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COVID-19: Our Walls Of Defence Are The Houses Of Our Community

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Landscape with a Castle and a Drawbridge etching and engraving by Giuseppe Antonio Landi is licensed under the public domain
Castle with drawbridge up for protection.

Retreat to the castle, pull up the drawbridge, deny entry to ‘others,’ a.k.a. the enemy. We all know the drill for community defence. In this age it doesn’t so much come from actual experience, as from watching 1001 action-adventure movies set in ‘times of yore.’

This self-defence strategy once worked for invading armies, but never for pandemics. In the case of COVID-19, the enemy is already within the community. The last line of defence in a modern pandemic is the home. Social distancing and self-isolation take place within an actual physical home, not a notional one.

We are talking here not just about the defence against the pandemic for those individuals behind the barricades of the home. We are talking about the defence of the community as a whole. With every potential carrier of a virus who remains in isolation, the community itself becomes that little bit safer.

Though a physical home is such an obvious line of both individual and community defence, it’s strange that enormous government efforts are looking elsewhere. (America’s brand new 2 trillion dollar COVID-19 crisis bailout is an fine example. Much set aside for cash into individual pockets and support for big business. Housing? Nada.)

The importance of the home as barricade against disease is a health benefit not just to individuals but all citizens. Read more in The Conversation: Why Suspending Housing Evictions Will Defend Against COVID-19

Ivory Towers in Montreal, Quebec: Elevated Beyond Housing Responsibility?

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Universite de Montreal photo by jofo2005 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
A Montreal, Quebec, landmark: the tower of the Université de Montréal.

Congratulations to housing activists from Comité d’action de Parc-Extension in the city of Montréal, Québec, where rapid gentrification and a new campus extension of Université de Montréal are driving up evictions, rental prices and driving down vacancy rates.

The Comité has proposed that the university invest in social housing to help address this local growing housing crisis.

The University’s response? “It’s not our job.”

We beg to differ.

Universities in North America are learning the hard way to curb their arrogance when it comes to student hardship.1

The Université de Montréal’s reaction is perhaps to be expected from ivory towers of academics who imagine that their corner of the education industry pays its debt to society merely by existing.

Affordablehousingaction.org sees no reason why they should not shoulder their share of responsibility in a era of new urban wilderness with scarce housing resources.

Companies locating in today’s contemporary wilderness of scarce resources such as housing may need to — and reasonably be expected to — take on responsibilities of ensuring their employees are sheltered, fed and provided with health care. This responsibility is a simple fact of life for companies that are located in true wilderness — resource extraction industries being a prime example.

More and more, cities are demanding that resident corporations make a fair contribution to a housing problem that their staffing helps to create.2 Lesser institutes of learning in the US are already taking steps to provide affordable housing for their staff,3 if not yet their students.

Is there any reason why a university, which for all its self-importance relies on a population of quite literally starving students for its business success, should not invest more heavily not only in the future, but the here-and-now for its not yet graduates?

Read more about Parc-Extension and its housing activists in The Montreal Gazette: Rent Subsidies And Social Housing Among Solutions Proposed For Parc-Ex

COVID-19: Advice For Homeless Services

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Mayor Garcetti at the grand opening of 127th and El Segundo Supportive Housing photo by Eric Garcetti is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Ultimately, we need more supportive housing, like this building in Los Angeles. In the meantime, homeless services need additional resources to protect people who are homeless and the whole community during COVID-19.

The Homeless Hub in Canada has published a newsletter with articles and advice about protecting people who are homeless during health emergencies. Needless to say, it is particularly timely to help us pull together to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic.

One article discusses the reasons why protection is needed. It draws on the experience of earlier health emergencies. Sheltering at home, avoiding contact with others and practicing safe hygiene form the core of the strategy to manage a health epidemic. None of these strategies is available to people who are homeless. They have no home. They cannot avoid contact with others to eat and to sleep indoors. They have limited opportunities for hand washing and other safe hygiene practices.

The resources include procedures to provide services in the safest manner possible for

  • the people who use the services,
  • the people who provide the services and
  • the community where the services are located.

They offer a head start to communities, public health agencies, decision-makers and service providers.

When reading this advice, it is important to remember that protection is unfortunately needed because of the way that we provide services. These require people who are homeless to use congregate facilities that increase their exposure to illnesses and make it impossible to comply with the recommended treatments. As the article notes, there are other ways to provide services, including preventing homelessness and rapid rehousing (including Housing First).

For more, read in the Homelesshub: The Worst Of Times:The Challenges Of Pandemic Planning In The Context Of Homelessness

Better Late Than Never? Credit Reporting Public Housing Tenant Rental Data

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Payday Loans Store - Check Cashing and Pay Day Loan - Money Mart (25469046943) photo by Tony Webster is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Payday loan companies are notorious for high interest rates, yet they are one of the few sources of funds for renters with very low incomes.

A recent study commissioned by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) introduces the issue succinctly:

“HUD subsidizes the rent of nearly one million very low-income households who live in public housing. Many of the households living in public housing have thin or invisible credit files or low credit scores, despite the fact that they generally pay 30 percent of their income towards rent each month. For many assisted households, rent payment constitutes the largest single expenditure on a monthly basis. In light of this information, this study examines the following question: what if public housing agencies provided the “full file” rental payment history of all tenants to credit reporting agencies, including histories of on-time, late, and omitted payments?”

There are some clear potential benefits of such reporting. Without a payment history, many public housing residents have no credit rating at all. And yet many free market landlords consider a rental applicant’s credit rating when deciding or declining to rent.

The opportunity to create or improve a credit rating could give a tenant an otherwise unattainable goal of moving out of of public housing, even obtaining a mortgage.

So. Did the study find some benefit to credit reporting in reporting individual payment performance? In word, yes.

Learn more in the highly readable forward and executive summary of the report itself: Potential Impacts of Credit Reporting Public Housing Rental Payment Data

All we need to see now is HUD using its clout to make it happen!

COVID-19: What’s Happening With Eviction In America?

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Dominoes toppling photo by diamond geezer is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Like these dominoes, evictions have knock on effects.

What’s happening on the eviction front? We sure as heck don’t have the resources to contact and compile all the many rapidly changing events around the world.

Best we point you at a news outlet that does. For U.S. actions, read more in Forbes: COVID-19 And Eviction: Uneven Actions Across The Country

Forbes in turn references an updating site that is tracking the issue in somewhat more detail: Read more at Million Acres: Cities and States That Have Paused Evictions Due to COVID-19

Australian Researchers Call For Social Housing To End Homelessness

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File:(1)Coolabah-1.jpg photo by Sardaka is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Social housing in Sydney, Australia. More is needed.

In a recent report from Australia, researchers studied the assistance that is offered to people who are homeless and living with a mental illness. The report recommends changes to make the assistance more effective.

The researchers located five treatment approaches along a continuum, with exclusion at one end and being well supported at the other. The report pays particular attention to the crisis response, which is in the middle.

The crisis response consists of emergency shelter and mental health care in hospital. The researchers compare the crisis response with being well supported and identify elements that are absent in the crisis response. They argue that the crisis response has a limited chance of success and call for changes that will provide better supports for people with mental illness.

Social housing is one of the recommendations, because it offers stability and modest rent charges. For more from this study, see GOVERNMENT|NEWS: ‘Meds And Beds’ Approach To Housing Fails Most Vulnerable

COVID-19: Tenants Face Eviction And Infection

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BC Municipal Affairs & Housing Minister Selina Robinson Finishing Her Speech From A Tablet photo by Joe A. Kunzler is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
British Columbia's Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. On March 21, 2020, she guaranteed eviction protection for BC's social housing tenants.

April 1, 2020. In countries with a substantial share of free market rental housing, that is the first day that rent payments are due in the new and unnatural land of COVID-19. Tenants have lost hours or been laid off, some are ill with COVID-19 and some are self isolating as directed/advised by their local health authorities. Many are unable to pay their rent.

Some governments have stalled eviction proceedings as part of their emergency assistance packages. While welcome, tenants are far from being out of the woods. When the grace period is over, the back rent owed will come due. The possible future for tenants, especially those with lost income, is bleak indeed.

Governments can implement rent freezes or rent reductions in free market units, provided they pass legislation.

Where the government owns the housing, it’s a much simpler matter. The provincial government in British Columbia has issued a rental moratorium for the units it owns. It is also working to adjust the rents of the resident tenants who have lost income.1 Read more in the Daily Hive: Province Bans Evictions For Non-Payment Of Rent In BC Housing Facilities

Toronto’s City Council2 has instructed its largest social housing provider, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC),3 to adjust rent payments to incomes during COVID-19. TCHC tenants will be able remain housed during COVID-19 without the fear of a big debt to repay when it’s over. Council has strongly encouraged the smaller social housing providers in the city to follow suit. As Council owns TCHC and provides subsidy funding to most of the other social housing providers, it has the authority to make this happen.4 Here’s more from the City of Toronto: City Of Toronto Taking Action To Help Vulnerable Tenants Who Need It Most

More social housing, anyone?

CA Landlords: 2 Birds In Hand Worth More Than 1 In COVID-19 Bush

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With renters in California, like the rest of North America, facing enormous COVID-19 uncertainty, at least moral assistance has shown up from an unlikely quarter. Landlord groups are advising their members to help weather the storm by implementing an unlikely series of measures in support of their tenants. Equally or even more important, they’re advising that landlords do not resort to other commonly used measures, such as eviction.

California landlords are champions of an unrestricted free housing market and tireless fighters against rent controls. Over the next few months they face the spectre of evicting delinquent tenants into a free market of the jobless, cashless homeless with few, if any, replacement tenants in sight who can afford current high rents.

So, the message seems to be: work together with tenants to delay, defer, and somehow mitigate landlord mortgage burdens as well as tenant rent burdens in hopes of a future beneficial to all.

Read more in the LA Times: California’s Renters And Landlords Are ‘Just Scared’ As Job Losses Mount From Coronavirus

Past Pandemics Have Improved Lives. Can It Happen This Time?

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RC Harris Water Treatment Plant (31253039750) photo by Jeff Hitchcock is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The spread of waterborne epidemics, such as cholera, led to widespread construction of water treatment plants like this one in Toronto, Canada.

Entire nations that have faced pandemics have momentarily paid a steep price in human lives as well as in social and economic collapse. But these disasters have often provoked profound changes to the fabric of civilization that have substantially improved the lives of succeeding generations.

Could COVID-19 do the same? University of Ottawa professor Carolyn Whitzman explores this issue in The Conversation: Silver Lining: Could Covid-19 Lead To A Better Future?

3D Printed Walls: Housing Technology That Plays Well With Others? Or Not.

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CreativeTools.se - PackshotCreator - 3D printed house model photo by Creative Tools is licensed under CC BY 2.0
A 3D printer produced these models. Moving to a larger scale is more complicated.

3D Printers capable of creating sophisticated devices such as fireable guns have tweaked the imagination of dreamers. Those with housing on their minds are not only proposing, but actually demonstrating, that scaled up printers could one day, (maybe even soon) have a meaningful place in truly affordable house construction.1

Lately, it has been difficult to find 3D house-building experiments and demos that address an important limitation of the technology. Currently, these scaled up printers are wall printers, not house printers.

Labelling them as house printers suggests an all-in-one technology with capabilities far beyond the rather crude functions of existing machines. No doubt very few people imagine that the floral pattern of the kitchen curtains can be dialed into the printer. But articles that hype the potential of these machines suggest that entire houses can be built in a day, when in fact only the walls, important as they may be, can be extruded like toothpaste from the printer.

For an article that looks at both the current limitations of 3D wall printers, as well as their future potential, read more in Eagle Times: Around The Corner: 3D Housing Designed For The Homeless, Seniors

Another example of 3D printer-aided housing construction for people who are homeless comes from Austin, Texas, which features a creative roof solution. Read more in The Architect’s Newspaper: 3D-Printed Houses Completed For Austin’s Homeless Population

Homelessness: Nothing To Do With You? COVID-19 Says Otherwise

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SLNSW 42879 William Roberts an original Anzac and his family evicted from their Redfern home into the street during the Depression. photo by Lethington Maitland is licensed under the public domain
Evictions were common during the depression of the 1930's. Evictions during COVID-19 undermine the effectiveness of the response.

Concerned public health officials as well as those providing shelter and housing support are scrambling to help protect homeless people from the coronavirus pandemic.1

Why should you care? Perhaps you’re a believer in one of the many reasons to ignore the people who are homeless: survival of the fittest, not a community responsibility but an individual one, homeless people are lazy people, yadda yadda.

COVID-19 should give you pause. In a pandemic, your safety depends on your ability to keep away from others who might infect you, and on the ability of others to avoid becoming sick and (should they become sick) to follow the isolation procedures that will protect you.

Leave aside the widely recognized human right to adequate housing, homes for the people who are homeless are an important part of your personal health and your community’s health.

For more on this subject, and for reasons it’s important to put people who are homeless into homes, and to keep a community safely housed, read more in The Conversation: Why Housing Evictions Must Be Suspended To Defend Us Against Coronavirus

When It Comes To Preserving Social Housing, What’s So Bad About RAD?

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West Virginia National Guard - Flickr - The National Guard photo by West Virginia National Guard is licensed under the public domain
Hurricanes have added to the repair bills for public housing in New York City. Here the US military works on the heating system for over 13,000 people in 23 NYCHA buildings after Hurricane Sandy.

Historically, the most effective way of creating new social housing has been national government-funded construction upon land removed from the free market.

Sustaining that housing has been another saga altogether. Various techniques of managing, maintaining and replacing social housing have been employed around the world, some with spectacular success (e.g. Singapore), others a sad failure (e.g. USA).

Many, if not most, national social housing programs have had solid in-between success providing truly affordable low-income housing for many decades. This has often been accomplished in spite of small-government conservative (‘Thatcherite’) attempts to divest any national responsibility for housing their nation’s lowest-income citizens.

