton’s fear? That they, too, will suffer the mammoth cockup that has occurred in nearby Croydon. There, the lean, mean council housing machine envisaged by starry-eyed local politicians has imploded into a black hole of debt that has effectively bankrupted the borough. Read most recent news on the calamity in the Thornton Heath Chronicle: Brick By Brick Affordable Homes Sold In Deal Worth £29M and/or an earlier tale of woe in Inside Croydon: The Audit Report: Brick by Brick has paid nothing to council

But Could There Be Other Reasons For Failure?

It’s important to remember that housing associations and councils do not operate in a vacuum. The policy and funding support English councils and housing associations receive from their national government has changed substantially in the past decade.1

In 2010, the level of support actually encouraged local councils to think about building more affordable homes and seeing an end to homelessness.

In 2020, local councils continue to be duty bound to assist rough sleepers and families with children who are homeless when they ask for assistance. However, the funding they used to receive from the national government to assist people experiencing homelessness has largely vanished. Local councils today have more latitude to decide how they will assist people who are in housing difficulty than they did 10 years ago, but with much less national funding.2

On the new construction side, the rules governing the national funding to local housing bodies (whether councils or housing associations) changed recently with no notice. The changes raised the lending rate for borrowing from the national government. Councils and housing association are required to pay more for money they had borrowed or are expecting to borrow from national government for new housing construction. This completely changed the economic feasibility of building the housing, and made it impossible to proceed with many of the new housing projects that were in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, the terms of social assistance were also changing. This directly impacted people living in housing in the private rental sector. Some of the changes make it much more difficult for people to continue to keep their housing. For example, under the new social assistance program, all claimants wait for a minimum of five weeks before their first support payment is issued. Further, assistance is provided for no more than two children in a household. These changes have tipped thousands of households into homelessness and seeking assistance from their local council. Councils have been much busier finding temporary accommodation for newly homeless households, leaving much less time and resources to build and manage permanent housing.

Certainly There is One Moral To This Story:

Good intentions are not enough to create a successful affordable housing operation, whether the end product is juicy private profit or better bang for the public buck. A prerequisite, it would seem is an excellent development/building manager, together with excellent management of that manager.

Employing Public Housing Tenants – Another Myth Bites The Dust

UK unemployment photo by UKecongraphsup is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
A researcher in England reports comparable unemployment rates between social housing tenants and the rest of the country's population.

Here is groundbreaking research about tenants who live in social housing that deserves more attention. It challenges the notion that people who live in social housing are less motivated to seek work and more likely to be unemployed than people who live in the private rental sector or own homes.

Are social housing tenants unemployable? Lindsey Judge, Director of Research at the Resolution Foundation in London England decided to check the data. Judge found that people who live in social housing in the United Kingdom are very similar to their counterparts in ownership and private rental housing. She reached this conclusion after levelling the playing field and comparing people with similar social and demographic characteristics in the three different types of housing. These findings are available from the Resolution Foundation: Social renting: a working hypothesis

Judge’s findings, published in 2019, challenge a commonly held idea that living in social housing deters people from finding work. Her report caught the attention of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Social Mobility (APPG). Despite the complications of COVID, the APPG initiated an inquiry into employment in social housing. The results have just been published.

The inquiry started with a review of evidence in the existing literature and gathered input from housing groups, groups providing employment supports and social housing tenants. One conclusion is that far from being a deterrent to employment, social housing actually enables its tenants to complete training, and to find and keep work. The report includes recommendations are intended to build on the results of the remarkable achievements that were reported during the inquiry. These findings are available from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Social Mobility: Improving Opportunities: How to support social housing tenants into sustainable employment

Judge’s report offers a methodology for researchers investigating social housing and employment issues in other countries. For policy analysts and decision makers, the APPG report demonstrates how using evidence and best practices can challenge ideas about social housing and employment in a political environment. The APPG report will also be helpful to housing and service providers that are looking for program approaches with a demonstrated track record, along with the reporting frameworks and metrics to provide evidence of success.

Affordable For All: The Challenge For New U.S. Housing Secretary

public housing photo by GT#2...thanks for millionth support is licensed under CC MARK 1.0
A glimpse of Singapore's wildly successful public housing. Can the United States end its obsession with public housing failures and renew a quest for success?

Recently, we posted a story1 that assessed the chances that Public Housing would see a revival in America under a Biden administration.

An article from Cleveland further supports our assessment that it won’t happen any time soon.

The article’s author, Leila Atassi, celebrates Cleveland’s role as a pioneer in the construction of public housing in America. But that was yesterday.

Today, Atassi reports, more than three-quarters of a century later, the public housing is tired, in the wrong place, and crime ridden. All those years of usefulness later, it has somehow finally proven to be irredeemably unworthy of repair and/or refurbishment.

Quite why it’s destined for the scrap heap, even though each of its individual problems could be addressed, is down to the political philosophy of the nation’s political centre, moderate Republican and moderate Democrat alike. That is: look to the private sector to provide truly affordable housing, not the public sector.

And so Cleveland waits and hopes for a solution that will never arrive. The supposed saviour promises to be a Biden-certified housing voucher solution.

Atassi is calling for a voucher program that requires landlords in every state to accept tenants with a voucher. The voucher program would also be open to everyone who qualifies to receive financial assistance with which to pay for their housing. Currently, only about one in four families or individuals who qualify for them actually receive them. Together, these measures could open up supply to a much larger number of units in the private market to a much larger number of renters across a much larger geography.

Requiring landlords to accept tenants with vouchers would mean tenants would have access to more housing in more neighbourhoods. More vouchers would provide immediate relief to the hundreds of thousands of tenants across the US who are paying more than 30% of their incomes on rent.

These changes would assist households headed by women, single parent households and members of visible minorities, who are over represented in the group of people with very low incomes.2

Atassi’s proposal should achieve immediate relief for tenants, which is one reason for using housing vouchers (also called rent supplements). With more than half of all renters in the US rent burdened, and 25% severely rent burdened (paying more than 50% of their income on rent), this is a program that will help immediately where it is needed most. You can read more about her ideas at Federal housing vouchers for all who need them could be Marcia Fudge’s legacy as HUD secretary

Currently, the program Atassi describes is an affordable housing fix proposed by the incoming Biden Administration. The question is, can universal access to, and universal acceptance of, housing vouchers be a long term silver bullet solution for those low and no income citizens who need financial help to stay housed?

The big stumbling block for a the longer term is the free market that determines rents. On their own, tenants with very low incomes have a limited ability to influence rents in the private rental market. Even the gains they make with more vouchers could be lost quickly.

For example, a landlord can get around an obligation to accept a voucher by raising the asking rent for a unit to a price that is beyond the financial reach of a prospective tenant with a voucher. This can happen as a result of a hot rental market. Such a market occurred after the 2008 housing crisis, as homeowners lost their homes and were forced into the rental market. The same pressures on the rental market can occur, and are occurring, in different places.3

And, assuming a tenant is able to move to a new home in an area of their choice, what happens in a government vouchers-for-all program when the rent goes up? Will the subsidy rise automatically to cover the cost? Decision makers will have to consider how to manage the cost of the program. A solution like limiting the number of vouchers, which has been HUD’s principal tool to manage its costs, immediately causes this Biden proposal to fail.

The only effective long term solutions that do not expose government subsidies to continuously mounting increases are those that manipulate the free market. Rent controls and adding to the supply of non-market housing, such as public housing, are two examples of solutions.

And so we wind up back where we started, with the current HUD policies pursued by Republican and Democrat administrations alike over the last few decades — reluctance to interfere with the workings of the free market on one hand by imposing rent controls, and abandonment of government-managed public housing removed from the free market on the other.

As we proposed at the beginning of this post, these kinds of solutions seem unlikely to happen any time soon.

Featuring a Bizarre Welsh “Good News” Public Housing Story

Overlooking Trefor, North Wales photo by Robert J Heath is licensed under CC BY 2.0
North Wales needs public housing, currently delivered by a prize-winning housing authority.

Bizarre? Why, anything about public housing is bizarre if it departs from the circular firing squads that define interaction between government, public housing management and their tenants on both sides of the Atlantic.

Who’s blaming who now? Certainly, all public housing’s myriad problems are never the government’s fault. Blame bad management, blame the tenants, and step aside while they blame each other.

Meanwhile, activists on all sides focus on the government. That explains why they were particularly disappointed that a recent United Kingdom publication — The Charter for Social Housing Residents made no commitment to attack the real root of the problem: not enough housing. Instead it focused on rules with which to spank its naughty children. This time around, in a White Paper published in November 2020, the target is delinquent housing management.1

Well, it can’t be all bad if the UK government has decided to create a bill-of-rights for public housing tenants, outlining some of the treatment they should be entitled to in the wake of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire where resident safety concerns fell on deaf ears.

These days, a little exploration in the media provides an endless supply of stories about government indifference, or open hostility, to public housing management incompetence or veniality, and indifference or brutality toward tenants.

So it comes as some small comfort to discover that not all housing managers need to go to “Charter” school to learn how to successfully interact with their tenants.

Some already do their best, even submitting their efforts in hopes of winning awards.

Of interest, then, to anyone involved with public or social housing: what does award-winning public housing management behaviour actually look like? Read more in BDAILY NEWS: Top tenants service award for Grŵp Cynefin

Canada’s Ugly Duckling Co-ops Still Swanning About In Pandemic

More Autumn Leaves (64257198) photo by Diego Torres Silvestre is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Beech Hall, a housing co-operative in Toronto.

The desperate financial pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic have amplified a loud and growing chorus for social and public housing solutions to deal with unaffordable housing.

For going on half a century in many countries, the role of providing most new truly affordable housing has been ceded to the private sector. As a result, mixed income communities have become a necessary evil — evil if only because they have demonstrated they generate only handfuls of truly affordable social/public housing in projects dominated by housing for those with moderate or better incomes.

These days, the battle lines in the fight to build much more truly affordable housing appear to be drawn between new, “pure” (social housing only) projects with 100% truly affordable housing, versus “more of the not-enough same” public private partnerships (PPPs) that with 5% or 10% truly affordable housing at best.

Overlooked in this limited choice is the role that might be played by PNPs — Public Non-profit Partnerships such as co-ops being one example. From 1978 to 1993, public money in Canada was invested in co-operative housing projects that anticipated the mixed income models that have been a feature of PPPs.

And where are they today? Under-financed and run down like much of the country’s “pure” social housing? Nope. Some 2,200 Co-op housing projects serving a quarter of a million people are doing surprisingly well, in spite of the pandemic. Is this a more robust model for mixed income housing that can return a greater percentage with social rents?

Read more in the COOP News: Canada’s housing co-ops find success in the face of despite Covid-19 challenges

Rep By Pop, or Rep by Wealth (Or Lack Of It)? Lived Experience For Pols

FWC 2018 - Round of 16 - COL v ENG - Photo 106 photo by Voltmetro is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Marcus Rashford plays for Manchester United. He also knows what it's like to be hungry and called on the English government to extend school food programs during COVID-19.

Of all the formulae we hear about parliamentary (or congressional) representation, one of the least mentioned is a test based on the wealth of the candidates.

Normally, Rep by Pop depends entirely on the whims of a voting age population existing within a traditional political boundary, whether nation, state, or other region. There are few restrictions on the candidates to be representatives — age and place of residence and/or birth most frequently.

So . . . representation based at least partially on candidate wealth? What on earth?

A recent post, gleaned from a rather obscure news report and survey from New Zealand, makes a rare hint at a way of linking wealth to representation, though not precisely as “Rep by Wealth.” It proposed that Members of Parliament be required to live in public housing, in order to properly appreciate the needs of less wealthy citizens.1

Two implications may be drawn from this “model proposal.”

First, elected representatives are almost always tied to money. In the United States, as an extreme example, election cycles now effectively last between two and four years. There are no practical restrictions and many benefits for having candidates drowning in money — millions of dollars lavished upon dressing up presidential and congressional hopefuls.

Second, those “people’s representatives” who possess, or have access to, wealth — they would by and large seem constitutionally incapable of understanding both the fundamental needs of those who have no money. They seldom or never have lived experience of poverty. Neither, as the New Zealand example suggests, are they ever likely to cozy up to it enough to properly understand the condition.

A recent example in the United Kingdom featured a a top footballer who had a simple demand: feed starving children who depend on school meals by continuing to do so outside of term time.

Footballer Marcus Rashford, once a starving child, stood up against the mighty UK parliament. That institution quickly scrambled together a tottery path of budgetary and statistical stepping stools to keep their feet out of the mud as they retreated away from this simple humanitarian challenge. In doing so, Parliament backed themselves into a public uproar. In the end, the United Kingdom’s government capitulated to a beloved British type of hero — the underdog. Government was forced into a humiliating climb down, not just once, but twice.2

Could the accustomed wealth of parliamentarians render them incapable of appreciating the importance of a basic human need to eat, and making them unable to represent citizen-eaters?

But surely this was all a momentary mixup in the midst of a pandemic, not a reliable indicator that rep by pop is founded at best on a mimicry of “lived experience?”

Don’t bet on it.

Two losses in the face of compassionate public pressure, and already the UK has moved on to round three. Though more of a tempest in a teapot, it is revealing enough to expose the disconnect between well-off rep-by-pop politicians and the hard realities of “lived experience.”

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has recently had the temerity to provided funding to help feed starving children in London. What a slap in the face to one of the world’s most advanced nations!

And what a pathetic, though entirely predictable, response from UK’s parliament, as expressed by one of its most powerful politicians, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons and a man whose full time hobby is pretending to be a 19th century English gentleman.3

“Just a stunt!” cried Rees-Mogg in response to the UNICEF funding, demonstrating at least one live brain cell.

Yes, of course it was a stunt by UNICEF. But it was not JUST a stunt. Scorn followed by rote waffle from Rees-Mogg could not hide the Government’s feet of clay on recent issues related to poverty, hunger, and shelter in the UK. Read more in The Guardian: Jacob Rees-Mogg under fire for dismissing UNICEF’s UK grants as stunt

And therein lies a fundamental weakness of a person with no lived experience of poverty, individual starvation and family starvation, as well as responsibility for bringing up children without enough food. Read more in The Guardian: ‘One meal a day’: how pandemic hit families before Unicef’s aid

So. Debates rage about election counting and measuring methods, such as “first past the post” and “proportional representation.” But alongside all the important qualifications required by candidates, such as their age (no kiddies, please) and their citizenship (no foreigners, please), where are the boxes to be ticked that indicate lived experience?

Could lived experience ever become part of qualifications for representatives in electoral democracies? With the inherent difficulties of requiring political candidates with a lived experience of poverty, the “modest proposal” from New Zealand becomes an attractive possibility for training up elected politicians to at least gain experience.

And if not a requirement to live in public housing, then perhaps free accommodation provided by issuance to politicians of some form of housing voucher or rental allowance that they must use and subsist upon. Let the goats lie down with the sheep, and the lions with the lambs!

U.S. Eviction-Prone Tenants! Know Your Landlords . . . Except, Like, How?

Halloween Guessing Game photo by Janet is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Who exactly is your landlord? A person? A corporation? How are tenants treated? Games of chance, where you guess the number of candies in a jar are fine, but when it comes to renting a home, it would be better to be certain.

Beginning drivers face restrictions. Beginning landlords, not so much.

For a moment, let’s briefly honour landlords for their historic role as some of society’s first good Samaritans. When fearful citizens were pouring hot oil from the battlements onto strangers at the city gates, landlords were offering them sanctuary to rest their weary heads.

That was then. And now?

In America it’s by and large very easy to become a landlord. Legal restrictions to the job? Oh yes!

But easy enough to ignore them, putting landlords conveniently on a par with their tenants, who are most often equally or even more ignorant about both their rights and responsibilities.

In this time of pandemic, with cash-strapped tenants hoping to face down mortgage-strapped landlords and avoid eviction, both sides have a stake in this lose-lose battle.

There’s a simple bureaucratic tool that communities can put in place to help educate potential combatants, as well as assist in refereeing their conflicts: rental registries.

Shelterforce explores the benefits of rental registries that currently exist in some American cities. The overview covers not only their existing benefits but also ways in which the rental registries could be expanded to further aid tenants, landlords and communities alike.

Read more in Shelterforce: We Need Rental Registries Now More Than Ever

Needless to say, landlords and tenants, often poorly educated, spar in many, if not most, countries. The Shelterforce analysis offers insights worth considering well beyond the borders of the United States.

Tiny Transitional Homes. Some Assembly Requir— What? Done Already?

Beach Houses in Ærøskøbing photo by Günter Glasauer is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
There has been little practical purpose for tiny home communities (the picture shows beach houses in Denmark) but it may have a future as transitional tiny housing.

How to explain what seems to be a middle class romance with the idea of getting away from it all by hiding in your own closet — one transported to the countryside with killer views?

