England: Social Rent Housing Deserves A Better Rep

Row of four council houses, Second Avenue, Wetherby photo by Mtaylor848 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Council (public) housing in Wetherby, England.

“Hey! Did you know that social tenants in England have lower mental health scores than private tenants and home owners?”

“That’s really not surprising. Considering the amount of hype around the virtues of home ownership. If I were a social renter, I’d be bummed out too.”

“Yup, 70% of social renters are happy compared with 73% of private renters and 78% of owners.“

“Really! I expected levels of mental health among social tenants to be much lower. You’re telling me that a substantial majority are happy?”

“Yes, and not only that, a majority (71%) of social tenants are satisfied with their lives. A majority (74%) also feel their lives are worthwhile.”

“This definitely doesn’t fit the stereotype for social tenants. I wonder what else social housing might have going for it?”

Curious? Check out the English Housing Survey, which is published by Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Just an afterthought, but governments in many places have been pretty relentlessly telling us that social housing is a failure. Doesn’t this survey call into question what they actually mean when they use terms like “success” and “failure?”

Oopsy, Homeless: Covid Frontline Workers Give The Lie To Meritocracy

Genesis Nursing Home Vaccinations photo by Maryland GovPics is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Frontline workers in the eye of the COVID hurricane: vaccinating residents in the Genesis Nursing Home, Rosedale, Maryland. USA

Lurking in the depths of conservative thought, the idea of a meritocracy is never far from the surface, at the very least as a convenient excuse for inaction. Merit-based thinking accompanies the current, if somewhat shopworn, brand of conservatism called neoliberalism.

In a meritocracy, there is theoretical room for everyone at the top. But if you don’t bust your ass to rise like the cream in unhomogenized milk, you don’t merit the fruits of noble labour, unworthy slacker that you are. How dare you believe you are entitled to, say, a home to live in?

Currently, however, the unforgiving foundations of conservative thought are being shaken by a new gold standard for merit: the frontline COVID worker. For the moment at the very least, nobody but nobody is suggesting that they haven’t worked their asses off. So they most certainly merit their just rewards.

Except, where are they, those rewards? Let’s skip past the also-shopworn excuses that the natural laws of supply and demand would deliver deserved merit (if only government wouldn’t interfere with sacred natural laws by blundering about with pernicious restrictions, such as zoning by-laws).

Take the just reward of housing, for example. Many frontline workers would be happy to do just that — take some housing. But even worthy of merit as they are, they can’t. Their salaries aren’t enough to cover mortgage payments and they simply can’t muster enough in the way of a downpayment to cover the gap.1 It appears that the only financially viable future is in social rented housing, should one live long enough to get to the top of the waiting list.

Read more in The Guardian: Covid frontline workers priced out of homeowning in 98% of Great Britain

 

In The Quicksand Of Housing Activism, Shared History Offers A Solid Footing

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Essex Crossing photo by Eden, Janine and Jim is licensed under CC BY 2.0
A new building rises (2019) in Essex Crossing, formerly the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.

Looking towards a better future, why begin with a lengthy story of past failure? The question seems especially pertinent when no official record has been struck to carve the woeful mistakes of the past in stone.

Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, an artist and urban scholar, was asked to help develop a new approach to planning for a small area in New York’s Lower East Side which was razed in 1960. Its low-income residents were displaced in hopes of new neighbourhood development plans that never materialized.

Bendiner-Vianni managed to find common ground among the still-simmering resentments fostered by a planning failure more than half a century old, by encouraging and exploiting the oral history of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.

Read more in Next City: How Oral Histories Can Spark Dialogue Across Communities

Further interested in this project? Bendiner-Vianni is hosting a Next City webinar on the subject this coming Wednesday, April 14, at 1 P.M. see: How Immersive Oral Histories Can Shape The Future of Neighborhoods

Does COVID Spur Unexpected Partnerships?

Aetna building in Hartford, Connecticut photo by Ragesoss is licensed under GNU Free Documentation License
Office of Aetna Insurance. Would it partner with a community development organization?

In the United States, local community development agencies and large health care organizations have been teaming up to improve health outcomes for people living in disadvantaged communities. COVID has been a challenging time for both groups.

Community development agencies support people who are more likely to be living with the economic and the health impacts of COVID.1 The agencies have adeptly modified their services to meet this new reality. Some examples include organizing meal programs, coordinating wellness checks, accessing broadband and computers to support home-based working and learning and bringing COVID testing and vaccination programs into neighbourhoods.

Health care organizations have been treating people who get very sick with COVID in hospital. These organizations have also supported the efforts of local community development agencies to bring COVID testing to local neighbourhoods. At their multiple work sites (nursing homes, labs, community clinics as well as hospitals), they’ve implemented protocols to protect workers, residents, clients and patients.

Health care organizations have also deferred a lot of health procedures in order to manage COVID care. The income that would normally flow in from the deferred care isn’t coming in. Without that income, the health care organizations have less funding to invest in permanent housing and other preventive activities that would otherwise keep people out of hospital.2

But the story doesn’t end there. Health care organization losses mean insurance companies are making fewer payouts and racking up profit. To keep planned housing projects on track, health care organizations and community development agencies are talking with insurance companies about stepping up to fill the investment gap. The insurance companies are listening.

You can read more about the new role for insurance companies and other ways that COVID has inspired health care organizations to team up with community development agencies at Shelterforce: Health Care and Community Development Partnerships in the Time of COVID-19

Canadian Arctic Housing: Cozy On The Outside. Now Have A Look Inside

Repulse Bay.jpg photo by Leslie Philipp is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Snow on the ground in Repulse Bay, Nunavut, Canada, the arctic sea beyond not yet frozen over.

In the fall of 2020, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, the Member of Parliament for Canada’s far north, visited eight communities. Her purpose: to see the housing conditions of her constituents.1 The report of her findings, with photos and interviews has just been released. It is not a pretty situation to look at and very stressful to live in.

Canada’s 10-year National Housing Strategy was launched in 2017. It acknowledged that housing provided for through public programs in the far north have not been up to the mark. As Qaqqaq’s report shows, this is something of an understatement.

The Strategy called for a new structure to deliver housing that is respectful of local customs and traditions. It also allocated funding specifically for the far north. Since then, negotiations may be going on, but so far there have been no public announcements about the new structure or what it will look like.

In the meantime, there are windows that won’t close, extensive mold, and roofs that leak. There are also fourteen people living in a three bedroom house, women who continue to live in homes with their abusers and child protection agencies are transporting children thousands of kilometres to foster homes because of unsafe conditions. It’s no wonder that Qaqqaq is determined to call for action. Read her report in Nunatsiaq News: Nunavut MP releases report on ‘deplorable’ housing conditions

Why Canada And New Zealand (At Least) Need Public Housing For All

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148 Morse Street photo by Jeff Hitchcock is licensed under CC BY 2.0
A home in Toronto, Canada, where the average sale price is $1,000,000.

Imagine! A gambling chip you can plonk down on the casino table that is no gamble at all. Guaranteed to make money!

Canada is close to perfecting that chip, with the government providing the guarantee. It’s called housing.

The commodification of housing in Canada is rapidly moving to create an economy where house-flipping is the only meaningful economic activity. With some of the highest housing prices in the world, the real estate market is nevertheless booming. It’s fuelled by homeowner near-certainty that however much money is borrowed to buy a house, it will sell profitably for more, helped along by taxpayer money tipped into the profit pool.

Some unusual heavy hitters are warning that pursuit of a fantasy of ever-rising house prices will tank Canada’s entire economy. Aside from a warning issued by the International Monetary Fund, the chief economist of one of Canada’s massive, and massively profitable, banks has recently sounded the alarm. This concern comes from an industry that thrives on mortgages and might be expected to cheer on house buying and selling.

Canada’s federal home ownership policies and funding help create the perception that gambling on house buying is a no-lose bet. Consequently, investment in housing by both Canadians and foreigners drains money away from other productive investments that can grow the economy. Read more in: Better Dwelling: Canada’s Overheated Real Estate Market Threatens To Destabilize The Economy: RBC

This exclusive gambling club is open to “average” Canadians who happen to already own a house. But what about those who might one day like to own a house, but currently prefer to rent, or have no other choice in the matter? Many of the country’s young adults, for example?

Currently, in Canada’s more expensive cities, it’s estimated that it may take a young person entering the job market 24 years to save a down-payment on a house at today’s prices. Add a 36 year mortgage on top of that, and that young person may just about own a house free and clear in the year of their death. Read more in Vice: Canada’s Housing Prices Are Ridiculous. Can Anything Be Done?

Worse, the news out of New Zealand, which is trying to introduce measures to cool their own overheated housing market, is that most remedies for dampening investor interest in housing will seriously hurt free-market renters. Read more at RNZ: Housing announcement a blow for those at the bottom

It is possible to battle a way past this depressing news. Buying into housing industry hype can give hope that the free market, unmolested by frivolous constraints such as zoning by-laws, will save the day. It’s a very dubious proposition. Try: Affordable Housing Crisis Spin-Doctors Deliver A Faulty Prescription

So what’s the answer with the investor classes, foreign and domestic, driving free-market prices higher and higher? To service the growing numbers of citizens who can neither afford to buy nor rent housing, the only solution is housing that cannot be traded on the free market. Over the last few decades this has been social housing, with rent geared to income. But in many countries, there has been no support for expanding the supply of social housing to serve the middle classes, who are becoming less and less able to find free market solutions.

Indeed, in America, where public housing has been politically maligned for decades, the movement is to intensify the latest notion of “up and out.” This policy treats public housing as at best a waiting room where punishment awaits those not sufficiently motivated to “succeed in life” and move out into the free market. Try: Do Public Housing Tenants Really Need Continous Ass-Kicking On Their Way Out The Door?

But what we are learning is there is no “out” available to the public housing tenants who are being hustled into the free market (thereby freeing up space for lengthy waiting lists of those who also need it). For the lower classes, and more and more of the middle classes, the salaries that might lift a person into free market housing are growing further and further out of reach.

A solution? Rent-geared-to-income public/social housing for all, not just the lowest earners. It can provide permanent affordable housing while it successfully coexists with the free market playground of the investor classes. Try: America’s Public Housing: Born To Die

Do Public Housing Tenants Really Need Continous Ass-Kicking On Their Way Out The Door?

Marine Corps Boot Camp photo by dualdflipflop is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Shape up, then ship out: Hibbing, Minnesota public housing tenants will soon be getting the boot camp treatment to weed out slackers.

Just recently, we published a post questioning the (very old) wisdom of “up and out” policies, which impose work requirements on people who are living in public housing, with the goal of moving them out. The policies are vocally supported by the new U.S. Secretary of Housing, Marcia Fudge. There are trial projects underway, designed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Fudge’s new bailiwick.

Is the role of public housing to continue as an uncomfortable waiting room on the road to economic rehabilitation, with tenants tested regularly to weed out slackers, then frog-marched out the door when they achieve a small measure of success?

As an example of these very old “new” ideas, we reported on a HUD pilot project soon to start in Hibbing, Minnesota. Try: Up And Out: Public Housing as Short Term Rehab vs. Destination Living

It seems we were not the only ones asking questions about this very-much-not-new approach to public housing. On top of our two cents of disapproval, affordable housing advocate Kevin Swanberg has added several dollars worth of compelling reasons why Hibbing’s public housing should not be “developed” as a continuing, onward plod towards American public housing’s current dead end.

Read more in The Duluth News Tribune: In Response: Public-housing story was uncritically rah-rah

Public Housing And Proud Of It? You Can Shout NIMBY, Too

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Public Housing Advocates photo by Karen Apricot is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
A New Orleans protest against demolishing public housing. Given public housing's bad press, it's a shock for some when the tenants are proud of their homes and their community.

NIMBY is an enduring feature of proposals that bring “undesirable elements” into some form of contact with established neighbourhoods, usually ones that are at least firmly middle class. Manning the battlements, long-standing residents find many reasons to protest the possible incursion of undesirable change. That can mean everything from irrational fear of the economically disadvantaged, to high-rises blocking the sunlight to grow carrots in the backyard, or to unacceptable traffic congestion.

Some complaints are sober and well-founded. Others verge on the absurd. Whatever. Not In My Back Yard, if you please.

In the Borough of McKees Rocks, the worm has turned. Historically, new low income housing proposals invariably trigger NIMBY reactions. But in the Borough of McKees Rocks, an existing public housing complex is on the Not In My Backyard side, supporting the Borough’s legal suit against an Allegheny County Agency. That agency might just be about to invade the neighbourhood. How, or why is not yet clear, but there is the stink of sewage (metaphorically speaking at least) in neighbourhood nostrils.

What has triggered this unusual NIMBY action on behalf of public housing tenants? Read more in The Pittsburg Post-Gazette: McKees Rocks sues Alcosan to stop construction near public housing, shopping center

London, Ontario Looks To Expand Its Residential Licensing Program

Crumbly photo by ^ Missi ^ is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Falling debris means residents can't use their balconies. Poor building conditions like this can prompt local politicians to consider licensing residential buildings.

London, Ontario currently licenses student accommodation and smaller private rental buildings. The City’s Council recently debated whether to expand its licensing system to include rental apartments and townhouses. The idea was referred to staff for further consideration.

Local governments in Ontario are responsible for enforcing safety standards in residential buildings (e.g. fire, building and health conditions). Most enforcement is done on a complaints basis. Some tenants are reluctant to complain about building safety to the local government. (Tenants who are struggling to pay rent are particularly reluctant to complain.) When building quality issues reach the ears of local councillors, it usually triggers a discussion about strategies to ensure safety standards are maintained. Licensing residential buildings is often considered, because the local government can mandate inspections as part of the licensing process.1

Mary Baxter, writing for TVO, reports on the discussion at the meeting in London and then does some digging of her own. She has checked in with several other local governments that have considered widespread residential licensing to see how it has worked out. You can check out Baxter’s full article at TVO: The case for — and against — rental licensing in Ontario

Making Private Market Housing Sustainable For Tenants With Low Incomes

Crescent Town photo by SimonP is licensed under GNU Free Documentation License
Over 4,000 households rent homes in this neighbourhood in Toronto, which was completed 50 years ago. Building systems will need upgrades and tenants are already struggling to pay rent.

The Wellesley Institute is a champion for the social determinants of health in Canada. The Institute has focused considerable attention on the link between housing and health. One example is the Healthy Housing Quality initiative. The initiative aims to improve the overall quality of private rental housing in Toronto in a way that supports individual and community health and well-being.

To set the context for the Healthy Housing Quality, Toronto has 260,000 rental homes in large apartment buildings that were built before 1985 (this means the youngest building is almost 40 years old). Many residents in these buildings have very low incomes and very limited housing choices. The buildings are frequently landing places for newcomers. They are also homes for visible minorities who often experience discrimination in their housing search, as well as seniors with limited pensions. If their building needs repairs, residents are more likely to live with the situation than to seek action. Some buildings have become so run down that they are at risk of a catastrophic failure, when a building will be closed and all residents must seek new homes.

Healthy Housing Quality engaged a wide range of stakeholders in a collaborative process to identify problems, develop solutions and to map a process to move forward. The final report has recently been published.

Tenants, landlords and city officials had already been actively working to improve building quality. Healthy Housing Quality provided the space for these groups to work together and develop solutions. There are five priority actions:

  • creating a shared definition of healthy housing,
  • aligning financial resources to repair and refurbish buildings,
  • strengthening tenant supports,
  • ensuring that buildings in very bad condition are upgraded and remain in the rental housing stock and
  • coordinating a process to implement the solutions.

Each of these solutions is endorsed by all of the stakeholders. The solutions demonstrate the potential of a structured process to nurture and develop the relationships needed to carry the solutions forward. The ideas developed in this process are specific to Toronto, but might be adapted and implemented in other communities. The final report is available here: Healthy Housing Quality — A Way Forward For Rental Apartments In Toronto

Healthy Housing Quality is an example of a solutions lab, where multiple stakeholders participate in a structured process. A solutions lab has several stages. It is designed to gather stakeholder insight, advice and to develop buy-in. The input and solutions sessions are organized to maximize stakeholder input, while recognizing that everyone is busy and will only participate if they think the process will produce results. Solutions labs will be of interest to groups that are wrestling with solutions to complex issues. A discussion of the methodlogy followed in the Healthy Housing Quality initiative begins on page 3 of the Discovery Phase Summary

Solutions labs typically generate a number of reports as the process rolls out. The full suite of Healthy Housing Quality reports can be accessed here: Healthy Housing Quality Lab

Activists: EU Must Pursue Green Building Solutions Without Creating More Homeless

Groendakmetklaproos op Halve Wereld photo by Picasdre is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Green roofs and other upgrades to existing housing may help the climate, but they can be hard on tenants who are stuggling to pay rent.

Homelessness in the EU has increased dramatically over the past ten years. The numbers are expected to rise as post-pandemic evictions put those out on the streets who have lost income and cannot afford the rent.

Meanwhile, EU “Green” Planners are eyeing requirements for more stringent energy efficiency for buildings. Homelessness activists are now warning that the costs of upgrading insulation, heating and cooling will add to energy insecurity for home renters and owners.1

In other words, after dealing with even more essential needs such as rent and food, they will have great difficulty paying for essentials such as heat. Lack of some form of energy subsidy may drive even more of the most vulnerable towards homelessness.

Read more on this impending crisis and what can be done about it at EURACTIV: EU’s Green Building Push Risks Driving Homelessness, Activists Warn*

*note: the article makes several references to the EU ETS. For those who are unfamiliar, ETS stands for Emissions Trading System, the world’s earliest greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme.

A Missed Opportunity For Hotels To Prevent The Spread Of COVID

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Victoria and Albert Hotel, Manchester photo by David Dixon is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Hotels like this help to reduce the spread of COVID among people who are homeless. What about extending that support to families living in crowded conditions?

Vicky Spratt, writing in i, argues hotels were a missed opportunity to prevent the spread of COVID in England. She draws on research by Rebecca Tunstall at York University in England and government data sources to make her case.

Hotels provided safe isolation spaces for people who were homeless. Spratt argues that this practice should have included people who couldn’t isolate safely at home.

Who was overlooked? Drawing on the government’s own advice, self-isolation meant a separate room and a separate bathroom. How many households can’t manage this? In England, about 900,000. A lack of living space is more prevalent among people with extremely low incomes. People with black or asian ancestry are over-represented in this group.

Did the crowding at home contribute to the spread of COVID? Based on what we know now, there is an elevated risk of becoming infected when sharing a room with someone who is infectious. Spratt discusses indirect evidence that confirms the elevated level of risk.

Do we know how many people contracted COVID at home? Data about the home as a source of transmission wasn’t collected at the start of the pandemic. That information is being collected now.

The pandemic isn’t over. As Spratt and Tunstall point out, governments could start using hotels as isolation facilities to prevent the spread of COVID within households. Read more in i: People in overcrowded housing should have been given Covid isolation hotel rooms – lives could have been saved

Unattainable Housing “Affordability” Definitions No Hope For Aging AU Women

Feed The Birds photo by Sheree Zielke is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
This is Agnes, 65 and feeding birds when the photo was taken. Not Australian, but her homeless plight is a global crisis for poorer, older women. Click on "Feed the Birds" above for her story.

What’s in an affordable housing definition? Developers happily slice and dice the housing market into “affordability” segments. If they’re clever enough, they may even attract government subsidies. Both government and developer can then claim the credit for providing “affordable” housing.

How affordable? For example, consider housing affordable to those who can pay as much as, but no more, than 75% of market price. Government and developer can service a particular chunk of the middle class with a formula like this. But where does this free market slicing and dicing leave aging Australian women?

For many on fixed pensions, no free-market housing fits their tiny budgets, not even the lowest segment of free-market prices in which developers, supported by government incentives, are prepared to invest.

As a consequence, older Australian women are currently the fastest growing segment of the national population that is teetering on the edge of homelessness.

The sole practical solution that appears to be available? New public housing. The former head of Community Housing Canberra spells out the problem and its possible solution in the Canberra Times: Calls to grow public housing as affordable options ‘out of reach’ for many

UK Gets Personal To House And Treat People With Addictions/Other Health Issues

Borough of Broxbourne Roadsign photo by Northmetpit is licensed under CC0 1.0
People in Broxbourne who are homeless will be part of the team that steers their route to housing. Local support agencies and housing providers are also on the team.

Who knows best about suitable treatments for someone with addiction and/or health issues? Why, the individual with the problems, of course!

Well, maybe that person doesn’t exactly know BEST, otherwise a lot of mental health professionals would be out of their jobs. But it’s undeniable that those with problems have at least some useful understanding of what might be eating away at them.

That’s the premise, at least, of a new UK housing-with-supports pilot project that aims to enlist patients in designing their own individual supports. Read more at InYourArea: Innovative housing project commissioned by Hertfordshire County Council to support homeless adults in Broxbourne with complex needs

Elder Housing: Can Singapore Try For Something More Than Homage To Aging Frailty?

Waiting for the Son to Come photo by Fechi Fajardo is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Two Singapore elders wait at a day centre for their children to collect them. The shared home is where most families prefer to care for their seniors. But not all seniors have children.

Singapore is a world-famous success at creating high quality, affordable public housing for all, not just the poor. Its principal focus from the beginning has centred around families, given the importance of that institution and to the mix of cultures that reside in this city-state.

But times change, and social habits along with them. Over recent decades, as more Singaporeans delayed marriage or simply preferred single life, Singapore’s Housing & Development Board (HDB) began to build housing that as well provided affordable housing for singles.