One near-universal experiment that has demonstrated comprehensive failure in free-market economies is bribing/coercing private developers to include social housing in mixed income housing developments. These public/private partnerships have failed everywhere to provide a substantial source of permanent, and much-needed, social housing units.

Undaunted by the failure of public/private partnerships to provide that new, permanent social housing, the American federal government has doubled down on Thatcherite wishful thinking. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has extended the unfulfilled promise of public/private partnerships through the Rental Assistance Demonstration program (RAD).

With a nightmare of uncontrolled rent increases across the nation, RAD is presented as the ‘only way’ of preserving America’s increasingly precious resource of existing social (a.k.a. public) housing. Once written off as disgraceful haven to degenerate tenants, the demand for low income public housing far outstrips its supply.

RAD offers no encouragement for creating new social housing to meet that rise in demand. Instead, it generates funds to repair and furbish a portion of the existing stock of low income housing while sacrificing the remainder to the free market.

So what’s wrong with RAD? A great deal, according to some. Read more in the New York Daily News: Rad Is A Raw Deal For Public Housing: Well-Intentioned Program Actually Hikes Rents, Empowers Landlords And Fuels Evictions

COVID-19 And Housing Policy – Looking Ahead In The US

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Further supportive housing opens for people in Vancouver photo by Province of British Columbia is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
COVID-19 responses highlight the importance of housing, such as this supportive housing project in Vancouver, which provides permanent homes for 52 people who were homeless.

Three researchers have just published an article that proposes changes to housing policy, in light of the COVID-19 epidemic in the US. Ingrid Gould Ellen, Katherine O’Regan and Sophie House are based at New York University. Drawing on other research, they project that COVID-19 will disproportionately affect people with very low or no incomes, noting that the economic downturn immediately puts them at risk for eviction.

The researchers also identify the key role of housing in the response to COVID-19 and the difficulties that people with very low or no incomes face in trying to follow the directions. This includes people who are homeless, who have no housing, and the agencies that provide services, which are trying to protect their clients.

The researchers also look ahead, arguing that COVID-19 demonstrates that housing is a public health issue. They recommend changes to housing policies from this perspective. Read in Shelterforce: Housing Policy Must Change In Wake Of COVID-19

In Barrie, Ontario, Cash-Strapped Students May Buy Housing With Chores

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Ross Street, Barrie photo by Sean Marshall is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Barrie, Ontario is looking at ways to house students in this high rent community close to world-class unaffordable Toronto.

Social housing removes homes from the free market and so can provide an ongoing guarantee of truly affordable housing for low income and no income citizens. Unfortunately, there are few free market alternatives that provide such significant quantities of truly affordable housing.

One of these alternatives has been an important housing standby quite probably since the dawn of civilization: co-living.

At its extreme, co-living in free market rental housing provided necessary affordable shelter for even the lowest incomes in times of scarce housing and high rents. ‘Hot sheet’ rentals historically packed even more into co-living shelter when workers on different shifts share the same bed.

Extremes aside, co-living can provide quite civilized but still truly affordable housing when two or more people find they have income or resources to contribute to shared accommodation.

An intriguing experiment is underway in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, where that city and a local community college have combined to support a student/retiree co-living experiment.

A handful of Barrie’s homeowners are capitalizing on their most important possession — a home — in order to fund cost-of-living expenses by renting out rooms to out-of town students.

The Barrie experiment adds a wrinkle to sharing resources between young and old: mitigating the rent for students by exchanging it with physical and social support for the homeowner.

Read more in BARRIE TODAY: Mayor’s office, college team up for ‘social impact project’ to address affordable housing

Lloyd George Doesn’t Know My Father. It Shouldn’t Matter

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photo by Francesco di Bellinzona is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Your place in life is revealed to others through a narrative: stories told, dress worn, games played, schools attended, places frequented, friends preferred, songs sung.

A silly, satirical British song was still sung by drunken rugby players more than forty years after David Lloyd George served as British Prime Minister in World War I Britain. For all this writer knows, it is still sung today. It goes as follows:

Lloyd George knows my father. Father knows Lloyd George. Lloyd George knows my father. Father knows Lloyd George. Lloyd George knows my father. Father knows Lloyd George. Lloyd George knows my father. Father knows Lloyd George . . . and so on. Knowing the hymn tune: Onward Christian Soldiers, makes it slightly more entertaining, but just slightly. Only beer really helps.

Whether sung in celebration or satire, it’s a class narrative, part of a whole framework of stories that defines where an individual ‘fits’ into life.

Author Mary O’Hara is a person whose father definitely did not know Lloyd George, or any modern version of him. The narratives that have defined her life arise from the poverty of her home and family as she grew up in a rat-infested Northern Irish slum, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in all of Europe.

The concern that drives her new book The Shame Game, are the political decisions that arise from narratives that shape the actions of a society towards the people in her poverty-stricken class.

Is it possible to change these narratives? To not only understand the life and character of the poor but weave them into a social narrative — one that does not abandon a disadvantaged class of citizens to a ‘place they deserve to be.’

Read a personal, compelling excerpt from The Shame Game in The Guardian: ‘Being Poor Is Not Inevitable Or Due To Personal Flaws. I Know, I’ve Been There’

America After COVID-19: Rental Housing Apocalypse For The Poorest?

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SF MARKET STREET CONTROL photo by SBT4NOW is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

When America decided to abandon social housing for the nation’s low and no income citizens, they overlooked a fatal weakness of their plan to encourage/coerce free market landlords to take over responsibility. In passing the buck (subsidy dollars to landlords), the federal government lost the ability to control the process.

COVID-19 starkly reveals this weakness. As the coronavirus sweeps the nation, the immediate concern for low income residents, and the activists who support them, has been to halt evictions as the poorest class of citizenry loses work and cannot pay the rent. Initiatives by activists are achieving a measure of government support1.

An eviction moratorium is all about the pandemic. But what about when the pandemic passes? Suggestions such as ‘give them six months to pay back rent’ ignore the reality of these same residents who live from paycheck to paycheck with little or no capability of saving any cash at all, let alone months of rent. This has in turn led to proposals for some form of rent freeze or forgiveness. Read more in Shelterforce: An Eviction Moratorium Is Not Enough—Suspend Rent

Such proposals might make perfect sense in a nation in which social housing was provided by the government.

Instead, the American federal government has created, by means of tax credits and housing vouchers, an entire class of small, medium and large investors — landlords who depend for their economic health, as well as profits, on a steady flow of government subsidy income.

For the sake of both landlords and tenants, it would seem that in this public/private world that has replaced social housing, both tenants and landlords cannot survive on some kind of time limited suspension of eviction, nor even on rent forgiveness. Both tenants and landlords will need the same thing — a bailout.

American Public Housing Authorities: Undertakers Or Futurists?

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The winning team photo by AHOY Centre is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
No, we're not quite dead yet. The proof? We can still cheer for ourselves.

American Public Housing Authorities, form into a great big circle. Now lean forward and pat yourselves on the back.

Oh. You’re already doing that?

What a clever little group of social housing undertakers you are in an era when America is desperately in need of more social housing. So sweet that you’re barking in unison to praise the hand that feeds you, the U.S. federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Read more in ProPublica: Local Housing Authorities Give Themselves Perfect Scores. Renters Disagree

As you social housing undertakers pat yourselves on the back, are you looking over your shoulders in regret for opportunities squandered?

You should be. There is another more important role you could be playing. Consider the  following example, featuring the optimism of social housing futurists across the pond: Scots Spark Nationwide Social Housing Futures Confederation

Vancouver B.C. Perfects Affordable Housing Shell Game With A Micro-Pea

A Shell Game 3D photo by TeWeBs is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Leave it to a city which, by some measures, is the world’s least affordable after Hong Kong.

Leave what to them? Why, solving an affordable housing crisis without actually creating affordable housing.

Vancouver, like most North American cities, has signed enthusiastically on to the affordable housing shell game with multiple shells and multiple peas. “Yes! We have the affordable housing you need! Pick a shell, any shell. Congratulations, there’s a pea under it. That’s affordable housing because we’re calling it affordable housing. Pick  another. Congratulations again! That’s affordable housing, too, because we said so.”

Dividing up housing into layers of ‘affordability’ that includes all except the luxury market means that cities can perpetually hug themselves for their affordable housing commitment.

What? You mean truly affordable? Like say, social housing? Hmm.

But ‘hmm’ no longer if you’re in Vancouver. They’ve got a shell game for that, too. Same set of shells with a pea under each. Choose one! Congratulations, you’ve chosen a new social housing development!

No, no, it’s not a semi-fraudulent ‘affordable to somebody’ development. Sure, there are 100 market price homes in the development. But check out the tiny little micro-pea beside the big one! That’s 4 units of social housing. That means the entire development is social housing!

A story too silly to believe? Not in Vancouver. Read more in The Georgia Straight: Councillors Question City Of Vancouver’s Definition Of Social Housing

One Housing Standard For All?

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Ladder Inspection Checklist photo by Flaaim is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
A standard for ladders. Why not for homes?

One school of thought holds that future social housing ought to be built to a lower standard than housing where a higher price will be charged. This kind of thinking is sometimes connected with the idea that people with very low incomes don’t deserve it.

Another school of thought argues that everyone deserves to live in decent housing. One result of this thinking is the UN declaration that housing is a human right.

One of the stumbling blocks is identifying what ought to be included in a housing standard for any kind of housing, including social housing. Is a universal standard even possible, given the wide range of individual preferences and possibilities? Can a standard be developed that resonates with everyone? Can expert knowledge be integrated with daily use and experience?

In 2016, British Gas and Shelter asked Ipsos MORI, a consulting firm, to see whether it was possible to build a standard that resonates with all levels of the British public. The result is called the Living Home Standard.

The project team drew up a preliminary list of standards and then tried them out on the public through consultations and surveys. The result is a set of 39 statements that integrate individual assessment with expert advice. The statements are grouped in five dimensions: affordability, decent conditions, space, stability and neighbourhood.

The statements are designed for homeowners and renters of all ages, incomes and ethnicities. Each one was carefully crafted through the testing process to give a yes or no result. Here’s an example: “Can meet the rent or mortgage payments on the home without regularly having to cut spending on household essentials like food or heating.”

In the first run of the standards, it was determined that over 40% of households in Britain were living in housing that was below the Living Home Standard. The majority of those households fell below the housing standard on two or more of the five dimensions. Over one in four households fell below the affordability dimension. See more of the results here: Topline results

What does this have to do with social housing?

The Living Home Standard demonstrated a process that can work for owners and renters across an entire range of incomes and housing types. The process makes it clear, based on testing, that one standard for housing not only can, but indeed should apply for all housing. That includes social housing.

Less Is More: NYCHA Uses HUD Magic Math To Squander Public Housing

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Queensbridge beauty photo by Nick Normal is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
NYCHA Housing. Here today, gone tomorrow? HUD funding programs seem designed to ensure it.

The great equalities of the future as described in George Orwell’s book 1984 are almost upon us.

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. The last is a tip of the hat to populism, whether politically left or right.

To which we must add the equality ‘Less is More.’ This expression began life as an architectural fashion statement in favour of minimalism by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

It evolved to become a convenient equality in the field of American affordable housing, with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) ‘supporting’ this equality with fewer dollars and more human lives.1

These days, few statements of opinion are shared by conservatives and progressives. There is no agreement that there is a housing crisis gripping the country. Nor is there agreement that the middle class are in the midst of a housing crisis.

However, for the lowest classes, there is agreement across all political stripes. There is a housing crisis for those who earn minimum wage, or do sporadic contract work, or have no income (e.g. seniors without pensions, single parents, those with health issues).

The response by the nation’s housing leadership? Less is more.

HUD is touting privatizing public housing as the answer. But when housing or services are privatized, for every dollar spent, some amount (say 15 cents), will go to the development or management company’s profit. In real math, that means 15 cents less to public housing.

But these days, less is more. HUD lards its self-puffery with the term ‘leverage’, as if joining forces with the private sector will ‘leverage’ money out of the private purse. Using real math, the opposite is true. But then, less is also more. Inevitably, less low income housing. Inevitably more life-shortening, homeless lives.

Read between the lines in Archinet: NYCHA Privatizes Management Of 5,900 Units To Fund Needed Repairs

Green Social Housing: Impossible Dream Or Old News?

BedZED 01 photo by Giogo is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
This green housing development in Hockbridge was built in 2002.

One way or another, many feel that social housing is too expensive for America, even as many other nations find ways to utilize this truly affordable form of housing. With climate change challenging architects and builders to make housing affordable and energy efficient, any renaissance of social housing would seem to face insurmountable odds.

To borrow a British expression for ‘cheap’ could it be possible to successfully build social housing that is both ‘green’ and ‘mean?’

As it happens, a housing project took up this challenge 18 years ago, long before the current urgency of climate change. One quarter of the units in this project are social housing. Read more in LIVING: What’s Life Like Inside The UK’S First Zero Carbon, Eco Village?

Finding The Path To Belonging

And the Trees Guarded the Path photo by Landon Monday is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
A report from Calgary that speaks about cultural practices as a path from homelessness.

Researchers based at Calgary’s Elizabeth Fry Society have completed a report about how indigenous elders and knowledge keepers help people to forge paths to leave homelessness. The report focusses on cultural and spiritual practices and how they support people who have had traumatic experiences.1 It also identifies when and how it is appropriate to engage these practices.

The information was collected over the course of a year. Meetings were convened to discuss ending homelessness, finding and keeping housing, and case management.

Seven elders and knowledge keepers participated. Researchers attended the meetings and recorded and compiled the discussions. They also checked back with the meeting participants to verify accuracy.

The report also includes a glossary for readers who may be unfamiliar with titles such as knowledge keeper and elder.

Why is this report important?

This work gives guidance about how indigenous elders and knowledge keepers can be effective here in Canada, where our indigenous neighbours are over-represented in the homeless population. The advice and thinking are organized particularly to support indigenous people. It may also be useful in other countries where indigenous people are homeless.