It tickles this writer’s fancy, though as a card-carrying middle classmate (daddy was a lawyer) as well as a renter, the relentlessly rising cost of commodified housing is making closet-living more a frightening spectre of soon-to-be reality than a quaint clothes-sniffing romance.1

So please forgive the momentary self-indulgent me-in-my-small-corner fantasy and let’s move on to the people for whom a tiny home can mean a transition from no shelter at all to the reality of a roof overhead, a door to close against the elements, and the opportunity for moments of solitude (frightening as they may occasionally be). has done posts about the use of tiny homes as transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness. There have been few so far featuring individual tiny houses on scattered lots. That’s undoubtedly because scatterings of suitable single-tiny-home-sized lots do not exist within most urban landscapes.2 As a result, proposals for “communities” of tiny homes grouped together have been the order of the day. We’ve explored some which have been proposed or come to fruition: Can Micro Income, Micro Houses And Micro Businesses Add Up To Micro Communities?

The difficulty involved with transitional housing “communities” of tiny homes? They come up against the full force of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) activism. That’s at least partly driven by a fear that housing, even tiny housing, might become permanent. It raises the spectre of an entire crowd of low and no income residents invading the neighbourhood and staying forever.

Modular housing, which can be assembled, but also taken down and moved, is one way to mitigate this NIMBY fear.3 Over the last couple of years the province of British Columbia has made a significant investment in modular low-rise multi-home buildings which are capable of being disassembled and moved on to another site in the fullness of time.

The article featured below takes the tiny home “community” approach. Its impressive claim to fame is the incredible speed with which each tiny house can be moved onto a site and assembled. Read more in edhat: Tiny Homes Arrive For Isla Vista Homeless Community

A Public Housing Gym? With A Walking Track For Seniors?

Senior Sports photo by Seattle Parks and Recreation is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Seniors exercise costs can be returned in health care savings.

When youth living at Gordonridge, were asked for their input on a gym complex being planned for the site, they asked, “Can we add a walking track for seniors?”

This story, which has been largely passed over in the media, came to our attention for a number of reasons:

  • Gordonridge is a large social housing complex, owned by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, Canada’s largest social housing provider. Clearly, this social housing provider is working to offer more to its residents.
  • Private partners are investing funding in the gym complex, also shunning the idea that all social housing should be scrapped.
  • Someone actually thought to ask the residents for their ideas for the design of the project.
  • Youth pointed out amenities that would make the complex more attractive for the community as a whole.
  • The gym complex provides an opportunity for residents to be active, which means they will likely stay healthy for longer than they would with no exercise.

All good reasons when thinking about what is needed for social housing. You can read more here: Scarborough’s Gordonridge Community provides design input into their new multisport space: MLSE Foundation and Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities contributed more than $300,000 to create recreation space for all ages

Updated – A Different Way To Fight Housing Discrimination

Indy Photo Coach - Justice Statue with light painting photo by Serge Melki is licensed under CC BY 2.0
England's courts rule on discrimination to broaden tenants' access to housing.

A recent investigation by the BBC in England shows that landlords are continuing discriminatory practices against people who receive social assistance. A court decision on July 1, 2020 (reported below) confirmed that the practice of refusing to rent to people on social assistance is unlawful.

The issue is most prevalent on web sites that advertise housing for rent. Read more about the BBC investigation here: Property site listings exclude renters on benefits

The BBC story is a reminder that however much we might wish it, a court decision doesn’t mean automatic compliance.

Education is often recommended when compliance is an issue. Here’s an example of a video that discusses the top four reasons landlords avoid renting to people who receive assistance. The presenter is a lawyer, who provides evidence and encourages landlords to reconsider their position. The video was prepared by ShelterUK, a housing agency that helps people who receive social assistance to access housing. The video, which might be also a model for use in other settings, is here: 4 Reasons Why There Shouldn’t Be Barriers To Renting To Tenants On Benefits

Below: our post on the July 1, 2020 court decision.

On July 1, an English a court handed down a ruling to make it easier for people who receive social assistance to move to housing in the private rental market.

For years, private letting agents refused to rent to people receiving assistance. It was no secret. The phrase “no DSS” appeared in ads for vacant units and the first question to prospective tenants was about their source of income. If housing assistance was disclosed, the letting agents informed prospective tenants that their application would not be considered as as a matter of policy.

Housing advocates began a “No to no DSS” campaign in 2018, arguing that the practice was discriminatory. The court decision adds weight to a public shaming campaign that targetted the three largest letting agents, making it illegal to refuse to rent to tenants who receive social assistance.

The decision estabishes that “no DSS” is discriminatory and illegal. This course of action could be worth considering in other jurisdictions, particularly the US, where housing is not a right and states can and do allow landlords to ignore housing assistance vouchers.

Read more about this decision in I: ‘No DSS’ bans on housing benefit ruled unlawful: what the court ruling means for tenants

A Handbook On Housing First From Finland

Finland is the only country where the number of people who are homeless is going down. The success has drawn a lot of international attention. Y-Foundation, a housing provider, has compiled a handbook about homelessness programs in Finland.

The handbook provides a history of homelessness in Finland and describes the evolution of services for people experiencing homelessness. One foundation of the current program is a Housing First approach, which helps people experiencing homelessness to move to permanent housing.

In Finland, the Housing First program includes permanent supported housing. Tenants live in self-contained units in a building that has staff on site 24/7. Tenants can live in their units as long as they like: there is no program requirement to move to independent housing. An interesting feature of the supported housing is “community-work,” which enables tenant participation in all management decisions affecting the building.

The Housing First program also includes independent housing for clients who do not need 24/7 support. This housing is in individual units scattered throughout the community.

The Handbook brings the evolution of the program to light through case studies. For example, an emergency men’s shelter was closed and renovated to provide self-contained permanent housing units with support.

It also describes how researchers studying the Housing First services identified the need for homelessness prevention programs. The Handbook gives examples of programs that are currently in operation in Finland that help people who are in precarious housing situations to avoid becoming homeless.

This Handbook will be helpful to people who are making their way along the path to ending homelessness in their community. This includes policy makers, program managers, decision makers and people who are experiencing homelessness. The Handbook is available on line: A Home Of Your Own Handbook

How To Cut Financially Struggling People Off At The Knees: Let Me Count The Ways.

Dignity factory workers producing shirts for overseas clients, in Accra, Ghana photo by World Bank Photo Collection is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
In a time of COVID, how many have come to work in crowded, poorly ventilated factories, knowing they are both infected and infectious? And why?

There is a significant range of views about social assistance, which provides emergency financial support. For some, the assistance is considered to act as a deterrent to getting a job. This view has persuaded policy makers and decision makers to design social assistance programs that “encourage” people who receive assistance to seek work. COVID has highlighted some of the risks of a work based social assistance system. Here are four examples, drawn from the United Kingdom, which is in its second lockdown.


If you’ve lost hours of work, or lost your job altogether, you may not be eligible for social assistance. Asylum seekers and refugees are two prominent examples,1 but this group also includes people who have worked in England for years and paid income tax.2 This was an issue before COVID, but with many more people losing work or working reduced hours, social assistance might have been a help toward keeping housing.


Ok, you qualify for assistance. You have no money, but the rules require that you wait for five weeks for your first payment. No problem! you can have an advance, which you’ll start paying back in five weeks time. The impact of this five week delay was well documented before COVID. People who received assistance were falling into arrears and being evicted at unprecedented rates.3 When combined with COVID, (when people are applying for assistance in unprecedented numbers) the five week delay means more and more people are going to be behind on their rent or mortgage payments and risk losing their homes.

Family size

Well, some of your family qualifies for assistance. This comes into play when you have more than 2 children in your family. You will have to make do with the amount provided for a household with two children, even though a larger household will have more costs. Larger households were at greater risk for eviction before COVID, and this continues to be the case as many more people have had to turn to assistance because of lost work. 4

Bedroom tax

Well, some of your rent qualifies for assistance. People who live in social housing are subject to bedroom tax, which applies when the home is not filled to maximum occupancy. One example is a parent with a child away at school. SAGE, the fine team of experts who are advising on the UK’s COVID response, have suggested that the bedroom tax be lifted during the pandemic, because a spare bedroom makes it possible to self-isolate. Nonsense, says the government. If the room is empty, then you should be finding a tenant and charging rent. Read more about this at Sky News: COVID-19: Bedroom tax could be worsening coronavirus spread and should be reviewed – SAGE advisers

These examples help us to understand why people continue to go to work, even if they have COVID-19 symptoms: it’s a matter of economic survival. While the rules may be different in other jurisdictions, their potential to work against COVID-19 protection measures deserve attention. Reforms should be considered, at the very least on a temporary basis.

Be Best: Montréal Goes Toe To Toe With Housing Speculator Bullies

Rosemont - Sideview photo by Caribb is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Montréal, Québec, city of rental apartments, many featuring exterior second storey stairs.

In an era of declining work security (never mind the pandemic!) it’s not surprising that those worried about their late life income might consider “mom and pop shop” investment in the age-old and reasonably honourable profession of landlording.

That might explain some of the stampede to take advantage of a tax break in the United Kingdom1 and grab less-expensive than usual “buy-to-let”2 properties.

Thanks to the world-wide commodification of housing, however, much of the rush to buy will be down to institutional investment and speculation, not moms and pops trying to earn a enough to escape poverty-stricken old age. In many countries, the predatory rent hikes that seem to inevitably follow institutional and speculator ownership are driving increasing numbers of tenants into poverty, even homelessness.

This produces an absurdity. Governments that condone or encourage commodification of rental housing on one hand can be found wringing their hands helplessly over the mess they have wrought for their citizens on the other. (Anyone should be able to see that this is far too many hands.)

Not so much helpless handwringing in Montréal, Québec, however. That city has decided to take a leaf from the housing speculator handbook by attempting to beat speculators at their own game. Read more at CTV: Montreal’s new strategy to keep rent low: get in the ring with real-estate speculators

When The Little Engine That Could . . . Couldn’t. Public Housing in Singapore

Cemetery and dormitory photo by Rudy Herman is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
A cemetery in Singapore. The buildings in the background are workers' dormitories.

Viewed by outsiders, Singapore has been remarkably successful in harnessing a social housing engine to pull its citizens to become world #1 in home ownership. Success has come about by a mix of socialist/communist style central-planning kinds of policies enacted by an otherwise aggressively free-market state.

Over the last year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed cracks in this fairy tale housing story founded upon “social housing for all citizens” which has morphed into home ownership and the security of equity wealth that comes with it.

“. . . for all citizens.” That simple phrase has become a stumbling block in this tale of success. Overlooked until this year, not only by admirers from afar but by Singapore’s citizens themselves, has been the housing conditions of a very large population of non-citizen migrant workers. Singapore rightfully owes this non-citizen population considerable gratitude as a foundation of its admirable economic success.

Far from gratitude, however, Singapore has, since its inception, permanently barred any path that would allow migrant workers to achieve citizenship. And over recent years it has provided increasingly sketchy, often dormitory style accommodations that crowd migrant workers together in what we are learning world-wide to be excellent conditions for spreading COVID-19.

And it has spread dramatically, just as might have been predicted, had anyone known better. Singapore has built its own Trojan Horse within its city walls and threatens its citizens along with its guest worker population.

For an exploration of Singapore’s astounding housing successes, together with the cracks in its foundation that have been caused by neglect of its migrant population, read more in The McGill International Review: The Paradox of Universal Housing in Singapore

Multiple USA Crises: Could A New Public Housing Dawn Fix Them?

Composite image by Alan Ritchie is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/ Sunrise photo by Holger is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/ Alfred E. Smith Houses from Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan, New York photo by Ken Lund is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

In the midst of a pandemic, Joe Biden has stepped to the plate. Could one powerful swing towards public housing renewal knock a series of national problems out of the park?

That’s the position taken in a recent report by The Justice Collaborative Institute (JCI). It’s a rare sighting of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker of the affordable housing world: social housing — commonly believed to be either extinct, or heading for extinction, in all corners of the United States.

The JCI report mirrors public re-evaluation of the potential value of affordable housing that has been occurring in other free market economies. For example, during the pandemic, Australian activists and academics have stood out by actively questioning the influence of Thatcherite1 small ideas that require private enterprise collaboration in any program delivering subsidized housing to low and no income citizens.2. Australian thinking has extended beyond the intrinsic value of social housing to low- and no- income housing to propose its contributions to economic recovery from the pandemic.

While the JCL report is a breath of fresh air, government resistance towards hands-on delivery of public housing has remained strong in America, where both Democrat and Republican governments have merely tinkered with Thatcherite policies for several decades.

Biden would seem to be leaning towards a governance team with a preponderance of highly skilled Obama-era bureaucrats and policy-makers. There is as yet not a great deal of encouragement to be found that there will be great change in the small-c conservative visions that have carried over from the end of the the last century. This long-term political pull is largely shared by both Republicans AND Democrats.

As a result, more progressive arguments in favour of public housing may well be condemned yet again by the political centre as unacceptably radical, based invariably on faulty evaluations of public housing as the sum of its failures, rather than the sum of its successes.

Read more in Bloomberg CityLab: Should Biden Go Big on Public Housing?

. . . and the above-mentioned report on potential benefits of building public housing by The Justice Collaborative Institute: The Case for Social Housing

A Health Emergency On Top Of A Housing Emergency

Good Shepherd Shelter on Queen Street East. photo by Geo Swan is licensed under the public domain
Emergency shelters (this one in Toronto) were a common emergency response to the homelessness crisis well before the COVID pandemic.

Cynthia Puddu, who teaches at MacEwen University in Edmonton, Alberta, is calling for short and long term changes to housing and homelessness programs across North America.

Before COVID-19, housing for people with very low incomes and for those who had no housing at all was an issue of growing concern. The word “crisis” was getting bigger in housing word clouds. Some communities went so far as to declare homelessness an emergency. In some jurisdictions, where declaring an emergency facilitates access to other resources and powers, calling homelessness an emergency was more than an expression of concern.

COVID-19 has highlighted the significance of the housing emergency on a number of levels. Emergency responses to homelessness, for example, include emergency shelters and drop-in centres. These programs needed major revamping so that people using these programs could follow safe social distancing and personal hygiene practices. COVID emergency measures have included funding to provide temporary accommodation to people who had been sleeping outside and to people who were sick with, or recovering from, COVID.

The pandemic is also exposing the extent to which people are housed in precarious circumstances. This includes people who are living in violent relationships as well as people who struggle to pay for their housing. Eviction bans and emergency financial assistance are two temporary measures to reduce the number of people losing their housing.

In the article linked below, Puddu supports a range of short term measures to protect people who are at direct risk and indirectly, the community at large. She also has her eye on the precarious housing circumstances facing many people before the pandemic. Her long term measures address systemic issues which put so many people at risk. Read more at LSE US Centre: Homelessness is North America’s pandemic within a pandemic

Staying Permanently Housed in The UK: A Homeless Do-It-Yourself Version

Roman Road photo by Gordon Joly is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Tucked temporarily into cozy hotel room — the answer to homeless prayers? For some, temporary housing was enough to turn life around.

The globally respected and successful Housing First program to help end homelessness could only be partially implemented in the UK’s hurried Everybody In initiative over a period of two months, beginning in March, 2020, which saw a temporary sweep of rough sleepers off the streets and into hotel rooms and similar accommodation.

The Housing First program puts a strong emphasis on continuing supports to the newly housed, a process difficult to implement with success in a couple of short months.

However, some good news associated with the Everybody In scramble was that even a few weeks were enough for some individuals to initiate a do-it-yourself approach to supporting their move from homelessness to permanent shelter.

Even more positive results have been experienced by Emergency In clients who were granted longer stays, as some councils decided to continue housing the homeless across the summer, and on into 2021.

The good news from those who have successfully managed to end their homelessness during the Everybody In program will hopefully inform local councils faced with assisting the people who were ushered out of hotels and temporary accommodation at the beginning of summer.

Rough sleepers are back on the streets, joined by those made homeless by the pandemic, which still threatens with undiminished strength.

Read more in The Guardian:  How getting a hotel room in March kickstarted a life off the streets

Post COVID, The Wired & The Wireless: New Neighbourhoods & Locations

Fiber optic light bokeh photo by x_tine is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Pulsing light through fiberoptic cable is making dramatic changes to the concepts of location, travel, neighbourhood and community.

As the old real estate saying goes, “The three most important considerations when choosing a home are location, location, and location.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly turned that saying on its ear, as the internet demonstrates that for certain people (largely middle class) in paperless and product-less industries, location has at least temporarily become unimportant. A worker may Zoom in to work from any wired-in home location.

This retreat to home of a newfound middle-, or Zoom, class has come at significant cost to lower income workers. These cleaners, cabbies, fast food employees, and the like have lost jobs in emptied-out commercial and industrial centres that no longer need their services. Our well-established understandings of “location” have been turned upside down, both for the location of the work itself, and for the location from which it can be performed.

The final impact of this location changes is falling heavily on those with low- and no- incomes as, contrary to expectations, the largest cost of living — shelter — continues to rise in spite of the pandemic.

Whatever fragments of “location, location, location” remain temporarily relevant during the pandemic, a new challenge will soon arise for urban planners, geographers and analysts.