Time has passed, and many of those older Singaporeans who have opted for a single life have no children to care for them in old age — the citizenry’s traditionally preferred means of elder care.

In response, the HDB, with cooperating partners, is experimenting with affordable social housing for seniors that is framed to support, not only that which elders are incapable of doing (characterized by the health and safety focus of nursing homes), but also to provide supports for all they can still accomplish in life.

Peh Kim Choo is Chief Executive Officer of the Tsao Foundation. It’s mission is ” …to advance a positive transformation of the ageing experience.”

Peh Choo describes the development of a new Singaporean elder’s housing project and its aspirations to provide “game-changing” support for seniors.1 She also considers some of the hurdles that such a project faces. Read more in CNA: Commentary: An elderly public housing project is a game-changer but mindsets still need shifting

Even Without A Grand Master Rapper, New Orleans Shows Food Deserts Can Be Beaten

parking lot @ local supermarket 4 days before Christmas... photo by digitearte is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Everything needed for a healthy diet only a few miles and moments away — if you own a car.

A modern view of old fashioned, much neglected, American public housing: push it into the trash.

But there’s a growing recognition that for all the hype for complicated government/free enterprise partnerships, year after year, they fail to deliver housing in the volume needed to deal with a national housing crisis for lowest income citizens.

As a result, temporary solutions abound for stretching the lifespan of existing public housing. Can some of those solutions help ensure that new-built public housing might one day survive again and prosper?

Of the multiple problems infecting existing public housing, New Orleans is tackling one that impacts profoundly on the health of residents — the “food desert” problem. Combine “destination” supermarkets with the decline of local corner food stores, and the resulting situation for public housing tenants without cars is a lack of a fundamental necessity — healthy food.

As a current New Orleans initiative shows, the problem can be solved. One way: placing food stores inside public housing housing itself. Read more in houmatoday:  Master P joins Rouses to celebrate opening of grocery store inside New Orleans public housing complex

Pandemic Response By New York School System Pioneers Community Food Outreach

TEDxManhattan2014-035 photo by TEDx Manhattan is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Green Bronx Machine is working alongside the New York City Department of Education to feed students, parents and people who are hungry in New York.

In England this past pandemic year, there was for a time an extraordinary reluctance by the government to extend traditional school meal service during closures. This in spite of plentiful evidence that families with low incomes were struggling to both pay the rent and feed their families. Pandemic or no, school-provided nutrition had played a growing role in preventing starvation for children living in households with low incomes.

Government indifference and recalcitrance became a national scandal as activists, spearheaded by a charming young football player, fuelled public opinion and forced the government to expand its school meal program.1

The English “bureaucrats-know-best gang” (who didn’t), and the prime minister (who also didn’t), could well have looked across the Atlantic for a lesson in innovation and compassion.

Far from penny-pinching undernourished young children, the New York City school system extended its daily meals programs to include hungry members of the community. No, they weren’t enrolled in the education system. They were just local. And hungry. It was, and continues to be, a big help for people who are teetering on the edge of homelessness as well as people staying at emergency shelters and people living outdoors.

Read more about this ambitious undertaking by one of the largest meal service institutions in the country, in CIVIL EATS: What New York City Schools Learned Feeding Millions During the Pandemic

Public Housing, “Reverence For Pre-Existing Structures” Captures Architecture’s Top Prize

Rue Andrée Putman Paris et Tour Bois Le Pretre photo by https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Cahtls is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Housing on Rue Andrée Putman in Paris, refurbished by award winning architectural team of Lacaton & Vassals

World-wide, it might seem that there are few opportunities to bring meaningful architectural design to the budget constraints of public housing construction. Certainly this lament can often be found in architectural journals, even when celebrating a recent and fulfilling design opportunity.1

However, life is what you make of it, and far from being oppressed by the scarcity of architecture opportunities, the French duo of Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal have triumphed in the field, winning this year’s Pritzker Prize — regarded widely as the “Nobel Prize” of architecture.

Read more about a pair who strongly believe that an existing building should never be demolished, in Jacobin: Workers Deserve Beautiful, Renovated, Even Luxurious Public Housing

Lacaton and Vassal are prize winners, but they aren’t the only ones dedicated to preserving existing social housing. Try: Your Affordable Home Is Falling Down. Sorry, It Can’t Be Fixed. You Have To Move. Not.

Benefits And Challenges of Green Social Housing As Low Income Security For UK

Rock Houses, Kinver photo by Alex Liivet is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Climate change has given new impetus to an ancient search for energy efficient housing. These rock houses in Kinver, England were occupied as late as the 1950's.

With housing firmly established as suitable gambling chip in the world’s stock markets, it is becoming increasingly difficult for those with lower incomes to even rent it, let alone imagining its purchase.

Increasingly, more and more housing needs to be deliberately removed from the roller-coaster ride of speculation if it is to have a hope as a practical means of housing the most vulnerable. That inevitably means rent-controlled social housing of some form.

In the UK, one barrier to successful construction of necessary quantities of social housing is the harsh reality of climate change. Past record is no place to look for answers to this problem. UK housing in general is some of the least energy efficient in Europe.

What hope, then, for new generations of energy efficient power generation, as well as more efficient energy use of power in social homes? Claire Brown, a doctoral candidate at the University of Manchester, provides a broad survey of new technology that can become a part of social housing in a more climate-appropriate UK housing future. Read more in The Conversation:  How new social housing can help fight climate change

Huntingdon, UK Reveals The Spirit of True YIMBY: Yes In My Back Yard!

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Huntingdon shop photo by Victuallers is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Huntingdon residents drew the line when a local pub installed chipboard hoarding, apparently to prevent people from sheltering in its premises.

NIMBY — Not In MY Back Yard — has become a common term for the seemingly inevitable push back by neighbourhoods against any influx of housing and housing agencies that support “undesirables” — people experiencing homelessness, as well as households with very low and no incomes.

The term YIMBY was co-opted in America by a housing movement that had nothing to do with MY anything, except possibly MY opinion. “Yes In My Back Yard,” or YIMBY, has been an anti-zoning movement that at its most extreme would allow developers to build, and realtors to sell, any kind of housing, single or multiple unit, targeting any income level, on the grounds that trickle down economics would miraculously create affordable housing in the process. Wherever this “miracle of the loaves and fishes” kind of housing argument has been invoked, it has nothing to do with the personal back yard of the developers, realtors, or Law of Supply and Demand acolytes who have pressed for zoning freedom.

But in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, UK, residents demonstrated that “Yes In My Back Yard” YIMBY can truly be an expression of neighbourhood acceptance rather than neighbourhood defence. Huntingdon may not know how to end homelessness, but has a good idea about the bounds of human decency. Read more in CambridgeshireLive: Huntingdon residents outraged at anti-homeless boards put up outside Olmo Lounge bar

For an earlier post along similar lines, try: Is There a Difference Between Hostile Architecture and Torture?

Can Vertical Forest Splash Save Netherlands Social Housing Cash?

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Stefano Boeri Architetti - Bosco Verticale - rendering 02.jpg photo by 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Artist's rendering of a mature vertical forest clinging to Milan's pioneering high rise vision.

There can be little argument that Milan’s pioneering “Vertical Forest” building is a striking feat of architecture.1 As a symbol of “green” architecture that might employ extensive climate-saving innovations, it’s hard to beat.2

Whatever its neighbourhood air quality, building shade and other “green” benefits, they will ultimately stand against maintenance costs such as “alpine arborists” who must inevitably rappel down from the roof to maintain the forest. (Window cleaning platforms and mature tree limbs seem an unlikely mix.)

The Netherlands has had a long and successful commitment to social housing. Recently, the City of Amsterdam adopted a framework of climate control to guide its future development.3

In the city of Eindhoven, a new project is betting that not only can social housing be built and rented at low, controlled rents, this challenge can be accomplished with a range of modern energy saving design features as well as a vertical forest. Read more at SMART CITIES WORLD: Eindhoven social housing development integrates a vertical forest

Australia Human Right to Housing: A Practical Step Forward? Or Lipstick On A Pig?

Canadian Museum for Human Rights photo by Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Canada has a human rights museum in Winnipeg, Manitoba celebrating rights that haven't really been exercised yet. Australia ponders whether they're worth exercising at all.

If to no one else in the world, Australia’s struggle with the notion of a Human Right To Housing should be of interest to Americans. Alas, the well-housed authors of the U.S. Constitution didn’t capture this right to housing in their famous document (unlike truly vital ones, like the right to bear arms). So Americans may be debating the benefits of such a right nigh on forever, given the difficulties in amending that august document to include it.

Australia is a johnny-come-lately to this debate, but with a political system more suited than some to adjusting citizen rights. The country is mulling over a recent report claiming that there are practical, not just symbolic, reasons for joining the crowd of countries that have signed on to a United Nations sponsored initiative.

Are there?

Practical reasons for enshrining a human right within a constitutional framework?

Consider Canadian progress in this human rights arena. After years of prodding, it finally agreed to the idea of a Human Right To Adequate Housing in 2019. Canada is another bastion of free-market thought that, from a business perspective, might well have preferred to proceed under the assumption that the only people worthy of housing rights are “corporation-people.”

Nevertheless, Canada has jumped in at the deep end, five years after opening its shiny new and appropriately towering Museum of Human Rights.

As to practical results: are Canadians now witnessing the dream of ending homelessness and affordable-housing-for-all lifting majestically above a distant horizon?

Not so much as you’d notice.

Are citizens free of life-threatening fear as their pandemic-triggered rent tragedies push them closer day by day towards what was once but no longer an inevitable eviction or mortgage foreclosure?

No, although it’s not for lack of trying. An optimist might chime in, “not yet.”

It is possible to go on for some time in this question-and-answer vein with similar conclusions.

There would seem indeed to be reasonable grounds to wonder whether a declaration of human right to adequate housing is largely an empty vessel. Or, if you like, lipstick on a pig.

Please let us know how the debate works out for you, Australia. For word on how it’s going so far, read more at THE NEW DAILY:  Calls for legislated human right to housing as rental market fails low-income Australians

Royal Commission in Victoria, Australia Calls For Public Supported Housing

A Royal Commission Into the Mental Health System in Victoria, Australia, has just issued its final report. In its two years of activity, the Commissioners received 12,500 submissions. The report makes 65 recommendations to reform the mental health system. Recommendation number 25 focuses on housing.

One individual who has experience of mental illness said to the Commission, “I don’t understand how you can have stable mental health if you don’t have stable housing.”  The Commissioners clearly agree with this statement. The final report identifies a deficit of supported housing as a key contributor to mental illness, hospital emergency visits, prolonged hospitalizations, incarceration and homelessness.

The Commission notes that living with mental illness may contribute to periods out of the workforce. It sees an adequate supply of non-market housing with flexible rental payments as a remedy. It welcomes the 2,000 units of supported housing planned by the Victorian government as part of its COVID recovery program. The commissioners also say that more units are needed and recommends an additional 500 homes with programming to provide transitional supported housing for young adults.

Supports are also a critical element of housing stability. The Commissioners envisage a framework that encompasses formal and informal supports. These range all the way from acute in-hospital care through to activities such as walking groups. The report also recommends support for, and from, family members. As well, it articulates a system to ensure that people are connected with supports and can receive additional care should/when illness become/s more severe.

The report includes case studies of current models that are working well. One resident describes how his life has turned around after moving to supported housing. He says, “I feel so fortunate to have been offered a place here.” The Commissioners aim their sights on a system where such fortune should be accorded to everyone who is living with mental illness.

The final report is in three volumes. Supported housing is discussed in the second volume, starting on page 395. The ideas in it will be of interest to advocates, decision makers and policy makers who are looking for examples of systems, structures and models for supportive housing. Read more here: Royal Commission Into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Yes, We Know You’re Homeless. But It’s The End Of The Line. Everybody Out!

Sleeping on a New CTA Train photo by vxla is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Ever ride a transit system and wonder where that homeless person dozing a few seats away will spend the night? Not in that seat, you’d probably predict with some confidence. Sooner or later they’ll be pitched back onto the street to fend as best they can, perhaps well after dark and rain or snow notwithstanding.

But your confident predictions might just be wide of the mark in Los Angeles. Read more at abc7 EYEWITNESS NEWS: Shelter the Unsheltered offers compassionate solution to homeless problem on LA Metro system

Signs That COVID Sustains Historic Discrimination

Rent Money photo by Derek Bradley is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
COVID means more tenants are not paying rent. Small landlords are feeling the pinch.

Elijah de la Campa has done some interesting research about rental arrears among small landlords during COVID. He used racial characteristics of neighbourhoods to make comparisons about the extent of rental arrears and strategies the landlords used to manage the arrears.

De la Campa is a senior research associate in Economics and Urban Analytics at the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative. He interviewed landlords in two cities in New York state: Albany and Rochester. The landlords owned no more than three buildings. The interviews took place in June and October 2020.

He found that all landlords were experiencing higher levels of arrears in 2020 than in the same period during 2019. Landlords with housing in predominately white neighbourhoods reported an 80% increase in arrears in June 2020 compared to June 2019. By October, 2020, the difference was less, just 30% higher than in October, 2019. But it was still an increase.

Landlords with housing in predominantly black neighbourhoods reported a 72% increase in June 2020 compared to 2019. By October, the difference had risen to a 101% increase over the same month of the previous year.

De la Campa found that there were differences in the way that arrears were managed between the predominantly white and predominantly black neighbourhoods. In white dominant areas, 22% of landlords had reduced rents for their tenants.

In black dominated areas, less than 1% of landlords had taken this step. With respect to evictions, 12% of landlords had taken steps to evict tenants in black dominant neighbourhoods. In white dominated neighbourhoods, 6% of landlords had done so.

De la Campa’s findings indicate that COVID has contributed to a high level of financial stress amongst small landlords, which is directly linked to the housing and financial stress of their tenants. At this scale, his findings certainly suggest that an arrears bailout would contribute to financial and housing stability for both the landlords and the tenants.

The findings will be of interest to advocates and policy makers and decision makers who are focused on building a COVID recovery strategy that helps people who are most vulnerable. The research method will also be interesting for people studying systemic discrimination. Read more about de la Campa’s work at Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies: The Impact of COVID-19 on Small Landlords in Albany and Rochester, New York

Hotels As Transitional Housing: Pandemic America Explores Its Medium & Long Term Future

Examples of Maple Ridge supportive modular housing photo by Province of British Columbia is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A British Columbia model for thousands of transitional housing units to support homelessness programs. Ideal for the job, but unavailable for disaster homeless.

Hotels and motels have always been dear to the emergency management heart. While some communities have other opportunities nearby (e.g. underused military barracks, student housing out of term-time), the go-to resources after big fires, big floods, big windstorms are usually the hospitality industry rooms available for short term lease.

As for medium term needs for large numbers of people, that same resource has turned out to be the answer for non-congregate shelter for the homeless in a pandemic.

Under most circumstances, it’s easy to imagine a hospitality industry quickly overwhelmed by the numbers who need shelter. Two factors, however, significantly increased the number of available rooms for emergency shelter as the COVID-19 crisis evolved. The hospitality industry was already undergoing a seismic upheaval as Short Term Rentals (STRs) siphoned away business travellers and tourists from traditional short and medium term rental accommodations. But, even more of a crisis for the hospitality industry, government pandemic restrictions shrank both business travel and tourist travel to nothing.

The result: a fortuitous match across the country between communities that needed immediate shelter for considerable numbers on one hand, and hotels and motels delighted to for the opportunity to fill their rooms.

“Short term” has come and gone. Room rental costs are a growing strain on governments at many levels. After a year, the need for temporary housing is, if anything, increasing. And the future is complicated by unknown numbers of newly homeless due to flood the countryside unless some form of rent forgiveness or subsidization pays down arrears for the poorest and most vulnerable. Meanwhile, the hospitality industry looks to supporting a travel industry recovery by . . . when? Nobody can even begin to guess.

What does the future hold? A Shelterforce article looks at medium and long term alternatives for “transitional housing” — the term often used for that temporary waiting room between “homeless” and “permanently housed.” Read more: As the Pandemic Continues, Officials Look to Long-Term Housing Options with Hotels

Speaking Up For Public Housing In Connecticut

airportgardens_may06 023 photo by townofchapelhill is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Children being children in a public housing playground.

One third of the households on the waiting list at the Housing Authority of New Haven live outside New Haven’s boundaries. The Housing Authority is only allowed to build in New Haven. A bill is making its way through the Connecticut Legislature that could change that.

Residents living in the neighbouring communities oppose the idea. This is not news. But one of the things that makes this story interesting is that there are people who are speaking up in support. A story in the New Haven Independent gives most of its column inches to the supporters: Housing Authority Expansion Debated

For example, one person attending the meeting pointed out that the legislation would be a move toward levelling the playing field for the Housing Authority as a housing developer: private developers are not constrained by municipal boundaries. This would open the door to actually building public housing for the people on the Housing Authority of New Haven’s waiting list in the community where they live.

And this brings up a second aspect of this story that is interesting. Writing in the Connecticut Mirror, Danya Keene and Andrew Fenelon also support expanding the boundaries for the Housing Authority. Keene and Fenelon, who teach at Yale and Pennsylvania Universities respectively, back up their support with evidence from academic studies.

Fenelon has been working with other colleagues to investigate the connection between housing and health. In three separate studies, they found that people in public housing scored significantly better on specific health scores than those who received housing vouchers and those who were on housing waiting lists and renting in the private sector.

One study involved 2,992 children. Those who were living in public housing were less likely to be treated for asthma in a hospital emergency department than children in families that receive housing vouchers and in families who were waiting for assistance.1

As Keene and Fenelon point out, Public Housing is far from perfect, but it’s wrong to think that it’s all bad. Those looking for evidence in support of public housing will find this article to be particularly interesting. You can read their full discussion in the Connecticut Mirror: Build public housing in the suburbs to improve population health

Why Read Fiction About Homelessness?

Once upon a time ou ... "Cosette" part avec son baluchon .. photo by Claire TRESSE is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Work of art title translated from French: "Cosette" leaves with her bundle.

Why read a fictional account of homelessness? Surely the facts speak for themselves and are sufficient. Keith Oatley, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, has studied that question. His research suggests that the experience of reading fiction affects people differently than reading non-fiction.

Oatley created a factual account that matched the details of Checkov’s story The Lady and The Dog. Study participants were assigned to read the factual account or Checkov’s original. The participants also completed a survey before and after reading so that Oatley could compare changes in personality and emotion between the two groups. The group who read the fictional account showed more change in personality and emotion.

Oatley doesn’t comment specifically about fiction that discusses homelessness, but his research suggests that fiction might change the way people see and think about it.1

Now, in Katherine Seligman’s recent novel, we have a live opportunity to test whether fiction will turn opinion faster than facts. Seligman is the author of At the Edge of the Haight, a fictional account of young adults who are homeless. Her book is favourably reviewed in the San Francisco Examiner: Novel insightfully looks at the lives of homeless people

Indoor Homeless Sheltering Pricey? San Francisco Finds Outdoor Shelters No Bargain

Tent Encampment Removal photo by bryce_nesbitt is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Standard treatment for tent city removal: treat it all as trash, not personal possessions. We're betting San Fransisco city-owned tents won't get this treatment.

What’s in a name? Unofficial collection of tents together with a ragtag of people pick up tags such as  “A Crime-Ridden Blight,” or a “Danger to the Community.” Here’s an example from Western Australia, where that State is totally onboard and prepared to act with prejudice on an encampment. The City of Fremantle, at odds, has offered more compassion towards a homeless population with few alternatives other than crashing in alleys and doorways.1

Provide official city funding, however, and, in a marvel of public relations spin-doctory, a collection of tents becomes a “Safe Sleeping Village.”

However, if reports from San Francisco City Council are to be believed, these officialdom-created homeless tent cities come at a substantial price. Mind you, San Francisco may be deemed credit-worthy for creating such shelters (or merely faced with too many homeless people to sweep them all inside in the face of a pandemic).

Credit-worthy? Its actions in funding tent collections as shelters run counter to the mainstream treatment of city homeless populations around the world.2 Sweeping the homeless indoors to shelter in crowded conditions with poor air circulation has proven to be a recipe for coronavirus outbreak. That’s left many homeless themselves doubtful that they are being “saved” from COVID-19 by sheltering indoors.3

What has come as something of a shock to San Francisco and its experiment with tent city shelters: there appears to be no cheap solution to the homelessness problem, even attempting to only provide a modicum of civilization under a hankie of ripstop nylon. Read more at SFist: Insanely, It Is Costing San Francisco $5,000/Month For Each Homeless Tent

U.K. Olympian Cyclist Raises Money For Transitional Tiny Village

Boneyard Studios Tiny House Village photo by Inhabitat is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A Washington D.C. tiny house "village." Full size houses in the background

How do tiny homes fit into a country’s affordable housing scheme? The attraction of tiny homes is undeniable to certain kinds of imagination, impractical as they might seem to others. That is, until housing costs become so high that tiny home high rise living becomes imperative in cities such as Hong Kong.

Developments of separate “feet-on-the-ground” tiny homes (as opposed to high rise towers), offer construction cost benefits to social housing. But only if land costs have been minimal. This can be possible when projects have had gifts of land as a philanthropic or government contribution.

Aboriginal projects, too, have been successful, also based on cheap or free land. When economically possible, tiny home villages offer other benefits than lower construction costs. Other benefits include enhanced privacy, green space, access to sunshine and gardening.