By focussing on assistance to indigenous populations, this report also suggests an area for further investigation: how can social and cultural practices contribute to housing and homelessness programs more generally?

For people advancing an agenda of public support for non-market housing, this report discusses some of the benefits that come with providing space for community activities in housing developments.

The report is available on line at: Elders & Knowledge Keepers Circles

Social Housing Futures Confederation Takes Shape In United Kingdom

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Training photo by Adrian MB is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Training sessions - part of social housing futures?

For some decades, boots-on-the-ground UK local councils and housing associations have followed orders from national government generals hellbent on creating social housing more efficiently and cheaply by hiring mercenary builders and managers from the private sector.

Years of poor results has helped local councils and housing associations regain some control over something that had been a council responsibility in the past — ensuring that truly affordable housing is available in communities across the country for those who need it.

Now, riding high from a Brexit-dominated election, the UK national government is threatening to once more curtail councils and housing associations from interfering with the mercenaries of the private sector 1.

That unlikely army of saviours blames poor past performance on restrictive and obstructionist regulations. Once unfettered, the workings of the free market will conquer the current housing crisis by beating plowshares into profits. In the process, affordable housing of one stripe or other will flow in great profusion, as certified by no less an authority than first year university ‘economics 101.’

Faced with déja vu all over again, what can councils and housing authorities do to maintain some control over the creation and maintenance of what is ultimately their responsibility?

Ganging up might well be one solution — gangs not only of like-minded social housing entities, but their tenants as well.

It seems the UK housing associations have introduced just such a gang, which has recruited members nationwide. Read more in Scottish Housing News: UK-Wide Innovation Programme Launched To Encourage Housing Collaboration

I’m Here. Job’s There. Personal And Planning Views Of Public Housing Spatial Dislocation

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Unity Tower NYCHA jeh photo by Jim Henderson is licensed under the public domain
Unity Tower, New York Housing Authority building on Coney Island. Cheap land drew public housing construction close to the beach but not to jobs.

Two stories provide different perspectives on the handicap of spatial dislocation for tenants of American public housing. Decisions made to site public housing projects were and still often are at best short-sighted and wrong-headed. At worst they are examples of a long history of deliberate government discrimination.

First, a PBS television documentary takes a more personalized look at the life and times of a single public housing project: East Lake Meadows, a former Atlanta public housing development plonked down a daunting distance from available jobs in the downtown.

Read more including the scheduled date and time of the documentary on PBS at WGBH.org: New Documentary Shows The Discriminatory History Of Public Housing

The second perspective is spatial analysis that compares the geography of American city jobs in relation to the housing types occupied by workers.

The study shows that, whatever the reasons that lay behind the choices of public housing locations, most of its tenants are today spatially disadvantaged compared to those living in other forms of housing. Public housing tenants, in most cases predominantly black, still continue struggle against this institutionalized discrimination.

The story however, is not entirely bleak. The changing structure of cities over time has in some cases brought centres of employment closer to public housing. In these happier endings, tenants have actually found themselves more favourably placed geographically than those in other forms of housing.

Read more in CITYLAB: For Those Living in Public Housing, It’s a Long Way to Work

How Screwed Are You, Young Adults? The New Statesman Has The Stats

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Young family photo by Wayne S. Grazio is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Young adults: a new and beautiful generation with ugly housing problems.

In the 1970’s, 2/3 of Britain’s renting population lived in social housing. Not surprising then, that this form rent geared to income living particularly suited young people. Low rent meant saving money for more upscale digs, or a down payment for a house. Social rents made it all possible.

Then came the double whammy. Masses of social housing began to be pulled down ahead of its hoped for life span. That was a consequence of short-sighted corner cutting construction. Meanwhile, a move to downsize government and cut spending included promoting a national ‘own your home’ dream. Hundreds of thousands of social housing units were sold off under Right To Buy. They were not replaced as sale proceeds were diverted to other government requirements.1

The result? A better society? Ha! Not for you, today’s struggling young British adult. You’ve been screwed.

And to add misery to misery, you’ve not been treated all that well either, young, struggling North Americans.2

Read more in the New Statesman: It’s More Expensive To Be Poor. Now Housing Costs Make It More Expensive To Be Young Too

Rent Regulation: The Clash Of Housing As Investment vs. Housing As Shelter

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Rent-Control-Rally-4 photo by Seattle City Council is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Activists at a Seattle rent control rally.

Changes to renting regulations are becoming a hot topic in nations where the rental housing is growing scarce. Landlords without curbs on their free market ‘right to profit’ are taking advantage of the rental housing shortage by raising rents.

For those lower income citizens without recourse to buying a home, the lack of rental housing and its high cost mean homelessness is a growing reality, as many individuals and families are ‘housing-cost-burdened:’ spending as much as half or more of their income to put a roof over their heads.

While a few jurisdictions have years of experience with rent regulations in their many forms, a great many have not. For those considering the politics of rent restrictions, the range of different kinds of regulations and their possible impact can be a source of confusion.

Two recent articles in Shelterforce deal with the need for clarity, first from a historical perspective focused on New York City experience: Not All Rent Regulations Are Created Equal

The second article proposes standardizing rent regulation terms, based on New York’s past experience:  Q: What Do All These Rent Regulation Terms Mean?

What do rent regulations mean for truly affordable housing?

Forms of truly affordable housing, such as social housing, are held away from the free market by their government or non-profit ownership and often excluded from rent regulation.1

‘Naturally occurring’ affordable housing still exists in the free market, and rental regulations can have an important role in keeping that housing as truly affordable, particularly if rents are not permitted to rise more rapidly than individual or family income rises.

As well, government voucher programs for low income citizens top up the amount they have to pay for free market, uncontrolled rents. This is an ever-increasing cost to taxpayers if rents are unregulated. Governments have used a variety of strategies to control program costs. Examples include capping the total number of allowances, the amount of assistance provided, and the units that are eligible for assistance.

Rental regulations can help control this ever-increasing government expense, holding out the possibility (if not the practice) that more people who absolutely need vouchers to put a roof over their heads will actually receive them.

For more exploration on what kinds of rent controls can be legislated, and how each kind can impact on the housing market, try: Rent Controls — Panacea Or Pariah?

Homeless & Need Housing? Get A List Of Places You Can’t Afford From Your Local Gov

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Homeless Rough Sleeper photo by Blodeuwedd is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Homeless and Sleeping rough in London, UK.

Is homelessness getting your community down? You can stamp your feet, roll your eyes, express disgust, then play the blame game. In America, this technique of getting nowhere fast is currently fashionable from the tippety-top of government on down.

Or, you can implement a proven program such as Housing First which has a world-wide reputation for successfully removing homeless people from the squalor of rough living.

Except . . . taking the ‘less’ out of homeless involves one vital component that — if missing — renders even the most respected of ‘streets to homes’ programs completely impotent: housing.

Read more about this problem in LocalGov: Lack Of Housing Stopping Councils From Helping Homeless People, Charity Warns

Post COVID-19 Twofer? Tackling Unemployment And A Housing Crisis

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Adam Bandt 2019 photo by Australian Greens is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 AU
Adam Bandt, Member of Parliament and leader of the Australian Greens.

In North America, the green parties are still a public curiosity rather than the muscular political force that they have become in Europe. In the fiercely two-party United States, ‘green party’ influence is mostly virtual, assumed by progressive climate-change activists largely resident within the Democratic Party.1

Canada has a classic fringe Green Party, an established and vocal presence, which nevertheless tends to earn few legislative seats at best in elections from the federal level on down. Its political influence is, needless to say, crippled by ‘first past the post’ elections.

Canada’s lack of green political influence is shared by the Green Party in Australia, where they have nine senators and one member in the House of Representatives. Wowing the voters? Not so much. But proposing thought-provoking ideas? That’s a different story.

The Australian Green Party made an early projection of COVID-19 fallout: a future of massive unemployment during a major economic depression. Accordingly, the party has proposed double-barrelled crisis solution reminiscent of America’s New Deal: a program of public works to provide much needed employment as well as the construction of a new era of social housing. If social housing is needed more and more as the world moves into a COVID-19 pandemic, that need after the pandemic will undoubtedly be acute.

Food for thought? Read more in the brisbane times: Public Housing For All: Greens Pitch Home Building Boost To Offset Coronavirus

Is Waiting 1.5 Centuries For Social Housing Good For UK Business?

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British rural scenery photo by llee_wu is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
For some, there is no view as lovely as British rural scenery — but not for those with no affordable housing in sight.

Business-friendly governments in both the United Kingdom and America cling stubbornly to the notion that mixed income housing developments can build enough truly affordable housing to ease national housing affordable crises.

Statistics don’t just suggest otherwise, they damn such thinking as pure nonsense.

For one example, think of the time from the American civil war to today. That’s roughly how long it will take from today for UK’s social housing wait list in its rural areas to clear at present levels of social housing construction.

Read more in Showhouse: Rural Housing Backlog Will Take 154 Years To Clear With Current Build Rates

Social Housing Future Challenge: Overcoming Decades Of Management Contempt

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Changing Of The Guard photo by Maureen Barlin is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Decades of authoritarian public housing management point to a need for more tenant respect.

With growing numbers of low income residents in North America paying more than half their income in rent, there’s a pressing need for scalable housing solutions that do not just stem the tide of unaffordable housing, but reverse it.

Is there a bright future for social housing in North America? Maybe yes, given its historic success, for a time at least. Today, in spite of endless efforts to kill it, social housing  stubbornly clings to life as a testament to its effectiveness in supporting the housing needs of low/no income citizens. The same effectiveness is more easily and widely found in healthy social housing programs in other countries around the world.

But if successful public housing is to return to North America, it will mean a profound change in lingering management bully behaviour that seems to be based on assumptions of social superiority at best and racism at worst. Such bullying still goes unchecked. The bullies can carry on, reinforced by the almost-certain knowledge that the recipients have neither the resources or the influence to sue or otherwise rain justice upon their tormentors.

For a fine recent example of social housing management still trampling roughshod over residents, read more at CBS Chicago: Management Hauls Off CHA Tenants’ Urban Garden, Calling It A Hazard; ‘I Feel Like They Stole My Things’

. . . and a rental management initiative in Halifax hints that the leopard, which needs to change its spots, is not tenants as much as badly behaved management that sets the social housing mood. Try: Public Housing Revisited: Just Who Was Disrespecting Who?

Would A Housing Industry Unchained Be An Emperor Unclothed?

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Dog on the Tracks photo by Alan Levine is licensed under CC ZERO 1.0
The Housing Industry: hard-driving cost-busting steam engine of housing affordability . . . or, just looking for a quiet place for a profitable snooze.

The North American housing industry’s current battle cry? Unchain us from pesky regulations, and we’ll mass-build nations out of their affordable housing crises.

There would appear to be no brakes on this charging steam locomotive.1 But fellow travellers such as the real estate industry as well as activists such as the YIMBY movement might consider hopping off the super-charged anti-bylaw rhetoric for a bit of wait-and-see time.

Why? Well across the Atlantic, the United Kingdom, another charging locomotive has government support to drive full steam ahead on the same set of deregulated tracks. No need for fellow travellers elsewhere to risk an affordable housing experimental train wreck when another country is planning the same demonstration.

The prognosis for success? Doubtful, at least according to an analysis in The Guardian. For starters, the UK building industry supposedly shackled by regulation was granted 2.2 million approvals to build last year, but only took up only 1.5 million of them.

What gives here? Couldn’t be bothered to build? Eyes bigger than stomach? Whatever the answer, the image of a hard charging engine of affordable housing change suffers somewhat. What about a dog turning in circles before lying down for a nap?

Another depressing aspect of the UK government’s decision to let this dozy dog off the leash is the corresponding impact it will have on local council ability to tackle their own housing problems. Councils are becoming fed up with public private partnerships that fail to deliver housing in the quantity and price levels that are needed. Some councils have been looking to return to tried and true ways to measure affordable housing — social housing.

Alas, The UK government plans to rein in council authority in order to clear the tracks for the housing industry affordable chuffing and tooting and clattering now heard persistently in the far distance, where it quite possibly will remain.

Read more in The Guardian: Beautiful Homes On Sunlit Uplands? Not Once The Developers Are In Charge

Indigenous Women’s Report About Housing Conditions In Canada

Old Crow houses photo by Jenn is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Conditions of houses, like these in Old Crow Yukon, are documented in the report of the Native Women's Association of Canada.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada recently issued a research report about the current housing conditions of indigenous women in Canada. Individual communities may declare a state of emergency because of poor housing conditions, but it is unusual to see a report of conditions that spans the country.1 The Native Women’s Association of Canada is the first national indigenous organization to take on this challenge. Chronically underfunded, it is even more to their credit that they undertook this project.

Housing conditions for indigenous people, both on and off reserve, are much poorer than housing for the rest of Canada’s residents. This applies across all of the scales that are used to measure Canada’s core housing need.2

The research for the report involved three different lines of inquiry: a literature review, an online survey and engagement sessions that were held in communities across the country. The results of each of these inquiries are presented. The report also includes a housing continuum that shows the range of housing types that are discussed in the report. The range includes emergency and transitional shelters as well as permanent rental and ownership housing. The report concludes with recommendations for change and next steps.

Why is this resource important?

This report will be valuable to groups in Canada and elsewhere that are advocating for housing rights and improving the housing conditions for indigenous people. It underscores the need for better housing conditions and for housing that is affordable for people with extremely low incomes on a permanent and ongoing basis. It highlights the need for federal government funding to improve housing conditions for Indigenous people across Canada.

The separate reporting from each of the lines of inquiry will also help people are looking for research tools for inquiries of their own.

For more, read at the Native Women’s Association of Canada: Indigenous Housing: Policy and Engagement

Social Housing Reno: Service To Tenants? Or To Housing Industry?