An increasingly wired world has show-cased the flexibility the Zoom class may bring to work in non-traditional locations. What becomes then, of all workers once anchored to downtown? Where will the new location, location, location be for the Zoom class and low-income service industry workers? How essential will public transit be in serving fragmented workplaces, rather than transporting everyone to relatively few work hubs such as downtown business districts? And without expensive travel corridors, will mixed income neighbourhoods become essential, regardless of who might consider that either socially agreeable or distasteful?

Dealing with these issues and more, have a look at this article from Australia’s ABC News: The hidden impact of the coronavirus pandemic is rising urban inequality

A New-Born UK Child, Perceived And Treated As A Punishable Atrocity

Baby's hand photo by Alastair Campbell is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Genital Mutilation? It used to happen. Still does.

Sterilization? It used to happen. Still does.

Deliberate infection by disease? It used to happen. Still does.

Slavery? It used to happen. Still does.

Child sexual abuse? It used to happen. Still does.

The weakness of the targets is easy enough to identify. Wrong gender, wrong colour, special needs, the unaware, the unhealthy, the diseased, the defenseless young.

Possibly those who inflict these horrors upon others are more difficult to identify because they share the characteristics of our more fortunate selves. The perpetrators can be found in the very heart of our society, not just its fringes. The atrocities are committed by those who live next door and are smug about what the do, because they believe that pummelling the weak makes their centre strong. At its most extreme, it is a form of eugenics, building a male dominated master race, not by championship cross-breeding, but by destroying those identified as unworthy of survival, insidious attitudes because the result can be accomplished by means as simple as neglect.

Such must be the thinking of the bureaucrats and politicians who have instituted a United Kingdom policy of “helping” families towards the depths of destitution1 when previously those struggling folks were merely poverty-stricken. Atrocity? How else can you label a policy that punishes a newborn child for the folly of being born, his parents for their criminal carelessness of fostering life, and that child’s two siblings — all condemned for being in the wrong-sized family at the wrong time.

The following article article focuses on the suffering of the mother, often for the best of reasons, but the burden of a third child is a government atrocity visited on not just one, but all the family members. Read more in The Guardian: As predicted, women are suffering because of the two-child benefits limit

Poverty May Mean Hardship. Beyond Poverty, Destitution Is Life-Threatening

The Hand photo by Alex Proimos is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Begging is becoming more common in the world's wealthiest countries.

Poverty comes in many shades, from careful spending, through struggles to stretch limited income, serious belt-tightening and deeper into financial desperation. All the way to destitution.

Destitution has been defined as missing 2 or more essentials to life that we simply must have. These include food, shelter, heat and clothing. Destitute people are often homeless, or cling to shelter by skipping meals for days in a row.

According to a recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Heriot-Watt University, with UK campuses in Edinburgh, the Scottish Borders and Orkney, 2019 saw as many as 2.4 million people in the United Kingdom destitute, including roughly half a million children. Thanks to flaws in the UK’s benefit system, in the face of the pandemic, separate research by Heriot-Watt suggests this figure will double over the next two years. This could happen in spite of the extra benefits that have been released to help counter the massive coronavirus impact on the economy. Read more at The Big Issue: Five million people to face ‘distressing’ destitution post-Covid-19

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report is published every two years: Destitution in the UK 2020

Sure, many people in every country are struggling with poverty every day in a COVID-19 world. But are you aware how many adults and children are destitute in your region?

Defund the Police? Why Not Just De-Militarize Them?

2009 Canadian Rangers photo by U.S. Northern Command is licensed under the public domain
As rough, tough, and scary a miltary unit as ever you might see. Are those jeans? Jogging pants?

Uniformed police are an inescapable symbol of White prejudice and oppression in Black America, a searing image, which will not be erased in a single lifetime. Less obvious is the profoundly insidious, though extremely convenient, relationship between cost-cutting governments and police commitment to a law-and-order vision of public interaction.

An “unpoliceable” attitude towards public housing projects has allowed largely law-abiding, supportive and interactive communities to be defined by its fraction of bad apples. That in turn has encouraged an entire population of Americans to view the tenants of public housing — mainly Black — as a society of degenerates. Extending this contempt to the physical structure itself has led to the deterioration of public housing by willful neglect.

Whether you lean towards the words of  American Founding Father John Adams, or the somewhat cynical modification by Frank Zappa,1 it’s difficult to avoid a key notion: if America is partially or wholly “a nation of laws,” then some means to enforce those laws must exist.

As a result, deepest sympathy for the emotions that drive the “Defund The Police” movement inevitably comes hard up against an ongoing need for “order.” (There is no need for “law” to go along with the order. America already has a full dance card with “law.” The problem is to avoid “law” from trampling on American toes.)

So instead the current vision of a paramilitary police, why not instead a collection of folks in baggy sweatshirts who vote for their own leadership?

Look North for inspiration, Americans. Way North. A very unusual and unmilitary corner of the Canadian military might offer ideas for transforming however much “order” is necessary to guide Americans along legal pathways while remaining unbruised, respected, happy, and safe.

Really, must there be a military component to the act of monitoring social interactions? Is a militarized police force in both appearance and behaviour any more necessary than militarized Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts and Brownie Scouts trading cute salutes in uniforms festooned with military honours (okay, sewing badges)? Prepare yourself to “blue sky” a bit, then read more at the CBC: Canadian Rangers illustrate how some creativity, flexibility can help military recruit specialized skills

P.S. Since this is a Canadian inspiration, that country’s paramilitary-styled policing services might take note as well.

Howling Wolves Outside? Sticks Or Bricks Housing Defines How You Cope.

Pigs photo by Mercy For Animals MFA is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Pride of a brick house makes this piggy more conservative. Or . . . is it advancing age?

Everybody knows that the older little piggies get, the more small-c conservative they become. Older piggies drift away from a youthful idealism and the need for change towards the comfort of the same old, same old. (That’s what true conservatism is all about, isn’t it? Preserving the good things we already have?)

Well, it seems that in the United Kingdom, those who believe that aging piggies drift conservative . . . think wrong. A recent article in The Guardian proposes that it is not an so much an age divide that characterizes the attitudes and behaviour of UK citizens, but whether they own their homes or rent them. And the COVID-19 pandemic has served to emphasize the nature of this grand fissure of society.

Read more in The Guardian: The Pandemic Has Made It Clear That Housing Is England’s Greatest Divide

Preventing Evictions As Part Of The Right To Housing

As part of a commitment to its residents, Toronto’s City Council has confirmed housing as a human right and implemented programs support that commitment. With COVID-19 arriving on the scene, several organizations in Toronto have put pen to paper to reflect on those commitments and are encouraging the city to go further.

As a city, Toronto would appear to stand near the top as a leader in its supports to tenants and people who are homeless. Over the years, policies have been implemented to protect affordable rental housing. The City also funds programs that help to prevent homelessness and operates a Housing First program to support people experiencing homelessness to move to permanent housing. The organizations have come up with a list of actions the City can take to support tenants who are facing eviction.

Eviction law is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. The provincial government has lifted a ban on evictions, which it put in place during the early phases of the COVID emergency. Voters have voiced support to provide financial assistance to landlords and tenants, but so far these appeals have fallen on deaf ears. In an ironic twist, new laws have been enacted to make eviction easier. This comes at time when tenants are increasingly concerned about needing to keep their housing and at the same time losing income and employment as part of COVID safety measures.

The list of actions focus on steps the City of Toronto can take to help residents avoid evictions. They are based on a review of the current policies and programs as well as consultations with people who are navigating the evictions process.

This report is a good challenge for any level of government that thinks it does not have a role to play in evictions. It also provides examples of policies and programs that a local government can take to prevent homelessness and help people experiencing homelessness to move to permanent housing. For researchers, this report is a good model to undertake a similar study in another community or jurisdiction.

Read more at Right To Housing in Toronto: Evictions Rights Review

Tempest In An Unoccupied Teapot: Homeless-Ravaged UK Has Too Many Homes

New Apartment Construction at VCU photo by Eli Christman is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Build, build, build! Is it an effective strategy to create needed truly affordable housing?

Prior to and during the pandemic, United Kingdom builders have had the same attitude as North American Builders — “Build, Build, Build!” That attitude in the United States has been supported by a YIMBY (Yes in My Back Yard) movement, which promotes the idea that building tons of any kind of housing, even luxury housing, will start housing prices “trickling down.”

“Trickling down” will, one of these years (or possibly decades), cause even the poorest of the poor and the most homeless of the homeless to be sheltered. All that’s needed to achieve this is the relentless hammering biceps of constructors in cosmic concert with the unfettered laws of supply and demand.

In spite of transatlantic and quite possibly worldwide agreement that builders should build, build, build (good for the economy at worst), it seems that when careful research has been done, the rather surprising conclusion is that there are already enough houses in the UK to house everybody.1

A new article linked below picks up on this theme, beginning with the thinking that has caused local councils to consistently over-estimate their actual needs for new housing, thanks to the vagaries of official statistical forecasting requirements.

It seems that actual numbers for the present, as well as proposed numbers for the future, are founded on an unnecessary (except to satisfy building industry self-interest) requirement for more housing. So where is the empty housing hiding that fulfills the needs of endless social housing wait lists as well as the large and rapidly growing number of homeless?

The following article explores this question carefully, ending in an important conclusion, which is baldly stated in the article’s title. Read more in Byline TimesThe Government Cannot Build its Way Out of England’s Housing Crisis

UK Public Housing? PPP Fails. Let’s Try PCP Based On CLTs

Greenheys housing development under construction in Moss Side, Manchester, UK photo by Alex Pepperhill is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
A Manchester UK, mixed income housing development — the face of Public Private Partnership failure. Of 3,200 houses recently built, only 16 have been some flavour of affordable.

Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), given free rein for several decades, now clearly define how they can serve a particular set of needs — where the term “Public” stands for the service of government interests, and “Private” stands for the service of business interests. Neither of these interests necessarily serve the interests of the larger community or society. This is essentially true when it comes to providing shelter for all, in particular for a large and rapidly growing number of low- and no- income citizens.

PPPs are quite capable of providing truly affordable housing, but only as a small, fixed proportion of a perceived need of housing for wealthier citizens. Any PPP business model must assume that the need for truly affordable housing is a form of social constant: when x citizens require (and can afford to pay for) more expensive housing, then some fraction — say 0.05x — will require socially assisted housing.

This thinking assumes for every 100 middle class houses built, some much smaller fraction, say 5 or 6, will need to be government supported social housing. (Recent projects have often seen fractions far lower that this.)

Alas, no such real world formula links construction of the housing needed to shelter the middle classes to the percentage presently needed to shelter the lower classes. That is particularly true in the United Kingdom, where the destruction of aging social housing, as well as its wholesale sell-off under the Right To Buy scheme, today demands far more social rent housing that can piggy back on any profitable PPP project.

Is there any solution to this PPP needle stuck in the ever-recycled, taxpayer supported, housing construction go-round that keeps political and business classes fat and happy, but doesn’t do the necessary job for community or society?

What about a Public Common Partnership? A PCP can step around the entirely understandable profit-oriented requirements so essential to a free market private partner in a PPP.

What might a PCP be? Read an article by University of Liverpool’s Matthew Thompson, who looks to a future of Community Land Trusts (CLTs) to solve the UK’s need for truly affordable housing. Read more in The Conversation: Public housing needs radical reform: here’s how

A Drop-In Centre With A Housing Mission

Ocean House Hotel photo by Agatha Barc is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Older rooming houses and hotels have long been features of Toronto's Parkdale, like this one clinging to life as a heritage designated building.

Here’s an article about the sale of a heritage rooming house building in a Toronto neighbourhood. The new owner is bucking the trend to gentrification and will continue to offer its existing residents, as well as future ones, extremely affordable housing.

So who is this owner and why can the tenants and the larger community depend on its word?

The Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC) opened in 1977 as a drop-in community centre to provide support and a community space for discharged hospital patients. In part, PARC’s funding acknowledged that the new residents, who were not accustomed to living in the community, would need some ongoing support.

When PARC opened, many people were being discharged, when the public policy finally came around to the view that people with a mental illness did not need to live out their lives in a hospital dormitory. The Parkdale neighourhood was attractive for the discharged patients because there was a supply of rooming and boarding homes available at relatively low rents. Also, it was close to the hospital where they had been living.

Over the years, some rooming and boarding houses were purchased and refurbished as single family homes. Some were renovated into tiny, illegal flats and rented out at higher prices. Some of the houses that remained were increasingly run down and dangerous. All of these changes profoundly affected the lives of PARC’s members, who were losing their homes. PARC’s staff and members made efforts to hold local landlords to account.

In 1998, a large rooming on PARC’s doorstep was destroyed in a fire. Fortunately, all of the residents escaped, but 40 people with very low incomes lost their homes. PARC provided 24/7 support to the residents as they searched for new homes.

Since it opened, PARC had owned and rented some housing units that were located on its property. The fire strengthened its resolve to expand its housing role.

PARC worked with its members, neighbours, and City Councillors and City staff. Eventually the City expropriated the fire damaged rooming house. PARC went on to earn the right to acquire and renovate the building through a competitive bidding process. The building reopened as a rooming house for tenants with very low incomes in 2011. Other acquisitions followed.1

As the 2020 article below relates, PARC’s purchase of another rooming house is a moment of celebration for the residents. They have a new landlord, and won’t need to move. It also demonstrates a potential for community agencies to build and maintain a permanent supply of housing for people with very low incomes.

Read more at CBC: Parkdale Charity Buys $7.2M Heritage Building To Secure Affordable Housing Units

A Land Trust For Rooming Houses

Queen0125-01 photo by Ryan is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Toronto's Parkdale District. Once wealthy, then down at the heels with rooming houses and affordable housing, now becoming a desirable close-to-downtown place to live.

Toronto’s Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust is buying properties in a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood with the goal of making sure that homes are available to people with very low incomes.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Parkdale Neighbourhood was a summer vacationing place for wealthy families. Located less than 5 kilometres from the centre of Toronto, Parkdale became less popular as roads and cars made Muskoka and other further destinations more accessible.

The homes were renovated to operate as rooming and boarding homes in 1970’s and 1980’s. The neighbourhood was close by one of the province’s largest mental hospitals. During these years, de-insitutionalization replaced a longstanding policy of hospitalization. Parkdale became home to many patients who were being discharged.

With minimal income from social assistance, these new residents could just manage to pay for a room in a local boarding or rooming house. For the next few decades, the neighbourhood was home for a mix of people. Homeowners with reasonable incomes lived next to tenants who had very little. There were battles to improve the quality of the area’s high rises and rooming houses, which are owned by some of the city’s most notorious landlords. For some time, people intent on building condos and redeveloping existing properties looked elsewhere for land to develop.

Today however, the neighbourhood has become trendy. Ironically, its diversity is one of its selling points. Properties in Parkdale are now prime candidates for redevelopment. The Parkdale Community Land Trust aims to interrupt that gentrification, which drives prices up and makes it unaffordable for long-standing residents. As the linked story below relates, their success to date is partly down to being able to act quickly and to finding a financial institution that shares the Land Trust’s community based values.

The following article describes a model that will provide housing for people with very low incomes on a permanent basis. In this, it represents an alternative to public housing, which seeks to overcome some of public housing’s limitations. The community land trust supports residents and the community where they live.

The article will also be useful to financial institutions with social objectives, providing an example of a land trust that aims to support people with very low income. Read more at TVO: How A Non-Profit Is Tackling The Housing Crisis In This Toronto Neighbourhood

Along The Path From Homelessness For People With Pets

You might think that housed people who have pets would empathize with pet owners who are homeless. The health benefits of owning a pets, including daily exercise and companionship, are well established. Yet people who have pets while being homeless are often criticized.

Two veterinarians who care for pets whose owners who are homeless have teamed up with academic researchers to create a comprehensive guide for people who are thinking about pets and homelessness. The guide includes actions needed to overcome barriers that block the way for people with pets to leave homelessness. The actions include messages to change public opinion and policies to make services more accessible. It also identifies needed collaborations between service providers.

The authors recommend adopting the One Health approach to supporting people with pets who are homeless. One Health is sanctioned by the World Health Organization. It recognizes that the health of humans, animals, and environments are inextricably connected.1 One Health provides a path to understand how people, pets and the environment can help in efforts to end homelessness.

The guide also includes an extensive review of the existing research. It is available to the public in the academic journal Animals: A Multilevel Intervention Framework for Supporting People Experiencing Homelessness with Pets

Too Many Empty Social Housing Units? Are Tenants Too Picky?

Eagletail Mountains Wilderness photo by Bureau of Land Management is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The endless climb towards the head of a social housing waiting list. One slip, and you start again.

An article from Scotland and another from Ontario, Canada tell of different ways to manage waiting lists for social housing.

Both offer the right to refuse an offer of a tenancy. Both sought ways to reduce the refusals.

Ontario’s longstanding offer of up to three units has been dropped to one. A person offered a tenancy can refuse the offer and if they do, they are automatically removed from the waiting list. Oh, but they can start all over and apply again. One woman, who has special needs, has been on the waiting list for 17 years in London, Ontario. Her response to the new rule was, “I feel less of a person.”