Still, permanent tiny home social/public housing projects are rare. One area, however in which their combination of benefits have proved particularly useful (again, where land costs are minimal, has been that of housing for those who are transitioning from homelessness to permanent housing. As with all transitional housing, tiny home transitional villages come with the extra, and essential, need for housing wrap-around supports, both social and medical. There have certainly been tiny village failures in the United States where this essential support has been missing or inadequate.

The potential of this form of transitional housing is also being tested in the United Kingdom, where it is currently being linked with a fund-raising initiative targeting cyclists. Read more in the Edinburgh Evening News: Social Bite partner with Sir Chris Hoy to build two new villages to help homeless

Preventing Future Homelessness: A Door Opens For Youth To Attend School

Study photo by Ben Francis is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Family Promise of Clark County, Washington has teamed up with local schools to operate a learning centre for children and youth who are experiencing homelessness. The learning centre provides a space, equipment and support and can accommodate up to 25 students. The program began in late 2020 and, to delight of everyone involved, is already showing results.

Students who are homeless are eligible for financial and practical support through the McKinney-Vento Act, which was passed in 1986. The arrival of COVID, and with it, home-based schooling, added an additional layer of complexity. The CARES Act (COVID emergency aid legislation) acknowledges that home based schooling can be a challenge, and is the source of funding for the learning centre.

Family Promise of Clark County also traces its roots to 1986, when Karen Olson rallied local churches in her community in New Jersey to offer hospitality to families experiencing homelessness. This church-based response became the model for Family Promise Affiliates, and has spread across the county. The Family Promise in Clark County affiliate launched in March 2019.

All of the Family Promise services supported families, until now.

The learning centre at Family Promise in Clark County supports children in families. It also accepts unaccompanied youth. Applications from unaccompanied youth are considered on a case by case basis, with advice coming from the local school board.

In opening the learning centre to unaccompanied youth, Family Promise of Clark County is entering new territory. The young people who are accepted to the program are on a path to avoid more episodes of homelessness throughout their adult lives. There could be other benefits that are as yet undocumented.

Read more in The Columbian: Camas-based nonprofit helps homeless students succeed

The Hollywood Star Who Was A One-Man Employment Agency For The Homeless

R.I.P Robin Williams photo by error 4o4 found is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Robin Williams, July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014.

And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And Cain said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

Many don’t realize that one famous Hollywood actor, now deceased, took his responsibility as “his brother’s keeper” in an unusually forceful manner. That actor and much-loved comedian was Robin Williams. He chose to use his considerable influence on behalf of the homeless in a manner that was very unorthodox and striking.

How did he do it? Read more at LADbible: Robin Williams’ Rider Required Every Company He Worked For To Hire Homeless People

Mediterranean Holiday Homes To Be Expropriated For Social Housing

Deia Village photo by Barney Moss is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Holiday Isle Majorca off the coast of Spain. Lots of housing that is too costly for locals.

Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Formentera. Familiar names to holiday makers who flock there in summer. These are part of the Balearic Islands off the Mediterranean coast of Spain — just tiny specks of over-touristed Europe where accommodations have become more and more expensive. Not beyond the budgets of holiday makers themselves but, driven by investment speculators, growing far too expensive for island natives.

The financialization of accommodation by investors has been turbocharged by the emergence of homes as Short Term Rentals (STRs), the best known of these being Airbnb. This is not just a problem for European beach-lover budget flights, but (until the pandemic at least) a growing crisis for cruise ships and other destinations such as the historic cities Venice and Barcelona.

Fed up with the impact on their native populations, local governments have taken action on homes kept empty for either speculative purposes, or for periodic SRT availability.1 And now it would seem too that the mouse is roaring, as the Balearic Islands, not just those behemoth city tourist destinations, are thinking the unthinkable.

Use it.

Or lose it when we use our powers of government to expropriate your home for social housing. Read more in The Olive Press: Dozens Of Homeowners In The Balearic Islands Have Been Forced To Turn Their Vacant Properties Into Social Housing.

Benton Harbour, Michigan Students Sock It To The Homeless

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library knitting group -sock and beanies for homeless photo by Cockburn Libraries is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Socks & Beanies. Halfway around the world from Michigan, a Cockburn, Western Australia, library knitting group has a similar project for people who experience homelessness.

So you’re homeless, broke, and need clothing. What to do? Fortunately for many in this situation, charities collect all kinds of useful clothing and pass them on to the needy. Trousers, shirts, dresses, overcoats and shoes are typical donations that can help a person who is experiencing homelessness.

But there are some kinds of clothing that, while critical to health and comfort, aren’t welcome in donation drop boxes. One example — socks. Health regulators are willing to get on board with most used clothing, but not socks.

At Countryside Academy in Benton Harbour, students in the third grade identified the challenge and set out to do something about this sock donation problem. 3900 somethings so far.

Read more at WNDU News: Third grade students host sock drive for homeless

We Had To Go To The Aussie Outback To Learn About Courses For Rental Tenants

Fitzroy River and Steel Tower2 photo by Sean Biddulph is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Fitzroy River, Queensland: homeless on a river bank before a tenant's course to keep housing.

Well, we didn’t actually go, there, but we found a story published in Australia that turned out to be exactly to the point.

As free market renters, it never actually occurred to us that we ourselves might need a course on how to become, not just any old tenant, but a ❤️GOOD❤️ tenant.

However, a little reflection about the behaviours of nearly everybody else in our apartment building suggested that such a course might be useful to whole annoying lot of them, if not us.

More to our publishing point, is there a benefit to offering “how to be a good tenant” courses to aspiring residents of social housing? Hard enough to get into these days, so maybe worth a little extra to keep it once you’ve got it?

From that point of view, our Australian story is even more to the point: Read more from ABC News: Tenancy course saves Rockhampton man from homelessness and turn life around

Why not in other countries like ours? A little research brought our sputtering publishing engine up to speed. There are already opportunities in Canada for a social housing applicant to take a course to help that will help them keep a scarce, long-awaited tenancy.

An educational enterprise sprang up more than ten years ago in Victoria, British Columbia. For more on what it has to offer in that city, the province, and across the country, read more at RentSmart:  We believe in the power of education to transform lives.

Housing Loss: What Governments Can Do Now & The Challenge They Face In The Future

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Rent Relief Protest (2021 Jan) photo by Anthony Crider is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Pandemic Rent Relief Protest, January, 2021.
  1. Give.
  2. Keep it simple.
  3. Keep it coming.
  4. Keep your data.

These simple rules, together with explanations, lay out how jurisdictions that wish to provide housing security can help their citizens to weather a pandemic.

See more about these rules at the Brookings Institute: Four lessons from a year of pandemic housing policies

The Brookings Institute lessons concern the short and intermediate term for housing insecurity in America. In the longer term, much more needs to be done, requiring fundamental changes in the way the U.S. government encourages housing for all, and how it permits that fundamental need to be ripped away from its most vulnerable citizens.

For a lengthy analysis of the ugly trauma that far too many Americans are forced to face — eviction from their home — read more in THE APPEAL: The American Eviction Crisis, Explained

Investor Defence In A Pandemic Battle: Preserving The Thin Red Bottom Line

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403_1090095 photo by bricoleurbanism is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Can landlords and tenants bridge the arrears gap without evictions?

In the arena of housing, the pandemic has in spectacular fashion pitted two classes of people against each other: Shelterers, and Investors.

Who comes out on top? Employing the classic logic of the modern world, we know that on one hand “Shelterers gotta shelter.” And on the other hand, “Investors gotta invest.”

Even the shallowest evaluation of these two world mega-classes reveal some uncomfortable truths. First, the shelterer class includes everybody on earth. This is, to put it mildly, big.

The investor class, however, is comparatively tiny. That’s the case even when it is puffed out by those special kinds of people who have been designated as such by the crowning wisdom of the US Supreme Court — corporations.

This is hardly a fair fight. Sheer numbers would predict a decisive win for Shelterers, but since the days of Kings (Investor class) and Serfs (Shelterer class) those Investors who would invest in land and housing (rather than just live in or on it) have had an outsize thumb upon the scales of justice in the form of traditions, laws and other assorted political imperatives such as spears and battleaxes.

The fallout from the present-day COVID-19 battle can be measured in evictions and homelessness on one hand, and individual and corporate investment failure and bankruptcies on the other.

But just when those twin pathways threatening doom are stark and clear, aberrant behaviour pops a head above the battleground trenches, confusing the heck out of everything.

Did, you know, for example, that from a contrarian viewpoint, Investors don’t just gotta invest? Here’s an example straight from the horse’s mouth. Read more in the Toronto Star:1 ‘It’s not all about the bottom line, all of the time’: As many in Ontario struggle to make rent under COVID-19, one landlord is actually offering its tenants relief

Then there is also the “let’s see how we can work together on this” approach, which aims to be a bridge between the contrarians. One example is a landlord tenant mediation program offered by the City of Philadelphia. A pilot study showed positive results and the permanent program launched in August 2020. The mediators work with the landlords and tenants to avoid evictions, primarily through agreements to pay off rental arrears.

The City of Philadelphia is also planning to launch a COVID-19 emergency rental assistance program, which will pay outstanding arrears. You can read more about these initiatives to work together at reasons to be cheerful: Instead of Eviction, Landlords and Tenants Talk It Out

“Poor Floors” & Social Housing Apartheid: How Far Can Developers Be Allowed To Go?

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How far can developers go to create phoney “separate but equal” housing projects? The answer is simple: as far as they like . . . when it’s their money that is at risk. They already have demonstrated a capacity to jump in at the deep end of this kind of development — quite literally.

A fine example is a spectacular London, UK housing project that extends active class discrimination from its usual targets of the poorest and most vulnerable. Instead it encourages the mega-rich to look down their noses at the wealthy-but-not-quite-wealthy-enough.1

However, when public money is involved, there must surely be limits. A recent, controversial proposal in London, suggests that while developers know no bounds, presumably the dispensers of public money are a little different. Public decision makers have a lot more critics they must answer to when it comes to the development of exclusive gardens, forbidden amenities, separate entrance doors and economic micro-ghettos in mixed income housing developments. Read more in The Guardian: ‘Poor floors’: anger over new plans to segregate tower block residents

But then again, perhaps government is not as limited as some might want. This is not the first time the issue has come up in London, nor is it the first time that people have expressed outrage about exclusions within buildings. Try: Poor Doors: “Excluding The Included” Lives On In Snob-Ravaged Britain

Everywhere Public Private Partnerships Are Still Flavour Of The Millennium. Not In Dublin.

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construction in Dublin Docklands photo by Salim Virji is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Dublin dockyards housing construction. Free enterprise does mixed income housing best? Dublin council is far from sure.

Has the City Council in Dublin, Ireland found a formula to replace Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), which have dominated neoliberal government thinking during this new millennium?

Recently, Dublin’s Council has been at war with their own staff. Elected representatives have spurned in-house expert advice and voted “no” on a classic PPP project. That rejected project proposed a familiar PPP framework: a portion of affordable housing would be squeezed from developer profits and higher purchase prices as well as possible government investment. The rest of the project would be focused upon a substantial quantity of free market homes, sale of which would be the inevitable gravy for the developers.

Instead, city staff are publicly tearing their hair as council embraces what might be termed a “pure” affordable housing solution for the same site.

Dublin Council’s 100% “affordable” scheme is made up of 40% social rent housing,1 40% cost-rent housing,2 and 20% affordable housing.3

What’s unique about Dublin’s vote for an “all-affordable” housing project? It steps away from classic neoliberal thinking that has prevailed over the last few decades: that private enterprise must be at the core of efficient, economical housing development. Recently, the Council has expressed doubt that private enterprise is willing to, or capable of, delivering on these promises, based on its less than impressive track record in this regard.4

Is Dublin City Council being naive and impractical by favouring a 100% “affordable” development? Perhaps.

But if it is indeed possible to create a successful and economical funding model for projects independent of the free market, these could become a template for building meaningful quantities of lower cost housing that are sorely needed.

Read more in DublinLive: Councillors vote for 100% social and affordable housing at Oscar Traynor Road

Charity Can Stave Off Evictions, Except Where Governments Have Created “Walking Dead”

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With the good news of increasing numbers of vaccinated citizens in many countries, there are hints of life possibly returning to normal in the not-too-distant future. This news, however comes with a very much not-silver lining for many vulnerable citizens. The spectre of eviction for rent arrears grows ominously closer.

In many cases, official rent relief from from some government source or another has not yet appeared, if it ever will. In the least sympathetic jurisdictions, which have temporarily banned evictions, such as the province of Ontario, a “pre-eviction” process has been churning away, in which eviction hearings have been held by a Landlord and Tenant Board and orders to evict for rent arrears have been issued. On March 8, the government gave the green light to begin executing the eviction orders.

Needless to say, the threat of this kind of process hangs like a sword over the necks of not only tenants, but also landlords who face the prospect of replacing tenants by ones who can afford to pay the rent.

As Hall County in Nebraska has demonstrated, there can be more constructive action than weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Its housing authority has erased the debt of its social housing tenants.

How? Read more in The Grand Island Independent: Hall County tenant debt erased thanks to fundraising effort

Unfortunate that in some jurisdictions such as Ontario there will be no similar rescue for those tenants already facing a not-yet-served eviction order. When it comes to housing security, they are the walking dead.

What To Do About Evictions: An American Perspective On A Worldwide Pandemic Problem

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Portlandmevicted (?) photo by drburtoni is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In the U.S. during the pandemic, Wake Forest University Law Professor Emily Benfer has become an expert much in demand to help make sense of a tangled thicket of national eviction bans and the nature of their impact on individuals, government and society.

Shelterforce recently recorded a wide-ranging interview with Professor Benfer that covers so much ground it’s not easy to summarize! Her focus is on the how courts have been interpreting eviction bans that attempt to balance (or not) the conflicting needs of tenants and landlords. Its American focus need not discourage readers from other national jurisdictions, particularly those with legal systems based on English Common Law.

One small example: Bender describes a range of possible interpretations of when an eviction ban might come into effect, ranging from preventing landlords from even initiating an eviction process all the way to completing the paperwork permitting a legal eviction, but not executing it.

This last possibility neatly describes the situation in Canada’s province of Ontario, where a Landlord and Tenant Board has been industriously hearing and ruling on thousands of applications to evict, but waiting for a government green light before sending out a sheriff to execute actual tenant removals.

Best practices for any jurisdiction? Bender has a lot to say on the subject. Read an edited version of Professor Benfer’s interview and/or link to a full video version at Shelterforce: Fixing the Harms of Our Eviction System: An Interview with Emily Benfer

Iowa: The Darkness Underlying a Charming Girl Scout Cookie Sale Story

Girl Scout Day Camp photo by Peter & Joyce Grace is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Girl Scout Day Camp

How wonderfully Middle America! Iowa Girl Scouts bust a record for cookie sales! Impossible not to smile after reading about it.

Almost, but not quite impossible. Hidden beneath this good news story is a contemporary American tragedy. What is it? The troop has no plans to immediately realize the fruits of their energy and resourcefulness, but will look to the summer and perhaps spend it on opportunities to attend girl scout camp.

What on earth could be seen as tragic about that? The fact that many, perhaps most of the girls will still be part of the troop in several month’s time, and will be able to take advantage of their sales enterprise. That’s because this girl guide troop has been formed in an Iowa homeless shelter.  Does the shape of the tragedy begin to form, now?

We are facing the dawn of a new normal, where children’s experience of shelter living is not some brief experience resolving some mixup in family fortunes at a temporary emergency shelter. Shelter living, on evidence of the hopes and dreams of this girl scout troop, stretches out towards months, even years. If we become accustomed to this state of affairs, it is truly a tragedy.

Read more at KWWL News: IOWA: Homeless girl scout troop sells 5,000 boxes of cookies

Government Transparency Crisis: Getting The Lead Out

A lead pipe photo by Louise Devitt is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Roman lead pipe from the excavated baths in Bath, U.K. Fables suggest drinking from lead pipes drove several Roman Emperors mad. Banned but still with us, governments need to make more serious efforts to prevent children from accumulating lead in their bodies.

Lead is bad for your health. When young children were discovered to have high levels of lead in their blood, health researchers in the U.S. began looking for sources of exposure. Lead showed up in the paint used in houses and in the pipes supplying water.1

Lead paint was banned for use in homes starting in 1978. Nick Martin, writing in The New Republic, takes a look at current situation. As he discusses, it’s difficult ground to cover for several reasons:

  • There are other potential sources of lead exposure that have not been investigated.
  • Mandatory testing is not being completed.
  • The data that are available indicate that lead poisoning is more prevalent among Black, Latinex and Native American populations than among white people.
  • There are data “quality” issues in reports submitted to the Centre for Disease Control.
  • Housing Authorities have not completed clean up orders.

Martin also reports promising initiatives, particularly at the local level. He points to signs that there may yet be leadership at the national level. As well, he refers to court convictions that could spur action. You can read the full story here: How to Stop Poisoning Children

Why Acquire Existing Rental Housing As Part Of An Affordable Housing Strategy?

Balconies in Toronto photo by Ryan is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Apartments in Toronto, where one in two renters pay more than 30% of the income for housing.

This post considers the potential of a program to acquire existing rental units as part of an affordable housing strategy. The context is Canada, but the thinking could be applied in other countries.

One of the goals of Canada’s National Housing Strategy (NHS) is to reduce housing costs for 530,000 households. It aims to do this partly through a new Canada Housing Benefit, for people who are paying more than 30% of their income for housing. The new benefit, which is planned to assist up to 300,000 households, will be portable.1 The Canada Housing Benefit has been slow to roll out, as it requires bilateral agreements between Canada and each province and territory.

It is valuable to look beyond Canada’s borders to see the experience of providing housing benefits in other countries where they have been in place for a period of time. The United States and the United Kingdom have a long experience with housing benefit programs.2 In both countries, housing costs have risen much faster than incomes. As a result, more and more people are seeking assistance to help pay for housing.

There are different ways to manage the cost pressure from increased demand:

  • The U.S. has set a maximum number of households that can receive the benefit. As program demand increases, some applicants will not receive the benefit, even though they fit the program criteria.
  • The U.K. has set a maximum amount for the subsidy. As rents rise, the subsidy covers less and less of the cost.

These measures may control costs, but fall far short of realizing a goal of making housing affordable for all.

Since the National Housing Strategy was approved, Canada has declared that housing is a human right. This creates a responsibility for the country to work toward ensuring that people with low incomes have housing costs that don’t overwhelm their financial resources.

Based on the experience in the U.K. and the U.S., Canada can expect the cost of its new housing benefit program to rise. With Canada’s commitment to housing as a human right, it will not be as easy to manage program costs by limiting who qualifies or freezing the subsidy level.

Canada is four years into the National Housing Strategy. It’s a good time to look closely at how the programs are panning out and to consider possible revisions and new program directions. For example, are there measures that can be introduced to control the cost of the Canada Housing Benefit so that it does not endlessly rise along with private sector housing rents?

Steve Pomerory, a housing consultant and senior researcher at Carlton University in Ottawa, has identified an opportunity for the National Housing Strategy to shift gears within its existing funding commitments. This opportunity focusses on one component of the NHS, the Rental Construction Finance Initiative (RCFI), which was initially allocated to support private sector rental housing construction.

Pomeroy reviews what has happened to rental housing starts since the National Housing Strategy was launched. New rental housing construction has been going up, but this is largely independent of the Rental Construction Finance Initiative. Pomeroy argues that the RCFI isn’t needed to encourage private sector rental housing construction and could be used differently to meet the goals of the National Housing Strategy more directly. He opens a discussion about directing the funding to acquire existing rental housing. You can read more about this at CURE: Toward Evidence Based Policy: Assessing the CMHC Rental Housing Finance Initiative

A program to acquire private rental residential buildings and transfer them to non-profit ownership has supporters in the U.S. The idea is elaborated as a program model by Gianpaolo Baiocchi and H. Jacob Carlson, who are based at New York and Brown Universities, respectively. They recommend a new national body to be tasked with purchasing existing rental housing and transferring ownership and management to non-profits and other non-market housing providers.

The fund would be used to allow the new body to act quickly when multi-residential rental housing comes on the market. It would also allow time to transfer the property to a non-profit and to arrange long term financing. Once this happens, the funding used to buy the property would go back to the national body to buy another property. Baiocchi and Carlson outline their ideas in the New York Times:3 What Happens When 10 Million Tenants Can’t Make Rent?

What could an acquisitions program add to Canada’s National Housing Strategy?

Pomeroy has helpfully identified the potential for acquisitions programs in a separate report. As he discusses, programs to acquire existing housing are consistent with the goals of the National Housing Strategy. As well, an acquisitions program could improve the Strategy’s results above the targets set when it launched:

  • The per unit cost is less than new construction. More units can be added to the non-profit sector for the same investment. Going forward, the cost of a housing benefit in any of the acquired units will not be subject to market forces.
  • An acquisitions program would reach places where there are a lot of tenants and where rental costs are high. For example, Ontario is home to 40% of the country’s rental households that are paying more than 30% of their income on housing, according to the most recent census. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s rental market survey also shows that rents in Ontario communities are amongst the highest in the country.4
  • Existing buildings have demonstrated that they operate at least on a break-even basis, on the strength of rents currently being paid by the sitting tenants. This suggests that the existing rent revenue could continue to cover the operating costs for the building.
  • If sitting tenants in acquired buildings are not evicted, it sets the stage for mixed income buildings. It also means that for any sitting tenants who are eligible for the new housing benefit, their housing costs would become more manageable and they won’t need to move.