New doors photo by Richard Leeming is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Residents without resources fear displacement for much-needed public housing repairs is a one-way ticket to homelessness.

Local Housing Authorities are finding themselves in almost-impossible situations when it comes to selling long-suffering tenants on the benefits of repairs and renovations.

Why are social housing tenants frightened about the possibility of renovation? They’re the ones suffering from rodent, leaks, faulty plumbing, etc, etc.

While public housing renovations are not exactly the same as ‘renovictions,’ they can in both theory and practice lead to the same thing: tenants turfed out of homes, only to find out they’ll never get back in again.

Certainly, local housing authorities may wish to reassure tenants that their tenancy is safe. But how often do they need to have their fingers crossed behind their backs?

HUD, the grudging dispenser of money for public housing refurbishment and repair, is heavily promoting private public partnerships which, without going into all the gory details, give private enterprise the opportunity to profit from a piece of the refurbishing action. But what ‘action’ is that?

Increasingly we’re talking about repairs and renovations that translate to either market rate housing or ‘affordable’ housing for higher income brackets in the middle class. It also means losing at least some of the truly affordable homes that so desperately need repair.

These days, local housing authorities have huge waiting lists. They can’t offer substitute housing to tenants who’ve lost their homes as part of a refurbishing project. No wonder existing tenants are afraid of the consequences.

Read more in The Guardian: ‘I Don’t Have Anywhere Else To Go’: Why Tenants Fear Renovation Of Neglected Public Housing

The Mystery Of The Dog That Didn’t Bark — Social Housing

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2014-06-21 11.31.35 photo by oddharmonic is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
A complex solution to an indefinable, complex problem.

‘The dog that didn’t bark’ is an important clue pointing towards the solution of a famous Sherlock Holmes mystery.

Likewise, the ‘dog that didn’t bark’ can be considered a metaphor for one clue that is seldom if ever offered to explain how to solve the mystery of affordable housing.

A recent review of Conor Dougherty’s new book Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America, describes the author’s approach thus: “No matter which way you look, the housing crisis confounds simple solutions.”  This aptly describes Dougherty’s approach, one of telling “the story of housing in all its complexity.”

Welcome to the clue of the dog that didn’t bark. Can you not hear it?

There is one approach to creating large amounts of public housing, which is elegant in its simplicity. Government supervises the funding, design, and building of sturdy low-rent housing for low income citizens on government land that is held off the free market and so does not increase uncontrollably in value due to investor speculation.

Here is the dog that didn’t bark. It’s called social housing, or public housing. You will find it pretty much not barking in books like Dougherty’s, in articles and opinion pieces everywhere, like that of Nicholas Cannariato which follows.

How come? Yes, in America social housing has a reputation for everything from bad funding decisions, bad design, bad construction, bad management, as well as the bad genes of an entire degenerate underclass of American citizens.1

But social housing is far from dead in America. And while it has been sick, cities are speaking up for funding to help heal it, so important has it become in staving off even greater depths of affordable housing crises.

And yet we seldom hear bark of it. Curious.

Read a review of a book all about the almost insoluble complexities of affordable housing in which a dog of simplicity simply doesn’t bark: at NPR: Author Says ‘Mixed Solutions Can Feel Like A Cop-Out’ But May Solve Housing Inequity

1 Housing Voucher = 1 Social Housing Home. True Equality Or A Macabre Joke?

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337/365: The Big Money photo by David Muir is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Can you rent a real home with Monopoly money? Not likely. Renting is not much more likely with a real-life federally backed US Housing Choice Voucher, either.

Housing support voucher programs suffer profoundly in the United States by being unacceptable to many — even most — landlords, whether landlords are legally allowed to ignore them or not.

Housing Choice (a.k.a Section 8) vouchers are often touted as a substitute for social housing that does not ‘interfere’ with the upwards death spiral of rental housing prices. (Heaven forbid!) Their enormous weakness is that the cost to governments, and hence to the taxpayer, is ever-increasing just because they are supporting that upwards death spiral of prices.

In the U.S. they are so badly funded that jurisdictions close their waiting lists for vouchers for long periods of time. Even when the window opens (briefly) to fill the waiting list, applicants will often be picked by lottery because the number of vouchers is miniscule compared with the number who apply.

Can vouchers really be anything other than a short term stopgap measure for true social housing that is designed, not to support the housing free market, but to remove low/no income housing properties from that market completely?

Make up your own mind. The true horror of the voucher system, forgetting the issue of landlords who won’t accept them, is on display in an article from the Seattle Times: Vying For A Golden Ticket: King County Housing Authority Reopens Subsidized Housing Lottery

Visionary ‘Green to Last’ For Next Generation Social Housing?

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American Visionary Art Museum photo by Victoria Pickering is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Seems we've stumbled upon a visualization of how Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) work. What about a more visionary approach to affordable housing: something simple, like social housing?

Those who have worked in the business of providing or maintaining social housing inevitably come up against a general public attitude that those in need of public assistance don’t deserve ‘quality.’

Giving in to this belief, in the world of social housing at least, has proven to be profoundly expensive — a cost not only to the public purse, but in terms of human misery.

In the United Kindom’s zeal to repair extensive wartime housing damage, followed by ambitious slum clearance programs, two thirds or more of the population wound up living in social housing. Much of that post-WWII housing, in particular its high rise towers, has been pulled down in the last two to three decades, too poorly constructed to be usefully refurbished.

In the same time frame, America has pulled down much older social housing that was built to last but woefully neglected.

Both are profoundly expensive examples of how corner-cutting design can be disastrously reinforced by public attitudes of who deserves what.1

The housing industry might well argue that there is no alternative to building flimsy structures with a short lifespan, given the cost of land, materials and labour. And that’s before imposing climate-change mandated ‘green’ essentials to the construction.

Is the industry correct? Or do we need more visionary thinking in order to achieve a successful return to social housing in North America?

If so, visionary opportunity is due to arrive on these shores momentarily. Though the article below doesn’t utter a peep about tomorrow’s social housing, the remarkable individual featured therein, together with his work, might represent just what is needed for a new era of government-built housing.

Read more in BISNOW: Meet The 27-Year-Old Who Wants To Build The Tesla Of Housing

Colorado Considers Coming Late To The PPP Dance. Should It Bother?

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Prowers County Welfare Housing (9863781085) photo by Jeffrey Beall is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
This historic (and rustic) Colorado social housing played an important role in the Great Depression, not only by sheltering its most vulnerable citizens, but by providing much needed employment. Could social housing provide Colorado a better alternative than PPPs?

20 years ago, the Colorado Supreme Court decided that classic public private partnership (PPP) ‘inclusionary zoning’ projects were a form of rent control, expressly forbidden by legislation.

This year, housing activists are pushing hopefully for a change in fortunes for PPP projects, even though everywhere the bloom is coming off that rose, at least as a meaningful way of producing quantities of affordable housing.

PPP inclusionary zoning delivers affordable units by shifting some of the cost of the affordable units somewhere else. One possibility is to shift the cost to the other units in the building. Potential buyers or investors might balk at the high unit prices, in which case such projects might not get built at all.

Or the cost could shift to governments or some other Good Samaritan, in which case the project would be guaranteed. Experience elsewhere indicates this creates the opportunity for shoddy, corner-cutting building.1

So really, is Colorado’s late embrace of PPP housing worth the bother? Directing subsidy dollars to projects that are need-driven, not investor-profit-driven, could deliver far more reliable and longer lasting truly affordable housing, compared to ’boutique’ affordable housing projects.2

A further benefit, they could provide relief for middle classes struggling with affordability via a ‘trickle up’3 effect.

Read more on Colorado’s tardy embrace of PPP inclusionary zoning projects at CPR News: After 20 Years, Colorado May Reverse Decision That Limits Cities’ Affordable Housing Powers

New York City Housing Plan Refocuses Towards ‘True’ Affordability

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Coney Island Creek photo by Alexander Rabb is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Decades-old social housing in New York City: nothing else has proved capable of providing affordable homes for large numbers of low and no income citizens.

New York City has broken some important ground with the release of a new report “Housing We Need.” The City, at least from a reporting perspective, is apparently no longer prepared to recommend a kind of ‘go along to get along’ approach to affordable housing programs that are demonstrable failures.

As a paragraph from an article in CityLand puts it: “Housing We Need follows six years of analyses, audits, and reports on City initiatives that have failed to make enough affordable housing, wasted billions of dollars on real estate tax subsidies, failed to prevent homelessness, and failed to make homeownership viable.”

Housing We Need recommends a major focus on “redirecting of existing capital dollars to extremely- and very-low income housing construction.”

This bodes well for the future of social housing in the city, which has proven itself to be one of the few — if not the only — way of efficiently building long lasting housing for low and no income citizens.

Read more in CityLand: Comptroller Stringer Releases Plan to Address City’s Affordable Housing Problems

City NYCHA Dependence Highlights Fundamental LIHTC Weakness

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Jacob Riis Houses in Spring photo by Eden, Janine and Jim is licensed under CC BY 2.0
New York City public housing: an affordable housing resource more necessary than ever.

One less-than-obvious but by no means less-than-important takeaway comes from a New York City report on Homelessness just released. That is the inherent weakness of Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs) as a means of creating the amount of housing stock that is needed for low/no income citizens.

The report, Our Homelessness Crisis: The Case For Change, offers some important understanding of the links between homelessness and low income housing. Its multiple proposals for providing low income housing to reduce and eventually eliminate homelessness are necessarily multi-pronged. The City is in no way the sole master, or funder, of its own affordable housing fates.

One of those ‘prongs’ is the public housing managed by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). The report views this housing as a vital component of its homelessness and affordable housing strategy. Yet its stock of public housing is eroding year by year from disrepair. To lose it entirely would be unthinkable.

So why think it? It’s the same NYCHA that last year announced it needed $25-ish billion dollars to properly refurbish its housing stock. This particular crisis-of-the-moment has been developing in plain sight for decades. However much handwringing might have been employed over the years, ultimately the necessary funding has not materialized.

One truly disturbing weakness of the federal LIHTC program is that each new LIHTC project deliberately creates a crisis-of-the-moment in the future, similar to that felt last year by the NYCHA. When tax support for LIHTC units expires, sitting tenants are pitched into a housing crisis as they can no longer afford their units.1

With the benefit of hindsight, we can see the predicament facing the NYCHA as a horrendous failure of design, implementation, management and funding from the very top on down and stretching back to inception of American public housing.

Why then implement a method of building precious affordable housing that for all intents and purposes institutionalizes a future when yet another stock of affordable homes will vanish (or at best be ‘repaired’ with an expensive new affordability contract)?

For a summary of Our Homelessness Crisis: The Case For Change read more in CITY LIMITS: Levin: City’s Approach To Homelessness Still Lacks Clarity

Co-Living: It Can’t Be All Bad, Can It?

House Party photo by Andrew Guan is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This is for those who have never been a starving student sharing a home space with one or more ‘might-one-day-be-friends’, but not if they carry on the same way.

This is for those who have had that experience and want to re-explore a nostalgic checklist of exasperating eye rollers.

The BBC has an English English (e.g. think ‘loo roll’ as opposed to American English name for the same household essential) short exploration of a universal set of co-living experiences:  The Perks And Pitfalls Of Sharing A Flat

Co-living was once a familiar way for cash-strapped students to weather the housing storm during higher education. It is now increasingly the only option extending into early and middle adulthood that provides anything approaching ‘truly’ affordable housing.

In Britain, young people often got their start in the housing market by renting social housing from the local council. The decline of social housing means that this once-practical option for transitioning to free market housing is no longer available to many young adults.

No, it isn’t all bad, but it’s clear that the benefits for a home-sharer can be sometimes lost behind a film of red rage descending over the vision, while muttering, “Not Again!”

Choices For Indigenous Women Seeking Safety In Remote Communities?

Yukon River at Whitehorse -a photo by Gareth Sloan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, one example of the communities spread throughout Canada's north.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has recently published a report about intimate partner violence in remote communities. The report reviews existing academic research and arranges it thematically.1 This allows the authors to provide an integrated picture that take housing needs into account. The authors also discuss how gaps in the literature could affect the way the issues are understood.

The report discusses the crucial role of housing to ensure that indigenous women can live safely in remote communities. It also illustrates how multiple single barriers (e.g. poverty, no or limited access to emergency shelter or other housing, no or limited access to police, risk that child protection services may remove children) can reinforce and overlap one another.

With limited options, women make choices to minimize risks. As one example, violence by former partners does not end when women leave relationships. In fact, the evidence indicates that the attacks become more violent. Wrapping up their report, the authors chose this quote from one of the papers they reviewed: ‘“the question underlining their journey is not “why doesn’t she leave” but “how could she leave?”’

Why is this report important?

The report demonstrates the importance of stable, safe, secure, affordable housing for people who experience intimate partner violence. Lack of housing should not be a reason why women remain in relationships where there is intimate partner violence. Public funding is needed to ensure that safe housing is available in rural and remote communities, at low or no cost, on a permanent basis.

Service providers who work to assist people in relationships where there is intimate partner violence will find value in this report because it highlights the diversity of individual experience and the need for flexible programming to be able to assist effectively.

This report will be helpful to researchers, policy makers, decision makers and service providers who need to explain the value of academic research. The report achieves this by using a theme based approach to connect homelessness with intimate partner violence, rather than viewing them as separate issues.

See the full report at the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives: Housing Needs of Indigenous Women Leaving Intimate Partner Violence in Northern Communities

From Wood To Brick To Wood Again. Could Low Income Housing Come Full Circle?

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St. Thomas Street, New Orleans, during the Great Depression. photo by not credited/FDR Pres. Library is licensed as 'public domain' under Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code
St. Thomas Street, New Orleans, during the Great Depression, before public housing.

A pair of photographs reflects a depression-era pattern: tumbledown wooden slums in New Orleans, LA, pictured above, replaced by sturdy brick government-built social housing pictured below.