In Scotland, housing workers are doubling down to work with people on waiting lists who are refusing housing. The housing workers inquire to find out why people are refusing offers and aligning future offers with what a person who is waiting has in mind. The number of refusals has started going down. This was reported by the Scottish Housing Regulator, following an investigation in the City of Glasgow.1

In London, Ontario, one of the waiting list managers says it will take a year before they know how the one chance rule will affect the waiting list. Another says the applicants should be more particular about what they are requesting.

The contrast in these two regional approaches is instructive for anyone concerned about a long waiting list. Ontario’s implies that by refusing, prospective tenants are being unreasonably picky. In Scotland, where people still have more than one choice, putting time into understanding what a prospective tenant wants and needs is paying off in fewer refusals.

Sources interviewed for the Ontario article say that more social housing is needed. London has 3,300 social housing units and an effective vacancy rate of 1%.2 It’s hard to see how one opportunity to refuse housing (or three for that matter) will help the 6,000 households on the waiting list to move more quickly. The Scottish Housing Regulator’s report is also calling more social housing, noting particular gaps in supply for large households and single people. These messages should not be lost on other jurisdictions that have long waiting lists.

Read more about implementing new rules to manage social housing waiting lists in Ontario at TVO: What new rules mean for Ontarians waiting for social housing

The Scottish Housing Regulator’s: Report on inquiry into Glasgow City Council’s services for people who are experiencing homelessness discusses Glasgow’s approach to shortening waiting list times in section 3.32 on page 12.

Housing Speculation: Investment For Profit Without A Kinder, Gentler Side

Queue photo by Luke McKernan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
In Toronto just a handful of years ago, queues like this appeared outside new condo development offices — speculators AND investors hoping to pick up a unit or two to profit from a hot market.

There are some who believe that a useful distinction can be made between housing “speculation” and housing “investment.”1 In free market economies, either represents a way in which a basic human need, whether recognized as a human right or not, can yield a profit through ownership.

The vast majority of home buyers generally think of housing as shelter. But they at least aspire to maintaining the value of shelter, if not profitably increasing its value, whether for themselves or possibly for their heirs.

As to a useful distinction between the terms “speculation” and “investment?” It’s currently on display in the city of Toronto, with an improbably hot market in a time of COVID-19 for speculators who wish to buy and sell (flip) individual houses for profit without necessarily intending to ever live in them. Read more at Toronto Storeys: The Toronto Housing Market is on Fire, Except Where it’s Not

Toronto’s housing investment market, on the other hand, is languishing. There are growing fears of a collapse2 in the condominium rental market, in which some 50% of the units are owned by small or large investors seeking to profit as landlords, reaping smaller profits but over longer periods of time.

In spite of the havoc and heartbreak both kinds of profiteering create for a city or a region’s residents (who must live somewhere), city councils tend to have an affection for either or both housing investment and speculation. These free market practices help drive the homebuilding industry, considered to be an important job source and economic foundation, to say nothing of an ever-increasing property tax resource for swelling the city’s coffers.

Resistant as many suffering cities may be to the woes of their citizens, there would seem to be one means of profiteering that is “beyond the pale” even for speculator-friendly administrations: buying homes and leaving them empty while waiting to sell them again. This reduces the housing stock available to the local market. In a hot market, the profits are such that inhabiting or renting out a home between buying and selling can be a complicated and largely unprofitable nuisance.

That, as far as the notoriously expensive City of Vancouver is concerned, is a profit-making step (or lack of one) too far. The result has been the creation — a British Columbia provincial creation ultimately — of an “empty homes” tax. By and large it is proving successful, if this year’s decision to increase the tax is any indication. Read more in the Daily Hive: Vancouver Empty Homes Tax to increase to 3% for 2021

How can “empty homes” taxes impact housing affordability? At some point, if the Vancouver tax continues to grow, it might dampen enthusiasm for home-flipping and drive investors away, cooling the market. As to supporting the rental market, current “empty house” tax rates may push some units onto the rental market, but speculators may continue to find enough in their pockets to pay the tax rather than endure the nuisance of renting out homes mid-flip.

British Columbia, however, has ensured that there will be a direct impact on truly affordable housing construction by funnelling the proceeds of the empty homes tax in that direction. Read more at CTV: Vancouver’s empty homes tax revenue being used for more than 250 affordable homes

Some evidence of the success of Vancouver’s program may be assumed from the fact that Toronto is eyeing the benefits of adopting a similar program. Read more at the CBC: New city report recommends vacant home tax in Toronto

Alas, one of North America’s largest city regions, Toronto, is not in control of its taxation powers. And it cannot go hat-in-hand to a left-leaning New Democratic provincial government, as Vancouver currently can in British Columbia. Ontario’s provincial government, which can make or break Toronto’s tax ambitions, has a business-loving, hands-off, neoliberal Progressive Conservative government, which may well oppose any brake upon freewheeling investment or speculation.

Earlier posts on this topic:

Between A Rock And A Hard Place: Remembering People Who Are Homeless

There is new memorial in Kitchener, Ontario. It’s not for a statesman or a celebrity. It’s to remember and honour people who experience homelessness. At the dedication ceremony, one speaker talked about the memorial as a place for people who have lost family members and friends who were homeless to remember and honour them.

The memorial, which is fittingly called “Between a rock and a hard place,” is located in a public park. See more about this tribute in a video of the dedication ceremony on Vimeo: The KW Homeless Memorial and this story in CTV News: The plight of the homeless put on display in new Kitchener sculpture

Wanted: Canada’s First Official Housing Advocate

Commons-doorway photo by Makaristos is licensed under the public domain
Canadian flags flank the entrance to the House of Commons, where legislation to make housing a human right was passed in 2019.

Recruitment for Canada’s first Housing Advocate is underway. The deadline for applications is December 31, 2020.

The Housing Advocate’s position was created as part of Canada’s commitment to make housing a human right. The Housing Advocate will be responsible for helping the country to make good on its decision.

Read more about the duties of the Housing Advocate, how it will shape Canada’s future and how to apply at the National Right To Housing Network: Canada’s First Housing Advocate

For the record, Canada’s right to housing is the result of work by thousands of people who have advocated for housing for many years, reaching out to federal politicians, writing letters to the editor, and speaking up on social media to call for housing as a human right.. Without all those advocates, it’s safe to say that there would be no right to housing in Canada today, and there would be no recruitment campaign for the country’s first official Housing Advocate.

Cold Multiplies The Danger Of Ontario Homeless “Living In The Rough”

another day photo by Tyler Law is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A Hamilton, Ontario winter morning. Not the friendliest environment in which to be homeless.

2020 has brought more flurries than usual to the Canadian city of Hamilton. With the onset of the pandemic, commendable flurries of activity have removed people experiencing homelessness from city streets and out of harm’s way.

Then there have been the inevitable flurries of self-congratulation as authorities have patted themselves on the back for so decisively, if temporarily, solving the street-visible manifestation of homelessness.

But as winter is bringing the snow, the spring and summer’s “done and dusted” approach to street-visible homelessness has given way to a veritable blizzard of tents and other temporary shelters that have invaded sidewalks and parks, accompanied by flurries of anger at the homeless for being homeless.

What happened? What was supposed to happen? What now? This can’t go on? This medium-sized Canadian city is being forced to reexamine as city temperatures creep downwards toward the “killing zone.” Read more in the Hamilton Spectator: Time for rethink on Hamilton homelessness

Connecting Housing And Health – COVID Helps Provide Links

ChelseaMA-Aerial photo by formulanone is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Chelsea, MA, an industrial and working class city currently reinventing itself. Why is the city hard-hit by COVID-19, while one corner does far better?

Chelsea, Massachusetts is a neighbour to Boston. Its level of COVID infections is 918/10,000, the highest in the state. Like other communities with high infection rates, Chelsea residents are more likely to be Latinex, newcomers, have lower incomes, be working in a job that exposes them to COVID, or trying to survive on an income that has been cut back or disappeared entirely.

But within Chelsea, there is a small population that shares all of Chelsea’s characteristics and has a much lower infection rate. This group of 1,175 lives in units of non-profit housing owned by The Neighborhood Developers (TND). Here the COVID infection rate is 119/10,000, which is roughly nine times less than Chelsea’s overall rate of infections.

In addition to being a housing provider, TND offers training and support to people who live in Chelsea. This is open to TND tenants and Chelsea residents: 6,000 people participate. When COVID arrived, TND was in a good position to notice the lower frequency of infection amongst its tenants compared with people who lived elsewhere in the city. Commenting on possible reasons for the difference in infection rates, Ann Houston notes that residents of TND housing are less crowded together than program participants who live in the community. This makes it easier to follow isolation protocols when there is a risk of infection and if a member of the household becomes infected.

Ann is CEO of Opportunity Communities (OppCo), which is comprised of non-profit organizations in the Boston area (TND is a founding member). OppCo aims to build communities that are supported and controlled by their residents. Quality, safe and affordable housing was a focal point even before COVID: the experience of the recent months has only reinforced that commitment.

The connections between housing and health have slowly been uncovered through painstaking research.1 With this evidence from Chelsea, it seems that COVID-19 is presenting an opportunity to further deepen our understanding of the shape and structure of a healthy community.

For more on the Chelsea story, check out this article in Shelterforce: Residents of Nonprofit Housing Have Lower Rates of COVID

Guns, Jails And Violence: The Housing Connection

Cabrini Green Housing Project photo by Jet Lowe is licensed under the public domain
Cabrini Green public housing complex in Chicago (top right): a refuge or a source of violence?

Gun violence is one of many failings associated with public housing. In his documentary, writer, producer and director Brian Schodorf challenges that notion.

The program focusses on Cabrini Green, a public housing project in Chicago, which has been demolished. The first part of the film develops the idea that housing is a key to understanding criminal activity and gun violence. It traces housing conditions for people of colour living in Chicago during the 20th century.

In the early part of the century, people of colour came to the city in large numbers for work, only to find that most neighbourhoods were off limits. They were crowded into neighbourhoods where the housing was in poor condition. By mid-century, urban renewal was a common remedy, which razed older buildings and replaced them with expressways and public housing projects.

Cabrini Green, hailed as a solution to poor quality housing, was home to 15,000 people. Gradually it was vilified in the media as the buildings became less safe, were poorly maintained and became sites of violence.

Starting in 1995, Cabrini Green was demolished. The final building came down in 2011. For the tenants who were forced to move out, most areas of the city were again off limits, much like the situation which faced groups of migrants earlier in the century.

The story of Cabrini Green is told through the eyes of people who lived and worked in public housing projects in Chicago. It allows viewers to understand the disconnection that public housing residents experienced when their homes were torn down. People were set adrift from their support networks at a time when industrial work was shifting away from the city. That opened up the opportunity for the illegal drug market to flourish. Guns and violence are part of that “package.”

The film also documents one program that helps young people complete their education and step away from gun violence. It marks one effort to restore hope and a sense of purpose and community connection for a people who lost those connections when their homes were destroyed.

The documentary provides a useful starting point for discussing the significance of stable, safe and affordable housing, especially as part of efforts to overturn gun violence. To view this documentary and an interview with Brian Schodorf, see WTTW: How the Failure of Public Housing Is Linked to Gun Violence in Chicago

Are Your Country’s Rents Ever-Increasing? Berlin Stops That Dead

MIETENmove! Demonstration Hamburg 2018-06-02 photo by Rasande Tyskar is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Germans are no stranger to rent protests. Here's a protest poster saying "Against The City Of The Rich" from a 2018 Hamburg protest in which stick figures chase after a wealthy landlord/banker/speculator figure. The City of Berlin has finally taken the protests seriously.

Free market democracies offer little natural protection to their citizens when it comes to the “inalienable right” of gamblers to speculate for profit in life’s essentials, such as food and shelter.

This is particularly true when it comes to one of civilization’s oldest professions. No, not prostitution — landlording. Considered almost universally to be a reputable small business, a housing owner in most jurisdictions can charge whatever the market will bear in order to earn that landlord a profit.

Unfortunately, under the circumstances of recent history, “financialisation, privatisation and speculation” have put the landlord right to profit at increasing odds with a human need for shelter (never mind any human right to shelter!). The unequal battle between landlord rights and tenant needs are producing a global rent crisis.

Solutions to the dilemma rend the fabric of purist free enterprise societies, introducing what is inevitably described as government “interference” (at best) or “an insidious invasion of a socialist or communist political system” (at worst). Nevertheless, desperate needs call for desperate measures.

It is not surprising to find innovative approaches test-driven in Europe, where labels such as “socialist” and “communist” produce far more measured response than in countries such as America, where reactions are more akin to the results of a cucumber placed behind a cat.1

In Berlin, Germany, a city of renters, enough has been declared enough. A rent cap has been introduced to literally place a lid on rents.2 What implications might this have for renters in the United Kingdom, and by extension, to other free market economies? Read more in The Guardian: Berlin’s rent cap offers a new way of thinking about Britain’s housing crisis

For more ideas, check out other posts here: Rent Controls

Council-Built Housing: Pure Tomfoolery or Plain Good Sense?

Speckled chicken photo by Dano is licensed under CC BY 2.0
We went looking for new council-built social housing to illustrate our point. Yup. Rare as hen's teeth. It may be plain good sense but nobody much is buying into it yet!

Could your local city or regional council build its own housing? Why would it want to?

One compelling argument is that, when it comes to truly affordable housing, it may be able to do so for as little as half the cost which it incurs by farming out the task to private enterprise. If your council, like it or not, is financially tasked in some way to assist those with low or no incomes to avoid homelessness, then “half-price” has to sound like quite a bargain.

Come on! How real is this?

Well, Ireland is going through a phase when it is becoming increasingly fed up with the poor ratio between promise and product that it’s receiving when it gets into bed with the private housing industry.

“But we haven’t the skills to do it ourselves!” wail Dublin council staff, when the private enterprise baby-bottle is tugged away from their receptive mouths. “Think again,” the councillors themselves are saying.

Should your city council be having the same debate as Dublin’s? Read more in THE IRISH TIMES: Council reasons for not building houses just don’t stack up

Breaking The Link Between Incarceration And Homelessness In Australia

Court House, Bourke NSW, Australia photo by Ian Sutton is licensed under CC BY 2.0
In Bourke, Australia, justice reinvestment programs have diverted youth away from the court house, pictured here, and the court system.

Toward the end of the 20th century, when people experiencing homelessness became more visible, the programs to help them leave the streets quickly became overwhelmed. People asked, “where did they come from,” and “why do they stay homeless?” As researchers began counting, and then interviewing people who were homeless, all aspects of the corrections system (ie. remand, incarceration, probation, and parole) emerged as a significant pathway. It also showed that people with the longest histories of homelessness first became homeless at a very young age.

As soon as this information became available, community based agencies began to design and implement programs to prevent incarceration among youth. In Australia, Aboriginal people are over-represented in the prison population. Programs introduced there have helped Aboriginal youth to connect with traditional practices and to participate in constructive activities, such as training and education.

The results of the programs have been very promising on a number of measures. Incarceration is down, as is domestic violence. High school graduation is up.

And while the programs have proven successful as pilots, permanent funding has proved elusive. Chris Cunneen, who teaches Criminology at the University of Technology in Sydney, sheds light on why these programs have had such a hard time making headway, despite evidence of their effectiveness.

This article shows one way for academics to engage in public debate, by contributing articles to the media. Cunneen provides important context to understand why funding has been elusive in Australia, which may be similar in other countries. For those looking for programming ideas, the article gives examples of supports the programs offer. People who are looking to fund effective programs will find information about suitable program goals and outcome measures.

Cunneen’s appears in The Conversation: Defunding the police could bring positive change in Australia. These communities are showing the way

“A [COVID] Factor That Came Late To Public Attention: Ventilation.”

Ventilación photo by Daniel Lobo is licensed under CC ZERO 1.0

Ventilation came late to COVID 19 public attention? Really? Not in this writer’s Canadian household, where stories out of East Asia early last spring described in diagrammatic detail how diners became infected with coronavirus in a restaurant, despite following prescribed social distancing guidelines. Once the restaurant’s air flow and ventilation system were studied, it all made sense.

Whether COVID ventilation information has been there for the cherry picking by media outlets or not, it certainly has not played a prominent role in the stories about “crowded tenants with health issues” in social housing.

Why ventilation? It was already a health issue before the pandemic. Poor ventilation in social housing buildings is often associated with unhealthy mould conditions.1

There is also growing awareness that preventing global warming will require all buildings, new and old, to be more energy efficient. It applies to all buildings, including social housing. Businesses that specialize in remediating existing buildings have an opportunity to tie ventilation with energy efficiency.

A recent “article” in Scottish Housing News provides an interesting exploration on building remediation that links tenant health with energy efficiency. The solutions presented must be treated with a little caution, however, as the fine print reveals the article to be an “infomercial.” Read more in the Scottish Housing News: Ventilation solutions to eradicate risk, liability and cost in social housing: Ventilation solutions to eradicate risk, liability and cost in social housing

One remarkable feature about this self-serving but informative advertising piece is what it doesn’t cover.