Does acquiring existing rental housing create the conditions where income from rent would cover operating expenses? Pomeroy’s acquisitions report indicates existing buildings operate at least on a break even basis. Further, it is unlikely that each tenant is paying the same rent.5 Going forward, this suggests that non-profit housing providers would need to operate mixed income buildings in order to maintain the break-even operating income.

Canada implemented a social housing construction program designed for mixed income communities from 1974 to 1985. At the time, a mixed income model for social housing was favoured over buildings where all of the tenants had very low incomes.

Several of Canada’s pre-1990’s social housing programs also included acquisition of existing buildings. Non-profit developers in Montréal used the acquisition programs extensively, as there was a particular interest in preserving the physical character of older neighbourhoods.

In the pre-1990 social housing era, pretty well every program (and certainly the acquisition programs and the mixed income program) included public subsidies that contributed to the operations of the building. The Federal government cancelled these programs in the early 1990’s as part of a government-wide effort to minimize ongoing financial commitments. Since then, Federal financial contributions for additions to the social housing stock have been one-time propositions. This continues in the National Housing Strategy. The continuing absence of federal operating subsidies in particular favours acquisition of housing in which existing rents cover housing operation.

One question needs further investigation: will the the mortgage costs necessary to finance the acquisition overturn the balance between rental income and operating cost? Pomeroy’s acquisitions report proposes a model with financing structured to pay mortgage and operating costs from existing rental revenues.  You can read his full report here: Augmenting the NHS with an Acquisition Strategy June 2020

At this point, RCFI funding is no longer required to stimulate new private construction. Shifting that funding to a modest acquisition program seems too good an opportunity to pass up.6

Options To Avoid Watching A Loved One Fade Away Behind Glass

Aging Americans without a great deal of money might be curious to know whether Canada’s medicare-for-all system helps out those whose futures include nursing home care.

Canada’s nursing home system is not in fact federally controlled and varies somewhat from one province/territory to another. But in any case, whether government managed or private sector managed (both situations are common), its largest, most-populated provinces have suffered a perfect storm of pandemic infection and death in their nursing homes.

Promises by Ontario and Québec to clean up their act following the initial coronavirus wave have been more or less empty of any immediate impact. A second wave of the pandemic has once again raced through nursing homes. Whatever your personal health may require in the way of increasingly scarce nursing home beds, as it stands you may well be just as badly off in a nursing home on either side of the border. The same deadly standard of care may cost you more in the U.S., however.

Is nursing home care covered by Canada’s universal medicare? The answer is “yes” and “no.” By and large there’s a relatively modest monthly maximum. For those who can’t afford to pay, there are subsidies (and long waiting lists).

Thanks to nursing home vulnerability in a COVID-19 world, however, a much more pressing question than “which country has the best nursing home system?” is whether or not governments of any stripe should support its aging population through nursing homes at all. Is it really the best form of elder care for the frail?

A recent article in the Toronto Star written by Professor Emeritus of Community Health Sciences at the University of Calgary, Aldred H. Neufeldt, explains how a blossoming Canadian nursing home system in the 1960’s was medicine and medical care focused.

This “hospice-lite” approach provides what is essentially physical comfort on an ever-shortening road towards death. It contains little of the thinking that, for a great many elders, health may be equally or far better served by less emphasis on medical intervention and more on social an emotional support.

The impact of this notion has been starkly captured in pictures of loved ones standing outdoors as they forlornly wave to parents and grandparents who remain trapped behind glass in a warehouse of the largely immobile, where COVID-19 has spread like brushfire.

Alternatives? Aging in place — at home — is the most obvious. For the middle classes who need mobility aids or other home improvements, there are solutions such as those offered by Reverse Mortgage Daily. This industry magazine is happy to explain ways that, after buying a house, you can generate cash by un-buying it: WaPo: How to Modify a Home to Help Seniors Age in Place

In a medicare based system such as Canada’s, what is the challenge for governments that might finance aging in place? It’s very much down to cost. As Professor Neufeldt points out, critics of government financed aging in place inevitably claim that such a proposition is too expensive. There are certainly studies, however, that are testing that claim.1

For possible alternatives to our conventional idea of nursing homes, read more by Professor Neufeldt in the Toronto Star (paywalled but currently allowing five free reads/month): It’s time to rethink long-term care for seniors

And while we’re comparing elder care in the United States and Canada, here’s an article about a nursing home that bears out the merits of the alternatives Neufeldt suggests. It’s in the United States. Read more in Reasons to be Cheerful: The Happy Little Nursing Homes Outsmarting Covid-19

Housing Advocacy At The Highest Levels Of The Church Of England

Canterbury photo by tourist_on_earth is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Housing on the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral. The Church of England has housed itself comfortably for centuries. Now it's tackling the challenge of housing everyone in the U.K.

The Church of England (C of E) has joined the chorus calling for more housing for people with very low and no incomes. This is one result of work by a group that the C of E commissioned in 2019 to investigate the housing situation. The group has just released its final report, which recommends a course of action that can involve everyone in Great Britain.

The report is interesting in part because it illuminates one way the C of E tackles issues of concern: it sets up independent commissions with a specific mandate. This particular commission had access to all levels of the the C of E’s structure. The result is a very comprehensive treatment of its mandate.

Being a community bonded by faith, the Commissioners naturally investigated the issue of the C of E’s religious mission with respect to housing. They trace ethical questions through scripture with the goal of understanding its teachings on housing. The result is a theology of housing, which represents a new direction for the C of E. The implications are widespread.

For example, during its investigations, the Commissioners learned that local parishes had considered using church land as sites for permanently affordable housing. Some parishes had been deterred from taking action because they felt such action would conflict with church policies on the disposal of land.

This led the Commissioners to hold discussions with the financial and legal arms of the Church. Together they identified the church policies about land holdings that supported housing theology, as well at those that had an ambiguous or detrimental effect and would need to change. The Commissioners’ final report includes current guidance on using church land to build permanently affordable housing. The report also includes recommendations for changes to the church’s land and financial policies that would align the Church more fully with its housing mission.

As important as land is, it is only a piece of the puzzle. The Commission has also made recommendations about the need for a long term national housing strategy (think 20 years, four times longer than a typical government’s term of office), tackling climate change commitments and supporting local networks to create stronger communities.

Right now, these are all recommendations. To proceed requires the consent of the General Synod, which is scheduled to meet later this year. Still, it is encouraging to see the top leaders in the C of E voicing support for the Commission’s work and its recommendations.

The report, while focused on the Church of England, lays out a moral and ethical reasoning that supports building and providing housing that will be permanently affordable to people with very low and no incomes. Advocates in other sectors will see much that is familiar. The report, and the thinking that underlies it, expand the potential for coalitions amongst diverse stakeholders and new initiatives that effectively improve the situation.

You can access the full report, executive summary and multiple supporting documents written for the Archbishop’s Commission on Housing, Church and Community here: Coming Home

Pat Ashworth, writing for the Church Times, interviewed two of the Commissioners, the Reverend Lynne Cullen and Chris Beales. Their experience reflects the depths of the current housing crisis and the potential for C of E leadership to change that story going forward: Housing crisis: Nowhere to call home

Up And Out: Public Housing as Short Term Rehab vs. Destination Living

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Bebenhausen Monks Cell photo by bibliosopher is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A monk's cell, halfway house, waiting room, stern reproof, deserved punishment, rehab shelter between earth and heaven. Is this what public housing is meant to be?

Public housing in America and Europe was originally envisioned as desirable, secure, adequate, long term housing for workers facing a World Economic Depression that lasted a decade in the 1930’s. Following World War Two, public housing further offered a vision of a healthy living environment replacing slums and war damaged housing. Many nations acted on this promise.

In neither case was public/social meant to act like a bus shelter in a deluge — a place to step in, wait it out and then step out. Nor was it imagined as a refuse bin for those in society who were unable to gainfully compete in a national job market — the old, the disabled, single parents committed to child care.

The roots of the original concept — respectable permanent housing — can still be seen, with much admired examples healthy and going strong in cities such as Vienna, Austria, and Singapore.

Elsewhere, and most particularly in America, the dream of respectable, permanent public rental housing has degenerated into two segments. One is a poorly maintained waste bin for those unable to compete in a free market society. The other is a halfway house for those who may have temporarily faltered in their climb to prosperity. To spur them along, this class of public housing tenant is salted with the mild punishment/incentive of substandard living conditions to help point them towards the exit door.

America’s new Democratic-controlled administration as yet shows no signs of any significant rethinking of what can now be described as this “traditional” public housing of last resort. Indeed, President Biden’s choice for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is on record as favouring a future of public housing as an up-and-out economic halfway house for the financially faltering.1

Meanwhile, HUD has launched an experiment to repurpose public housing more explicitly as a form of temporary economic rehab to help drive down rapidly increasing waiting-lists of people who cannot keep up with ever-rising free market rental costs.

Such a program is being instituted in Hibbing, Minnesota, where public housing tenants will be expected to demonstrate active job-search and training activities, and face eviction if they don’t — typical of policies that have targeted welfare recipients since time immemorial.

Same old same old? Not quite. Those hanging out in the bus shelter waiting for the storm to pass will not, it seems, at first flash of sunlight be driven out immediately with pointed sticks.

What exactly does that mean? Read more in yahoo!news: Hibbing to institute work-related requirement for public-housing tenants in fall

Food Insecurity (e.g. Food Deserts) And What To Do About it

Grocer photo by Loozrboy is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Inefficient corner grocery stores were once everywhere it cities. Cheaper supermarkets, long distances apart, replaced them (except where gentrification still supports specialty purchases and higher prices). Elsewhere, in the gaps between supermarket there are "food deserts."

It has been estimated that 1.6 million residents in New York City are food insecure. They do not have convenient, reliable access to the nutrition they need for healthy lives.

Leaving it to the private sector? That’s what entire countries are doing, and much of the developed world’s chronic health care crises have resulted from their corporate-sensible but inevitably “for-profit” focus. No sane business operating on narrow profit margins plunks a retail outlet where the local buying habits can’t support it.

Which leaves governments concerned about the problem focused on two possible solutions, one best described as “small government,” the other “big government” or “welfare state.”

The small government approach is to ignore healthy food as one of the pillars of human health: shelter, food, and clean water. (Note that medical care, on which millions and billions of local currency are lavished, is lower down the list than the three pillars mentioned.)

The “small-government” approach harkens back to hunter-gatherer societies, which dominated some tens of thousands of years ago. Let families hunt and gather food for themselves.

Supporting this approach depends entirely on “a thousand tiny points of light” — charitable initiatives such as food banks that attempt to make a dent in a massive problem. Here’s one relatively new venture that illustrates both the spirit of charitable enterprise, while hinting at the discouraging scope of the need. Read more in MILWAUKEE NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS SERVICE: Hunger Task Force’s Mobile Market brings fresh produce to food deserts across Milwaukee County

The other possible approach is to employ a “welfare state” solution. In much of the world, this is merely one arrow in a quiver of government solutions. In America, however, the conceptual link between “welfare-state” and “socialism” frequently pours gasoline on a political firestorm.

“Needs must,” however, and New York City is at least flirting conceptually with the possibility of “welfare state” solutions in order to address the aforementioned 1.6 million citizens suffering from food insecurity.

So far, efforts are focused on a plan of action, without as yet identifying concrete steps to be taken. Let us hope for the sake of more than a million and a half New Yorkers that the plans will come to meaningful fruition depending on something more than charitable enterprise. For a broad view of the scope of food insecurity and its conceptual solutions, read more in the GOTHAM GAZETTE: City Releases First 10-Year Food Plan Under New Law

Does Architecture Deliberately Support Racism? MoMA Examines How And Why

Halfway House, New Orleans, after the fire photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Halfway House, New Orleans. Black culture flourished in this jazz landmark in spite of repression.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York is currently exploring the “bad and ugly” aspects of racist architecture as a prelude to a celebration of the “good” — modern architectural and planning design which counters prejudice.

Beginning with the the “leftover, disposable, and characterless environments” that define oppression, MoMA explores some of the unexpected promise that has emerged from these hostile environments, summing them up as “some of America’s most valuable cultural contributions.”

While the MoMA exhibition roots itself in the planning and architecture of prejudice and exclusion, its main focus is newly commissioned works by architects, designers, and artists that “explore ways in which histories can be made visible and equity can be built.”

How can such objectives be achieved? Read more in DW: MoMA examines role of architecture in systemic racism

Updated: Rent Controls — Panacea Or Pariah?

85 Range Road photo by SimonP is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Private rental housing in Ottawa, Ontario.

Ken Gibb and Alex Marsh are investigating the academic literature about rent controls. It seems there hasn’t been a comprehensive review for 20 years. The final report will be issued shortly, but in the meantime, they shared some of their findings in the Welsh Housing Quarterly.

The investigators are part of the UK Collaborative Centre For Housing Evidence (CaCHE),1 an initiative that spans the United Kingdom and coordinates academic inquiry on housing issues.

The investigators are looking into the social, political and economic strengths and weakness of rent control policies. Their comments are timely partly because the Scottish parliament is debating legislation on rent controls.

Advocates in and outside the United Kingdom were calling for rent controls in the months leading up to COVID. It is also likely that interest will continue throughout the pandemic and beyond, as safety measures have meant job loss for tenants and rental losses for landlords.

The authors discuss some of the limitations of existing analyses of rent controls, particularly those undertaken in other jurisdictions, as studies from one country cannot necessarily be assumed to apply directly in another. Even within a country or a state, some local housing markets may have much stronger price pressures than others.

Gibb and Marsh also dig into the methods used in the economic studies that model the effects of rent controls. Most of the studies assume that the housing market is fully competitive. In fact, most housing markets have barriers to entry (such as down payments and rental deposits) and other operating limitations (e.g. access to financing, interest rates, and owner/renter incomes). By assuming full competition, these studies’ conclusions and recommendations have limited practical use.

Also, the economic modelling studies often compare rent control measures with changes in income. As Gibb and Marsh point out, using a rise in income levels as a comparator opens up other policy questions, rather than definitively commenting on the merits of rent controls.2

There’s lots more to read in this article in the Welsh Housing Quarterly. It is behind a paywall, but if you don’t have a subscription, you can contact Ken Gibb (ken.gibb@glasgow.ac.uk) for more information.

And for those curious about what the final report will have to offer, there’s an overview of the full scope of the study at CaCHE: Rent control: Evidence review

Below: Our earlier post about rent controls.


Some governments are introducing rent controls as a response to the housing crisis. This is a hotly contested measure. Landlords and developers say rent controls discourage adding stock to the rental market. Tenants and people who are homeless generally favour them as they want security and affordability as well as more housing. This post lays out issues that shape this debate and suggests some options to change the current situation.

On the Supply Side

The argument that rent controls will restrain rental housing starts makes sense from a basic supply and demand point of view. If you put a lid on potential profit, people with money to invest will look elsewhere. This includes landlords. It also stands to reason that if you remove the lid, more housing will get built. There’s a real world experiment of this in Ontario, Canada, where rent controls had existed on private rental housing since 1975. Those rent controls were held to blame for limited new housing starts. Starting in 1991, new rental units were not subject to rent controls. Contrary to expectation, rental housing starts did not go up.

Housing starts are not as flexible as some other goods: it takes time to organize plans, obtain approvals, to build and then to rent up the buildings. Taking this into account, the increase in new rental starts might have been delayed by two or three, even five years. This didn’t happen either.

Acting on the belief that rent controls could be reintroduced at any time, housing developers and investors might have been wary about putting new money into rental housing. The rent control legislation in Ontario sets out a framework and three part system that allows rents to increase:

  • Rents in controlled units are allowed to increase every year. They are not frozen. The amount of the increase is set by a guideline, which is indexed to the cost of inflation. Landlords are obliged to give tenants advance notice of the rent increase, but as long as the increase is within the guideline, tenants are required to pay the increased amount.
  • The legislation allows for increases above the guideline in controlled units. Landlords must notify tenants. Such increases are mediated by a Landlord-Tenant Board. They are not automatic and it can take some time to determine the amount of increase that will be allowed. The decision, when it is made, applies retroactively to the date when the increase would have come into effect.
  • The legislation also includes vacancy decontrol in controlled units. This means the rent for a unit is not fixed when a tenant leaves a unit. When a new tenant moves in, the landlord and tenant agree on a starting rent, which becomes the base for all future increases.

The Ontario rent control framework provides the opportunity to make money on a predictable basis and there are businesses that operate in this environment. One example is Capreit, which owns 64,000 rental units across the country. The rental environment in Ontario has also attracted Aukelius, a Danish company that describes Canada as a great opportunity to drive profits.

On the Demand Side

Tenants are generally considered to be “pro” rent controls. In a market where supply is limited, interventions to control rent hikes can provide tenants with some assurance that they will be able to continue to afford their housing. But once again, this isn’t always as simple as it might seem.

The amount of the guideline increase can vary considerably. Legislators in Oregon are heralding the arrival of rent control legislation in that state. The guideline increase there is inflation plus 7% per year. Based on an annual 7% increase alone (without inflation), tenants can anticipate that their rent will increase by 50% in five years. Unless their annual income also goes up by 7%, their home will become progressively less affordable during the same period. If their income remains unchanged, a tenant paying 30% of their income on shelter at move in will be paying a rent that is considered unaffordable in year 1 and upwards of 50% of their income by year 5. While this does make the situation clear for prospective renters, it won’t necessarily be reassuring.

Vacancy decontrol is a significant consideration for a tenant considering a move. There are plenty of reasons why a move might make sense (e.g. work at a new location, increasing or decreasing household size). With vacancy decontrol in place, new rents are negotiated at the time of move in. The prospect of negotiating a new rent can be a significant deterrent to moving, especially in markets where there is a high demand for rental housing.

Legislating Affordability In Rental Housing

Rent controls are often introduced in markets with rapid rent increases. The rents of sitting tenants become unaffordable and vacancy rates are very low (especially in the most affordable units). Legislators debating rent regulation have a number of decisions to make. How to establish base rents? In what conditions should base rents reset? Should rents be allowed to rise and if so, by what amount? What to do about increasing supply?

Setting Base Rents

Legislators must consider whether to start with the existing rents as the base level, to roll them back (which would please sitting tenants) or to start with an increase (appealing to landlords, investors and building owners).

Resetting Base Rents

The decision here is about whether the rent of a unit should continue from one tenant to the next, or whether a new base rent will be negotiated when a new tenant moves in (vacancy decontrol). The first option relates rents to the cost of operating the housing and supports tenant mobility. The second option favours investors, as rents are allowed to float to “market levels,” especially in a market with low vacancy rates.

Setting Rent Increases

Decision makers need to consider whether to freeze rents or to allow them to rise. With costs generally going up, it might seem surprising to even consider a rent freeze, but the government in Berlin is currently in the process of deciding whether to implement one. 3

Data become very important in settling on decisions about rent freezes and rent increases. Cost indices, such as inflation, are a common source for setting criteria both for rent freezes and rent increases. The credibility of the data is also a consideration. Government statistical agencies are frequently chosen for this reason.

Legislators also need to consider the cost of implementing legislation to control rents. Increases based on cost of living plus a bonus, as in Oregon, have low administrative overhead, and hold appeal for fans of small government. Administrative tribunals, such as the one in Ontario, cost more, but provide a degree of oversight before locking in a base rent that is above the inflation rate.

Measures to Increase the Supply of Rental Housing

From this discussion, the presence or absence of rent controls does not seem to be the key to unlocking new rental supply. Legislators will need to consider other measures if this is a consideration.

Wrap-Around Support Program For Homeless Moms Gains Stable Housing

Regent Park Community Pool photo by wsquared photography is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Dip into Regent Park Community Pool. A successful Toronto Public Private Partnership rebuild of a sprawling low-rise public housing complex, Regent Park is still innovating.

WoodGreen Community Services has scored another triumph in their award winning Homeward Bound program, with 36 new permanent rental housing units coming on stream in Toronto’s Regent Park later this year.

WoodGreen has been providing community services for over 100 years. Homeward Bound started in 2004 and supports single parent female-headed families who have left violent relationships, or vulnerable for other reasons.

The comprehensive supports include housing, child care, training, work experience and psychological counselling. They help the moms to qualify for jobs with a reasonable income and plan for the future. When participants complete the program, which lasts for four years, they move on to stable accommodation and employment.

This latest triumph is a partnership that will provide permanent housing units where moms and their families can move when they graduate from Homeward Bound. In Toronto, where a new two bedroom apartment will rent for $2,550/month, the rent for Homeward Bound graduates will be $1,270. It also means that the moms and their families will continue to live in neighbourhoods where they built social networks during the Homeward Bound program.

The partners in the project include the local government (City of Toronto), and the private sector (Daniels Corporation and Sun Life) as well as WoodGreen. The units will rent at non-market prices for 40 years.

Read more at toronto.com: Toronto helps fund housing for single moms in Regent Park and businesswire: Sun Life, The Daniels Corporation, WoodGreen and the City of Toronto Sign Agreement for New Residential Community to Provide Affordable Homes for Single Mothers

COVID An Urgent Call To Arms for “Space Cadets”

GREENING THE CITY, also BREATHING SPACES - Learning from the High Line - Manhattan - May, 2016 photo by JR P is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
The High Line. Once an elevated railway above a Manhattan street, now an innovative urban park.

Nearly all urban spaces on earth grew like topsy until the modern practice of zoning became common. Zoning then chased pig farms out of the downtown, lead smelters out of residential neighbourhoods and dramatically helped to create healthier neighbourhoods and healthier neighbours.