St. Thomas Street, New Orleans, during the Great Depression. photo by not credited/FDR Pres. Library is licensed as ‘public domain’ under Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code
St. Thomas Street social housing built under President FDR’s “New Deal.”

Today, interest in higher density housing makes high rise building inevitable in some neighbourhoods. To that end, sturdy brick construction has been joined by even sturdier concrete and steel. With rising concern about climate change however, we our becoming aware of just how ‘un-green’ concrete and steel construction can be. In fact it’s a major contributor to world carbon dioxide emissions.

So it’s something of a surprise that a new competitor to brick, steel and concrete has appeared on the market that claims to be both stronger than these classic construction methods, but ‘green’ as well.

What is it?

Wood.

New technology can make wood strong and durable enough for high rise construction. As the technology has developed, the cost of wood construction is now on par with more conventional methods, with greater potential for cost savings through modularization. All that and climate change-fighting, too.

The real eyebrow-raiser? Its proponents have declared that this form of tall building construction is safer from fire than both concrete and steel. As time passes, are wooden projects becoming more and more inevitable in the future of government-built social housing?

Read much more about the promising future of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) at CNN: Has The Wooden Skyscraper Revolution Finally Arrived?

L.A. Eminent Domain Fight Exposes Fatal LIHTC Affordable Housing Flaw

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Stop Eminent Domain Abuse photo by Scott Beale is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Ironically, signs like this are usually deployed against 'big business' abuse. In this case, 'the people' are demanding that government employ eminent domain AGAINST business.

The American Federal government’s biggest tool for the creation of affordable housing is designed to help developers have their cake and eat it — building subsidies today, and free market profits in the future.

Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) entice developers with tax savings as housing gets built and then for several years afterwards. In exchange a developer and subsequent owners are bound to defer free market profits for up to 30 years by holding rents for that property at below-market values.

Bottom line: affordable housing schemes like LIHTC build affordable housing that is temporary, not permanent. The opportunity for financial relief to build immediately is only part of the attraction. Access to the free market at a later date, is equally important.

Or it was.

Because a proposal gaining interest in Los Angeles would use a city’s power of eminent domain to seize the property before it reverts to market freedom. This, to all intents and purposes, has the effect of reneging on the original agreement.

Activists think the idea is great. No surprise, they have no financial investment in housing. Developers think it’s an utter disaster. And since the nation giveth, but the city taketh away, they may have no recourse to a sue anyone in particular for breech-of-contract or other damages.

Who, developers argue, will in future be prepared to develop affordable housing now in exchange for profit deferral 30 years down the road? Nobody, if there’s a credible threat to use eminent domain to seize the property just when an owner is free to rent at market rates, or redevelop the property as they please.

Schemes like Tax Credit funded affordable housing will simply wither away. Programs that promise, but cannot fulfill, a guaranteed return to the free market will simply collapse for want of participants.

Read more in LAList: Can LA Save Affordable Housing Through Eminent Domain?

Perhaps it’s well past time for a hard look at time-blinkered arrangements that, like LIHTC, create only temporary affordable housing.

Well-funded, well-designed, well-built, well-managed public housing could provide a much more certain source of truly affordable housing that could be kept that way, permanently beyond the reach of speculators in the housing free market.

Tacoma Looks To Solve A Student Housing Crisis — If Landlords Cooperate

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Increasing numbers of college age students are either homeless, or hovering on the edge of it. Tensions over this problem have been rising in American institutions of higher learning, as evidenced by the outcry against a Washington. D.C. administrator who ‘dissed’ a student two years ago, when she appealed for housing help.1

Preventing students from receiving a higher education seems like mortgaging a country’s future.

But a pressing need for student housing can have a significant present-day impact as well. Lower income wage earners and their families are squeezed by rising rents in a market where students create significant competition. In this regard, lack of housing for students is not just a mortgaged future, but a brake on local economies, particularly those in municipalities that host college and university campuses.

It’s a particular problem for downtown campuses. Yes, a town or city may be happy to have the university jobs that contribute to the local economy. But where room to build new student housing is tight or nonexistent, acquiring land to build new residences may simply be beyond university or college budgets. Does the municipality need to help out?

Across the continent, various different bodies are actively tackling the problem. In Montreal, Quebec, for example, student bodies are stepping up to build their own housing.2

Tacoma, Washington, has taken another approach — housing vouchers. We can only hope that a student clutching a housing voucher will receive consideration from landlords, who are notably resistant to federal housing voucher schemes across the nation. Read more in NEXT CITY: Tacoma’s Got Housing Vouchers Just For College Students

Boutique Affordability: What Is It?

Casa Loma photo by Carsten is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Affordable Housing? When this early 20th century Toronto home is next for sale, it will occupy a small and exclusive affordable housing market boutique. Few will be able to shop there.

Boutique affordability is a natural outcome of a concerted housing industry campaign to devalue the term ‘affordable.’

Background

In the most general sense, the use of the term affordable, if not valueless, is ‘personalized.’

A billionaire will find a multi-million dollar mansion affordable only if that particular person can scrape together enough from liquid assets, or via loans, to purchase the property.

At the other end of the scale, a homeless person clutching a housing voucher which no landlord accepts will find nothing affordable.

This general and personalized concept of affordability has aided in the breakdown of long-standing definitions of ‘affordable’ as a reasonable benchmark of housing poverty.

Still existing in a Tower of Babel babble of what is or is not affordability, ‘true’ affordable housing has traditionally been benchmarked as a percentage of gross income spent on housing, whether rent or mortgage payments.

Once upon a time the traditional upper threshold was low as 25% of income. More common today is 30%, creeping upwards to 35%, even to 50% where responsible jurisdictions find it easier to move the goalposts than actually address a local problem of having too little ‘true’ affordable housing.

This traditional definition of affordability now hangs by its fingernails onto the term ‘true,’ as in ‘true’ affordability.

Boutique Affordability

The value of a boutique affordability definition is its ability to attract sales and particularly subsidies of one kind or another.

Thus ‘surprisingly affordable’ is a boutique definition of affordability aimed at middle to upper middle classes. It describes a collection of dog whistles for luxury (e.g. marble kitchen counters, three-car garages) in order to convince potential buyers that they are buying a luxury mansion, not a rabbit warren of flimsy wallboard and studs that will be showing its age in ten years or less.1

Also, the successful invention of a needy ‘workforce’ (one that doesn’t include workers who earn the lowest incomes) has led to an explosion of affordability measures and definitions that offer the middle class ‘workforce’ various slices of affordability, many of which now attract government subsidy.

Boutique affordability is often based on successful subsidization of one or more of these myriad ‘affordability’ definitions, such as ‘60% to 80% of mean housing cost for region X.’

Common telltales mark subsidy-based boutique affordabilities. Examples? They may be only available through lottery — a response to a subsidizer demand for ‘fairness.’ Boutique affordabilities invariably have upper and lower income limits — applicants must certainly be poor enough to qualify for subsidized housing, but they must be rich enough as well.

For a classic example of boutique affordability, read more in Patch: New ‘Affordable’ Bed-Stuy Housing Lottery Only For $74K And Up

What Is ‘Trickle Up’ Housing Affordability?

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Faucet photo by nekidtroll is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Given it’s name, ‘Trickle Up’ affordability would suggest the defiance of gravity. That’s always a risk when using physical world metaphors for the financial workings of such as a housing market.

‘Trickle Down’ First

‘Trickle down’ housing affordability has a much more pleasing relationship with gravity. Too bad it doesn’t work particularly well, or at least, work in ways which good old Adam Smith (Law Of Supply And Demand, Economics 101, Free Market thinking, etc.) thought it would.

In that free market dreamworld, housing would age gently and gracefully. Originally new and shiny, now slightly shopworn and shabbified, housing would slowly decline in market value, becoming more affordable to rent or buy as its initial pricing slowly ‘trickles down’ to the benefit of lower income citizens who could not afford the new, shiny stuff.

Well, lower income citizens and their families can’t afford modern new builds, even when public incentives are offered in exchange for what has turned out to be shoddy glamour.1

But they can’t afford older housing either. It turns out that yesterday’s better-built housing, refurbished or not, is often more spacious and gracious as well. It may not fall in price after all as time wears on. Indeed, after refurbishing, it may well become more expensive than it ever was.

So much for trickle down.

Trickle Up: How Does it Work?

First, government spends its money as efficiently as possible by building (several ways) ‘true’ affordable housing for those with the lowest incomes and no incomes. That they need to build the housing to last goes without saying, as does the need to hold that housing indefinitely away from the free housing market.

Reasonably affordable housing now becomes available as the low/no income citizens move into the ‘true’ affordable housing. Remember, those low/no income citizens were previously living somewhere they really couldn’t afford (with the exception of the homeless — an important exception which needs addressing, to be sure).

That vacated, barely affordable, housing is in turn occupied by lower middle class renter/buyers who finally see homes they can actually afford compared to those they are currently living in. In turn, this exodus of lower-middle class renters/buyers presents an opportunity for middle-middle class households to move in, and spend less on housing than they had been previously. And so on.

Trickle up.

Incredibly, ‘trickle up’ theory does not depend on fighting the free market by some means of force-lowering housing prices across the board. It utilizes existing lower price housing that becomes available as housing is vacated.

Taken to a logical (if irrational) extreme, one day a cash-strapped billionaire might find himself living in a home trickled up from a minimum wage coffee barista.

Unlikely? Perhaps. But any more unlikely that the billionaire’s multi-million dollar condo will trickle down to one day be inhabited by a lucky barista?

See more in Shelterforce: Why Voters Haven’t Been Buying the Case for Building

NYCHA Needs 6 Billion, Asks 2 Billion, Gets Nothing New From NY State

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New York State Capitol photo by Craig Fildes is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The NY State Legislature keeps its own house shipshape. Not so much the state's public housing.

When governments mortgage the future to pay for the present, sooner or later the bill comes due. It arrived last year for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) which manages a major chunk of public housing that still survives in the US.

The repair bill keeps changing. These days it’s hovering around $40 billion to repair/refurbish aging NYCHA housing stock — a major bulwark in the city’s struggle against homelessness and unaffordable housing, as detailed in the City’s recent report: Our Homelessness Crisis: The Case For Change

New York State responded as it has for decades: “Don’t look to us. We’re already carrying our share of the load.” Activists are far from amused. Read more in the QUEENS Daily Eagle: Tenants’ Rights Groups Urge State To Invest In Public Housing At Albany Rally

Public Housing Revisited: Just Who Was Disrespecting Who?

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Halifax, NS photo by Kaya is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Halifax, NS: does older housing + low income = bad tenants. Where does the landlord fit?

How do you rationalize a responsible management position that impacts human lives and health when, thanks to an inadequate budget, you can’t do your job either effectively or humanely?

If, like much of the rest of the world, you need the work to support your family, you may be forced to approach a job in a way you can live with yourself. Even when that job appears to others to be creating or supporting human misery.

Is this how America arrived at its both racist and classist belief that low/no income public housing residents were/are moral degenerates with some kind of inherited depravity gene? The other option for public housing managers would be to point the finger at bosses who, for one reason or another, would or could not provide adequate management funding. Probably a career-limiting move!

Leave aside the possibility that public housing in America actually failed for reasons with little or no link to the innate quality of its tenants,1 are low income tenants genetically unable to help themselves from wrecking public housing?

Well, it is possible to actually test out the convenient ‘blame the tenants’ theory in private market housing.

How? In the era of housing vouchers, those same tenants receive income supplements to be able to afford otherwise unaffordable housing. Needless to say the value of the vouchers is suitably underwhelming, so low/no income voucher holders (such as unpensioned seniors who have lost a gene or two in a fit of forgetfulness) tend to gravitate to the least expensive housing.

So what future for a manager looking at the lower-rent private market as a place to ply the ancient trade of landlording? Will tenant depravity make the job both an emotional and economic disaster?

In Halifax Nova Scotia, one manager was prepared to consider the possibility that the management practices might be the culprit for poor tenant behaviour, rather than the other way around. Being his own boss, he was not afraid to point the finger at himself.

The results so far? Read more at Global News: Halifax Property Company Trying To Rethink Affordable Housing

Can Housing Markets Co-exist? 10-Pin For ‘Haves’, Gutterball For ‘Have-Nots’?

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P1060571 photo by Mike Linksvayer is licensed under CC ZERO 1.0
Housing sport, just not played in the fast lane . . .

In that Great Big ‘Bowling For Dollars’ Industry that develops and builds housing, it’s all just millions of happy families served by an unregulated industry that will build more and more until it undermines the profit from its own product and prices fall to the point where even the lowliest can afford housing.

Not everyone sees it quite this way. At least one recent UK study pointed out that housing supply currently matches or exceeds the total number of households.1 No one is holding their breath that prices will fall. And the industry still has its hand out looking for ‘incentives’ to build more.

In America, some studies suggest that housing starts are falling well behind the number of households that need shelter. There, deregulation will supposedly allow the housing industry to build more than is needed, causing house prices to conveniently collapse.

But suppose there is not really one big housing market, but two (or even more, but let’s not confuse ourselves).

A study has recently been completed by the Salvation Army, which examined housing in New Zealand. Their report comes to the conclusion that the housing industry will quite happily build housing for one market,2 while a second housing market leaves lower income renters floundering and badly in need of significant social housing support.

Read more in NZ/ADVISOR: Organisation Calls For ‘Ambitious’ Social Housing Building Programme

Affordable Housing Christmas In The Long Shadow of Scrooge

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mistletoed photo by Tom Clifton is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Parasitic mistletoe slowly throttles an oak tree to death. Beware the loving embrace of HUD.

Communities across the US are crowding towards the mistletoe for a chilly smooch with uncle HUD,1 celebrating the late Christmas for public housing in America (prezzies coming to all and sundry in March or April).

Meanwhile others are not in quite the same celebratory mood.