With a growing understanding of SARS-CoV-2 aerosol spread, more attention is being paid to the role played by ventilation. Information on the subject has been available for some three-quarters of a year, and yet, in the industry infomercial offered above at the heights of a pandemic . . . nothing at all about the COVID health risks of poor ventilation.

Whatever we are to make of this lapse, it seems that ventilation has finally become a hot COVID item. Read more in i: Covid and ventilation: The overlooked factor ahead of restrictions easing for Christmas around the UK

We can only hope that as nations begin work on making social housing safer and greener, both refurbishment and new construction will look to eliminate (or at least mitigate) all the health risks that are linked to poor ventilation.

Ontario Food Banks As A Measure of Housing Insecurity

Food bank cupboard photo by Staffs Live is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
A widespread and growing need for food banks indicts political systems which can, but will not, feed their most vulnerable citizens.

3.2 million food bank visits in Ontario in the year before the pandemic: it’s a hint of the scale of crisis approaching as we move towards a second year of pandemic job loss.1

If you’re housing insecure, you may well not be able to afford enough food for yourself or your family, never mind the threat of impending eviction if you cannot pay your rent.2

Food banks, rather than grocery purchase, may help keep the wolf from changing the locks on your door. 85% of food bank users pay either market rent or social rent, with the remainder paying off mortgages. Of this combined group, fully half are worried about eviction from housing for non payment, or about defaulting on a mortgage.

Food bank visitor numbers were increasing before the pandemic. Why? And how will the further effects of the pandemic impact upon both food banks and their users? Read more at CityNews: Feed Ontario’s Hunger Report shows fear of eviction rising for low-income families

NYCHA: 175,000+ Units Need $45 Billion Repairs + Energy Efficiency? Impossible?

Redpoll Way and Redstart Way in Abbeymead, Gloucester photo by AmosWolfe is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Preparations are underway to "green" 4 million homes like these across the U.K.

With the kinds of New York City Housing Authority numbers in the headline above, it’s not surprising that even large governments (think cities, states, feds) can’t be seen for dust as they stampede towards the exits. Surely it can’t be done!

But this seemingly impossible task fades in comparison to the problem facing the United Kingdom. In spite of neglecting its council housing stock for decades, it still has approximately 4,000,000 socially rented homes1 scattered across a small country. It’s more needed than ever.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. The UK is already committing funding needed to bring its social housing up to national energy efficiency requirements by 2050.

That funding adds up to new business opportunities and profits. Read how one social housing maintenance specialist is planning the complex enterprise of “climate-protecting” socially rented housing in FACILITIES MANAGEMENT JOURNAL: Wates launches social housing energy services

Sure, Skip American Public Housing As A Failure. Just Choose A Better Model

Granbury June 2018 15 (Cross Acres Community Center and Granbury Housing Authority) photo by Michael Barera is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Even in the US, where public housing is generally reviled, some projects, like this one in Texas, thrive. What is it that makes this one work?

With a Democrat as President, progressives in both Congress and party will be pushing for a return to public housing as a cure for some of America’s housing woes.

Has public housing in the US truly been a failure? That belief has infected the entire population, including moderate- to right- wing congressional leaders. Even housing activists today pin their hopes on complicated and tottery houses of affordable cards built from a shotgun wedding of public money and private know-how-to-get-it-into-their-pockets. That reflects decades of anti-public housing policies crafted and implemented by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Does it have to be a fantasy that public housing might be successful? A pipe dream that America’s sturdy free enterprise politics could be enhanced rather than hampered by “socialist” approaches to housing?

Imagine a staunchly free enterprise country with business, industry and trade powering its wealth. Imagine living in that country, with a life expectancy among the highest in the world, where 80% of the people live within minutes of a park, and 70% from a train station.

Include, if you will allow it if only for a moment, that 80% live in public housing! And on top of that, an almost miraculous figure: 90% own their own homes!

A impossibly absurd dream? Not at all, if you are prepared to move to Singapore. Chances are they won’t allow you to become a citizen, unfortunately. They guard that privilege jealously.

Which leaves all of us outsiders with no other choice than to develop such a wealthy, socially conscious, socially beneficial, staunchly free-enterprise country where we currently live.

Read more at CNA: Singaporeans’ Life Expectancy Among Highest In The World: Public Sector Report

How Parliamentarians Might Get A Meaningful Taste Of Public Housing

Ricardo Menéndez March photo by Ricardo Menéndez March is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Ricardo Menéndez March. The 21st Century's Jonathan Swift?

What follows is a New Zealand article with all the sharp-edged whimsy of Irishman Johnathan Swift’s 1729 anonymous publication of A Modest Proposal.1 Here’s a New Zealand proposal that is not quite as controversial, perhaps, as eating babies, but from a politician point of view quite probably getting close: the suggestion is that Members of Parliament (or Senators, or Members of Congress, as your political system suits) should be required to reside in public housing in lieu of an allowance. Surprisingly, it was not made not by some irate, frustrated public housing constituent, but by a newly minted parliamentarian: Ricardo Menéndez March.

What better way to:

1) turn parliamentarians into stakeholders in public housing, where they might achieve greater understanding of the lived experience of their now-neighbours, and

2) discourage so many parliamentarians from dabbling in price-escalating housing investment in their spare time (apparently a problem in New Zealand).

Read more on this suggestion at Newshub: Have your say: Should MPs be put in public housing?

The above article includes a poll seeking the opinion of Newshub’s public. We haven’t seen the results reported anywhere yet. For some reason we doubt the proposal will ever see the light of day, even if every single citizen in New Zealand agrees with it.

Can Two Lame US Public Housing Substitutes Limp Effectively Together?

three-legged race photo by tadekk is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Neoliberal “small” governments over the last 50 years have developed low- and no- income housing support that was designed to replace “big government” hands-on public housing.

These solutions have, by and large, not measured up to the public housing service they were meant to replace. But that’s somewhat beside the point when it comes to patching up a mess of problematic schemes dreamed up to entice the private sector into building housing needed to support low-and no- income tenants from drowning in the endlessly rising tide of free market housing prices.

Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) are one enticement (or has it been bribery?) that encourages public housing-level rents in a free market housing project.

LIHTC funded private housing projects are ultimately revealed to suffer two significant weaknesses. First, they are “bubble under the wallpaper” solutions that are time-limited. In order to continue the benefits when the LIHTC agreement expires, further costs must be incurred.

Secondly, public housing neatly pegged rents to the actual income of the tenant. LIHTC projects use a far more complex formulation for determining rents that can actually exclude some or all of those low- and no- income tenants from any support.

As a wave of LIHTC projects with a 30-year expiry arrive at their “game over” moment, what next?

One possible solution is to use the shaky Section 8 rental assistance program to prop up the shaky LIHTC solution, by funnelling voucher holders to expiring LIHTC projects.

This vastly underfunded HUD voucher program was meant to allow participants to rent in any neighbourhood, not just facilities-poor low income neighbourhoods. It has been something og a failure in this regard.1

The Department of Housing and Urban Affairs (HUD) is funnelling voucher holders towards its “demonstration” program of privatized existing public housing and channelling guaranteed voucher dollars to its new owners, for at least a period of time. If voucher holders are funnelled back towards refurbished public housing, why not towards expired LIHTC projects?

These and other questions, are discussed in a new Shelterforce article, together with explanations of why LIHTC ignores individual ability to pay in favour of average market computations. These financial computations offer little to lower the enormous need for truly affordable housing (the best examples of which have been provided by now-discredited public housing).

Read more in Shelterforce: LIHTC Preservation and the Need for Rental Assistance

Aussie Feds Drop Social Housing Ball. Has Victoria, AU Picked It Up?


If noise in the press is any indication of public concern, then Australia’s press over the last six months has resonated with cries from all quarters for the construction of  new social housing. Proposed by activists, academics and concerned groups of all stripes and colours, a large social housing program has been billed as a twofer. First, it will help address a growing homelessness crisis by reducing the huge waiting lists for the nation’s depleted truly affordable housing stocks. Second, it will provide a giant boost to the nation’s construction industries, its fortunes much depleted by COVID-19.

The Australian Federal Government turned up its nose at the advice.1

But much to everyone’s surprise and delight, the State of Victoria has risen to the challenge. Victoria received bad press during COVID-19 for its aggressive lockdown treatment of social housing residents in the city of Melbourne.2

Has it redeemed its clumsy response to existing social housing residents with a commitment to building a truly significant quantity of new social housing? Read more in THE NEW DAILY: Pressure piles on federal government after Victoria’s record social housing drive

Not all reception of Victoria’s commitment has been unrestrained joy. A close reading of the announcement explains why. The state makes a distinction between “social” housing and “public” housing, which is important to parsing the details.

The overall message is that Victoria’s new social housing plans continue to over-emphasize public private partnerships and other housing strategies in which “affordability” remains a vague and drifting term — all to the detriment of the low- and no- income citizens whose needs should be a first priority.

Read more in THE AGE: Budget’s Big Social Housing Plan Lacks Public Housing Pillar

Housing UK Homeless: Creeping By Baby Steps To National Responsibility?

A boat's wake, seen through a rope net photo by Vanderlei Bailo is licensed under GNU Free Documentation License
Which boundary should be chosen for the net to catch up all the people who become homeless? City? County? State? Country?

In a 1939 alternative universe of extreme federalism, United Kingdom’s Home Counties voted to go to war with Nazi Germany. Scotland did not, which is why, in present-day Schottland, loyal troops march in leather kilts.

Fortunately, Wales, together with England’s North, voted for neutrality, which has kept the warring nations of Schottland and Homeland physically apart all these years.

All Silliness.

Military self-protection as well as adventurism are national responsibilities, overriding any contrary wants or needs of mere local regions. With the lives of thousands of national citizens at stake, the conduct of warfare cannot be overridden by local whims and disagreements.

So with the lives of thousands of a nation’s citizens at stake, how come homelessness is seen as a local issue and responsibility? Is it possible to sensibly conduct a war against homelessness under any other control but a national one?

Three examples, one local, two national:

In 2015 an idealist shelter system in Portland, Oregon faced down winter cold and deaths from exposure by vowing to turn away no homeless from their doors.

The initiative failed, beaten by ballooning costs as word of winter shelter spread beyond the city and even the state, attracting thankful homeless from all over the Northwestern U.S. Read more: Portland’s Local ‘Right To Shelter’ Couldn’t Drain A National Ocean Of Homelessness

But surely meaningful assistance to local projects can be obtained from the feds? Oh? Scotland, a “region” now in charge of its own homelessness, has committed to find housing for every homeless person who applies for assistance. Trouble is, the UK national government is in charge of welfare, and the current level of welfare assistance to the homeless means that Scotland cannot meet its commitment. The following report will take you through the problem, starting on page 22 in Scottish Government: Updated Ending Homelessness Together

In America, the problem of federal assistance is much more problematic. Here, too, homelessness is not recognized primarily as a national problem, but as a regional or local one. Nevertheless, several programs have been initiated by the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that appear to directly support housing for low and no income individuals and families. Trouble is, the most flexible is a program of rental assistance vouchers. Alas, the number of vouchers issued annually is estimated to support only about a quarter of those who need them to rent housing at a price they can afford.

You can dig those statistics out of an article, which looks hopefully towards incoming President-Elect Biden’s “fix” to this patchwork federal voucher plan. It’s a patch to go on top of a patch, “like food stamps for housing.” Its purpose would be to top up whatever inadequacies the other patchwork federal plans currently offer. Read more in The Philadelphia Enquirer: Philadelphia has an affordable-housing crisis. Biden’s platform has a simple, but radical, solution.

Some enthusiasm might therefore be given to the three regional councils in western England that have joined forces. This is billed as more efficient for those seeking socially rented housing over a wider region. While some might view this as merely a form of local collectivism, there’s a strong argument that the ultimate efficiency is not the gradual collectivization of a nation’s councils, but instead a more practical acceptance of a national responsibility for all aspects of ending homelessness. Read more in the Worcester Observer:  Councils join forces to form a new scheme for housing

Irish Grow Impatient With Housing Development “Help”

X Phoenix - New Housing Project Under Construction photo by Tony Webster is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The Irish government has banned co-living towers like his 553 unit one rising in Phoenix, AZ.

Is it a new development to help Dublin solve its social housing crisis, or a developer boondoggle to turn a tidy profit with slight-of-hand shell game in which it’s easy to discover the pea, but harder to notice that it has shrunk?

Or . . . is it a trendy downtown high-rise development — offering access and amenities instead of living space — so flashy and futuristic that it doesn’t even need to be downtown?

Shopworn affordable housing promises guaranteed to go unfulfilled are these days joined by newer, even more inventive schemes for extracting local and national support, as developers “help” Ireland tackle critical housing needs.

It takes pliable local and national governments to overlook some of the glaring disadvantages of public private (PPP) development schemes, whether the “ask” from developers is permission, land, funding, or all of the above.

There are growing signs that Irish governments are becoming less pliable.

The supposed glories of “co-living” high rises have been measured up and found wanting by the national government. Read more in the Irish Times: Minister for Housing to ban new co-living developments and Co-living no longer ‘trendy’ as it succumbs to political change of direction

Meanwhile, Dublin City councillors embarrass their own government staff by nixing a proposed PPP scheme that will eat up public housing and spit fewer units back. Read more in : Dublin City Council’s wine into water housing policies

Dublin On Social Housing: Let’s Do It Better, Like The Europeans Do

Iveagh Trust Building, Dublin, Éire photo by Warren LeMay is licensed under CC ZERO 1.0
Iveagh Trust housing in Dublin was built at the turn of the 20th century.

For any city, town or rural area re-thinking the benefits of social housing, it’s important to acknowledge that what went wrong in the past can be a useful foundation for new and more effective social housing solutions in the future. While federal governments often control the scope and financing of affordable housing that needs to be be built, local councils have played a principal role in the development, construction and management of local housing projects. Councils are the “boots on the ground” with a close up view of local requirements, as well as a long history of how to manage (and not manage) projects either directly, or through agencies such as housing associations.

Dublin city is a city that saw the construction of workers housing — a forerunner of modern social housing — in the late 1800’s, thanks to philanthropy of Sir Edward Guinness, Lord Iveagh, the prominent industrialist and brewer.1

With a social housing history that goes way back, as well as a neglected and declining stock of social housing, Dublin City Council is looking to a better, more effective social housing future. What might that look like? Read more in the Dublin InQuirer: Councillors on Public Housing Working Group Present Findings

Gary, Indiana Turns Out Public Housing Lights, Prays For Landlord Candles

U.S. President George H.W. Bush’s description of charities as “a thousand tiny points of light” has taken a rightful place in history and literature as a truly hopeful and evocative description of any nation’s charities.

Ultimately, however, evoking charity to rescue a critical and growing community need seems a very poor foundation for effective public policy, especially in the middle of a pandemic. And yet we see Gary, Indiana, with much anguish and handwringing, demolishing its community foundation of truly affordable housing — the city’s existing public housing which, for all its faults, has been in place and doing an essential housing job for decades.

And what is to replace this housing? Gary is pinning its hope on those “thousand tiny points of light.” The city is looking for a charitable solution for its ever-deepening housing crisis for those with low- and no- incomes.

Which tiny points of light in particular? Gary is hoping for charity from “a thousand tiny” landlords who, out the goodness of their hearts, will agree to accept federal Section 8 housing vouchers and rent their shelter to a poverty-stricken citizen. It’s something they are under no obligation to do and which will restrict the ways in which they are permitted manage their small rental businesses.

Really? hoping for charity? Is this a sensible way of ensuring shelter for a Gary’s most vulnerable citizens, and for that matter, a sensible way for the federal government to be supporting Gary’s critical housing needs? Read more at Gary moving residents out of public housing

Canadian First Nation Seeks Sovereignty Through Housing

Dettah elders home crop pano photo by CambridgeBayWeather is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Housing for Elders in Dettah, one of the communities of the Yellow Knives Dene Nation in the Northwest Territories of Canada.

Indigenous people who are resident in modern nations may value their often unasked for (and sometimes unwanted) citizenship. But many, if not most, harbour a strong sense of maintaining and promoting their own particular nationality, inherited from their more traditional First Nations.

For some that interest includes a national sovereignty — the right to self-determination. Many things define that sovereignty. The Yellowknives Dene, a First Nation within Canada’s Northwest Territories, see their nationhood linked to their control of new home construction. Read more at the CBC: Northern First Nation sees new housing strategy as a way to ‘take back sovereignty’

Customer Sometimes Right? Social Housing Landlords Might Need To Check

Grenfell Tower fire photo by * Natalie * is licensed under CC BY 4.0
Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. After 3 1/2 years, government announces how to listen to tenants.