But zoning made exceptions. Sure, it often made sense to chase commerce out of residential spaces, but exceptions were made for such as essential food services.

Like corner stores.

So where are they now? Take a walk around older inner city suburbs. Corner residences with bricked in windows, or unusually large ones, tell one chapter in the history of food “deserts” — residential neighbourhoods that today no longer have reasonable access to food and other basic necessities.

As for green spaces, they are valued and fought for within residential zones (not always successfully by any means). Those that are caught up in the definition of commercial and industrial districts are too often sacrificed to “progress.”

Zoning did not chase away corner stores or small public parks, but it remains an important part of how cities need to rethink their structures in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

City and neighbourhood design have played a part in designing healthy cities for on towards two centuries.  For a historic view, here’s an article from History.com: How Pandemics Spurred Cities to Make More Green Space for People

Broadening a view of healthy city to once again give more due to public spaces, a recent article based on Singapore’s neighbourhood experience looks to an ambitious future. It expands the view of how urban space promotes human health and happiness to include visions such as Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s 2020 proposal for a “15-minute” city, where everything that a resident needs is available in a short walk. Read more in GOVINSIDER: Reframing public spaces as civic goods for resilient cities

Finally, an article in Nation puts a political twist on these concerns in a detailed review of a recent book: Brave New Home by Diana Lind. Her work focuses not only upon the spaces around housing and neighbourhoods. She calls for brave new thinking about the nature of houses themselves as well as their hinterland.

The reviewer, however, takes the book to task for its failure in detailing pathways towards Lind’s “new thinking.” Current “small government” politics, particularly those in America, cede to private enterprise much responsibility for planning of housing and its environs.

What practical future then for a plot of land viewed as “bold new thinking” greenspace? A free-market developer may well be unlikely to see a neighbourhood space as health and happiness. Instead, the tendency will be to consider its use as square footage times profit margin. Read more in The Nation: Perverse and Unfair: The Radical Steps to Fix the Housing Crisis

The Nation review speculates about the need to hold away from the free market whatever housing (and by extension other public space), which is essential to human health and happiness. That thinking turns the argument back towards practical politics of socialists such as Paris Mayor Hidalgo, and indeed towards the entire government of Singapore.

Singapore is far from a socialist country. And yet it has had extraordinary success in creating public housing as well as successful neighbourhoods. It has achieved this by cleverly marrying small-government “hands-off” policies for business, with a big-government welfare-state to support the health and happiness of its citizens. It seems that in Singapore at least, there are other options than “socialism or else.”

P.S. Curious about Manhattan’s High Line? History and great pictures here.

A Real Get Out Of Jail Card, Maryland Style

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Baltimore Womens Detention Centert, Baltimore MD photo by Elvert Barnes is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Baltimore Womens' Detention Center.

Some American social programs greatly benefit private enterprise that builds and/or manages the country’s penal system. The term “benefits” in no way suggests that the jailing industry can (or even wants to) proudly point to another rehabilitated human being returned to a constructive role in society.

The benefit to the jailing industry is the almost certain return of that individual to incarceration — one more solid earner back in a cage at government expense, a significant portion of which finds its way into cage manager profit.

One particularly profitable benefit to jailers comes from American public housing policy. More than two decades ago, as an initiative of the “war on drugs,” former criminals1 were banned from living in — even visiting — public housing. As well, they were no longer permitted to receive section 8 vouchers — essential financial assistance in the private rental market.2 With very limited employment opportunities, people released from prison have been cut off from shelter of last resort.

A most obvious option beyond living behind a dumpster and begging for food? Return to crime in order to eat and put a private rental roof overhead. In the fullness of time, there will be an inevitable arrest, conviction and return to being a fine little profit maker in their true shelter of last resort — a prison cage.

Once a criminal, always a criminal?

Not any longer in Maryland, where authorities have been forced to confront a reality that most humans fully understand, even if they’d rather not acknowledge.

People change.

Read more in The Press Of Atlantic City: People change, so public housing exclusions should be regularly reviewed

Jersey City “Grows Up” Helped By World Economic Forum To Fight Food Insecurity

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VertiCrop photo by Valcenteu is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Food insecurity is a growing danger for the most vulnerable in many advanced countries. What do you do when you or your extremely low income family encounter a financial crisis? Cut back on expenditure. You have to.  And all too often, the only thing that can “give” a little financial relief is cutting back on food intake — deliberately starving yourself or your family to get out of debt.1

Jersey City, New Jersey, has been chosen for a pilot program supported by the World Economic Forum to farm its way towards better nutrition. We’re not talking about rolling green fields of growing produce, because where might you find rolling green fields in a city?

Instead, The Jersey City Housing Authority will be building “vertical farms” and manning them as educational projects to produce thousands of pounds of vegetables annually to provide free nutritional support for its public housing residents.

It’s an intriguing idea for any city that can find unused manufacturing or commercial space to build a tower of veggies. Read more in The Hudson Reporter: Jersey City Housing Authority to host vertical farms

For those individuals and organizations that cannot imagine a World Economic Forum  knocking at their door to offer help anytime soon, there’s good news. You can start off a do-it-yourself project using Nature’s own grow light, on hankies of horizontal, rather than vertical, space. Read more about the company Love & Carrots, founded by one woman with a truck at  The Hill: This company is solving America’s food issues one backyard at a time

Could “Social Housing For All” In California Crush A Truly Affordable Housing Crisis?

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San Nicolas, UCSB photo by Carl Jantzen is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Could the University of California's track record in building student housing be a key to "Social Housing For All" in California? At least one advocate thinks so.

Two cities are commonly linked with the current outstanding success of social and public housing as a way of life. One is Vienna. The other is Singapore.

In both places, social housing shares an important characteristic that sets it apart from a style of social housing that has dominated some countries for three quarters of a century. Whether accidentally or on purpose, that housing has become associated with the most vulnerable citizens who struggle to survive on low or no income.

In California, public housing over the decades has been shunned and reviled as a “poor folks” housing solution, which disadvantaged persons might rent, holding their noses and striving desperately to “rise above” such a demeaning station in life.1

Such “poor folks” perceptions have no meaning in Vienna and Singapore, where public housing is available — and occupied — by all manner of citizens, no matter what their income. Indeed, in Singapore, not just rental but ownership of its well-built public housing is allowed and has greatly enriched much of its citizenry.

Could such a kind of “public housing for all” find a place in the USA? California is currently moving along a legislative path that will allow it to find out.

Read more in JACOBIN: Social Housing Is Becoming a Mainstream Policy Goal in the US

City of Toronto Helps Homeless-Loving Carpenter Follow in Famous Footsteps

In an age where social media allows everyone to preach the gospel of certainty for every possible lifestyle, social behaviour and religious belief under the sun, we wondered how Jesus might fare in such a world trying to earn attention. We speculated he might turn to his craft of carpentry and teach by doing, much as a generous Toronto carpenter has recently been helping people who are homeless by building winter shelters.1

Khaleel Seivwright has continued to let his conscience be guided by his craft. As the ranks of Toronto rough sleepers swell, he has pursued his current mission in life, building shelters, both spiritually and financially uplifted by growing numbers of supporters.

Enter (inevitably) the City of Toronto. Have they been doing their homework and used Khaleel’s work as inspiration? Other cities have done something like that.2

Toronto, on the other hand, has sized up the situation and apparently favoured the approach of the Imperial Roman Government of some two millennia past, and is bent on making Khaleel a martyr. Read more at Sports Grind Entertainment: Why Toronto is taking action against a carpenter amid its homelessness crisis

. . . and stay tuned.

When Homes Become Offices And Offices Become Homes: A Fantasy City Future?

GDS offices photo by TomNatt is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
If offices are surplus to downtown commercial needs, can they be converted to homes?

In a topsy turvey pandemic world, many commercial office workers have seen their places of employment fragment and scatter backwards along commuter routes, down familiar residential streets, and in through their front doors, there to lodge, perhaps in a corner of a cherished bedroom.

Left behind in the city core? Empty office shells in the commercial districts. Futurists, including hungry developers, have been eyeing temporarily abandoned downtown towers of commerce.

Rumours abound that unsupervised employees are actually working efficiently and productively from home. Will this trend, post-pandemic, be ultimately blessed by corporations, allowing them to trim no longer needed downtown office fat in pursuit of eternal profit? Accordingly, will at least some of those buildings need a new life entirely?

Consideration of alternate uses for office space begs an associated but important question: will the trend to downtown living persist even after great chunks of commercial workspace are sponged up into homes scattered elsewhere? And if that’s the case, could former office buildings be repurposed into still-lively commercial district accommodation?

If fewer do want to live downtown post-COVID, using empty office structures for public housing has been suggested. This would accord with many historic examples of handicapping public housing tenants by putting truly affordable housing projects where the jobs aren’t.

That question has been partly answered in the U.K., where decaying industrial and commercial districts have been promoted as potential residential developments. The government carrot to lure developer-donkeys has been to free these districts from zoning regulations (except for those associated with the cleanup of soil contamination and the like).

The verdict? Free-wheeling, zoning-unfettered developers can go happily nuts, producing large quantities of cheap unhealthy, shoebox accommodations.1 Surprisingly, government itself turns out to be a willing renter or purchaser of such substandard accommodation. That’s because it needs to shortchange refugees, people who are homeless and any others for whom it is pressed into responsibility to provide temporary housing.

But as for permanent, decent, affordable housing fashioned from former commercial space, can that be economically achieved? The U.K. zoning-free experiment tells us little. The challenges are many and the answers by no means clear. To appreciate some of the critical issues involved, the article below describes some current explorations in France. Read more in Arab News: COVID-19: Could empty office buildings help solve France’s housing crisis?

Also see this discussion from Australia, where the question is also under consideration. Try: Public Housing Tenants Could Become Fodder To Feed Brave New City CBDs

America’s Next “New Deals,” Need To Be Not Only Green, But Black

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Green New Deal photo by Francesco Mariani is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Do we need to see more inclusionary rallies, which focus on a Green New Deal and Black Inclusion?

Recalling the successes of FDR’s 1930’s New Deal, progressive politicians and their followers have a number of hurdles to overcome in re-inventing another New Deal from the myths of yesterday.

Roosevelt’s New Deal ultimately was more than a one-year-plus stopgap expenditure to deal with a deadly financial American disease — the Great Depression. Lasting a decade, it became the foundation of a modern welfare state.

Alas, aided by the erosive effects of time, the U.S. federal government has been actively dismantling that welfare state for the last three decades. Centrists from both major political parties strongly have been strongly influenced by Thatcherism.1 That centrist position is largely unchanged, recent election or no.

Further, “small-government” thinking has been deeply embedded in federal government agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD’s various and expensive programs rather poorly mix helping Americans in need of shelter with systematic attempts to scrape this entire raison-d’être off the government plate.

A further obvious hurdle is to link a next New Deal to climate change, as in “a Green New Deal.” At least with this hurdle, progressives can take heart. For the moment the climate-change-denying previous administration has been removed from power.

The least appreciated hurdle for movers, shakers, and their essential supporters, is one so close to home for progressives that they too may miss its importance, denying themselves a bedrock of support for their political visions.

What did Roosevelt’s New Deal mean for Blacks? Many Black individuals benefited from the original New Deal. That’s not quite the same, however, as a deal pitched at supporting the entire middle class, which at the time was almost entirely White. That White middle class benefited mightily!

For all the crumbling New Deal-inspired public housing, which is today filled with Black people, time has shown it was a shitty New Deal for the Black minority in America.

Read more at Bloomberg CITYLAB: The Next New Deal Must Be for Black Americans, Too

Social/Public Housing An Aboriginal Disaster? Why Not Papakāinga?

House Of Hiwikau, Mother Of Te Heuheu. And Falls Ko Waihi, At Te Rapa, Taupo Lake, The New Zealanders Illustrated, 1847 photo by Angas, George French 1822-1886: The New Zealanders Illustrated. London, Thomas McLean, 1847. is licensed under the public domain
Although the picture of this home is old, the knowledge and skill to build different kinds of communal and family housing survives to the present.

There would seem to be nothing quite as catastrophic as Inuit housing in Canada’s far north, where much of the population was forcibly resettled much less than a century ago.1 But in a competition for worst and last, there are mistreated aboriginal populations the world over that are in the running.

One of those is the Māori population in New Zealand, a johnny-come-lately to worldwide national affordable housing crises that have inevitably impacted more severely on the aboriginal population.

The Māori, however, have an ace up their sleeve in the form of traditional housing of their own called Papakāinga. Leaders are now calling for their population to abandon their demands for more and better public/social housing (called “state housing” in New Zealand) and lobby instead for funding to build, with appropriate quality, their own traditional forms of individual and collective housing.

Many aboriginal cultures in other countries no longer possess the skills, knowledge or historic structures suitable for the present day 21st century. Could some of the traditional beliefs, thinking and attitudes behind community construction of Māori housing and neighourhoods have value elsewhere? Could it act a starting point for government funded aboriginal-built housing for other nationalities?

Read more at RNZ:  Prioritise papakāinga over state houses, iwi leaders tell housing conference

And for further information about Papakāinga, try this article from the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects: Papakainga Housing – a Taupo Case Study from Kara Scott

Universal Basic Income Part 3: Housing Benefit Model

2020-4 Colombia: UTRASD photo by IDWF is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A COVID-inspired workers' campaign for universal basic income in Columbia, South America. The poster promotes the dignity of domestic labour. Universal Basic Income may not pay everyone to own a vacuum cleaner, but they ought to have enough to pay for housing.

This is the third of three posts about Universal Basic Income.1

The British Columbia government’s Basic Income Panel (the Panel) is recommending a targeted basic income program to make housing more affordable for people with very low or no incomes, provisionally titled BC Rent Assist. It is one of the Panel’s many recommendations for reforms to programs and policies that provide assistance to BC residents of all ages with very low incomes. BC Rent Assist is designed to provide a program that adheres to the principles of Universal Basic Income and focused on housing costs.

The recommendations for BC Rent Assist are grounded in research completed by Jonathan Rhys Kesselman and Michael Mendelson for the Panel. The authors begin by applying a Universal Basic Income lens2 to the existing programs that help people to pay for housing. Applying the lens highlights gaps and anomalies. Here’s one example: working age adults are treated differently based on whether or not they have children.

Next, Kesselman and Mendelson consider modifications that would nudge the existing housing programs to be consistent with the principles of Universal Basic Income.

Evaluating the effects of these reforms solved some issues, but still left significant inequalities between groups of people. Even with reforms, the existing housing assistance programs weren’t consistent with the principles of Universal Basic Income. This strengthened the case for replacing the existing programs with a new one.

The replacement begins with two ideas: 1) a basic level of income is necessary to maintain stable housing and 2) all people who do not have that basic income level are eligible for support. The authors are able to give detailed recommendations on program design thanks in part to the Rent Assist program, which has been running successfully in Manitoba.

Interestingly, the proposed BC Rent Assist program provides a foundation to continue building and operating non-market housing. It would include income assistance for all tenants regardless of whether they live in private rental or non-profit housing.

Advocates, policy makers and decision makers who are stumped by the uneven playing field of existing programs will want to look at Rhys Kesselman’s and Mendelson’s paper for its evaluation framework and methodology. Read more at BC Basic Income Panel: Applying a Basic Income Lens to British Columbia’s Demand-Side Housing Programs

Universal Income Part 2: Models and Forecasts

This is the second of three posts about Universal Basic Income. It reports on work by the Canadian Centre For Economic Analysis, which models the economic impacts of universal basic income. The third post will centre on a report that proposes a universal rental assistance program.1

UBI Works is a Canadian non-profit on a mission: it is promoting introduction of a Universal Basic Income across the country. UBI Works commissioned the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis (CANCEA) to model the impacts of such a program. The subject of this post is CANCEA’s report.

Reports like this help to illustrate the complex choices facing policy makers and decision makers. This one is particularly interesting because it looks at two different approaches to implementing a Universal Basic Income. One boosts incomes of all adults (raises everyone’s income). The second focusses its assistance to households with the lowest incomes (assists the lowest earners).

Of course, as a decision maker you can’t make this decision in a vacuum: you want to know what will happen to the economy and where the funding will come from to pay for it. CANCEA’s report also investigates these questions, using economic forecasting models. CANCEA’s modelling is built on individual actions of 38 million people as well as businesses and governments. CANCEA makes short and long term forecasts in its report.

CANCEA also cautions that it’s tricky to predict the future, and given the events of the last 12 months, we certainly know that to be true. With that in mind, let’s press on.

On most of the scores used in the forecast, the “raises everyone’s income” approach predicts better results than the second, “assists the lowest earners”.

The “raise everyone’s income” approach:

  • means a bigger rise in Gross Domestic Product in the short and long term,
  • means faster income growth and wealth accumulation in the business sector,
  • does not require any changes in business tax, and
  • repays any government borrowing needed to pay for the program faster.

Both approaches raise incomes of the same numbers of Canadians with the lowest incomes, but the first one scores better on all the above measures.

What’s the catch? In the “raise everyone’s income” approach, households with the lowest incomes will see a rise in income, but it won’t rise as much as it would with “assists the lowest earners” approach.

UBI Works is backing the “raise everyone’s income” approach. This is understandable as it would appear to appeal to a broader voting constituency (everyone!) than the more targeted one. But as the modelling shows, by choosing “raising everyone’s income,” policy makers and decision makers are deciding to offer less help to people who need it the most.

And let’s think for a moment what both these approaches would mean in housing terms. The Universal Basic Income discussed here is proposed to be the same across Canada. There is no provision for differences in housing costs, in a country where the average rent for two bedroom home can vary from $621/month in Trois Rivières to $1,792 in Vancouver.

CANCEA’s modelling and forecasts are presented in three packages.

The full report and an infographic are available at CANCEA: Potential Economic Impacts and Reach of Basic Income Programs in Canada and Infographic Summary

A trimmed down version of the full report is posted at UBI Works: Report Highlights

Universal Basic Income Part 1: Applying A Justice Framework

Quotation: A 1516 argument for universal basic income photo by Ken Whytock is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
From a campaign for Universal Basic Income in the year 1516.

This is the first of three posts about Universal Basic Income. It is an idea that has been around for some time but often seen as out of step with small government philosophies. Yet, in an age of largely divided politics, Universal Basic Income has supporters on the left and the right. Recently, emergency pandemic relief has renewed interest in longer term financial assistance for the most vulnerable.

How should decision makers and policy makers decide whether temporary measures should become a permanent Universal Basic Income program? The posts in this series discuss aspects of this question drawing on three recent reports. The reports are Canadian based, but discuss issues that will be relevant to policy makers, academics, decision makers and advocates in other jurisdictions:

    • Part 1 centres on an extensive report by the BC Basic Income Panel. The post introduces Universal Basic Income and discusses how the Panel developed and applied a justice framework.
    • Part 2 introduces work by the Canadian Centre For Economic Analysis, which models the economic impacts of Universal Basic Income. This post looks at the challenges and tradeoffs involved in making policy choices.
    • Part 3 centres on a report that proposes a universal rental assistance program.

The fundamental idea of Universal Basic Income is that everyone should receive a level of income that can sustain them. There are many variants. Canada’s Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement, which are targeted to people 60 years and older, are two that have endured. Others have been pilot tested and abandoned.1

The origins of the BC Basic Income Panel (the Panel) predate COVID-19. The Green Party in British Columbia pushed for a review of universal basic income as a condition of its support to the minority New Democratic Party government. The terms of reference required the Panel to comment specifically on the merits of a pilot test.

The Panel concluded that it does not support a pilot to test the Universal Basic Income. Instead, it recommends extensive reform to programs and policies that provide assistance to residents of all ages with very low incomes.

The recommendations are based on a staggering amount of work. The final report is over 500 pages and there are more than 40 background papers. The panel also consulted residents and advocacy groups and commissioned a survey of all BC residents.

Part of work in the Panel’s report was used to establish a framework to analyse Universal Basic Income. The framework is based on principles of justice. This seems fitting, considering that justice was at the root of the Green Party’s call for Universal Basic Income.

One of the groundbreaking aspects of the Panel’s activities is their work to include Indigenous experience, both on and off reserve. Indigenous people are over-represented at the negative end of most every housing score (crowding, poor living conditions, high housing costs compared to income and homelessness). Just to start the investigation, the Panel was faced with big information gaps. There is also a long history of discrimination against and misuse of information about indigenous people.

The Panel initiated discussions with the indigenous community to avoid perpetuating discriminatory practices. The two groups were able to agree on a process and procedure. The work did not go ahead, due to COVID, but the stage is set to continue when social restrictions ease.

The report begins with an executive summary, which is a useful starting point to navigate specific issues in more depth. Read more at BC Basic Income Panel: Covering All The Basics: Reforms For A More Just Society

Empty Housing Not Just A Waste Of Shelter But Also A Community Disease

Near Kettering photo by NES Jumpman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Flint, Michigan has taken action to reclaim neighbourhoods with abandoned homes as a health measure.

Empty houses plague not only cities, but the countryside. Some are empty because speculators are holding them for a quick turnover in a hot housing market.1 Others are empty second (holiday) homes, only used for a few weeks a year.2 Still others are simply abandoned due to debt or for other reasons.3

A “Zombie” home is a name sometimes given to a house tied up in legal battles such as foreclosure. And then there are all the pandemic-created empty homes that are “parked” short term rental accommodations waiting for a brighter day in months or perhaps years when the tourist business comes back to life.4

Over the last couple of years, with private-public-partnerships failing to produce significant numbers of affordable homes, interest has turned to the possibilities of acquiring vacant housing to create social rent and other forms of truly affordable housing.5 Successful projects are now confirming that such renovation can be cost-effective and result in considerable quantities of housing for low income citizens.6.