HUD-touted public private partnerships (PPPs) have proven completely inadequate for producing much needed truly affordable housing. And the ongoing, probably inevitable, failure of PPPs to provide that truly affordable housing has emphasized the importance of the nation’s rag-tag, much-neglected stock of deteriorating public housing.

Currently, while HUD is handing out repair and refurbishment billions in a belated Christmas, its overall policy towards public housing can best be described as ‘death by a thousand budget cuts.’

An airing of public housing woes in Washington D.C. features a community that might be expected to have an inside track on better treatment than others, close as it is to the corridors of federal power. But if DC’s public housing ‘advantages’ are anything to go by, heaven help the disadvantaged who are more remote from Washington.

Read more in The DC Line: At Hearing On The Future Of Public Housing In DC, More Questions Than Answers

Canada’s National Inquiry Of Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women

Walking With Our Sisters Shingwauk Auditorium 2014 photo by Archkris is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
The floor in this picture is covered with decorated vamps (moccasin tops) to remember 2,000 indigenous women who have been murdered or are missing. This exhibit was one of many calls to action for an national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.

The reports linked at the end of this post document the work of the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada. They are based on the accounts of survivors and family members of people who have been murdered or are missing. It also includes testimony from police forces, academics, reporters and politicians.

The reports generate a comprehensive picture of the circumstances that surround these individual occurrences. The reports document patterns and failures in systems that continue to persist. The recommendations cover a wide range of issues, along with steps to implement the changes that are needed.

Even though it was not a primary focus of the inquiry, the lack of affordable housing is a recurring issue throughout the reports. Testimony illustrates how housing contributed to the individual accounts of indigenous1 women, girls and gender diverse, non-binary people2 who have been murdered or are missing. This includes increased exposure to violence and abuse and increased personal risk, while at the same time removing community supports that help to avoid these dangers. The individual accounts underscore how a permanent supply of safe, secure and affordable housing could have made a big difference.

Why this report is important

To begin with, the fact that this is the work of a formal national inquiry signals the seriousness of the issue. The mandate of this inquiry included all levels of government. Its creation alone represents a significant achievement. This could be important to anyone who is working to bring an end to a longstanding and systemic issue.

The inquiry structure provided funding and set a timeline to look into the issue in depth. People were invited to engage in a legal process that was set up to expose failures in legal systems. They were reporting issues that had caused them, and continue to cause them, pain, grief and anger. The inquiry’s commissioners took specific steps to adapt its work to the mandate, within the limitations of the formal structure. This is documented in the report and a useful guide to future inquiries.

The report identifies how policies, programs and funding contribute to the conditions surrounding the individual tragedies that led to the Inquiry in the first place. Housing is one of those conditions. Housing should have provided safety and security, but it didn’t. The report provides evidence that housing is important, even though it is not a central focus in the final recommendations.

To assist readers, the executive summary is linked to sections of the full report. This is helpful for understanding issues in more depth.

The report draws attention to the relationships between people who were the subjects of the inquiry and the people who were there to help them, including family members, police, politicians, social workers etc. By doing this, it is able to draw attention to tragedy, but also to people and actions that were helpful. Those experiences form the basis of the recommendations. It is a useful model for other inquiries.

For more about this Inquiry, see National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls: Reclaiming Power And Place: The Final Report Of The National Inquiry Into Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women And Girls

Tiny Points Of Light Can’t Put Housing Humpty Dumpty Back Together, But…

before photo by hotzeplotz is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Reburbishing older structures is usually of no interest to 'Big Housing,' and more attractive to speciality contractors (expensive). But what about Charity?

The much-worshipped self-regultory mechanics of the Law of Supply and Demand are failing to deliver the affordable housing that free market nations need.

America announced its determination to pass the buck on this problem (along with many others) when President George H. W. Bush pushed responsibility for social programs away from the ideal of small government and onto the shoulders of ‘a thousand tiny points of light’— in other words onto charities.

Even though a nation’s housing problems may be far beyond the effective management of voluntary, charitable and non-profit enterprise, it’s important to celebrate just how wonderful it can be.

For a heartwarming tale of how a successful Columbus, Ohio grew out of a Sunday school class project, read more in The Republic: Home Sweet Homes: Thrive Alliance Housing Services Marks 30 Years Of Housing Help

Meanwhile, the struggle continues to determine just how government involvement must inevitably be necessary to provide shelter for growing numbers of citizens facing homelessness.

What Is Remunicipalization? What Has It Got To Do With Affordable Housing?

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catwalk photo by Fabian is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Berlin city government, once content to sell off its water management to private enterprise, has resumed ownership and management of its water treatment plant, pictured here.

If you’re interested in affordable housing, we’d like to ‘water’ down your experience for a few moments in service of one large word: remunicipalization. (You may need a sip of water just to swallow it!)

Remunicipalization has emerged as a term to describe returning privatized municipal services to public management. It initially focused on water management and reflected growing public concern, then action, to rescue clean water and waste water management — vital to healthy communities — from public private partnerships (PPPs) and other forms of government handoff to privatization.

The need for rescue has become evident in many countries. The supposed efficiencies of private enterprise have worked to generate profits for shareholders at the expense of safe water management for citizens.

Remunicipalization now casts a wider net. It is being used to describe the return of municipal energy resources such as electricity and gas supply to a safer harbour of public management.

Remunicipalization’ is anchored by ‘municipal,’ a village/town/city reference. Nevertheless, with different jurisdictions involving one or more levels of government in the delivery of services to citizens, the term is does not exclude the idea of removing services from private management and returning them to regions or states.

The remunicipalization concept is being widened to embrace other essential services that have fallen victim to the ‘small government’ ideal that private sector bureaucracies are effectively more efficient than public sector bureaucracies.

What has remunicipalization got to do with affordable housing?

Particularly influenced by ‘Thatcherite’ small government theories over the last three decades, municipal government responsibilities for housing that is affordable to low income households has been in many countries offloaded to the private sector. One way this has happened is through housing allowances1 that allow low income residents to access private market housing. As the cost of housing rises, so too are allowances and vouchers a continually rising expense to governments.

Alternatively, new affordable housing for low income citizens has been created by way of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). Day by day, affordable housing PPPs, while they are undoubtedly profitable for private enterprise, are proving completely inadequate when it comes to delivering meaningful quantities of sorely needed affordable housing.

We are certainly not yet facing a wholesale flight of affordable housing construction away from PPPs. However, there are certainly indications, particularly in the UK, that municipalities are fed up with the unfulfilling promise of PPPs and are remunicipalizing it — taking housing responsibilities back into public hands2.

Much detailed discussion around remunicipalization is taking place in the academic press rather than public media, so good explanations of purpose and progress are often locked behind academic press pay walls. Here’s one that’s not, from the Transnational InstituteHere To Stay: Water Remunicipalisation As A Global Trend

The University of Glasgow is hosting a Global Remunicipalization Project exploring current and future directions for the return of public services from private hands. A brief description of this project is available via COMMUNITY-WEALTH.org: The Global Remunicipalisation Project

‘Socialist’ An Insult Right Up There With ‘Yr Mother Wears Hockey Socks’

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Congresswoman Ilhan Omar Smiling photo by Paris Malone is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Democratic Socialist carrying a heavy burden. All of the failed history of socialism weighing on one shoulder, along with the failed history of capitalism on the other. Clearly leading us down to path towards one . . . or the other . . . or maybe both.

In America, aging red state populists are the last survivors of the good old Cold War days when anybody who was anybody checked daily for Reds under the beds.

In those days, ‘socialist’ was an insult with a sting, not the dusty province of a historian trying vainly to explain that all communities are ‘socialist’ by their very nature.

‘I’m a socialist? Well, thank you, I’m glad you’ve noticed.’ These days, among younger generations, it’s likely to be taken a compliment.

For those concerned about housing, this bodes well for a future in which the 1% are squeezed — if not until the pips squeak — then a least for a larger share of tax dollars, to help those who cannot afford to own mansions in Los Angeles. Read more about this in GeekWire: Seattle’s Socialist City Councilmember Introduces New ‘Amazon Tax’ To Raise $300M/Year For Affordable Public Housing

Even more hopeful, the detoxification of the word ‘social’ as a component of ‘socialist’ holds promise that one day soon America may embrace the idea of throwing out bad, old failed public housing, and replacing it with a massive amount of shiny new humanitarian social housing, that has, over the years, been so successful in Europe.

What? ‘public’ and ‘social’ mean the same thing? You didn’t hear it here . . .

Speaking The Unspeakable: New Public Housing In L.A.

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Leaving the Los Angeles Train Yard: Public Housing Community photo by Joe Wolf is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
William Mead Homes, still existing (and much needed) Los Angeles public housing.

America’s still-existing public housing buildings seem condemned to a role of geriatric zombies. True, their numbers have declined, as have their ghastly appetites, gorging on community flesh, burping out drug addicts and petty criminals, preying upon all that is good and wholesome in urban society.

Nevertheless, public housing buildings still cast the occasional dark shadow over city streets, stark reminders of failed affordable housing promise, their future buried deeply beneath their hellish past.

Most North Americans believe public housing does not deserve to be remembered fondly. And yet, occasional voices can be heard speaking well of the undead.

In Los Angeles, at the heart of America’s unaffordable housing and homelessness nightmare, pressing all the other buttons on the housing elevator is not appreciably slowing the descent into homelessness. And now, inevitably, there are gathering whispers — do it! Press the zombie button! Press public housing!

Read a smorgasbord of enthusiasm for alternate visions of pubic housing that might be freed from the shackles of a mismanaged past. In CURBED LOS ANGELES: Will LA Start Building Public Housing Again?

How UK Housing Assistance Creates Ugly, Dodgy Investments

new builds photo by Chris is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A recent article in The Guardian forms a basis for our headline. That article connects financial incentives for first time buyers to a plague of ugly, shoddy new build multi-unit housing in the United Kingdom. These homes, which are likely to be poor investments due to their slapdash construction, are a classic example of how successful private enterprise is a celebration of finding ways to deliver less for more.

Wise up, affordable housing hopefulites.

Read more in The Guardian: Why Are Britain’s New-Builds All So Ugly?

The PPP Era? Lost In Translation. Edinburgh Refocuses On Social Housing

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2010-11-04 13-43-15 United Kingdom Scotland Edinburgh HDR photo by Simisa is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Edinburgh, where the council is planning to build affordable housing, lots of it.

Bad news for that Thatcherite conservative, small government fever-dream of arranged housing marriages. Those are the ones in which a sturdy, competent private groom lifts the bridal veil to pucker his lips towards the fluttery, incompetent public heiress, her cheeks swollen with taxpayer cash.

Spit is exchanged.

After a suitable gestation, an explosion of necessary housing bursts into affordable life. After which everyone lives happily ever after, particularly those who inherit the fruits of this arranged marriage and are able to move into a desperately needed affordable home.

That was the dream. Alas, the fever has broken. Fluttery public entities such as city councils are sizing up the expected flood of housing offspring, only to discover a bare trickle is running down their leg.

Surely there is a better way of getting banged for their bucks?

And so, public brides are thinking back to a time when they were usefully independent. In the UK at least, it would seem that more and more city councils are tired of getting hitched to dodgy chancers, however much the national government loves them.

The City of Edinburgh, for example, needs large amounts of new council housing to replace sold-off stock, together with significant refurbishment of existing housing. Their latest plans suggest they are no longer in the mood to get hooked up in Public Private Partnerships in order to deliver truly affordable housing, whether new or refurbished, via endless profit-focused quarrels which produce only handfuls of homes at a time.

Read more in Scottish Construction Now: Edinburgh ‘Set To Approve’ £2.5Bn Affordable Housing Spend

In The UK, The West Midlands Combined Authority Redefines ‘Affordable Housing’

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Moors Lane layout photo by Rob Annable is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Plans for new housing in Birmingham, England, where the combined authority has approved a new definition of 'affordable' housing.

These days, the affordability of housing is defined in many places by the market value of the housing. For example, one range of housing cost, based on local markets, is deemed ‘somewhat affordable,’ another range of cost, perhaps ‘moderately affordable,’ and so on.

But housing prices are rising, both for rental and for purchase. Rents and mortgage payments climb higher. Unless local income increases to match these housing cost increases, the differing slices of ‘affordability’ as measured by housing cost climb away from the ability to pay for rent or mortgages.

Virtually everywhere, income is not rising to offset increases housing value. Currently, salaries are flat, or rising more slowly than housing costs.

One obvious solution is to measure affordability by what people have to spend on housing, not its market value.

Hats off then to the West Midlands Combined Authority in the UK, the first to define affordability based on local incomes, rather than market values. Read more in Property Wire: The West Midlands Redefines ‘Affordable Housing’

Truly Affordable: Time To Stop ‘Tinkering at the Housing Margins’

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Pre-Debate Sights in Des Moines photo by Phil Roeder is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Hope for the 99%? Poverty, low wages, housing, and climate change are making it off the street and into 2020 American election debate, at least on the Democratic side.

Two years ago, Homes For All published a report entitled Communities Over Commodities: People-Driven Alternatives to an Unjust Housing System. At the time American politics, particularly at the federal level, battled onward without much if any indication that a national housing crisis was even on the radar.

Over the last year, however, the situation has changed. In the seemingly endless run up to the 2020 elections, Democratic candidates of all stripes are signalling an awareness of the problem, as well as proposing willingness (if not solutions) to tackle there deepening housing crisis.

There is now some possibility that 2021 may be greeted by a new federal administration bent on building, rather than dismantling, a housing safety net for those in need of truly affordable housing. That in turn brings more immediate relevance to ‘people-driven’ alternatives in the study mentioned above.

Shelterforce has published a useful article summarizing the report’s four ways in which new affordable housing can be held away from the speculative housing investment market.

One notable absence in both the Shelterforce article and the Communities over Commodities Report itself is the possibility of social housing as a means of avoiding ‘tinkering at the margins’ of the housing crisis.