In the United Kingdom, the Grenfell Tower disaster1 and its aftermath shows up landlords’ poor treatment of social housing tenants — from their most basic shelter needs, up to and including the safety of their lives. Adding insult to devastating injury, there has in recent years been little concern given to tenant opinion. The customer is not so much always right or always wrong, just always ignored. We’re not talking black-hatted, moustache-twiddling landlord-villains of early Hollywood movie fame here. The landlords in question are either supposedly competent and caring local government councils, or their representatives.

Finally there is action to bring social housing landlords to account. A report triggered by the Grenfell fire, some three years in the making, includes steps to ensure that U.K. housing tenants have a greater say in managing their homes, whether socially or privately rented.

There has been some disappointment in this report, in spite of its positive notes about tenant involvement. Activists were hoping to see something more concrete than mere warnings about the lack of sufficient housing, something which virtually everyone in the country is aware of. Read more in the BBC: Post-Grenfell social housing reforms unveiled

Would A Spoonful of Superiority Help the LGBTQ+ Community Go Down?

IAC2018 - Tuesday 24nd July, 2018 photo by juno mac is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Ceyenne Doroshow's realized a 30 year dream of LGBTQ+ owned and operated housing, which opened in November 2020.

Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), formed to create affordable homes, have been justifying their existence over the past few years by extolling the superiority of mixed income housing. It’s an argument of necessity, because the economics of such projects demand upscale housing to help finance a handful or two of affordable, or even truly affordable homes (ie. housing for people with very low or no income).

Income drives the story. The argument would seem to be that only a sprinkling of middle, or better, upper middle class residents (or even, if you’re lucky enough, upper classes) can ensure a morally, intellectually, and socially superior local neighbourhood.

Shared values, challenges, self image, economic circumstances, or ambition? That kind of homogeneity apparently builds neighbourhoods of losers.

It’s refreshing, therefore to discover the opening of New York’s first housing project funded by and for the LGBTQ+ community. Might one imagine that they’ll be looking to mix up their building classes with say, a set of straight, snooty, upper class bigots, practiced at looking down their noses at anything and everything?

One might, were one to believe that the upper classes are nature’s great harmonizers, gathering their neighbours to hold hands around campfires for poignant renditions of Kum-by-a My Lord.

While holding your breath for such an event, it might be worthy to consider the nature of LGBTQ+ community-welcoming and community-building activities that welcome the new residents to their homes. Are there some useful thoughts here for the cooperative engagement that might be employed when building new public housing projects?

Read more at CNN:  First NYC housing complex bought by and for the LGBTQ+ community opens

Overlooked: Women’s Homelessness And Housing Need

Harriet photo by Steve McKenzie is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

In the months leading up to COVID-19, two groups of researchers set out to investigate homelessness among women. The researchers were concerned that women’s experiences were overlooked. Both groups have produced reports to share their findings. Each used a different method to complete their research and are great examples of exploratory research to open up the issue.

One group is based in the UK. Their investigation focusses on women’s experience of homelessness. It includes interviews with 26 women who were experiencing homelessness.

According to the national government, homeless families are designated a priority group for attention and support. The interviews uncovered multiple ways that this official priority is undermined by policy conflicts and program implementation on the front line. One of the most difficult issues to navigate is the conflicts between child protection policies and financial social assistance offered to mothers who are homeless, particularly in cases of domestic abuse.

Here is just one example: children may be removed from their home for safety and to avoid witnessing abuse. After attending to their children’s safety on a temporary basis, the mothers are often assessed as being single when applying for social assistance and therefore not eligible for priority consideration.

The report’s authors recommend a number of changes to policy that could overcome these conflicts as well as areas for further investigation. They are well positioned to move ahead with further research.

The second group, which is based in Canada, sought information at a national level about women’s housing and homelessness. The idea behind it was to create a base line of information for action on women’s homelessness issues. The study team included academics, policy makers, program managers and people with lived experience.

The study process started with a search of the available information related to women’s housing and homelessness. They cast the net broadly, including academic studies, community based research, the census and other sources. This produced over 10,000 documents! They found lots of information and research on a small scale, but little that provided a national overview. The available reports nevertheless enabled the study team to identify common themes in women’s experience of homelessness. They organized all of the studies into eight key challenges. Here are three examples:

  • a need for adequate and safe housing
  • cycles of repeated violence and
  • system gaps, silos and policies that contribute to homelessness.

The report is being used in national discussions to plan next steps for a newly formed Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network.

Both reports illustrate different ways to investigate an issue that deserves more attention. Their findings are complementary, particularly with regard to policy conflicts and the prevalence of violence as a factor contributing to homelessness. These reports represent two solid foundations for action by policy makers, decision makers and advocates.

Both reports include descriptions of the research methods, which will be helpful for people who are looking for ideas for studies designed to explore issues that have been overlooked. The reports also demonstrate that a range of approaches can be taken. This in turn highlights the value of spending time to decide on a suitable method, to ensure a good fit with the overall intention of the project.

These reports are most timely, as domestic violence and homelessness have been prominent as safety issues during COVID-19. The more we know about women’s experiences, the better we will be at acting to end homelessness among women.

To read more about the UK policy brief see: Forgotten mothers: the case for a policy focus on the experiences of motherhood and homelessness

The key research findings are also available: Homeless mothers: Key research findings

The Canadian study is published in key findings, two executive summaries (in French and English) and a full report. All are available at the Women’s National Housing And Homelessness Network: The State of Women’s Housing Need & Homelessness in Canada

Greet Once-Employed, Now Homeless Hoards: No Salary, Not Even Tips

The kitchen at Disfrutar photo by Lou Stejskal is licensed under CC BY 2.0
What becomes of them now?

Good Value = Popular = Crowding = Exuberant Conversation = Infected Spittle-Spatter blown away in a patio wind, but sucked into deadly circulation when trapped indoors. The future of the hospitality industry once lived, and now dies, in the loving embrace of conviviality.

Sure, totally revamped building circulation is proposed as a possible answer. Alas, such a theoretical victory is well beyond the financial reach of most, if not entirely all, of the world’s eateries and drinkeries (not to mention their landlords).

Meantime restaurants and pubs, even those with great air circulation, are being lumped together and ordered to lock down, closing their rooms full of empty tables. At best they are permitted to limp along on takeout.

Hospitality businesses cannot survive without often rather poorly paid employees. But few businesses are capable of retaining them in the absence of paying customers. Worldwide, the result is a growing reality of employee layoffs and dismissals.1

Beyond the dry, numeric blow-by-blow of a mortally wounded industry, what exactly is happening to these hospitality industry employees?

Exploring a series of personal experiences adds up to at least a glimmer of understanding why many regions, no matter how badly battered by rising numbers of COVID-19 victims, are so reluctant to enact or extend or repeat lockdowns. Read more in The Guardian: ‘I’m seeing an industry disappear’: how lockdown is leaving hospitality workers homeless

U.S. Pilot Project Smooths The Transition From Jail To Community

Prison Bound photo by Thomas Hawk is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Home again, home again? A novel form of intervention can prevent return to prison.

The Homecoming Project in Oakland, California matches people who are leaving prison with community hosts who provide housing for six months. The idea is to provide safe and secure housing and avoid landing back in prison.

And it’s working. Since the project began in 2018, all 27 participants have found jobs or are upgrading their education. None have gone back inside.

The success of the project has translated finally to temporary funding, following months of rejection letters. Impact Justice, which organized the project, plans to use the new funding to increase the number of matches and help other communities get started.

Read more about the Homecoming project in NEXTCITY: The ‘Airbnb for Returning Citizens’ Gives People More Than Just a Second Chance

U.S. Evictions Tsunami? Still Looming As Some Hope To Cancel Rents

Cancel the Rent Rally photo by Kyle T. is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Rent cancellation rally, Washington, D.C. Minorities are particularly threatened by evictions.

The U.S., like many countries staggering under the impact of COVID-19, is facing a hopefully-temporary crisis of individual and family poverty. One consequence has been an inability of a great many to afford home mortgage payments as well as rent payments — the latter particularly acute as it has more swiftly impacted those with low incomes for whom monthly rent has always been a struggle.

The U.S. federal government has largely taken a “do-it-yourself” approach to this national crisis, resulting in a festival of lesser jurisdictions spawning a myriad of temporary solutions to stave off housing evictions. Unfortunately, the patchwork of government initiatives are pierced with enough loopholes to ensure that some people are already losing their shelter.

With few indications that government blockades against evictions are anything but temporary, activists are fighting with whatever tools come to hand to ensure that as many Americans as possible can avoid eviction.

For the current state of play in the battle against evictions, read more in Shelterforce: Tenants Block Evictions by Any Means

While Waiting For Econ 101 Solutions, Welcome To The 1890 Slums

Large Rabbit Hutch photo by Louisejw is licensed under GNU Free Documentation License
Rabbit are faring better than people living in "permanently temporary" housing in England.

When it comes to the creation of affordable housing, particularly truly affordable social housing, neoliberal government thinking still prevails after 50 years of questionable results. The tried but not-so-true prescription: back away from government regulation such as permits and by-laws. The free housing market will then deliver all the goods needed — housing for the rich, as well the poorest, industry actions guided in all the right directions by the so-called “Law of Supply and Demand.”

The United Kingdom, like other neoliberal governments, has nevertheless been loathe to experiment too fully by removing by-laws — most or all of which were originally implemented to prevent socially unacceptable results of dubious housing development practices.

Loathe, except in the UK for one grand experiment: to encourage the redevelopment of decaying industrial and commercial sites, where “permitted development” has allowed housing construction activity unfettered by irksome bylaws and regulations.

The result? However profitable it may be for the housing industry, permitted development is letting the nation down. KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and basic “Economics 101” (Law of Supply and Demand) are wreaking particular havoc on the pressing needs for truly affordable housing, creating a “permanently temporary” supply of cheapest shelter, at a quality barely fit for human habitation. These deliver a down and dirty housing fix to stretch cash-strapped council budgets that many find hard to resist.

And that’s why councils can be heard pleading for help in relieving this drug-like dependence on trashy shelter. Read more in The Guardian: Empty offices must not become ‘rabbit hutch’ homes, say English councils

Meanwhile the nation waits, apparently in vain, for good old “Economics 101” to deliver the supply of adequate housing for low- and no- income citizens that is sorely needed. Without it, the growing ugliness of inadequate housing evokes memories of slum life at the turn of the eighteenth century, in particular the following article from Birmingham. Read more in the Birmingham Mail: ‘Sheer horror’ as 155 children found in one B&B in Birmingham during lockdown

Ranking By Numbers Gets In The Way Of Homelessness Services

Rising from the Mist photo by Steve Crane is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
How should we welcome a person who wants to leave homelessness?

A preoccupation with numbers may be getting in the way of helping people to leave homelessness. This insight comes from a report that focusses on making homelessness services more accessible to Indigenous people who live in Canada.1

Information about services was gathered from Indigenous program participants, who shared and reflected on their experiences of leaving homelessness. The issue with numbers showed up at the intake phase, a beginning step that is common to many services.

As one participant relates, people who complete the intake process end up with a number, which scores the urgency of their need for services. The process of having someone assign a number is unpleasantly associated with the residential school system,2 where each student was identified by a number upon enrollment. Because of this association, Indigenous people are dubious about seeking out the services that are supposed to help.

The participants also reflected that the intake’s assessment criteria are based on deficits or failings. Prospective participants facing multiple challenges earn a higher score. This can also be a deterrent to entering services. Participants noted a reluctance to share their life with a stranger, even though they knew that telling all would mean a higher number. There’s also a self protection element, as the experience of recounting past life experiences can be traumatic. Knowing there is a cost to revisiting the past, even though it will pump up your number, can also be a deterrent.

The report recommends ways to make it easier for Indigenous people to access services, including a less formal intake process, which focusses more on starting a relationship and less on coming up with a number. This would allow participants to decide when and how they will share their lives with the people who are providing the services.

Some program experts oppose the less formal approach, arguing that the people with the greatest need should be the priority in providing service. However, as Indigenous participants relate, the people with the greatest need may be missing out altogether.

There’s an earlier evaluation that lends support the Indigenous participants’ advice. In this case, the evaluation compared approaches to assisting women who were experiencing homelessness in New York city. The Community Living Room project (CLR), which took an informal approach to intake and treatment, was compared with conventional approaches. The outcomes for CLR participants were significantly better than those in the conventional programs.

In a journal article, the people who evaluated the CLR reflect on elements of the program that contributed to its success. The evaluators remark particularly on the value of informal approaches to intake and assessment. They also noted the importance of having clients decide when and whether to revisit earlier life events.

Is this a wholesale rejection of numbers? Not at all. Numbers were essential to comparing the Community Living Room with other services. But these two reports do remind us that how people support people to leave homelessness is also an important consideration.

It also suggests that impacts of using rankings or numbers might extend to other program areas, and should be a consideration when designing, implementing and evaluating other programs and services.

Finally, this post has touched on only one aspect of services that would benefit two different client groups. Each of the articles linked below discuss much, much more, which may be insightful for people who are planning or providing services to people experiencing homelessness.

The full study about services for Indigenous people is available at the Homeless Hub: Revisioning Coordinated Access: Fostering Indigenous Best Practices Towards a Wholistic Systems Approach to Homelessness

The Homeless Hub also features a post outlining the special significance of Revisioning Co-ordinated Access in the Canadian context, where the federal government has just made a commitment to end homelessness.

The article about the Community Living Room is published in Women & Therapy. The full article requires a subscription, but there’s an abstract available on line: Safety, Trust, and Treatment: Mental Health Service Delivery for Women Who Are Homeless

Daryn David is the contact for Safety, Trust and Treatment. Daryn can be contacted at

Public Housing: For Heaven’s Sake Let The Good Times Roll!

Is social housing a disease or a cure? Half a century spent pondering that question has left neoliberal governments around the world no closer to an answer.

One thing is clear, though. Home ownership as an ever-inflating retirement piggy bank continues to raise the price of free market housing, whether purchase or rental, beyond the means of large and increasing numbers of low- and no- income citizens.

A variety of social housing replacement schemes such as housing developer tax credits, mixed income projects, and rent supplement vouchers have attempted to address the problem. None have been as effective as purpose-built social housing itself, for all its too-gleefully celebrated warts.

Inadequate low and no-income housing is about to be further overwhelmed by homeless lower income wage workers laid off or dismissed from industries hard hit by COVID-19.

It is for this and a variety of other reasons that activists, academics and politicians in several countries are looking with more interest at the potential of traditional larger scale social housing projects, reimagined and implemented and managed differently and more effectively.

Within the context of that reimagining, there are benefits to looking at the strengths that earlier social housing projects have to offer. One obvious potential benefit comes from the interests shared by those in similar economic and social situations living together. This is a benefit not as immediately available or even suitable in a mixed income community of widely diverging incomes, nor to a scattering of rent-supplemented voucher-holders within a much broader community.

The following article is an example of a benefit that suits a community of similar interests. While it is an example of a response to the unique specifics of COVID-19, it demonstrates the potential of shared objectives and energy in a community of people with low-incomes.

Read more in at WAMU 88.5: How A Public Housing Learning Hub Is Helping D.C. Students Navigate Online Classes

Sounding The Bell For Public Spending On Social Housing

An ever expanding urban jungle photo by Dickson Phua is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
New housing flats rise in Singapore where social housing has lifted a huge population out of poverty and made them wealthy homeowners. Why shouldn't every country do this?

For the past few decades, countries caught in the thrall of neoliberalism (e.g. America, Australia, Canada, UK, Ireland, etc.) have stood by the theory that governments have no place in housing anyone, particularly the poor.

The deliberate flight by these governments from the construction and maintenance of public housing has come home to roost in the COVID-19 pandemic. With people experiencing homelessness waiting literally years-long for rare vacancies in what remains of public housing in these countries, extraordinary safety measures have been needed to bring them in off the streets in the midst of a pandemic.

For the last few months, commentators in Australia have been something of a stand-out in this group of neoliberal dinosaurs as they tried come to grips with failed experiments to entice the private sector to deliver housing to people with low- or no- incomes.

Silence on the subject has been largely the order of the day in the U.S. for example, where activists and academics bemoan the public private partnership status quo that inevitably points to a continued lack of public housing.

But concerned voices in Australia, (if reports in the press are anything to go by) have seized upon the two-fold benefit from revisiting the possibility of building new public housing projects.1 That it would benefit those on waiting lists for truly affordable housing goes without saying. But a constant refrain from Australia over the past months, including from the housing industry itself, has extolled public housing construction as an ideal way of getting a nationally important industry back on its feet.

Now UK voices are joining that chorus. An article in ABOUT Manchester reports on a collaborative endeavour by the Local Government Association, the Association of Retained Council Housing, and the National Federation of ALMOs (Arms Length Management Organizations). The three groups together are responsible for providing services to people who are homeless and for providing socially rented housing.

Like the voices from Australian, this English triumvirate argues that public spending on socially rented housing will help the economy and the construction industry get back on its feet, while also helping people who are facing the biggest risks in the pandemic. Read more in Read in ABOUT Manchester: Spiralling Council Housing Waiting Lists – New Report Reveals.