In a recent article, Shelterforce brings an entirely new dimension to the elimination of at least some empty homes. We’re talking here not so much about their destruction, but the eliminating their “emptiness,” and not just for home creation reasons.

The article identifies a large body of research suggests that empty buildings and vacant lots are often the locus of community crime. With personal security a most important issue in many neighbourhoods, Shelterforce pinpoints a reason for renovating vacant property that may ultimately be a more compelling political tool for activists than the benefits of newly renovated affordable housing. Read more: Can We Curb Crime by Cleaning the Corner?

Public Housing As Architectural Activism: A Sydney Working Example

747 villa Floor plan photo by MichaelScott99 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Architects should stick to designing, shouldn't they?

From Sydney, Australia to Ontario, Canada: celebrating a new Ontario Association of Architects president with a Down Under query about the role of architects in public Housing. Are we looking at architects as handmaidens to builders on budget, with the art of building reduced to . . . paint on concrete?

Or can architects play a more dynamic role in creating dignified, cherishable homes for a nation’s most vulnerable?

The Sydney query is both a plaintive cry for public housing activism support from architects, as well as a history lesson on how, not all that long ago, architects successfully threw their weight behind activists protesting yet another government plan to demolish public housing.

In Ontario, there’s a public housing knowledgeable new association head. The CANADIAN ARCHITECT has the details: The OAA announces Susan Speigel as new President

From Australia, a moment of architect activism, as well as a plea for more, in THE FIFTH ESTATE: Public housing: where are the architects now?

Does “Right To Housing” Also Mean “Right To Internet”?

Kids in bus stop photo by Nipponeselover is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
We take infrastructure such as roads and sidewalks for granted. What about broadband internet?

Slowly but surely, communities are looking towards internet access as a key infrastructure component of housing. Expressed as a part of the United Nations right to adequate housing, infrastructure is a necessary link between a home to its community. There are already long-established and familiar community-provided infrastructure services found in advanced countries: roads, electricity, sewage, water, etc.

The pandemic-created education crisis caused by school closures has focused attention on the importance of broadband internet connection as a new, fundamentally important housing infrastructure link.

Where internet connections exist, a patchwork of community-minded private internet providers in a number of nations have stepped up to help temporarily provide charitable access for portions of the population who cannot afford the cost of a private internet connection, or for that matter, the means to utilize it: a tablet or computer in the home.

But just as roads and electricity and other established infrastructure connections cannot depend upon charitable contributions, communities are currently faced not only with a reality of both an immediate home schooling crisis, but in developing economical, longer term solutions to ensure permanent internet links for all.

New internet infrastructure projects in Marin County, California, demonstrate some of the thinking and action required to deal with immediate crisis-triggered (and expensive) responses and with much broader, longer term economies to guarantee equality of access to internet. This objective needs to service people living in areas where private internet access is close to universal, but also unaffordable. At the same time, solutions need to be found for areas where cable-ready or other service does not exist.

Read more in about Marin City’s approval of a double-pronged internet development, in the Marin Independent Journal: Marin City project to provide free internet access

. . . and for a closer look at longer term solutions for community-provided internet infrastructure — a project currently under development in another Marin County Community: San Rafael nears launch of Canal Wi-Fi network

. . . and for a group that are tackling the issue at a much larger scale, read about Centri Tech here: Centri Tech Releases Digital Advancement Principles And Policy Recommendations

KiwiBuild Didn’t Solve The Housing Crisis. Let’s Hope For More From KiwiRent

State housing in Aranui, Christchurch, January 2018 photo by Roger 8 Roger is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
State rental housing in Christchurch, New Zealand suburb. Could you put down roots here?

New Zealand has taken steps to ease a housing crisis it shares with many nations, all of whom are suffering from the financialization of housing — speculative buying and selling by investors. It is pushing both purchase prices and rents higher and higher, threatening more and more with housing poverty and homelessness.

New Zealand has recently announced a new residential tenancies act that is designed to mitigate at least some of the pressures on those who rent. Of considerable interest is their decision to include regulations that provide more security of tenure for renters.

Residential tenancies acts, however kind they may seem to tenants, landlords or both, largely read as rules of engagement in bitter financial wars: how I win financially, how you win financially, including a supporting litany of rights and obligations.

But one particularly different feature makes the following article well worth reading for those in other countries who might be considering reinforcing tenant housing security. That feature comes not so much in the details of the act itself but in the supporting comments from New Zealand Associate Minister of Housing (Public Housing), Poto Williams.

Williams stresses the importance of a seldom heard feature that comes with greater security of tenancy. Not only will the new act improve the security of tenure, it will “enable tenants to put down roots in their communities.” The importance of this little-discussed feature is incalculable for the well-being of adults, as well as for the health, education and socialization of children who grow up in rental housing.

Read more in Devdiscourse: New tenancy laws come into effect

Homeless Numbers? Fool Me Once – Worldwide. Plenty of Shame To Go Around

fool me once photo by Russ Morris is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Remember that clever saying? “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

How does this apply to governments with resident experts, contract experts, and the funds to otherwise get to the bottom of city or state or government homelessness? Well, gosh darn, it seems there may be an epidemic of “fool me once” regarding government-based counts of people who are homeless. According to the old saying, it might seem that the people who are homeless have fooled the governments. Shame on them?

Or shame collectively on the governments that have undercounted homelessness for years? One obvious benefit: undercounting allows cynical underfunding that limits the cost to correct a humanitarian crisis, while simultaneously hiding it from view. Alas, only to be caught out by offering “everybody in” programs in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s Australia’s turn for “oopsy.” Read more from the University of New South Wales: States housed 40,000 people for the COVID emergency. Now rough sleeper numbers are back on the up

It stands on the shoulders of a similar United Kingdom “oopsy.” Try: UK COVID Homeless Miscount. A Convenient Funding Dodge?

We feel confident in predicting a leaning tower of homeless-count oopsy’s worldwide, when all is said and done.

Public “Housing Of Last Resort” Offers Advice on Community Rebuild

ask me. photo by caren_ep is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

It’s easy to dismiss the ideas and perceptions of those who live in “housing of last resort.”

Barricaded in poorly maintained apartments, crunching across needles strewn in hallways, harassed for entry by homeless hoping to sleep and poop in stairwells: what could these tenants possibly have to say about community?

Describing a London, Ontario public housing project last year, a national news outlet kicked off its article with that very term — “housing of last resort” — as it chronicled just such a security-poor, management-poor onslaught of indignity heaped upon a collection public housing residents.1

Nothing to be learned from these public housing losers? To its credit, London and Middlesex Community Housing (LMCH) thinks otherwise.

Planning a rebuild of aging public housing, LMCH is treating existing tenants as community experts, not community pariahs.2 Read more in The London Free Press: Public housing tenants to play role in redeveloping townhouse complex

Soliciting tenant expertise is mirrored (in spirit, if not officially) by a series a public broadcasting podcasts featuring a city on the other side of Lake Erie — Cleveland, Ohio. It offers a window into tenant expertise not only for interested authorities, but also provides a public opportunity for greater understanding of public housing tenancies. Read more in Current: WCPN’s ‘Inside the Bricks’ podcast gives public housing residents a say in their future

Health Sector As Housing Advocate?

Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago photo by Ala1188 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago. Would builders of such grand buildings advocate for affordable housing for people with very low incomes?

The health care industry in the United States is adding its voice to those calling for affordable and safe housing. Why this is happening?

Health care organizations have been investing in supportive housing for some time. These projects typically include permanent housing with support services on site.

Who gets to live in this housing?  Efforts to control frequent visits to hospital emergency departments drive health service choice of tenants. People with long histories of homelessness are often at the top of the list.1 And although these initiatives are welcome, they represent small potatoes when compared with the number of people who are homeless and the households that are at risk of becoming homeless.

More recently, health care organizations are speaking up for changes to housing policies at the political level. This represents a significant shift in practice. Health care organizations have been a constant presence in the halls of government. What’s new is their expression of concern for the social factors that contribute to individual health and well-being.

This change mirrors a corresponding shift in the basis for public health care funding. Following passage of the Affordable Care Act,2 public funding to health care systems is increasingly based on community health assessments and improvements in community health outcomes. Funding that has historically been tied to the number of procedures and hospital visits is being determined by new criteria.

The new criteria begins with assessing the factors that drive hospital visits in the first place. Many of those factors are social. More than half the adults in the U.S. have a chronic health condition (think heart disease, diabetes, asthma). Evidence shows that changes to diet, exercise and lowering stress level all help to improve these chronic conditions.

But it’s hard to change your diet, exercise more or have less stress when your housing costs use most of your available income. Housing that is in poor condition and/or crowded also stand in the way of changes to diet, exercising more and lowering stress levels. Health care organization are gradually acknowledging these key linkages and starting to speak up.

For example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been leading research and innovation on health and health care since 1952. Safe and affordable housing was the exclusive focus of the Foundation’s president in his annual message in 2019. These concerns were further amplified in Foundation’s dispatches during 2020 as COVID arrived with uneven effects that are linked to housing conditions. Most recently, the Foundation has produced advice to minimize an avalanche of evictions and homelessness for the Biden administration to consider. To read more see: Improving Housing Affordability And Stability To Advance Health Equity

To give an idea of just how much might need to change within health care organizations, here’s an article reflecting on time spent as a hospital resident. The author argues that bringing social considerations into patient treatment in the hospital will mean changes in training and funding for residents, something that is long overdue. Read more in Psychiatric Times: Beneath the Wheel: A Resident Reflects on Burnout and Professional Identity

For advocates who have been calling for changes to housing policies and programs, it should be welcome news to have large health care organizations weighing in to call for changes to housing policy. And it is welcome. Long time housing advocates may chafe at the glacial pace of change as health care organizations test their mettle in this new policy field. But as the author of the Shelterforce article linked below points out, patience up front could pay off in the long run.

For example, the health organizations need to be connected to local community groups to fully understand local issues. In this context, local community groups are experts whose wisdom and experience is valued. They can become strategic allies for the health care organizations.

Health care organizations also have significant financial resources that they can use to build the evidence base demonstrating that affordable and safe housing is a key factor in health and well-being. These resources can be a big boost to community groups that understand the evidence well enough, but lack the resources to organize and present it.

As well, health care organizations have access to officials and politicians at all levels of government. These doors aren’t so easy to open for local community groups. Imagine what could happen to housing policy when there are connections at numerous levels of government, a strong evidence base and the advice of local experts! Read more at Shelterforce: Outside Their Comfort Zone: Health Sector Players Speaking Up for Housing Policy Change and Health Care Institutions Invest in Tenant Protections for Community Health

Updated – Minimum Wage Hikes Can’t Touch Affordable Housing Crises

Raise the Minimum Wage photo by Paul Sableman is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Recently, we described an initiative in New York state to assess the impact of raising the minimum wage. The people who crunched the numbers reported that adding $2.00 or even $3.00 would not be enough to pay for housing comfortably.

An update to this story is timely, because President Biden is planning to double the minimum wage in the United States, from $7.50 to $15.00. Surely this will be good news, no?

Yes and no. The article we’re featuring below and our earlier post explain why.

On the yes side, people who see their wages double will have more income, which is undoubtedly an improvement.

On the no side, the campaign to raise the minimum wage started back to 2012. The linked article points out that $15.00 bought more then than it does now. The wage would need to go up to $16.97 in today’s terms.1

The article explores other issues in the “double the minimum wage” campaign as well. For a detailed look, read more in Next City: What Research Says About the $15 Minimum Wage and the Affordable Housing Crisis

Below: Our earlier post about raising the minimum wage in New York State.


These days, a class of experts we’d like to call “People With Another Great Idea” have been pleased to point out that while housing costs are largely fixed, incomes are not. This suggests to them that affordable housing crises can be tackled and solved if incomes are raised.

Note the indirect way of saying this: “incomes are raised.” Not “( fill in the blank ) should raise income.” Employers should raise income? Not if they can help it.

Government, then? Most democratic governments do not employ the entire workforce, and are not necessarily that generous to those they pay.2

So that seems to leave us with the government ordering everybody else to raise wages — something is generally only done for the lowest level income by setting a floor for minimum wages.

Undaunted, People With Another Great Idea suggest that jacking up the minimum wage will help help solve the affordable housing crisis for the lowest income workers.

Have they costed it out? Evidently not.

Will it help solve the affordable housing crisis for lowest income workers? No.3

Who knows for sure? New York State, for one, which has costed out the impact of raising minimum wage on the ability to afford housing. Their conclusions? In most places minimum wage earners are so far underwater when it comes to paying for housing, that raising a hard-fought $2 or $3/hour increase will have a negligible impact.

Read more in The Times Herald-Record: Affordable Housing Needs To Be A Focus

Is Housing-Proud Singapore A Go-To For Urban Planning After COVID?

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Toa Payoh West Community Club photo by Terence Ong is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Community centre and housing in Toa Payoh West neighbourhood, Singapore.

With COVID-19 exacerbating housing crises worldwide, it’s hard to avoid being awestruck with Singapore’s dramatic public housing successes.1 That city-state has planned thoughtfully and carefully, but despite its successes makes no claims of perfection.2

Singapore’s remarkable expertise in managing not only housing, but integrating business and housing neighbourhoods, implies a quality of urban planning leadership well worthy of study and possible emulation in the future.

What is Singapore facing (along with urban centres worldwide) in its post-pandemic future and how might it plan to build upon its successes in a world indelibly changed? Read more in today: Rethinking urban planning in the wake of Covid-19

Those concerned with the growth focus in the Singapore article might like to try this post about doughnut economics, which is driving Amsterdam’s economic recovery: Will The Dutch Point A Fire Hose At The Capitalist Flame They Ignited?

Playing Chicken With People Who Need Housing

Toronto Homeless Memorial photo by Lo Kwe is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Toronto City Council has crunched the numbers and come up with a plan to build more supportive housing in that city. The plan will provide homes designed for people who need support to live independently in the community. Every additional home with supports means one or two fewer people cycling in and out of homelessness, housing, hospitals and jails.

The City has backed its plan with financial commitments, and is calling on the provincial and federal governments to chip in as well. So far, the provincial government has not seen fit to enter the ring. One reason for this silence may be a reluctance to make an ongoing commitment to supports instead of a single infrastructure investment. The provincial share will contribute to the support part of the city’s plan.

The province’s silence may also be a matter of timing.

The City is in the middle of its budget deliberations. In the absence of any provincial signals, the city is debating whether to up its commitment to supports. For now, Council is hanging tough and saying, “No, this is up to the province.” If you have access to the TORONTO STAR, you can read more here: Toronto has a proposal to tackle chronic homelessness, but it needs the help of Doug Ford’s provincial government

Toronto and Ontario are by no means the only places that go through this kind of pitching and waiting to see what happens. The pandemic has also revealed how urgent it is to protect a nation’s most vulnerable citizens.

For example, there’s a big feud in Manchester, England right now about the role of full time fire fighters in that country’s COVID-19 response. Engaging full time firefighters would have meant more outreach and support to vulnerable households and to the country’s National Health Service. The national government is blaming the Union for dragging its feet, while the Union is wondering why the plan under discussion was suddenly taken off the table. You can read all about it in the Manchester Evening News: Firefighters delayed by three months in helping with test and trace effort due to health and safety row

Before the pandemic started, there was plenty of evidence that some people were more vulnerable than others. For example, here is an article reporting that the English government didn’t have a good idea of who was potentially vulnerable at the start of the pandemic. It also reports that the government was aware of this shortcoming, having been chided on the issue by its National Audit Office in 2016. Read in The Guardian: Thousands of clinically vulnerable not reached at start of Covid crisis, watchdog finds

Evidence has also been mounting that the number of people who are struggling with their housing costs is significant and growing on a much broader scale.1 The pandemic has reinforced the significance of housing as a cornerstone for individual and community health and well-being.

Rather than hanging back to find out if someone else will pick up the tab, would it help to jump in and get on board with somebody else’s initiative? People who have been homeless emphatically say yes. The gaps between supports can mean the difference between being able to get on with life and being plunged into a crisis that will take years to undo. Young people who have been homeless in Canada are particularly eloquent on this. Youth Homelessness Part 2: Ask The Experts

We should never forget that waiting for someone else to act affects people and how they live, and in some cases, die. It took years of work to acknowledge that Indigenous Women in Canada were at risk. By the time government finally recognized the issue, and convened the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Inquiry, more than 2,000 people had died or gone missing. This is a reminder of what playing chicken means in human terms.2

Elderly Need Care? Home Support is Better. Are Private Nursing Homes A Rip-Off?

The harsh realities of COVID-19 have besmirched a number of nations that have followed “small-government” policies to either starve essential social programs to death, or to pass them off to free enterprise to do the dirty work. The most shocking of these social failures has been the disastrous spread of deadly coronavirus in homes for the aged — long term care, nursing homes, however they are labelled.

The province of Ontario has experienced massive number of infections and deaths, as have many other jurisdictions.1 And as the evidence mounts of this failure of care, two significant failures of this social responsibility — neither of them new revelations — cry out to be addressed.

First, there is evidence it can be less expensive as well as more effective not to warehouse elders in need of care but to support their aging “in place” (at home). Read more at the CBC: As COVID-19 exposes long-term care crisis, efforts grow to keep more seniors at home

Second, whether private enterprise is capable of doing a better job of managing and maintaining care homes, arguably they do not. Privately-run homes appear to provide less service, with less staff and have more health issues. In Ontario at least, they have seen more pandemic disease and death than their government-run competition. Read more in Rabble.ca: Rise of ‘private ownership on steroids’ fuelling Ontario long-term care crisis. The private ownership of care homes promises to become an issue in coming elections.2

What should the future hold for health care in this province, and indeed in all jurisdictions that have similar COVID breakdowns in management and care?

One place to look for examples is to explore how a city-state with arguably the best social housing program in the world — one managed by an arm’s length government agency — deals with its homes for the aged.

Oddly, Singapore is itself at a crossroads in providing elder care, but one considerably different than the fiasco now being faced in small-government oriented countries. Singapore inherits its reverence of elders from both its indigenous and its immigrant populations. That has meant a historic commitment to support of aging in place — i.e. at home.

Changing social habits of the population however, have produced single elders and/or childless couples for whom aging in place “at home” is just not an appropriate solution.

For more on Singapore’s caring and careful approach to bettering its homes for elders read more in The Business Times: For better aged care: The gaps in Singapore’s nursing home market and alternative models of care for the elderly.

Based on Singapore’s proven commitment to providing the best for its citizens in social housing, its care homes stand to be well built, with great care and attention give to the quality of life of its residents.

Columbia, South America: Learning From Social Challenges In New Public Housing

GRANADA photo by *Iván Erre Jota* is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Grenada, Columbia, where new affordable homes are needed to support a mass population displacement.

The article linked below offers a view into public housing built in Colombia, South America. It is a part of the world that receives little coverage in the media about public housing and all the more interesting for that reason alone.

The article is written by Maria Atuesta, who is at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. Atuesta reports on two public housing projects that were built in Granada, Colombia. The projects were part of an 2012 initiative to build 100,000 homes called (in translation) 100,000 Free Housing. Eight million people have been forcibly displaced within the country and many others are struggling to pay for housing.

In four years, 110,545 units were built through 100,000 Free Housing. The new owners were selected through a complex process of list building, applications, and finally, a lottery. The program was unprecedented in Colombia’s history and there is considerable documentation about the program’s failings in terms of design and poor building quality.

Although Atuesta is in the School of Design, her research focused on social interactions. Specifically, she was interested in finding out how the new residents functioned as a community. She interviewed residents of the housing projects. She talked with politicians and government officials who were responsible for implementing 100,000 Free Housing. She also reviewed minutes of meetings of Granada’s city council.

Atuesta’s findings highlight sources of tension in the new neighbourhoods that can be traced to the process used to allocate units. The program was introduced to “help those who need it most,” an idea with a lot of scope for interpretation. Residents describe a climate of suspicion and envy within the new neighbourhoods. This is reinforced by some of the government’s benefit programs and by private charities that have provided aid.

It might come as a surprise to learn that despite her research findings, Atuesta supports public housing. Instead, she encourages policy makers and program planners to think about strategies to strengthen relations between neighbours.

This report is also timely because Atuesta’s observations provide context for tensions that are bubbling up in COVID. For example, she comments on the strengths of informal settlements, which could be considered in the context of encampments. She also explores how eligibility criteria opened divisions between neighbours, which we are seeing in the emergency financial support offered to people who have lost income during the pandemic. Her thoughts about strengthening community relations also apply.

Read more at the Joint Centre For Housing Studies: Public Housing, Public Aid, and Collective Reparations Neighborhood Formation in Makatoa and Sabana

Will The Dutch Point A Fire Hose At The Capitalist Flame They Ignited?

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Doughnut (economic model) photo by DoughnutEconomics is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Does a graphic illustrating "doughnut economics" herald the end of capitalism?

Who started capitalism? We’ll bet you think its Adam Smith, the Grand Poohbah of the Law of Supply and Demand.

The Dutch claim it was one of their merchants who created the first stock exchange. Whoever it was, there is currently considerable sympathy in Holland for the “Doughnut” views of British Economist Kate Raworth. She recently proposed that the capitalist system, which has guided many nations of the world towards prosperity in earlier centuries, is fatally unable to respond to the world’s climate emergency.