We sympathize completely with suspicions that governments ‘for and by the people’ are these days ‘for and by special interests,’ particularly business and investor interests. That has not always been the case, and it may well be that the immediate future could bring about the creation of needed large quantities of affordable housing ‘for the people’, just as they were created in the age of Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930’s.

Social/public housing, for all its well-known funding and management failures, might well be the most effect ‘non-tinkering framework for consideration when imagining the scaling up of ideas such as those summarized in the article from Shelterforce: Solutions To An Unjust Housing System

So You Think It’s Tough To Rent In Your City? What About . . . ?

Cheap rent photo by Kevin Dooley is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Cheap rent. East Jesus, California.

As cities cores become higher, denser, and more gentrified, the American dream is changing shape. What was once the lure of a single family home on a private lot is becoming the opportunity to own a stacked-box residence in a highrise managed by a consortium of neighbours who share common spaces and structures.

Why bother?

Rent instead, and somebody else can worry about consortium politics that surround endless ‘Mr. Fixit’ problems, which are features of home ownership and aging buildings.

People who don’t want the aggravation of ownership can now be found competing for rental housing, joined by a generation of young Americans whose limping incomes will tame the soaring cost of home ownership only in middle age. Or later.

Add these two groups to the forced flight from home ownership to rental that occurred following the mortgage market collapse in 2008. The result? Current city housing problems are as much crises of renting as they are crises of ownership.

A recent study compares the exploding cost of housing rental in major American cities, with some surprising results. Read more in Property Club: Which US Cities Saw The Highest Jumps In Rent From 2010 to 2020? Spoiler Alert: It’s Not New York Or San Francisco

Housing Author Talks Political Anger And ‘Triangle Of Resistance’ To Affordability

Officiele overdracht van de 50000ste na de oorlog in Overijssel gebouwde woning, Bestanddeelnr 910-8794 photo by nationaal archieff (Netherlands National Archives) is licensed under the public domain
Solving the housing crisis after WWII took concerted effort. Solving today's will too.

The focus of the article linked below is the United Kingdom. But the problems it explores are mirrored in nations experiencing a housing crisis that national and regional governments would often rather not recognize.

Liam Halligan, author of Home Truths, a recent book on the United Kingdom’s housing crisis describes the roots of the problem as well as its current scope, debunking ideas such as ‘Britain has run out of room for housing.’

Halligan discusses a reluctance by governments to deal with the problem, which has lasted half a lifetime for many young people and is stoking a massive reservoir of national anger.

What’s preventing governments, local and national from accepting the problem and tackling its solution? Halligan identifies three powerful forces that conspire against change.

These forces are holding the UK back from even officially recognizing the problem, never mind acting towards a solution. The trouble is undoubtedly nation-specific, right?

Nope. If you’ve got a housing crisis brewing in you country, they’ll be the same ones that hamstring your government, too.

Read more in Spiked: ‘The Housing Crisis Is Storing Up Huge Political Anger’

NZ Study Probes Political Pratfalls At ‘Housing Crisis’ Hurdles

Centerfold Stripper Midgets Chickens 15 2010 Shankbone photo by David Shankbone is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Insanely off-topic . . . or is it? Illustrating what no other publication is apparently foolish enough to show: Chicken Littles. A troupe of little people in chicken suits flocked to McDonald's in Times Square brandishing signs declaring, "I Am Not a Nugget!" The diminutive dancers from Centerfold Strips—which bills itself as the number one source for midget and dwarf strippers—made their entrance in a pink stretch Mini Cooper and pounded the pavement in a choreographed musical protest against McDonald's outdated and unkind slaughter practices.

A ‘housing crisis’ implies that some kind of problem exists. Exactly what is that problem? The answer to this fundamental question shapes how people think about it, how politicians talk about it, and what ultimately is done about it.

Consider the crisis that inspired Chicken Little to blab so-called nonsense to the entire barnyard. “The Sky is Falling!” has become an English-language metaphor for “Relax! Nothing Really Bad Is Happening!”

But atmospheric sciences now describe the importance of what’s been happening to the ozone layer up there in the sky, linking our understanding to all the real and imagined disasters of climate change. So Chicken Little’s interpretation of a ‘sky problem’ was not far off the mark after all. God-like readers of the Chicken Little story, of course, ‘know’ that the sky is not falling and that Chicken Little is wrong.

But when it comes to thinking about potentially real crises, like the housing crisis, we are not god-like, and share our uncertainty with all the other barnyard animals. How a crisis is interpreted, managed, and acted upon should be intimately important to us.

A team of New Zealand researchers has traced the possible roots of a ‘housing crisis’ through to political expressions of the problem, and in turn tackles the issue why ‘mover and shaker’ politicians seem to do so little moving and shaking to address the problem.

Read more on a subject worthy of consideration in any jurisdiction in the world facing a ‘housing crisis,’ in Architecture & Design: Housing Crisis? What Crisis? How Politicians Talk About Housing And Why It Matters

Laws Against Housing Segregation? Not Anymore, If HUD Gets Its Way

Robert Weaver Building - Dept of Housing and Urban Development - 2012-12-18 photo by Tim Evanson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The buck passes here?

Some decades ago, The U.S. federal government outlawed overt segregation. The Veteran’s Affairs directive that forbade government housing assistance to returning black WWII veterans is one example.1

Instead, the feds busied themselves by passing well meaning, but only partially effective anti-segregation measures such as the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

When it comes to housing segregation, it seems that America is about to enter a new era of overt action. With ‘more free market housing’ currently the housing industry battle-cry, HUD is supporting the questionable conviction that building free market housing will trickle down (one day) into affordability that in turn will solve national unaffordable housing crises.

HUD is looking to take a serious supporting role by eliminating ‘expensive, unnecessary rules and regulations that drive up the cost of housing’. So, out goes the anti-segregation law baby with the ‘unnecessary rules’ bathwater.

Read more at Shelterforce:  HUD Secretary Asks America To Accept Housing Segregation

Evidence Public Housing Can Be Done Better, The Next Time Around

Good Riddance to Bad Housing! 11 photo by Stephen Robinson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Thanks to shoddy construction, modern public housing has lasted a few decades at best. Room for improvement? A German project has managed to hang on a few years longer.

This post features a ‘good news’ public housing story. It comes from Germany. We’ll admit it right up front, part of the story is a little stale. It’s about a project started some while ago. It is celebrating an anniversary. Sure, most readers would be willing to accept the inauguration of project that began three years ago in 2017. But how about one a little older . . . okay, a whole century older, which began in 1917? Stretching it, would readers consider an event beginning in say, 1817?? 1717??? 1617????

So we’ll come right out an admit it, this is a good news public housing story which began in 1517 and was completed in 1520. Happy 500th Birthday Fuggerei, Augsberg, Germany!

Fuggerei photo by Fran Castiñeira is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

This is a view of Fuggerei, in Augsberg, Germany — which is arguably the world’s oldest social housing project.

It is still going strong. Rent, which is currently pegged at less than one euro a year, continues at 1520 levels.

It’s critical to hold truly affordable public housing away from the free market. Fuggerei provides proof that it can be done, not just for decades, but for centuries.

In North America, tenants have been blamed for the failures of public housing. Rather than bad planning, lack of funding and poor management, it is the residents who have been judged to be irredeemably degenerate.

From Fuggerei, evidence that there is another reality: Mozart’s grandfather was a tenant. The world has prospered mightily from his degenerate genes! Read more about Fuggerei in Atlas Obscura: Fuggerei

Preventing Homelessness Takes More Than Imagination

Canal side housing photo by Ben Salter is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Housing in Wales. Despite legislation to prevent homelessness, people leaving prison are more likely to be camping by the canal than moving to housing.

In the article linked below, researchers in Wales report about how strategies to prevent homelessness can be undermined, rendering them imaginary.

Iolo Madoc-Jones and colleagues wanted to investigate the effects of new legislation that requires a prevention approach to housing and homelessness programs. They interviewed housing workers who were charged with assisting people leaving prison to move to permanent housing.

In the interviews, housing workers discuss how their daily work of preventing homelessness compares with the legislation that frames their work. The legislation describes a coordinated system to support people who are leaving prisons to settle in permanent housing. In practice, the housing support work is limited, partly by a lack of housing opportunities for prospective tenants.

The authors also wanted to investigate the idea that housing workers were using their discretion to effectively block prison leavers from accessing housing. The researchers used taped and transcribed interviews, where workers describe their work in their own words, rather than using questionnaires and survey forms, to gather data. The authors found no evidence that housing workers were using discretion to limit access to housing for their clients.

Madoc-Jones and colleagues present evidence that the prevention workers are fully aware of the difficulties of implementing homelessness prevention without housing. The housing workers identify that the lack of housing options for their clients makes prevention theoretical (imaginary). The researchers also relate how housing workers explain homelessness prevention in terms of individual client responsibility and assessment of risk for a host of negative outcomes, including self harm, harm to others, and re-offending.

The authors argue that a program philosophy based on the right to housing, along with more affordable housing, is needed to shift prevention from being imaginary to being real.

Why is this article important?

This article explains why calling something a prevention approach is imaginary, unless there are solid resources to address the gaps in the current system. It helps to understand the harm that people who are leaving prison systems face and why a sufficient supply of affordable tenancies is important.

Although it focusses on people leaving prison, this article also sheds light on why and how a rights based approach to implement a homelessness prevention agenda will help all people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

For more on this interesting article and related research see: Imaginary Homelessness Prevention With Prison Leavers In Wales

In A City Wilderness, Can A Business Build An Oasis For Its Employees?

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Toronto photo by abdallahh is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Report entreats employers like Ryerson University and Canadian Tire to pitch in to the effort to build more affordable housing in Toronto.

After studying a problem, most governments attempt an organized response that includes a timetable for implementing different phases of the solution.

All very well, but where does that leave a homeless person for whom no housing will be available until phase two of a ten year plan — still five or more years away?

Where does it leave a a new immigrant family where family wage earners are offered minimum wage jobs? What’s the problem? None of the housing nearby is affordable and there’s a waiting list for publicly funded housing vouchers.

Where does it leave an employer looking at a city that offers tax incentives to attract a new business which, for all its looking simply cannot find employees nearby? Or an established business that can’t find replacements for departing staff?

Marshalling its limited resources, a city government can’t be expected to plan for each individual citizen, each individual business.

So what happens instead? A new report from two agencies, the Toronto Board of Trade and the charity WoodGreen, explores some alternatives for the city of Toronto, which is pegged unenviably high among the world’s unaffordable cities.

For individuals, whether marginally housed or homeless, the options are limited. At best, a low wage earner can leave town, and find employment and affordable housing for their family elsewhere. This is of absolutely no benefit to Toronto, or its businesses.

The new report however, raises an issue that may need much more attention in a deepening housing crisis: businesses taking on housing responsibilities for their employees.

We’ve broached this subject several times over the last year an a half as it relates to industries that struggle to attract minimum wage employees (seasonal hospitality)1 and middle class employees priced out of the housing market (teachers).2

It’s encouraging to see a report out of Toronto that lifts the idea that housing is a responsibility of employers to employees. It may be unusual idea for a big city, but this employer-employees relationship is recognized as more than just valuable. Indeed it is absolutely essential in wilderness-situated resource extraction industries, and has been for centuries.

It’s worth considering that in some ways, cities like Toronto are a new kind of ‘wilderness’ for employers and employees alike.

Read more in Toronto Storeys: Employers Could Be the Solution to Fixing Toronto’s Housing Crisis: Report

A 12-Step Program For Woke Housing-Crisis Nations, Courtesy Of Ireland

Athy-street photo by jaqian is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Housing estate homes in Athy, Ireland.

Much of the world, if not all, is addicted to housing, even to the point of declaring it a human right. It seems to be part the natural human condition — living in shelter — for nearly all citizens of nearly all nations.

One view of this natural human condition is that it is largely the responsibility of individuals, not governments, which must necessarily be preoccupied with more important issues, such as holding elections, defending borders, or fixing potholes in local county roads.

Another view is that, at this particular time at least, housing is being influenced by global economic conditions that operate on a far grander scale than can be influenced by individual citizens. This view deems it necessary for nations to wake up and take steps on behalf of those who, at an individual level, are facing growing and insurmountable housing crises without the ability or resources to do anything about them.

Many media outlets have decided that nations must take responsibility for housing crises. National governments tend to be less certain that there is even a crisis. Or they claim that they are managing their housing responsibilities quite admirably. And then there’s “the other dude does it” excuse — that it is a regional or local problem, not a national one.

A recent series of articles in the Irish Times have explored initiatives that the Irish government might take to fix a housing crisis which is “arguably” a national responsibility.

These articles have been rolled up in a summary of 12 steps to help fix a nation’s affordable housing crisis.

Can other nations benefit from this? Many of the factors discussed reflect the behaviour and idiosyncrasies of more or less free markets operating in most democratic societies. The solutions proposed may well resonate in many other countries.

Read more in The Media Times: Housing Is Ireland’s Biggest Economic And Social Emergency. Can We Fix It?

King County, Washington Faces Up To The Real Cost Of Truly Affordable Housing

One Billion Dollars photo by Matt Brown is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Two years ago, the consulting firm McKinsey & Company delivered a controversial report to King County, Washington. It called for spending a quarter of a billion dollars a year for ten years to address the region’s affordability crisis.

In 2020, McKinsey is back in the news with an updated report that prices the plan at one billion dollars annually.

The reason for the update? McKinsey’s revised plan goes beyond the cost to maintain the current level of homelessness in the region.

They evaluated what it would cost to build housing not just to maintain current levels of homelessness, but to prevent homelessness from happening in the future. They looked at the deepening crisis for those at risk of becoming homeless, and calculated the cost of preventing this homelessness by building housing that was affordable.

The number of houses needed is quite staggering.

A nod to McKinsey, which did not charge for either study in the spirit of tackling King Country’s housing crisis.