The full report is available here: Building post-pandemic prosperity

Update – San Francisco Considers Paying The Price For New Public Housing

North Beach Place photo by Payton Chung is licensed under CC BY 2.0
American Public housing projects are made difficult by federal funding restrictions. The result: mixed income projects, such as North Beach Place in San Francisco, deliver only handfuls of low and no income housing.

A lot of attention following the U.S. elections has been focussed at the national level, where counting continues slowly and painstakingly. Not so in San Francisco, where some of the margins are much larger. Going forward, the City will have some funding to pay for new public housing, thanks to an enhanced tax on big ticket property transactions. Read more about this and other San Francisco results at MISSION LOCAL: Election 2020: What just happened in San Francisco — and what happens next

For the whys and wherefores of San Francisco’s proposed public housing ideas that were tested by referendum, see our pre-election post below.

“The vision is that you can be a working class person who lives in San Francisco and pays a reasonable percentage of your income to rent.”

It’s déjà vu all over again as San Francisco discovers facts known 90 years ago about the benefits of public housing.

The federal government in America, at least just before and probably well after the 2020 elections, remains mired a political era defined by Reagan in the US and Thatcher in the UK. These leaders championed an ever-hopeful but long out of date belief that the superior functioning of a free market will somehow automatically take care of all of a country’s citizens, leaving government and burdensome taxation to shrink.

Private enterprise claims to do anything better — a brash certainty echoed by a legion of government enablers. Just possibly it can, except when it can’t or won’t, which is most of the time. And most of the time that certainly applies to the creation of much needed, truly affordable, public housing. Mixed income housing — smart, new and socially integrated, provides only handfuls of low and no income housing, nowhere near enough to fill an enormous need.

It is something of a pleasure, therefore, to see a civic government considering a tiptoe along a housing path officially long abandoned in America: the construction of new — not just refurbished — public housing.

Read more af KQED: San Francisco Voters to Decide on New Public Housing – and Taxes to Pay for It

Step Back From Bad And Ugly Of Public Housing To Celebrate The Good

The demonization of public housing residents in America has been a price paid by “small government” beliefs that the public purse has no role to play in either the right of all to housing (missing from the U.S. Constitution), nor even the humanitarian response to the need of all citizens to have the basic health need of adequate shelter.

Rather than debating either the essential right, or the essential need for all to possess housing, it has been easier over the years to magnify all that has gone either temporarily or permanently wrong with public housing — showcasing its incidents of vandalism and crime, attributing mental illness to the housing itself, and proposing that social forms of housing make its occupants degenerate, or alternately attract only social degenerates to public housing.

Stories about the benefits of public housing, as well as the struggles and triumphs of those born and raised there, are sadly few and far between.

One such documentary premiered November, 12, 2020 on VPM: HEARD: Stories of Surviving & Thriving in an American Housing Project

Tenants Call For Green Kitchens In NYCHA Buildings

63/365 Spirals photo by Jellaluna is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Tenants living in housing owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) have come up with a great idea to get the ball rolling on a Green New Deal and it starts in the kitchen.

Some kitchens in NYCHA kitchens are equipped with gas stoves. If the aging gas pipes spring a leak, there is no money to fix them. The remedy is to cut off the gas and provide tenants with a hot plate.

The Tenants’ plan is to replace gas stoves with electric ones, and install solar panels on the roof.

Removing the remaining gas stoves will reduce the CO emissions. There’s also a health benefit because gas stoves make it harder for tenants with asthma to breathe.

Critics have suggested that electric stoves will strain the city’s electricity supply. Adding the solar panels would reduce the demand. There is also a question about whether the roofs can support the weight of the solar panels. The tenants point out that there is an opportunity to reinforce the roofs as they are due for replacement.

This idea will be of interest to any housing provider who operates a building with gas stoves. It will also be useful to the coalition promoting the Green New Deal. Anyone concerned about asthma and respiratory illness might want to review the information in the article about gas stoves.

Read more at GOTHAM GAZETTE: Want to Fix NYCHA? Start in the Kitchen

The courts, HUD and NYCHA itself have come up with numerous schemes to save NYCHA housing from complete destruction. NYCHA tenants have made numerous offers to participate in the effort, but these have largely fallen on deaf ears. This proposal will face an uphill battle, even though it would improve individual health for people with asthma and global health by reducing emissions. In the face of the unrelenting negativity that surrounds public housing in the U.S., it is hard to imagine that this idea will succeed. Supporters might draw hope and strategy from this initiative in Wales: Can Existing Social Housing Go ‘Green’ One Baby Step At A Time?

Irish Government Heavy Breathing Into Vacant Housing Owner Ears

IMAG1257 photo by Sara Everett is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Small-c government (or neo-liberal government, if you like) is a public entity that is infatuated with private enterprise. That goes particularly for the provision of truly affordable housing, for which there is a desperate need in a great many countries.

Among the the myriad of ways that public and private can get intimate around housing, just which is on top, and which is on bottom? In Ireland, apparently, it doesn’t matter. The participants can try it every which way. It’s all good, at least on paper before the schmoozing starts.

Ireland has evolved a housing scheme in which public and private entities are more or less kinda top, then bottom, in an elaborate, intertwined wrestling match.

The target: vacant housing sitting idle.

The plan: to use it for social housing.

First the government, on top, evaluates suitable partners, and provides refurbishing grants to the lucky blushing brides. Then positions are reversed, and the coy fixer-upper moves top to become a lusty landlord, renting the home to a shy, giggling government. That government, reverting to top once more and in an act of state sanctioned promiscuity, links a third party into the daisy chain in the form of a low or no-income citizen who, needless to say, will likely be long practiced at being on the bottom.

So how is it all working out so far? With at least 3,500 vacant homes available to this scheme of public/private intimate gymnastics, 185 homes have gone the full monty and beyond.

Conclusion: there seems to be absolutely no end to the clever ways in which public can climb into bed with private, and after all the hanky panky, not get the job done.

Read more in the Irish Examiner: Just 185 out of 3,500 vacant homes converted into social housing

Birmingham Private Housing Authorities Abandon Special Needs Tenants

Wheelchair photo by Joshua Zader is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The U.K. government has over the past few years created loopholes for housing developers normally restricted by numerous by-laws. This extra freedom was created in order to encourage the development of housing on brownfield sites, where remediation (toxic waste cleanup) expenses discourage investor participation.

One result has been the very questionable value of what has been a boom in local councils using slapdash brownfield housing as “emergency” housing for low- and no- income citizens experiencing homelessness. Sure, it’s meant to be temporary, but in more and more situations this inadequate housing is shifting towards a “permanently temporary” solution where no other suitably affordable housing is anywhere in sight.

It seems that free-market developers have ingeniously tapped into council funding dollars for “emergency” housing to offload boatloads of sub-standard product.

Now the country is facing accumulating evidence that for-profit firms that target council management dollars are taking a leaf from the same “what can we get away with?” playbook for services they agree to provide and then don’t.

Is this just the odd rare abuse of the social housing management system? Or could we be looking at an epidemic of housing management mistreating absolutely the most vulnerable of all citizens — low- and no- income folks who, on top of their poverty, need special care.

Birmingham U.K. is a city leaning towards abuse at an epidemic scale. Read more in the Birmingham Mail: Clampdown on bad landlords who fail to support city’s vulnerable tenants

And for a specific example, also reported in the Birmingham Mail, read: Firm housing 450 vulnerable people stripped of special ‘exempt’ status after city council probe

Can Existing Social Housing Go ‘Green’ One Baby Step At A Time?

IMG_3963 photo by Becker1999 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A local article from a Welsh newspaper paints in one corner of an enormous issue: ‘decarbonization’ of United Kingdom’s social housing.

Viewed from America, decarbonization or greening, or energy efficiency, or any of a several of other terms all compete for primacy as a description of efforts to slow planetary damage caused by climate change. Could any such description suit as a constructive U.S. national strategy to upgrade woefully neglected public housing?

It seems an almost impossible objective in the light of federal efforts to scrape public housing piecemeal off the national plate and onto the shoulders of any non-profit or for-profit enterprise willing to accept the challenge of making long neglected but fundamentally necessary repairs to America’s public housing.

In the light of such horrors as New York City Housing Authority’s $40 billion+ estimate for fundamental repairs, it makes it difficult to imagine further outlays, however much they may be needed, in order to prevent climate change.

The Welsh article is a local window into one way that a broad national coalition of government, non-profits, and for-profit organizations may be able to approach such a carbonization challenge at a measurable pace dictated by available resources.

Read more in the South Wales Argus: Newport City Homes funding award to ‘decarbonise’ social housing

Biden-Harris: Timely Dawn Of A New Day For Public Housing? Unlikely

IMG_5827 photo by Elvert Barnes is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Far too many Americans currently have no homes from which to banish hate.

For young progressives in America expecting great change from the replacement of a Republican President by a Democratic one, don’t hold your breath while counting on the arrival of a new, equitable era for public housing. The caution holds even if the twin Senate run-off elections in Georgia deliver Democrat victories and the full control of Congress that goes with them.

Older progressives will be aware that the “Thatcherite” small government philosophies born in the 1970s have influenced both Republican and Democratic presidencies as well as congressional majorities over the last half century. The result has been a steady evolution towards public private partnerships in the management of American public housing. Some might prefer the term “dismantling” rather than “management.”

A section of the following article in Next City concerns itself with the possible fate of city public housing initiatives that might be influenced by the changes in national government. It includes sobering descriptions of the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs (HUD) leadership that has evolved across several administrations, Democratic and Republican alike. There will need to be a significant sea change away from the current privatization of public housing initiatives before America cities can look with any confidence towards a constructive new era of public housing. Read more in Next City: Will the Biden-Harris Administration Trust the Ideas of Those in Cities Who Delivered their Victory?

Reasons To Be Wary Of Home Ownership

FUTURE HOME photo by Futurebuzz
Does the relentless drive to home ownership hurt us all?

Yes, there are people who wonder whether home ownership is all it’s cracked up to be. This intriguing point of view diverges substantially from the idea that everyone should aspire to home ownership. What lies behind it?

First there is the idea of harm, which has become part of academic thinking in the disciplines of criminology and health. “Harms” began in an effort to name and discuss issues that were beyond individual control. The term encompasses actions by businesses, governments and economic structures that cause harm. Marc Schelhase, who teaches at King’s College, London, discusses the application of “harms” thinking in political economy, as it applies in the UK housing market.

He argues that giving priority in public policy and funding to support home ownership is a choice, which has consequences (harms) for some people. It is not surprising that people who don’t or can’t own housing are harmed. Somewhat less expected is the position that people who do own housing also experience harm, at least in the context of the housing market in England.

Schelhase, who studies risk management, takes the view that as government policy and funding priority has focussed on home ownership, it has also shifted risk to individuals. Home ownership today is expected to replace the social safety net that was provided by public pensions and social welfare. He also discusses why reliance on home ownership as a personal safety net can create stress (harms) for homeowners, who are the supposed beneficiaries of the public policies. You can read more about these ideas in EconoTimes: Prioritising home ownership hurts everyone – owners as well as renters

Schelhase discusses his thinking more fully in an article published in New Political Economy, where he draws from other disciplines to discuss harms in the context of political economy. He also weaves in credible public data. Here are two examples:

  • The UK government’s decent home standard, which rates the physical condition of homes. According to 2020 figures, just 12% of social housing is in disrepair, compared with 18% of ownership housing and 25% of private rental homes.
  • The Living Home Standard, which uses five criteria to rate the quality of homes in the UK.1

For more, check out: Bringing the Harm Home: The Quest for Home Ownership and the Amplification of Social Harm

Tough Times For Landlords: The Shoe Remains Stuck On The Other Foot

Fenwick Tower, rent banner photo by RicLaf is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Rent signs can stay down for a little longer in England as the eviction ban is extended to 2021.

In Ontario, Canada, a landlord can’t even book a hearing for a juicy above-guideline rent increase, such is the demanding backlog facing the Landlord Tenant Board as it begins to adjudicate tenant eviction hearings that have been on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, from a landlord perspective, misery has returned to the correct foot, now heaped back on tenants even as the pandemic rages on.

But in the UK, fortune is still far from favouring the home-letting class. Tight restrictions on evictions keep the misery shoe on the landlord foot. Read more in The Negotiator: ‘Further blow’: Government tightens evictions rules until 11th January

Landlords aren’t the only ones grumbling about the extension of a freeze on evictions. Letting agents facilitate the landlord/tenant relationship. If everyone is sitting tight in their rental homes, letting agent income shrinks.

The following article, which detais letting agent concerns, at least gives a nod to the tenants, by way of pointing out that activists who are attempting to support potential evictees don’t begin to feel that the ban on tenant evictions goes nearly far enough. Read more in LettingAgentTODAY: Another blow to agents! Anger over latest eviction ban

Enhanced Mental Health For Seniors In Public Housing

BreithauptCommunityCentre-Kitchener photo by Illustratedjc is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Telephone and Internet are replacing community centres like this one, which were places for seniors to connect pre-COVID.

Patrick Raue is using his research to help seniors to stay connected. It is proving helpful to tenants living in public housing.

At any time, it’s important to keep connections with friends and family members for the sake of our mental health, especially as we get older. The COVID-19 pandemic added a new layer of complexity to following that advice.

Raue works at the University of Washington, in Seattle, at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine. His research is about depression and stress management. His initiative focusses on agencies who are in contact with older people who live in public housing projects.

The agencies had been running social programs, which ended abruptly when COVID arrived. The agencies changed their tactics, switching to regular phone chats to check in with the people who had been coming to the programs.

Raue’s research helped the agencies to take the chats up a notch, by making sure that the conversations cover key practical and mental health topics. From the conversation, callers are better able to assess whether follow up is needed and to give advice and support to help the tenants.

Raue’s work will be of interest to agencies that support seniors and other people who are socially isolated. Funders looking to enhance COVID responses should also take note of this model.

Callers receive training to build the check list and assessment tool into their chats. The training has extended Raue’s work quickly among agencies that support seniors. Read more at UW Medicine: Stay Connected program helps isolated seniors

Equality In Education Takes a Surprise Turn Towards Internet Access

CAM02399 photo by Luchita9813 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

COVID-19’s focus on home has brought a lot of issues to light. Our homes are one of the reasons some of us are more likely to contract the virus than others. COVID-19 has also exposed gaps in home-based access to broadband internet.

Why is this an issue?

Without broadband access, people are limited their ability to work from home or to continue at school. Both contribute to housing stability. For today’s adults, it can mean being able to pay rent or make mortgage payments. For tomorrow’s adults, completing school means access to jobs with adequate pay to be able to purchase or rent housing.

Who is being left out?

We’re aware of two groups who are likely to have broadband access issues: people living where broadband isn’t available (mainly rural areas) and people with low- and no- incomes. African Americans, Latinex and Indigenous people are prominently represented in the low- and no- income group.

Opening the broadband internet door to more people, especially students

Here are some ideas that have been reported and could be helpful:

  • U.S. schools were ordered to end discrimination in 1954, a court order that has yet to be effectively implemented. COVID-19 has presented a twist in the court-ordered requirement that students have equal access to learning. Temporarily at least, equal opportunity does not mean attendance at school but equal opportunity to learn at home. Read more at businesswire: DHA, Housing Solutions for North Texas Focuses on Advancing Equity in Education to Help Create Opportunities for the Communities It Serves
  • The U.S.’s McKinney-Vento Act, which dates to 1987, has provided assistance for students who are homeless. It might be a prototype for extending assistance to families requiring housing support whose resources can not stretch to provide the equality of opportunity required by the courts. Read more about this support here: Supports To Students Experiencing Homelessness: A Tale Of Uneven Access
  • Still in the U.S., COVID-19 temporary emergency funding is being used to provide families with high speed internet (and in some cases computers) so that children can continue their classroom learning from home. That funding is being stretched by negotiating deals with internet providers and other innovative partnerships to procure hardware and software for home based learning at specific locations (e.g. public housing projects that house families). This translates to temporary access for learners and great publicity for the providers and partners. Public housing managers, having organized a solution in the short term, are already thinking about the future when that funding will run out. Try: Internet Connections Broaden The Definition of Housing Infrastructure
  • In the U.K., additional public support has been extended to university students who are attending school without family supports (children and youth who have been in the care of the state). Try: COVID-19: Public Support To A Special Group Of University Students

Thinking about broadband as a community resource

The New York state legislature has been held up in its efforts to make broadband internet service more accessible. Legislators are arguing about who should get access: people in homeless shelters or people in rural New York state. Read in Observer: Looming Fight For Broadband Internet Access In Homeless Shelters Statewide

They might want to consider community based internet. As unlikely as it might seem, it does exist. Here’s a story from Northern Ontario. Internet businesses assessed these rural communities as NWD (not worth doing), so the communities stepped up. Read in CBC: Is Making Internet A Public Utility The Best Way To Get Northern Ontario Connected?