Instead of a never-ending capitalist struggle to build higher and higher every nation’s gross national product, Raworth describes a world where the “sweet spot” of human prosperity is a doughnut shaped ring. It lies between a “social foundation,” below which much of the world struggles to escape poverty, and a “environmental ceiling” above which most in the wealthiest countries are living a life of excess that threatens the planet.

Pursuit of this doughnut shaped “sweet spot” cannot be described as capitalism, which pursues individual and national prosperity by relentless unfettered growth. And yet, in capitalism’s birthplace of Amsterdam, policies are being implemented in pursuit of this “sweet spot,” policies that indeed threaten to shake the very foundations of the capitalist way of life.

From this doughnut viewpoint, the ongoing social challenge will be to lift everyone above the social foundation, by whatever means necessary to house an entire population and maintain them in good health. From a doughnut perspective, social housing for all may be the necessity. Not the free-market builder’s dream of luxury housing that is no longer a socially acceptable reward for dragging individuals and nations above the environmental ceiling. For some, this single thought, heretical to capitalism, should create an immediate backlash against doughnut theories of society. Not, however, in Amsterdam, cradle of capitalism!

There is a lot to take in on this subject, beginning with Kate Raworth’s unconventional views, and moving on towards their implementation in the largest city of the Netherlands.

Read more in Time Magazine: Amsterdam Is Embracing a Radical New Economic Theory to Help Save the Environment. Could It Also Replace Capitalism?

A Thousand Tiny Points Of Sawdust Help Home Schooling In Decatur Public Housing

desorientiert photo by westpark is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
“A thousand tiny points of light” was U.S. President George H.W. Bush’s evocative description of charity.

There is nothing new about the need to support education for lowest income families. Schooling is seen everywhere as the ticket out of poverty. Alas, in the US three out of four families or individuals who need housing cannot receive desperately needed support from the nation’s rental voucher program to pay for a roof overhead. Extra funding to help poor children succeed in the education system is a pipe dream.

Homework is a recognized requirement for successful schooling, one which pandemic-triggered school closures has profoundly amplified. Much of the concern about how disadvantaged children will manage to keep up has revolved around computers and broadband internet access.

But in Decatur, Georgia, volunteers have found a totally low-tech way to help struggling students in resource-poor households. Read more at AJC: Decatur group builds hundreds of desks for students learning at home

The OECD Recommends More Social Housing. It’s A Global Need

US median house price and income photo by FRED is licensed under the public domain
This graph from the US captures an OECD concern about housing. The blue line, which charts median house prices, has risen far faster than the red one, which shows median incomes.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has just issued a policy brief about affordable housing. It begins with an 20 year overview of trends in housing affordability. It moves on to a survey of government responses to help households hang on to their housing during the pandemic. The report winds up with a discussion of housing policies to support economic recovery. As this post’s headline indicates, the OECD sees a need to build more housing that will be permanently affordable to people with very-low and no incomes as part of a program of economic recovery.

The OECD’s report recommends building social housing as a component of a recovery plan partly because of its economic benefit. Residential construction means employment. On the social side of the equation, it will add much needed housing to bring down the numbers of people who are homeless as well as people who have very little income to pay for any of their basic needs.

The authors also call for supports to young people. Not only have they been particularly hard hit economically by COVID, they were struggling with housing costs before the pandemic arrived.

The report is of interest to anyone looking for policy directions to make housing more affordable as part of recovery plans. It will also be useful to those who plan to draw on data from other countries to advance arguments for specific policy directions. Read more at the OECD: Building For A Better Tomorrow: Policies To Make Housing More Affordable

The OECD publishes a range of housing indicators and policy initiatives. They allow the viewer to dig deeper using interactive charts and graphs, as well as downloadable data sets. This includes high level discussions of the strengths and weaknesses of specific policies, which can inform policy design and debate. See: OECD Affordable Housing Database

Affordablility: 3D House Printing Vs Modular Construction. The Winner Is?

Can high-tech imagination-tickling 3-D house-printing out-wrestle factory-based cookie-cutter modular homes and solve international housing affordable housing crises?

Straight from the 3-D horse’s mouth (a 3-D printing mag), the answer is no! But then it cannot award a win to modular homes either, because the world’s housing crises have been created by the financialization of housing, not rising construction costs.

3DPRINT.COM goes further, however. It concedes relative affordability victory to the efficiency of the cookie-cutter technology used in factory-based housing construction. That will certainly come as a blow to futurists attracted to the clever idea of “printing” a home.

Not all is lost, however. The “one-off” capabilities of a 3-D home printer are far more flexible and affordable than re-tooling an entire factory to produce a single unique dwelling.

Where might uniqueness fit into the affordable housing scheme of things? Read more in 3DPRINT.COM: De-Hyper: Are 3D Printed Homes the Answer to the Housing Crisis? Probably Not.

Hong Kong COVID Crime & Punishment — Life Played Out In A Coffin Home

Homewise, how small is too small? This is a societal issue that must ultimately be faced.

We already have one kind purely practical answer: when it comes to basic shelter in the face of necessity, a sleeping bag is not too small to call home. A tent is not too small to call home. A bedspace in a vast converted dormitory is not too small.

But what size of permanent physical living space is a lower limit for the health and welfare of any individual citizen in a civilized society? As it turns out, there are readily available answers to this question, and they involve more than simple floor space measurements.1

Housing developers have discovered that great profits can be mined by subdividing large spaces into tiny rental units.2 Where it has become permissible to build such very small units, ingenious repackaging and upbeat advertising have served to direct attention away from terms such as “impossibly cramped” or “truly squalid.” One of the latest terms, which glorifies minuscule sleeping rooms paired with shared facilities such as toilets, is “co-living.” New “co-living” accommodations with conditions that would shame a 19th century boarding house are offered as the latest in “trendy downtown living” for those shopping for increasingly unavailable rental housing.

Not all governments have rushed to embrace the hype attached to this form of living, at least not to the point of modifying zoning bylaws to accommodate co-living development projects.3

However, much to the misery of its citizens, there is one world city that is a living laboratory for the calibration of what is suitably small housing when it comes to both physical and mental health: Hong Kong.

However Hong Kong’s cramped millions survive in their tiny homes during the best of times, the COVID-19 pandemic is a trial of Hong Kong human health in the worst of times. And that city, with limited or no standards for the size and essential amenities for housing, reflects the physical and mental damage that unbridled capitalism and enabling governments can inflict upon its citizens. Read more in Bloomberg CITYLAB: Homes as Small as 60 Square Feet Worsen Hong Kong’s Covid Crisis

Good News For New York City’s Public Housing – A Long Time In The Making

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Better Housing Velonis photo by Anthony Velonis is licensed under the public domain
A 1930's poster promoting public housing in New York as a healthy alternative to slums. Such promotions have been drowned as decades of neglect and mismanagement have made the public housing units themselves unhealthy.

The New York City Housing Authority, including its arms-length owner, New York City, have been caught between a rock and a hard place for many years now.

The rock: an estimated $40 billion plus repair bill for decades of neglect by its funders and managers.

The hard place: NYCHA public housing is the largest concentration of remaining public housing in America. Like American public housing everywhere across the nation, it’s been declared surplus to requirements for decades. Unfortunately, there’s a core of public housing that has not been permitted to lie down and die. The reason? Private enterprise schemes, fuelled by dollars from a number of low and no income housing supports, have simply not produced anything remotely like the amount of housing needed to shelter those who can’t keep up with disastrously-rising housing free-market rents.

The solution? The Chairman of the Authority, Greg Russ has a plan for managing the debt that will be needed to repair the public housing.

There are, of course, naysayers.1 All the more reason that Housing Authorities everywhere will be fascinated with how that plan might work.

Red more in the New York Daily News: Finally, a NYCHA rescue plan

Protecting Tenants From Evictions: A Human Rights Issue

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Covid photo by Simon is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A report has just been issued that calls on the Canadian government to assist tenants who are behind on their rents. A Rights-Based Proposal To Address The Arrears And Evictions Crisis In Canada argues that renters have been hit in the pocketbook by COVID-19 safety measures and that emergency financial assistance has not been enough to pay for rental housing, especially in cities where rent levels are very high.

The report’s authors base their call for assistance to pay arrears on Canada’s commitment to housing as a human right. So far, the federal government has tried to steer clear of housing security issues during the pandemic on the basis that housing is a provincial matter.

Provincial governments, which are equally bound by the commitment to housing as a human right, have implemented temporary eviction bans. However, even where eviction bans are in place, eviction hearings are proceeding and orders have been issued.1 Only one province has seen fit to provide financial assistance to help tenants pay rent. The housing that is so crucial to making sure people are safe during COVID is becoming increasingly precarious. It is especially true for tenants with very low incomes who struggle daily to put food on the table, let alone find money save and one day pay back arrears and rent that continues, week by week, to accumulate.

The report also offers a straightforward program that would assist tenants who have lost income during COVID to pay outstanding and ongoing arrears. It has been presented to the Canadian government as it prepares its 2021-22 budget.

This report is interesting because it views the issue of COVID-induced arrears through a human rights lens. COVID has been a world wide health and economic shock. In such circumstances international human rights law supports eviction moratoriums and financial assistance to pay arrears.

This rights based approach ought to assist advocates and decision makers who are striving to realize housing as a human right. From a practical standpoint, it will appeal to those who want to prevent a flood of homelessness that threatens tenants, as well as to landlords who are missing rent revenues.

The approach to preparing the report will also be of interest to groups that are writing about issues where there is a diversity of viewpoints. As they were drafting the report, the Centre for Equality Rights and Accommodation and the National Right To Housing Network coordinated a process to seek input from people with experience of eviction and homelessness as well as service agencies and community groups.

You can read the full report at the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation: A Rights-Based Proposal To Address The Arrears And Evictions Crisis In Canada

Those interested in learning more or supporting the proposed program can check out the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation and the National Right to Housing Network

Housing Conditions In Canada’s Far North: Bad Enough To Make You Sick

Baker Lake houses 2014 photo by Gierszep is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Baker Lake, Nunavut, Canada, home base for a Federal Member of Parliament's distressing journey to view housing problems across her arctic constituency.

When compared with Canada as a whole, people in the Territory of Nunavut are four times more likely to live in a home in need of major repairs. Homes in Nunavut are also six times more likely to be overcrowded. What does that look like? Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who is Inuit and the Canadian Member of Parliament for Nunavut, decided to find out.

Qaqqaq travelled for three weeks in Canada’s far north. She saw houses filled with mold and houses that were falling down. She also met people who were living in homes where a family member had been murdered. In every case, there was nowhere else people could move to.

The tour took an emotional toll and Qaqqaq took a break to recover. In doing this, she followed the best advice from experts in post traumatic stress. Her constituents don’t have this option. Small wonder there are high rates of suicide in Nunavut.

Now she’s sharing her experiences with her colleagues in Ottawa and putting the finishing touches on the report about the tour. In anticipation, here are two articles that give cold statistics a human face. Read more at TVO: ‘Use the right words, and paint the right picture’: In conversation with Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq

and Nunatsiaq News: MP Qaqqaq returns to Parliament with renewed call to address Nunavut housing crisis

It is disgraceful that Canada has found ways to turn a blind eye to this situation for years. Perhaps Qaqqaq’s courage will finally get the country moving.

Housing Financialization And Homelessness Taints The Far Side Of The World

State houses at Arapuni Hydro Works photo by Archives New Zealand is licensed under CC BY 2.0
A once-upon-a-time photo of public housing in New Zealand. Today the vulnerable and the homeless must compete for housing against a red hot free market as well as a national housing program for the middle classes.

New Zealand’s housing crisis received some mixed attention a couple of years ago, with the announcement of a national scheme to address the issue with the catchy title of Kiwibuild. It was certainly ambitious, so ambitious in fact that critics soon pointed out that the volume of housing proposed exceeded the construction capacity of the entire nation.1

Nevertheless, Kiwibuild continued forward in fits and starts, falling prey to numerous hiccups, including unmet production schedules. However, Kiwibuild managed to preserve its most unexpected surprise until the moment its first unit was complete and made available to the public.

To the astonishment of an international audience, and more particularly to a significant portion of New Zealand’s own population, the winner of this prize was a doctor and his partner, an advertising executive.2

It had somehow escaped notice by most that the New Zealand government was addressing a national affordability crisis by choosing to build housing within reach of middle-class Kiwis who were having difficulty finding housing suitable to their station, or available near their work.

Low and no income State (public/social) housing continued to be built through a modest program that was falling farther and farther behind in meeting demand.

Fast forward a couple of years, and Kiwibuild carries on. Any hope that it might have a trickle down effect to reduce housing costs for lower income citizens has not materialized. Meanwhile, the global financialization of housing by speculative investment has created a hot housing market in the nation, with prices rising rapidly beyond the pocketbooks of a growing number of Kiwis. Not surprising, then, to learn that homelessness is steadily rising.

Now New Zealand, coming a little late to this international low income affordability crisis, has finally taken notice. Read more in 1news: Public housing ‘absolutely critical’ amid red hot property market, Housing Minister says

Do NIMBY, Bylaws, Stand In Way Of American Social Housing?

Oil refinery demolition Coryton photo by Sludge G is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
You don't want your neighbour to sell out to an oil refinery. But what about a poor Black family?

The American public is generally far more receptive to the idea of new public housing than either the politicians they elect, or the lumbering behemoth that is the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). That august institution has continued to follow the directions of successive administrations for many decades of determination to throw out the baby, but keep the bath water.

However, that majority support of an American voter changes dramatically if the question at hand refers to public housing in their personal neighbourhood. Then it’s no! Not In My Back Yard!

A recent article in Vox unpacks the stats to explore just who in particular are receptive (in the theory at least) to the idea that more public housing could help solve America’s enormous and growing human shelter crisis. The article goes further to examine the roots of reflexive NIMBY behaviour that drives even the most socially conscious Americans to the neighbourhood battlements to defend the status quo. Read more in Vox: 60 percent of likely voters say they’re in favor of public housing. So why isn’t there more of it?

What can be done about all this? After exploring experiments in changing neighbourhood attitudes, Vox eventually focuses upon the neighbourhood battlements themselves — the bylaws still in place almost everywhere that ring neighbourhoods with legal protection against the arrival multi-family dwellings. Without bylaw change, promoting public housing can be an exercise in futility, absent the occasional discovery of a rare unicorn of still-unprotected public space that is suitable for the development of social housing.

But the by-law “problem,” if indeed it is any such thing, is truly an enormous can of worms. A recent article in Shelterforce makes this clear by calling for a re-examination of a new President Biden initiative to eliminate “exclusionary zoning,” a vague “I’ll know it when I see it” kind of concept. In defense of local, as opposed to Biden’s national, lawmaking, David Imbroscio explains at length just what a tangled and complex issue this is. Read more in Shelterforce:  Say It Ain’t So, Joe: Biden’s Ill-Advised Plan to Eliminate Exclusionary Zoning

A Grand Canyon University Viewpoint On The Special Ed Needs of Poor Children

Grand Canyon University, Phoenix, Arizona photo by david pinter is licensed under CC BY 3.0
Grand Canyon University, Phoenix, Arizona

For American’s students with physical and/or mental handicaps, their need, as well as their right, to forms of special educational support have been long established. Not so, unfortunately, for students with economic handicaps. The age of the pandemic has revealed the particular educational vulnerabilities of poor children.

In a very worthy charitable initiative, Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, is attacking this problem with a university-wide mentoring program, pairing university students with resource-poor public housing grade school students. Read more at GCU Today: GCU students to mentor children in public housing

Here at affordablehousingaction.org, this news also re-triggered our concerns for the plight of “economically challenged” university students themselves. In order to compete in tomorrow’s job market, many are forced to take on enormous debt loads that has left America’s university students collectively in trillions of dollars of debt.

In this time of job-scarce pandemic, there have been growing calls for mitigation, or even complete relief, from student higher education debt. Not that long ago, we mused in a post about how government action in the Great Depression of the 1930’s created the Civilian Conservation Corps to provide financial support for the unemployed.

Moving forward with an ongoing need of college students to mitigate their education costs by borrowing, we wondered whether such as a College Conservation Corps could provide an alternative way for students to guarantee themselves a debt free fresh start on full time employment, with job references to boot. Try Affordable Housing & The Intersection Of Sweat, Debt, War, Good Will, And Where’s Waldo?

Modifying our thinking a little, if not a College Conservation Corps, then why not a university student employment program modelled on this Grand Canyon University voluntary educational mentoring program? We’ll leave it to reader imagination to reconstruct the Venn Diagram that graces this earlier post, in order to explain the intersections between needs and capabilities for a College Educational Corps.

New HUD Secretary’s Housing Experience Is A Mixed Message For Change

Rep. Marcia Fudge photo by House Agriculture Committee is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
US President Joe Biden's pick for Secretary of Housing — Congresswoman Marcia Fudge

A recent article in City Journal attempts to put a hopeful twist on President Biden’s choice for Secretary of the US Department Of Housing And Urban Developement (HUD). His pick is Marcia Fudge, a woman of undeniable determination and talent, and limited experience of public housing — the immortal eagle that perpetually tears at the liver of housing-bound America.

Fudge has triumphed with a significant housing victory as the mayor of a small suburban city close to Cleveland, Ohio. With great courage she invested her political capital in the glory of free market housing, working tirelessly to create a gated middle class community for Blacks, which has been credited with “saving” the city of Warrensville Heights.

Fudge will surely be the first to admit that an important achievement — and it IS important — like new-build free market housing to encompass Black aspirations, does little or nothing to solve problems associated with a low and no income housing crisis.

Indeed, while Warrensville Heights possesses no social housing, it does have homes in an unhealthy free-market alternative — decaying privately-owned housing sustained by the Section 8 voucher program. (In passing, it is worth noting that left to its own devices and a convenient HUD subsidy program, private enterprise can address the low and no income crisis just as badly as public housing does.)

So, what gives the lie to cautious optimism about Fudge’s ability to take her problematic agency in hand? Can she build upon her free market housing experience to help lead the nation’s most vulnerable out of their slough of housing despair?

Fudge is on record in favour of “up and out.” There is to be no gold-bricking in public housing or similar schemes, public or private, to warehouse the most vulnerable. Once a resident acquires a source of income, they must quickly use it as the lever to vault themselves out of the cesspit and into respectable life.

And so it is apparently to be déjà vu all over again.

Before indulging in a cautious read about the suitability of Martha Fudge and her “up and out” philosophy of public housing, try first a National Review article that explains a 1930’s New Deal public housing plan for WORKERS, which would sustain buildings through RENT, was sabotaged.

How? “Up and out” policies stripped public housing of any capability to cover operating and maintenance costs through rent. This was achieved by throwing out people who were gainfully employed, eventually leaving public housing to those with extremely low or no income: seniors without pensions, the physically and mentally handicapped, single mothers and so on, salted by handfuls of bad apples that made life hell for management and tenants alike.

Ignoring the out-of-date trigger, read more in The National Review: An Improvement To Ben Carson’s Public-Housing Proposal

Follow it up with a taste of optimism (which lord knows, everybody wants and needs) about the future of American housing for its lowest income citizens in City Journal: Biden’s Encouraging HUD Pick

Only . . . is Fudge really the right person for the job?

COVID Housing Recovery in NYC: Non-Profits & Co-ops To The Rescue?

Cloyne Court Coop/Hackerspace, Aug-2014 photo by Mitch Altman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Cloyne Court Co-op, California. By their very nature, co-op projects are less about warehousing people and more about community.

Post-pandemic turmoil in the housing market of America’s largest city? Laissez-faire. Leave it be. Let the private sector, master of all housing matters, perform any needed recovery.

. . . or, maybe . . .  look at another approach by some entity or entities that are not themselves directly responsible for New York City’s housing mess.

One New York City councillor is proposing a dramatic reinvestment in “social housing.” It might provide one necessary bulwark against investor-wolves who savaged the landscape after the infamous 2008 housing meltdown, helping to reduce home ownership to pre-1965 levels. Under economic circumstances such as these, Councillor Brad Lander believes it is vital to keep low income residents safely housed.

Lander’s use of the term “social housing” is a deliberate extension beyond American understanding of “public housing” — that is, government built and managed housing, whether directly so or via arms-length entities such as housing associations.

Social housing, in Lander’s view, would include housing that is democratically-owned and permanently affordable. Co-op housing projects are some of the best known of these kinds of housing projects.

Read more about Lander’s plan in Bloomberg CityLab: Staking New York City’s Future on Social Housing

Unexpected COVID “Gap” Year Threatens Employment Future For Aussie Youth

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In the uncertain future of every youth, the only true constant appears to be the increasing cost of housing. It suggests that tomorrow’s adults will be shivering little match people, peering through rain soaked windows into cozy (though empty) rooms owned by housing speculators, their interior warmth generated by the friction of buying and selling.

Apocryphal? Undoubtedly. But still a great source of worry.

Youth need to work and earn money to rent or buy homes. The following article on youth employment comes from Australia, but it will reflect very similar youth issues in many other countries. Here are several different “activist” viewpoints, in some ways in agreement, in others at considerable odds with each other. All offer practical solutions to the problems of youth employment rather than merely featuring studies that define the issues and go no further.

If you don’t know what an Australian backpacker is, take a moment to check out this footnote1 before reading more in The Guardian: Jobs for the kids: ‘I don’t want to see them falling through the cracks’

Niagara Region Libraries Bring A Piece Of The Internet Into Low Income Homes

Grapes photo by polaristest is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Not the Niagara picture you might have been expecting, and for good reason.

Kindness to strangers has given birth to a means of sharing library internet services for those with low and no incomes in Ontario’s Regional Municipality of Niagara.

Familiar to most, if not all: libraries everywhere have over the last couple of decades adapted their services to become lifesavers for low- and no-income citizens and their children who desperately need access to the increasingly important internet.

In the Regional Municipality of Niagara, local libraries are taking this service one step further, “exporting” the internet into homes.

It began with thinking outside the box (That would be the library itself.). The clientele: migrant workers, seasonally far from their home and working hard on Niagara Region farms without easy and affordable contact with their families. The distance to a local city or town for free wifi services is pretty much insurmountable for a farm worker flown in from thousands of miles away and isolated without local transport.

For more on how this story unfolded, read more in Niagara Today: Library offers connection with new Wi-Fi hotspot devices available for loan

Line Up Here – Giving Preference To Access Supportive Housing

queue photo by Spiros Vathis is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
An unexpected treat for some: white women jump the queue for homelessness assistance.

Lineups to get into stores have become a fact of life with COVID restrictions. Our local grocery store gives preference to front line workers. All they need to do is show ID from where they work and they can go to the front of the line. This is a very simple example of managing a waiting list.

But what happens when waiting might mean the difference between life and death?

This is a question that Courtney Cronley decided to investigate. In this case, all of the people in “line” are homeless and seeking housing and supports to help them leave the streets and move to permanent housing.

Cronley teaches at the University of Tennessee and has centred her research on women experiencing homelessness. She knows that women who are homeless are at particular risk for violence and that waiting for services means the risk goes on for longer. She also knows that black people are over-represented in the homeless population. She thought that the combination of these factors would translate to put Black women to the head of the queue.

At the same time, evidence is mounting about the ways that discrimination is built into structures and systems. Do the systems to access homelessness services fight these biases or perpetuate them? To test this question, Cronley looked at how the service system gives preference to people seeking services. Recalling the grocery store example, instead of a work “ID” card, ID for homeless people seeking services is a vulnerability assessment called VI-SPDAT. A high score on the assessment means you are more vulnerable and therefore eligible for services ahead of someone with a lower score.

Cronley compared the vulnerability scores of 1,025 people. Black women ranked third, even though other available evidence suggests they should have the highest scores. This placed Black women at a lower priority for services than White women and White men. In the context of this study, it means that the VI-SPDAT was likely to rank 933 White people ahead of Black women in the line for service.

Cronley cautions that with records from people in one county, it’s too early to say the VI-SPDAT scores are a trend, but it certainly suggests that there are built in biases that perpetuate discrimination. It also begs further investigation.

Many homeless serving agencies in the U.S. must use VI-SPDAT as a condition of funding. As Courtney points out, although the VI-SPDAT is widely used, its validity has not been tested. As well, tools are available that have been tested. Shouldn’t they be used instead?

To read more about this interesting research and discussion, check out the Journal of Social Distress and Disease: Invisible Intersectionality In Measuring Vulnerability Among Individuals Experiencing Homelessness – Critically Appraising The VI-SPDAT

And for people who may be put off by academic literature, there is also a clear summary of Cronley’s research at the homeless hub: Racial and Gender Bias in the VI-SPDAT

Cronley’s research adds another dimension to an earlier post about the use of assessments in with Indigenous populations. Try: Ranking By Numbers Gets In The Way Of Homelessness Services

EU Moves Towards Tackling Affordable Housing Crisis For All Its Member States

Parliament-704254 photo by Florian Pircher is licensed under CC0
European Union parliament, where members (virtually) have resolved to make housing affordable and to end homelessness.

“Rather than a fundamental right to be guaranteed for all, housing has increasingly been considered a market to make profits through speculative acquisitions and the so-called financialization of the housing market, especially in cities . . . . This has a dramatic effect on prices.” — Kim van Sparrentak, Dutch Member of the European Parliament and the rapporteur for the Parliament’s report on Access to Decent and Affordable Housing for All.

The European Union has been slow to react as an overarching government to a growing crisis in its member nations. The problem of affordable housing has been left to individual countries to solve for themselves, and many, if not all, are having difficulty in managing.

The refugee problem has certainly exacerbated the crisis, but is only one part of the problem. In van Sparrentak’s words, “It has become painfully clear to me, as rapporteur on this topic in the European Parliament, that European rules today are often better at protecting the making of profit on the housing market, than at protecting people who need a roof over their head. This has to change.”

Another alarming trend has been a general failure to invest in a vital foundation of public housing for those with very low and no income. That shortfall is contributing to dramatic increases in the number of homeless in the EU.

The EU parliament approved Access to decent and affordable housing for all, on January 21, 2021. This is a hopeful first step for the European Government to throw the full weight of its authority and resources towards.

For detail on the roots and scope of the housing crisis that is affecting European nations much as it is afffecting countries around the globe, read more by Kim van Sparrentak in EURACTIV: Why The EU Has A Big Role To Play In Tackling The Housing Crisis

Ending Homelessness: Learning By Doing

Times-hotel photo by Americasroof is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
The landmark Times Square Hotel in New York City.

Rosanne Haggerty first came on my radar in 1991, when the Times Square Hotel re-opened in New York City. Haggerty, who founded the non-profit Common Ground, knitted together sufficient funding to restore and renovate this building, which was on the country’s register of historic properties. The Hotel offered 650 homes that were affordable to tenants with very low incomes. It also provided 24/7 supports on site. The tenants included people with a history of chronic homelessness and people from the entertainment industry.

The results were impressive. Chronic homelessness within a 20 block radius of the Hotel dropped by 87%. Haggerty took that single example to a larger scale. The 100,000 homes campaign, which set out to add 100,000 units of housing for people who were homeless, exceeded its target well ahead of schedule. And although this is a considerable achievement, the story doesn’t end there, because the numbers of people who were homeless continued to grow.

The U.S. model to end homelessness is community based. Funding is available to support service coordination at a local level. Local coordinators were understandably frustrated that despite their efforts and the impressive results, the number of people who were homeless wasn’t going down. Haggerty founded Community Solutions to work with local coordinators to turn the results in the right direction. Built for Zero is the result of that collaboration.

In following the Built for Zero model, local coordinators and service providers:

  • changed their focus from delivering services to ending homelessness.
  • switched from a one year point in time count to a by-name list of people who were homeless and updated it monthly.
  • decided on a specific group of people to support, starting either with Veterans or people who were chronically homeless.1
  • treated homelessness as an emergency and adopted practices and structures based on the most successful emergency management models.
  • agreed to be flexible in how they would use their resources to support people to end homelessness.
  • committed to looking at what the data from the by-name list was telling them about what was working and what wasn’t.

A campaign with 70 communities launched in 2016. Currently, the initiatives range in size from large cities (Chicago) to Abilene, Texas, which includes all of the smaller centres and rural areas in that state.

These changes are showing significant results.2 Rockford Illinois, with a population of 150,000+/-, started with homeless veterans. The team in Rockford brought their numbers down to zero and has continued to maintain that level. They moved on to people who were chronically homeless, with the same result. Now they are working with youth experiencing homelessness. Their story and more is reported in  Next City: The City That Plans to Completely End Homelessness

The Built for Zero design provides a forum and a structure to face new challenges and to figure out how to solve them. Community Solutions, which supports local Built For Zero campaigns, can keep an eye on common challenges and think about ways to adapt the program further. A report called Getting to Proof Points includes a discussion about the software that HUD requires local coordinating groups to use. The software has outlived its usefulness and needs to be upgraded or replaced.

The report also relates a David and Goliath moment when HUD chose outcomes and targets that didn’t align with Community Solutions’ ideas. HUD and Community Solutions agreed to set the matter aside and continued to work together to end homelessness, despite their differences. Later still, with more learning by doing, each group made further changes and their definitions came into alignment again.

Finally, here’s a video discussion, which was sponsored by the University of New England Center for Global Humanities, and recorded in October 2020. It features a conversation between Rosanne Haggerty, Addi Smith-Reiman, Executive Director for the Portland (Maine) Society of Architects, and Anouar Majid, from the UNE Center for Global Humanities.

Addi reflects on Portland’s commitment to end homelessness and the tortuous path to implementing changes. She asked for ideas about how to keep the initiative moving forward. Haggerty suggested applying what has worked in Built For Zero at a community level. This would mean establishing a framework to focus discussion, decision making and action, based on three goals: no one is homeless, no one is paying an excessive amount of income for housing and everyone is housed safely. For more, you can check out the discussion here: Homelessness is a solvable public health emergency

These resources include a host of ideas and actions for consideration in other countries and communities where the number of people who are homeless keeps rising. These examples are specific to United States, but could be adapted and applied elsewhere. 3

Community Change: Will The Internet Steal The Voice of The Most Vulnerable?

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Audio Off photo by Samuele Bandini is licensed under CC0 1.0
If you have no internet, how do you speak up at virtual meetings?

For better and/or worse, the internet is dramatically changing the way we relate to each other. While many tear their hair at the rise of dangerous attitudes and misinformation or social media, some of the internet’s influence can be considered positive.

For example, continuing to “meet” virtually during the pandemic has been demonstrated to be as efficient, if not more so, than physically gathering together for a city council session or other form of hearing.

These newly-adapted practices are not without complications however. “Complications” suggest small, annoying details that may well be tolerated or eliminated by new practices. One very serious hiccup, however, is the inadvertent exclusion from virtual meetings of those — often the most vulnerable — who have no access to the necessary technology to allow them to participate. This is a fundamental erosion of democracy and cries out for a countermeasure: providing internet access as a fundamental community service available to all.

Currently, the lack of broadband (fast) internet connectivity is a problem for many people in public housing in a number of countries, while a level playing field in education suddenly demands that children be able to access teaching online. The lack of opportunity for their parents to attend and participate in virtual public hearings is of equal importance in identifying the internet as a new and important part of housing infrastructure, joining such essentials as roads, sewage and clean water.

For a practical sense of the benefits, drawbacks, and assault on our democratic right to participate in society, read more in CITY LIMITS: For City’s Public Meetings, Shift to Virtual Format Has Meant Attendance Boost—& Complications

People Bins: The Heartbreaking Betrayal In A Helping Hand For The Homeless

Corner in Lisbon (48008661332) photo by Jocelyn Erskine-Kellie is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
This home in Lisbon is palatial compared to new creations in Ulm, Germany.

What’s to be said about “temporarily permanent” measures such as the “people bins” being deployed in the German city of Ulm? Unlike trash, the bin occupants will be able to climb out again. Indeed, they must climb out, because the bins will be locked in the daytime. Mustn’t get too cozy! On the other hand, cleaners will service them daily, almost, but not quite, like a hotel room.

Purpose-built, these people bins will offer winter warmth and protection without the danger of street-side clothing drops, which has been the death internationally of a number of people who have crawled into them for shelter and suffocated.

All in all, a gesture of compassion on one hand against as stunning backdrop of worldwide indifference on the other, as the investor casino of a free enterprise housing market drives more and more people unable to afford any housing out onto the streets.

it seems we weren’t so far off the mark when we wrote about a bunch of Idaho dumpsters playing dress-up in April, 2019: Is An April Fool’s Joke A Warning Of Micro-House Reality?

Read more about the Ulm experiment in INPUT: German city introduces sleep pods for people without homes

What If New Public Housing In America Could Be Owned, Not Rented?

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Shelterforce is an American publication promoting community activism in a number of areas, particularly housing. In a recent article, it poses the “what if” question framed in the headline of this post.

The “what if” reflects the constraints of a government controlled housing form that is based pretty much exclusively on rental housing.  Public housing is designed to gear rent to income. Little income, little rent. To a considerable extent it protects public housing tenants from the investor speculation that fuels the ever-rising costs of affording a home. Could this kind of housing security succeed based on ownership, not rental?

It comes is a surprise to many, no doubt, as Shelterforce promptly explains that such a program already exists in the U.S. In fact, it’s been around for quite some time, targeting the rural poor, and hidden away in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).1

Read more about the history and future potential of this project in Shelterforce: A ‘Public Option’ for Low-Income Homeownership?

Clearly, the concept of home ownership-based public housing can work. But can it be scaled up to address a growing nationwide city and rural housing crisis, as rising rents drive more and more of America’s most vulnerable citizens towards homelessness?

Searching elsewhere for evidence, it’s almost impossible to miss the remarkable success story of Singapore’s public housing. From fundamental social ambitions to provide a roof overhead for all citizens, its initial rental program has branched out into home ownership of  public housing. For a detailed accounting of Singapore’s public housing ownership success, courtesy of the United Nations, try: How Singapore Got Public Housing Right

Also, for a hint of clouds on Singapore’s horizon as it attempts to integrate its expensive owned public housing with the free market, try: Can You Have A Million Dollar Public Housing Cake And Eat it Too? Singapore Wonders

 

My Venerable Couch Is Worth Nothing. But Not To Someone With An Empty Home

Unfurnished photo by Skil Fibber is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This writer, planning a move from a long-held apartment, is in a flop sweat. Too much stuff!

Well, lucky me. At least compared to those on housing waiting lists, owning next to nothing beyond what they are carrying, who finally top the list and score an unfurnished home after years, if not decades of waiting.

For those at or below the poverty line it’s just one more pressure on limited income to lead to misery, failure and even a trip back out onto the streets. A recent U.K. report describes the problem in THE BIG ISSUE: Social housing is 98% ’empty box’ unfurnished properties, report warns

There are, however, charitable solutions that are helping to mitigate this problem. Read our recent post on this subject: Building The Bridge To Housing From Homelessness

Can You Have A Million Dollar Public Housing Cake And Eat it Too? Singapore Wonders

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Colourful Apartments.Singapore. photo by Bernard Spragg. NZ is licensed under CC ZERO 1.0
What do you suppose these colourful homes will sell for?

European nations such as Denmark and Austria have done very well by housing large portions of their population in social housing. Nowhere, however, has the public housing been such a celebrated success as the city-state of Singapore. There, public housing began as a national aspiration to provide decent rental housing for all. Its Housing and Development Board, guided the evolution of this program to create enormously successful social housing program subscribed to by more than 80 percent of its population, and made a large percentage of citizens housing-rich.1

Social housing in Singapore has been released to its owner-occupiers with minimal strings attached that permit it to be bought and sold on the free market. But the eye-watering profits from the sale of these always well-built public housing homes have raised concerns about the future of the program: is the free market a bridge too far?

Read more in ThIS WEEK IN ASIA: Sky-high prices: the million-dollar question facing Singapore’s public housing

How Singapore Got Public Housing Right

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Public housing photo by Eystein Mack Alnæs is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Public Housing in Singapore.

So how come public housing is such a perennial loser, reviled and disparaged by political parties of all stripes in some of the world’s more advanced nations? Its demise has been eulogized by world class think tanks that woefully explain why public housing is a poor way to create shelter for all.1

It’s certainly not in Singapore.

What has Singapore done right that so many important (some might say self-important) nations have done wrong?

. . . but then, poor Singaporeans! No doubt they’ve paid the price, suffered from being put upon by “big government?” Dare one whisper, “socialism?”

Hardly.

In an aggressively free enterprise city-state, more than 91% of its citizens live in their own homes. More than 80% live in public housing built by Singapore’s Housing and Development Board (HDB). Owners can sell their homes on the free market, where they command eye-watering prices comparable to those in the world’s most expensive cities! The HDB has made the majority of Singapore’s citizens housing-rich.

What a dramatic difference between a shiny new HBD public housing project in Singapore under construction on one hand, and on the other, a crumbling New York City Housing Authority public housing project, burdened with its share of a repair debt estimated to be more than 40 billion dollars.

And yet Singapore began its national public housing initiative with the same earnest aspirations of many visionary nations. Generally speaking, most advanced nation governments have, in their own particular ways, prevented aspects of free market commerce. They have take charge of, or otherwise guaranteed access to, fundamentals of human health, ensuring adequate food, clean water, freedom from disease that comes from effective sewerage, garbage collection and disposal, and so on.

Alas, a number of nations have attempted, and arguably failed, to pursue what is recognized as a fundamental of pillar of human health — adequate housing for all. Singapore began its public housing programs with this basic aspiration.

And Singapore succeeded!

As their housing program developed, they identified forks in the road forward and chose successful ones. The evolution of Singapore’s public housing is a story that should be required reading for any indefatigable activists pursuing a public housing in the face of indifferent governments.

Fortunately, the United Nations has helped out by heralding Singapore’s housing success in its Habitat Practice series that explores international housing practices. Read more about it, as well as a short history of Singapore’s success story in D+C: Singapore’s clever approach to public housing

As for the heavy-weight United Nations Habitat document — an 81 page analysis of Singapore’s success story — get it here: Housing Practice Series – Singapore

Still Standing? A Lick Of Paint And Bob’s Your Uncle: Good As New Public Housing!

Yellow window photo by psyberartist is licensed under CC BY 2.0
A coat of paint may not be enough to fix up a derelict cottage, but the cost will probably be far less than building new.

Refurbish decrepit empty housing, including dead-but-hasn’t-fallen down public/social housing?

Maybe it’s a good idea. A growing number of nations worldwide, from those who think public housing is or was a near total disaster such as the USA, to those where it has had a long, large and successful impact on their housing needs, like the Netherlands, there’s a growing recognition that more is needed. That’s because there seems little relief for the desperate requirement everywhere to find housing for those with low- and no- incomes.

But why? The problem is the international commodification of housing as a gambling chip for investors. One outcome of the relentless drive to speculate and win: gamblers have driven housing costs to own and rent higher and higher — rising beyond the capability of the most vulnerable in most countries to afford a roof over their heads.

Public housing shields homes from the free market investment casino. For all its flaws, real or imagined, it is one sure means of ensuring stable, truly affordable rents.

But how to create more, economically? Over the last few decades Thatcherite “small-government” thinking has elevated the workings of the the free market to that of a housing cure-all. With the marketplace left to its own devices, private public partnerships (PPPs) will surely balance need and cost to deliver the truly affordable housing that is needed.

That experiment, tested over several decades, has proven that the market, driven by private investment and goosed along by public funds, has capably produced tens, even hundreds of truly affordable rent-stabilized housing units. Unfortunately, tens and hundreds of thousands of units are needed.

Which brings us to the idea of refurbishing empty, often run-down housing to create new public housing. Some of the ideas for accomplishing this are simple, others quite byzantine in their complexity.1 There are also experts who believe this is an exercise in throwing good money after bad. After all, it is not hard to find those who believe public housing is an experience not to be repeated for any reason, at any cost.

For the more optimistic, however, there is good news. Not only is the cost of refurbishing empty housing relatively inexpensive, it can churn out truly affordable rent-protected public housing in quantity. Read more about one recent initiative in The Limerick Leader: Limerick council meets target to refurbish and re-let housing ‘voids’

Harvesting this low-hanging refurbishable fruit will not by any means go far enough to meet most national needs for more public housing. Still, it must come as some comfort for cities like Windsor, Ontario. It has, like many others, been reluctant to face all but the most urgent of problems for years. But recently Windsor has taken the plunge and committed to refurbishing old, boarded up public housing: Read more at the CBC: ‘Historic’ $170M plan to repair community housing comes after decades of deterioration

Refurbishing housing holds promise for other social housing providers too. Try this post for an earlier example: Your Affordable Home Is Falling Down. Sorry, It Can’t Be Fixed. You Have To Move. Not.

Lost In Translation: Warm & Comfortable Tenants After Green Energy Retrofit

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A Warm Home Makes Happy Guests photo by Unknown is licensed under the public domain
An ad for the radiator which is tucked beside the staircase. The selling line? A warm home makes happy guests. But you had to be wealthy to pay to warm a poorly insulated home.

Imagine!

Spring, in all its greenest finery! Giddy goats gamble on grassy hillsides, the fresh scent of new-mown hay wafts in through the kitchen window between billowing curtains. All the fantasy glories of a green energy future come alive and permeate every home.

There is something of a nip in the air, however. The inhabitants gathered the table for Easter celebrations shiver a little as they watch the family elder cleave slices off the huge raw festive rutabaga with a knife and a mallet.

From an fantasy perspective, peachy for all except pesky meat-lovers. But from an energy conservation viewpoint, positively amazing!

Consider: in order to achieve maximum energy efficiency with near-zero carbon emissions, there is an instant solution for entire temperate zone nations with one simple and immediate step.

Turn off the heat! All of it.

Bundle up in winter, go naked in summer, eat raw, and wallow in that wonderfully energy-green world.

It’s a useful exercise in imagining green futures to read the following Scottish Housing News article. Do so more as a skim than to puzzle its details, which will be only understood by policy wonks and certain kinds of environmental engineers conversant with otherwise gobblety-gook technical standards of national energy policies.

One important takeaway from this skim is that the pursuit of green energy goals can easily achieve success while ignoring basic human needs, like a health-giving, warm and cozy home.

From a public housing perspective, this is at least mildly frightening. We are talking here about a form of human shelter where, in an unfortunate number of advanced nations, the basic health and comfort needs of its occupants are routinely, frequently, and chronically, ignored. Lead in the water? Mould in the bathroom? Radiator not working? Building cladding dangerous? Suck it up.

Can we assume that governments will fairly balance living standards for public housing tenants against potential energy savings? Already, reading between the lines in the following article, while public housing been given a future energy prescription and timelines, private housing has not yet received its green marching orders. Why the delay, and why, ultimately will public and private prescriptions not be the same?

Read more from Katy Syme, a senior researcher for the Scottish environmental charity, Changeworks, in Scottish Housing News: Meeting the challenges of fuel poverty and climate change

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