For those interested in pursuing the idea of community based internet, here is advice from Institute for Local Self-Reliance: Lawn Signs and Flyers are the Engines Driving Community Broadband

And at a larger scale, community based internet has been provided state-wide in Estonia since 2001, when it was declared a human right. Read more in The Guardian: Lessons From Estonia: Why It Excels At Digital Learning During Covid

How did Estonia get on this track? Local people there say that the decision makers were young and open to new ways of doing things. Could this happen elsewhere? We can only hope so for the sake of every future adult.

Stop OZ Fantasies. Replace Yellow Brick Road With Equitable Housing Infrastructure

Portland Vintage Trolley photo by Steve Morgan is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Discrimination in the design of transit systems extends as far back as the era when this trolley was state of the art.

The Wizard of Oz musical was short on housing details, but long on vital housing infrastructure. The yellow brick road carried everyone from their dwelling (admittedly not highly featured in the musical) to the City of Oz.

In America, real-world roads as well as other means of conveyance perform similar functions — an infrastructure that transports citizens from their shelter to other locations of vital importance such as employment.

Unfortunately, planning and constructing transportation infrastructure has been anything but equitable. Yes indeed, it has provided enormous convenience and cost saving to the middle class commute from suburbs to the big city. But transportation construction has at best only accidentally supported the infrastructure of its underclasses, particularly black communities. Those needs have not resonated with urban planners and their council bosses.

Today, “infrastructure” is being viewed as a racial justice issue. The City of Portland, Oregon would like to actively address the problem by building new, equitable transportation. Unfortunately, with the proposed costs to be borne by a business tax, Portland is having trouble convincing big business to put their money where their mouth is.

Read more in Bloomberg CityLab: To Lift Up Communities of Color, Fix Public Transit

Housing Rental Assistance Stalls Out In Hot Markets. Even Warm Ones.

Galway photo by Mohd Fazlin Mohd Effendy Ooi is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Hoping to rent with government subsidy in Galway? The subsidy is available. The housing's not.

In countries influenced by neo-liberalism, governments are dedicated to self-shrinking. Rather than constructing and “owning” public/social housing, rental assistance programs have become the order of the day for supporting low- and no- income citizens. The idea is to push the management of this vulnerable portion of the population onto the shoulders of free market landlords. (Presumably, this allows the landlords to profit from this relationship, since that’s the point of being a landlord.)

Whether implemented via vouchers (commonly known as section 8 vouchers in the USA), or “housing benefit” in the UK and Canada (sharing the name, but not the program details), or Housing Assistance Program (HAP) in Ireland, it’s really too bad these programs don’t work well, if at all.

The section 8 voucher program is notoriously underfunded, with only a fraction of those eligible winning competitions for vouchers. Adding to the misery, in many states landlords are free to ignore the program entirely.

But surely it’s unreasonable to suggest they don’t work at all?

Oh? Take Ireland’s HAP program. A recent article from Galway indicates that no properties in the city are available to rent under the HAP program for the fourth consecutive reporting period in a row. Free market housing? Oh yes, that’s available, but it’s not within HAP’s limits.

And there lies a fundamental flaw in rental assistance programs. Governments pay lip service to the wonder of the free market, but behave as if they are above it all by non-participation — seeking to impose limits on the free market arrangements between landlords and tenants.

The impact on government? None. They set aside a sum of money, and save some or all of it if nothing fits their self-imposed, free market limiting guidelines.

The impact on landlords? None, if they have pegged their rent, as they are perfectly entitled to do, above the government’s price limits.

The impact on tenants? If homeless, they remain so when, as in this Galway report. There is no price-limited housing to be had. But housing these tenants is the entire point of the exercise!

By attempting to have their free market cake but refusing to eat it, governments are reinforcing the only sane option to provide housing security for the most vulnerable: social/public housing. Read more in The Galway Advertiser: Farrell Not Surprised At Available HAP Rental Figures

Montréal: Can A By-Law Hitch An Affordable Cart To The Housing Dragon?

A Fada e o Dragón, Xaime Quessada, Vigo photo by HombreDHojalata is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
It's one thing to ride a dragon, but hitching a cart?

Montréal, Québec is like communities everywhere that recognize a need for secure, truly affordable housing for low- and no- income citizens. And like many, many communities, Montréal would far prefer that some other entity — not the municipality itself — should pay for it.

Why not, then, harness the power of the housing industry dragon that spits out almost all the housing needs of entire municipalities, while gorging on its own insatiable quest for profit? Can a new municipal bylaw tack a social housing cart to the tail of the dragon, forcing it to pay for a city’s housing needs for low- and no- income needs?

The mayor of Montréal believes this social objective can be successfully hitched to a free enterprise beast. Others worry the dragon will go walkabout, taking its appetite for housing profits elsewhere, sidestepping the city’s bylaws. Or will the beast simply pass these social welfare costs onto the shoulders of those who also must have shelter but can afford to buy or rent it?

Read more at Global News: Montreal mayor unveils reworked housing bylaw: ‘I feel like we did the right thing’

10,000 L.A. Public Housing Units That Didn’t Get Built

Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California photo by Kend Lund is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
The public housing project planned for Elysian Park Heights would have been a great site for tenants who were LA Dodger baseball fans. They could have watched the games from home.

A recent article in Mother Jones recounts a story from Los Angeles about 10,000 units of public housing that were never built.

The article is about Frank Wilkinson, who worked for the L.A. Housing Authority, and was leading the housing development. As the article relates, it was Mr. Wilkinson’s membership in the Communist Party that proved to be the project’s undoing.

Despite the fact that the story dates back to the 1950’s, it is worth reading. It helps to understand the origins of the animosity toward public housing and why even speaking in favour of public housing today goes against a deeply established grain. Rather than decide the issue of a massive new housing project on its merits, which were not by any means entirely positive, opponents politicized the issue by enlisting Herbert Hoover and his FBI to smear Wilkinson at a critical moment, effectively killing the project as well as ruining his career.

Was there a case to be made against this project at the time? Advocates for social housing in the 50’s tended towards “slash and burn” solutions, razing existing neighbourhoods in order to achieve meaningful quantities of truly affordable housing by the most economical methods — building large, multi-storied buildings.

The folks who lived in the targeted communities? Advocates like Wilkinson could ride roughshod over their often poor and politically voiceless residents.1

Elysian Park Heights, where the new housing project was to be built, was home to recent immigrants with meagre incomes. The residents had already been excluded from other neighbourhoods for reasons including low income, skin colour and immigration status. They protested when their neighbourhood was chosen for public housing. They faced the prospect of losing the homes and the community that they had built. As the L.A. Housing Authority systematically bought up properties in preparation for the housing project, it could have offered local residents homes in the new development, but chose instead to force them to relocate. Small wonder that people who might have benefited from public housing also opposed it.

Did Wilkinson’s flawed dream to build public housing deserve to be destroyed? You can read more in Mother Jones: The Dossier That Destroyed Frank Wilkinson’s Dream of Public Housing in LA

Silver Tsunami Greets Affordable Senior’s Housing That Isn’t There

Nanny Wins photo by Benjamin J. DeLong is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Tough, yes. But are Halifax seniors tough enough to live in tents?

Do you know that the writer of this article is a senior? You may not, but Google does. I read articles from around the world daily in publications from hometown Toronto to Bangkok, Thailand with many stops before and after. Courtesy of Google and my local advertisers, the seniors’ ads follow me, tongues lolling, like a flock of faithful puppies anxious to please.

“You’d be surprised at the low prices of new seniors housing in North Toronto.” Surprised indeed! Wish I could afford them!

Thanks to Google, I am fully primed for the horror of a low income senior on a small government pension, like myself, and cast adrift from his housing in East Coast Halifax.

In Halifax, Wayne Hickey’s affordable building is due to be demolished and replaced by upscale housing. Many of its inhabitants, old and/or infirm, are being cast adrift in a sea without lifeboats.

Read more in the Halifax Herald1: Evicted Senior, Disabled Tenants Struggle To Find Footing In Halifax Housing Market and Halifax Family Fears Rent Increases A Factor In Relative’s Death

COVID-19 & The Full Granular Horror of Public Private Housing Partnerships

My new tent photo by GabeD is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
New COVID pandemic home for an unevictable tenant in Pennsylvania who was "judged out" through a loophole.

Years of public housing destruction in the U.S. have been justified by a faith-based principle: that private enterprise can spend public money more efficiently and effectively than governments to provide a fundamental need, if not a right, for the country’s low- and no- income citizens.

Much as the U.S. government enrolled unsuspecting servicemen without their collaboration and consent in health experiments after WWII, it has taken the same approach with public housing tenants to cure the “disease” of public housing.

Could the country have protected and kept its stock of public housing healthy by replacing the oversight of the nation (via The Department of Housing And Urban Development, or HUD), state agencies, and more local actors (housing authorities)? Almost certainly. And quite possibly a set of similar-sized public agencies could have managed public housing just as, or more efficiently, though at a price.

But the final culmination in the cure of the public housing disease has been a dependence on woefully underfunded rental assistance vouchers. This has produced what surely must be accompanied by unexpected consequences: granularization.

Instead of one housing authority renting to hundreds or thousands of tenants, every Section 8 tenant has a different landlord. With guidance from governments in short supply, Pennsylvania rules and regulations that may or may not apply to interactions between tenants and landlords are also subject to a granularized treatment from low level judges untrained in law.

Like dust in the wind, tenants, landlords and judges swirl under the impact of a litany of pandemic remedial pronouncements from all levels of government. A sure foundation of all ensuing confusion? Pennsylvania’s poorest citizens are suffering.

Read more in Gaping loopholes and vague state guidance leave some Pa. families out of a home despite federal ban on evictions

A Treasure Trove Of Local Ideas For Building More Affordable Housing

Milwaukee City Council chamber photo by Jdsteakley is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Can local council chambers breed new opportunities to make housing more affordable? You bet!

Local Housing Solutions is a web site designed to help people who want to take action to help make housing more affordable to people with very low incomes. It is designed to support changes in the United States at the local level. It has great graphics and articles that are written using language that is easy to understand.

There is a huge amount of material on the site, which has assembled ideas that have been tried across the United States. The designers have obviously spent a great deal of time sorting through the information and thinking about how to organize it to be helpful to people who want to use the site. Here are a handful of examples:

  • a housing affordability 101 page that talks about what has happened to housing prices, which have gone up, compared with incomes, which have not kept pace, especially for people with low incomes
  • the components that are key to an effective affordable housing program at the local level and the reasons why these components are critical
  • a tool to assess a local affordable housing program’s strengths and weaknesses
  • several ways to access the hundreds of policy initiatives, and
  • explanations of how combinations of policies complement each other.

Reading through Local Housing Solutions, it is evident that it isn’t offering silver bullet solutions. A combination of actions is needed to make housing more affordable for people with extremely low incomes. Local Housing Solutions helps by offering new ideas, and ways to sort through them. It should contribute to constructive debate and policy change at the local level.

Local Housing Solutions looks like an ideal resource for local politicians in the United States who have just been elected and need a crash course on housing issues. It will also benefit their seasoned colleagues who want to do more, as well as those who would rather not. It will also benefit activists who are looking for ideas to promote at the local level.

People engaged in local politics outside the United States may also find the wide range of ideas helpful. Finally, web designers and academics may find the site’s structure useful for organizing similar material elsewhere.

To read more visit: Local Housing Solutions

Transforming Canada’s 10 Year Housing Plan

M'Akola Housing Society photo by Lotus Johnson is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Homes owned by the M'Akola Housing Society, 1 of 145 indigenous housing providers in Canada.

Indigenous people in Canada are over-represented in the population of people experiencing homelessness. A lack of adequate housing contributes to this situation. The Indigenous Housing Caucus of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association has prepared a plan to add more.

The Indigenous Caucus is well qualified to prepare the plan. Its members have been developing and managing off reserve housing1 for Indigenous people since 1972. Their plan would close a significant gap in Canada’s National Housing Strategy (Canada’s NHS), which was approved in 2017.

Canada’s NHS committed to reducing homelessness by 50% by 2027. In their plan, Canada’s NHS did not talk about ways to lower levels of Indigenous homelessness specifically, even though the proportion of Indigenous people who are homeless in some communities is as high as 70%. COVID-19 has underscored the importance of adequate housing as a defense against the pandemic. This year’s throne speech included a new commitment to end homelessness by 2030. The Indigenous Caucus’s program will help to fulfill that commitment.

With the new intention to end homelessness, other parts of Canada’s NHS will need to change as well. Specifically, more housing will be needed that is affordable for the people who are leaving homelessness and to prevent homelessness from happening in the future. The Indigenous Caucus’s plan includes adding housing units off reserve where 80% of Indigenous people live.

The Indigenous Caucus’s plan includes provisions to continue to manage existing stock, as well as developing new housing. These provisions will assemble the Indigenous housing supply in one management framework that would span the country. Individual housing providers would become part of this larger group, which reduces the risks and costs of individual operation. This larger group framework will lower costs for financing construction and repairs and to make bulk purchases.

The framework also includes provisions to provide supports to sustain the residents. These will help to assist in recovering from the impacts of colonialism, the residential school system and other practices which contribute to homelessness. The supports are also a specific opportunity to assist Indigenous women and their families, who make up the majority of the tenants in housing operated by Indigenous providers.2

The Indigenous Caucus’s plan will be interesting to anyone in Canada who is looking for ways to strengthen the National Housing Strategy and for people who want to reverse the colonial legacy that contributes to high levels of homelessness among First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

For people outside Canada, the Indigenous Caucus’s plan suggests ways to overcome barriers, including systemic segregation and discrimination, that are commonly faced by minority populations.

Read more about the CHRA Indigenous Caucus’s proposal: Let’s close the housing gap.

Flicking A Broken Switch to Turn Off US Public Housing? Doesn’t Work

NYCHA public housing photo by Stephen Rees is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
New York City Public Housing. Many years ago some damn fools thought this building might be useful. Now that it's almost to late too save it, maybe they were right after all.

Much of what publishes about social/public/council housing could in the US be considered palliative care for a dying industry and its long-suffering tenants. American public housing has been nationally diagnosed as a hopeless case, and all that would seem to remain is to treat it with a certain kind and reverent nostalgia for all those things about it that served its tenants well, in spite of all of the things that it didn’t do so well.

We are impressed, however with the stubborn way public housing clings to life in the face of endless tinkering anywhere and everywhere to invent a better way of housing for people with low and no income. With US public housing investment converted largely to rental assistance funding for the poorest, a Harvard University study in 2020 calculated that this rental assistance provided basic housing for only one of every four people who needed it.

Against such a woeful record, it’s not the wildest optimism to imagine the public housing might have been, and might still be, the best answer after all (subject of course to suitable recovery treatment).

What steps would need to be taken to unwind the sabotage and neglect of  the last half century? One way to begin is to review America’s history of public housing, searching for ways in which the good things might be preserved in future projects, as well as bad things that might be mitigated by adequate funding and better management.

For a readable history of the events which carried public housing from then till now, try the following article from Street Roots: The Death Of Public Housing

UK Pandemic Home Buyers Compete With Councils For Housing Deals

Hotwells photo by Steve Gregory is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5
Homes in Bristol, UK, where the local council is on the hunt for housing bargains.

It is difficult to avoid shaking the head in disbelief. Some reports peg housing demand and housing prices as either stable or rising in the face of COVID-19.1 At least one U.K. council however, is demonstrating there is more to supposedly always-increasing housing prices than meets the eye.

It seems that in parts of the U.K. at least, developers with newly completed housing projects are less than bullish about “profit as usual” in the midst of the pandemic. Bargains on housing purchase are increasingly available and local governments have their wallets out and are looking to cash in. That’s good news for low and no income renters in a national affordable housing crisis inflamed by the pandemic.

Read more in The Guardian: As a rent crisis looms, councils have a plan – the government should take note

Internet Connections Broaden The Definition of Housing Infrastructure

i-life photo by Patrick Mayon is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Broadband connections have become critical for education, as so many students are not in the classroom during COVID-19.

New housing salesperson to prospective buyer, “Wait a minute! Now you say you want electricity brought right into your home! That will be special order, and cost extra.”

Not a statement to be heard much in this day and age. Electricity has long been considered an essential feature. But substitute “the internet” for “electricity” and such a comment might indeed be common, if not the norm.

Working from a United Nations definition of the Right to Adequate Housing, the term “adequate” includes a home’s infrastructure — water, sewage, electricity, and the road that connects the home to the community.1

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s an increasingly strong argument to be made that the internet has become an essential part of infrastructure for an adequate home.2 This has become particularly apparent with the sudden need to work from home, which only works when there is access to the internet.

Most distressing for a nation’s commitment to the future through education for all, a critical need for home based schooling has crippled children and their families who have poor internet access or none at all.

It may take years, hopefully not decades, for the internet to become “baked in” to our understanding of adequate housing infrastructure. In the meantime, Phoenix, Arizona and Dayton Ohio are making use of COVID-19 emergency relief funds to provide at least a temporary fix.

Read more in the DOWNTOWN DEVIL: City working to address digital divide with coronavirus relief funds and the Dayton Daily News: Public housing Wi-Fi project faces future funding hurdles

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