An even bigger nod to King County for uncovering the true extent of low income housing need, rather than the more popular fudge intermingled with all kinds of middle class ‘affordability’ definitions, supported by self-congratulatory explanations that trumpet how public private partnerships will solve the problem.

More such hard-nosed reality reports from other regions are needed that identify the scope of a national problem. That’s because no funding scheme, whether city, county, state, or federal, currently offers a way of tackling such a huge affordable housing backlog.

Tax Credit schemes, tax relief schemes and other free market incentives (there are many) all attach handfuls of truly affordable housing to large market rate and middle class housing projects, all of them at the mercy of private enterprise interests. No interest? No build. And if built, completely inadequate numbers of truly affordable homes.

As for woefully underfunded housing voucher schemes (e.g. Housing Choice a.k.a. Section 8), they ultimately spend tax dollars propping up the free market, not building housing.1

Bottom line: it may well be that King County, and other jurisdictions, can build large numbers of long-term affordable housing through a scheme that has demonstrated its ability — public housing. The success of public housing in many other countries suggests that history could repeat itself effectively in the US, if only governments would put their mind to building and managing it for the long term.

Read more about King County’s recent report in the Seattle Times: Make That $1B: New Report Ups The Price To Fix King County’s Affordable-Housing Crisis

Developer Wit Dream: Save The Planet By Killing Zoning. Good Joke!

No Bully Zone photo by Lorie Shaull is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
An appropriate sign for neighbourhoods battling over zoning? Except, who exactly are the bullies? NIMBY neighbours or government and industry dreambusters?

Zoning laws were developed to prevent anybody, including builders, from building just anything anywhere. Reasonable enough to prevent housing next to health-endangering industry, and to build buildings to basic standards of safety.

Today’s zoning and other safety regulations are not enough to prevent disasters such as the Grenville Tower fire in the UK, where deliberate collaboration of builders and governments cut costs by ignoring regulations.1

While the housing industry lobbies for more self-control and less government interference in such matters, public opinion seems to be firmly convinced of the need for such health and safety zoning.

But what about zoning to allow citizens to pursue a national housing dream of home ownership of a single family house on a single lot in a community of others who have fulfilled the dream?

Once considered an admirable objective, citizens who have achieved it are increasingly finding themselves vilified for selfishness as they live out their dream. ‘Move over, make room for others in the name of affordable housing’ is the cry.

The housing industry has become outspoken in its support for zoning changes, which would allow it to build denser housing. But an industry, which is dominated by free enterprise profit-making entities, is undoubtedly going to resist any restrictions on building luxury housing via the relaxed regulations.

Will zoning changes only give the housing industry more opportunities to build preferred luxury housing? Or will it provide significant quantities affordable housing to help solve local housing crises? Read more in CURBED:  Will Upzoning Neighborhoods Make Homes More Affordable?

When NIMBY Battlements Fall, Unseemly Victors Gorge On Plunder

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Gowanus (8697294588) photo by The All-Nite Images is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Gowanus, New York, where a new affordable housing development may (not) go ahead.

Unseemly? Unseemliness?

Unseemliness describes a maniacal gobble-fest between competitors for profits. In this terminology, the behaviour of a flock of seagulls fighting over a spilled bag of chips is . . . unseemly.

The world of Public Private Partnerships has become the playing field for profit gobble-fests as governments and developers are roped together by political policy into head-banging competition.

And who are among these unseemly victors at a neighbourhood gobble? Why governments themselves, of course!

And governments, it seems, just cannot control their unseemly behaviour. Joined by flocks of citizen-enablers and co-competitors of many feathered markings (charities, non-profits, neighbourhood associations, etc), they are hellbent on wringing every tiny copper coin from the pockets of well-meaning developers who arrive to rebuild each ravaged neighbourhood, quite prepared to bravely sacrifice most if not all profit for the good of society.

Another view of public-private partnerships is of the private fox sauntering through the henhouse door, salivating and rubbing its paws as it eyes up its plump, feathered public prey. It comes as something of a shock to discover that the fox is itself in greatest danger of being pecked to death by the hens. Unseemly, indeed!

A recent article is a particularly course-correcting read for governments and non-profits who imagine themselves as the underdogs in these confrontations, not the profit-gobbling aggressors. Read the dramatic saga of sharp-billed governments as well as non-profits (the seagulls) pecking at the soft underbellies of hopeful yet gullible developers (the potato chips) in E21: When Expensive Cities Rezone, An Unseemly Fight For The Spoils Ensues

Hong Kong Style Micro Home Living Already Alive and Well in America

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USS Constellation (1854) Hammocks below the gun deck photo by Richard N Horne is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
U.S.S. Constellation hammocks: a possible future 'affordable' basement sleeping arrangement, working from current SF free market sleeping pods. There were 200 very affordable hammocks on this deck, shared by 400 seamen, complete with natural light from above.

Imagine a railway sleeper car with its upper and lower bunks set up nightly, complete with privacy curtains and a ladder to the top bunk. If you’ve had the experience of lying awake in a railway bunk on a summer evening and watching North America rush by your bedroom window, then you’re lucky enough to have a memory of it, not just a fantasy.

Now paint the windows black and bury the railway car two floors underground.

Why?

It’s to provide an introduction to a possible future of North American housing, one that has already arrived. An article linked below describes a housing proposal for micro ‘homes’ deep in the basement of a pair of San Francisco highrises. The only novelty is the basement location. Otherwise similar projects have already been built.

Supposedly compliant with existing zoning, each mattress-in-a-box will rent at $1,000 to $1,375 per month.

Something seems drastically wrong here. Hong Kong, famous for its micro housing, is an entire city constrained by a tiny footprint. But what creates this strange compulsion in America, still rich with unlimited space, to live in a city so incredibly desirable that people are willing to cram their lives in a space smaller than a jail cell?

And this is free market housing! This is a ‘lifestyle choice’, not assigned by a totalitarian state.

If this is a free market personal choice, still unaffordable for low income individuals and absolutely impossible for a family, then what is the future of affordable housing? How can this micro future be further downsized? Has the future of San Francisco’s affordable sleeping pods already arrived, too — tents on a sidewalk?

Read more at BUSINESS INSIDER: Inside the $1,000 underground ‘sleeping pods’ that a developer wants to build in San Francisco’s super crowded housing market

Bad Housing = Bad Health

Rental costs photo by Bellowhead678 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Rental housing unaffordability grows in England and London: a factor in tenant health.

i, an on line journal based in the England, has just published an opinion piece that takes aim at health issues in the private rental housing sector in the UK. Vicky Spratt, i‘s housing correspondent, relates individual cases and studies that connect housing affordability, safety and quality with health.

The article also reports about health practitioners who are taking steps to improve their patients’ health by prescribing home repairs. Read more on this subject in i: The Housing Crisis Is A Public Health Crisis – Renting Is Making People Sick

Moab Prof Proves It Can Be Done — Energy Efficiency AND Affordability

Downtown Moab, Utah photo by Ken Lund is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Utilitarian Moab, Utah destined to be forever eclipsed by its surroundings.

Climate change is a new reality facing housing. But with heartfelt cries for housing affordability ringing in government ears everywhere, are costly climate-friendly houses forever to be at odds with affordability?

In America and elsewhere, the building industry cries uncle at the cost of land, and also the cost of materials and labour to construct a house. One solution to the problem that the housing industry is grudgingly prepared to offer — corner-cutting construction techniques that can bring down the cost of affordable housing to some degree.

One common reality of ‘corner-cutting’ is shoddy construction, these days an increasing problem with new housing1. ‘Shoddy’ seems a natural adversary of the tightly engineered energy efficiency required if housing is built to support a push back against climate change.

It is.

But energy efficient housing can indeed co-exist with affordability. And Aaron Thompson, a Utah State University instructor, has proved it by building a $100,000 (cost) house to the highest international standards of energy efficiency.

Read in some detail what an energy efficient house requires and how Thompson accomplished the task affordably in The Times-Independent: Local Man Builds New Standard In Moab For Energy-Efficient, Affordable Housing

Dallas Provides A Megacity View From The ‘Burbs: Past, Present And Future

Invincible highway photo by Peter Muoki is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Dallas TX highways: expensive relics, or

A report from Dallas Texas enumerates some of the pros, cons, and one-day-hopeful pros again in a city that is a giant festival of sprawl.

The report focuses on the impact of travel costs on affordability of life in the city, and its less than obvious impact on the cost of housing. The looming spectre of climate change plays no part in this discussion, which examines how Dallas citizens, in search of the both the luxury and the current necessity of the car culture, have created the fifth least affordable major city in the United States.

With this enlightening report about the once-and-future of suburban living, readers must bring their own climate change optimism to the table — imagining that investments in clean transport, both personal and mass, will continue to offer a future that takes advantage of America’s wide open spaces.

Read more in the Dallas Observer: New Report: DFW Is Less Affordable Than NYC. Why? Blame Car Culture.

Dallas Highrise Residential Parking: An Affordable Housing Burden?

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Yellow holders photo by Vincent WR is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Empty underground parking: making housing less affordable?

At affordablehousingaction.org we’ve not been overly impressed by the blanket condemnation of zoning bylaws by the housing industry. NIMBY neighbourhood attitudes, perfectly understandable, have become a convenient ‘fall guy’ for all the affordable housing that isn’t getting built.

Local bylaws are put in place to protect neighbourhoods from all kinds of indiscriminate changes to permitted construction or to the modification of existing structures. As far as we’re concerned those laws were put in place for a reason, and the blanket calls to simply reduce government oversight in neighbourhoods smack of letting the fox into the henhouse without a leash.

However, it’s both important and necessary to change by-laws that may be outdated. And where developers can make a case and are willing to provide guarantees that newly permitted construction procedures will be implemented for appropriate reasons, well, fine.

The  changing relationship between citizens and their cars is one area that leaves citizens protected where they may no longer need or want to be. Zoning that once provided for highrise resident parking no longer necessarily satisfies the requirements of city, builders, renters, and condo owners alike.

Read more about how zoning changes to resident parking in Dallas, Texas could actually make their housing more affordable, always depending on just how builders take advantage (or not) of any zoning changes.

Read more in D MAGAZINE: An Overlooked Contributor to the Affordable Housing Crisis: Parking Requirements

Millions of Europeans Suffering Common Affordable Housing Crises

Sleeping, homeless children - Jacob Riis photo by Riis, Jacob A is licensed under the public domain
Although this picture was taken more than 100 years ago, homelessness among children persists.

The following article provides readers with an insight into the current state of national housing crises across Europe.

For largely unilingual North Americans, the article is a window into a lot of other nations’ housing problems. The universality of the conditions discussed in the article tends to undermine the sense of any one nation’s exceptionalism.

When it comes to affordable housing, North America is not uniquely different, uniquely blessed, uniquely impervious to other nation’s woes. There is something to be learned from Europe.

Here is a parade of nations with the same kinds of shelter problems, any or all of which may benefit from solutions that are useful to all.

The following article, written by Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, might frighten American readers fixated on the idea that a shelter is not guaranteed by the American Constitution and therefore cannot be considered as a human right. They should rest assured that though human rights are mentioned in the author’s job title, and in the title of the article, the ‘right to housing’ is not a feature of this extensive survey of national housing crises.

Read more in NEW EUROPE: The Right To Affordable Housing: Europe’s Neglected Duty

Watch Out, Politicians! The Housing Crisis Is Coming To Bite Your Ass!

OGrady-1-1024x725 photo by Author O5o7 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
House price index in Ireland.

During the 2016 American Federal Elections, we called Affordable Housing the ‘Elephant in the Room’.1 For all that it was clearly a growing crisis, the political class — both parties — simply weren’t talking about it. Presumably they believed that the American people weren’t interested in hearing about it either.

In the 2020 American elections, political attitudes have both significantly changed, and just as significantly, remained the same. The candidates for the Democratic nomination have taken note of the crisis. Most, if not all claim to take a constructive interest in the problem, their perspectives burnished with promises, should one or the other win the presidency.

On the Republican side: radio silence. Candidates at all levels are taking the lead from the Republican administration, which continues to disengage from the nation’s affordable housing crises as if they were battle fought and won, and now deserving little or no support by way of federal intervention.

The writing for politicians is on the wall, however.

The current phase of world wide affordable housing crises was triggered in 2008 with the collapse of a global house of cards built by the housing mortgage industry.

Governments fell because of this crisis. In Ireland, a decade ago, a changing of the guard put the nation’s economic future in new hands promising to tackle the recession that followed.

Those hands remained at the wheel as housing prices cratered, then slowly began to inch up again. And up. And up still more.

How far up is too far? Rental and home ownership prices are soaring beyond the reach of a new generation of home buyers and  renters.

The scarcity of affordable housing is a crisis the afflicts Ireland, but also other countries. And politicians, whether awake to the gathering storm or not, stand to pay a price.

Ireland may well be the bellwether of a coming social change storm. The business-as-usual promise of continued economic growth did not capture the hearts of voters in the most recent election, which returned a three-way tie, rather than one dominant party.

This promises a minority government and the shape of it is currently anybody’s guess.

Most startling of the Irish results is the rehabilitation of the Sinn Fein Party, once linked to Irish terrorism, but now leading a public surge of concern about social issues of housing and health.

Read more about the influence of housing leading up to the election in The Business Times: Irish Housing Crisis Derails Varadkar’s Re-Election Bid

As for implications of the election results, read more at NPR: 3 Big Takeaways From Sinn Fein’s Stunning Surge In Ireland

Looking For Affordability? Try Success. Go North, Young Dreamer

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Canada Pride photo by Aurélien Adoue is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Canada is only bluff big and bluff tough. By and not-so-large, it's a strip 100 miles wide along the US border. Snow? Pick your spot. Maybe more, maybe less than the good old U S of A.

Affordable can homes be realized from lower prices, but also higher income. Advice to young Americans once counselled to ‘Go West” to make their fortune? These days, you might be better off going north.

From CNN: The American Dream Is Much Easier To Achieve In Canada

Affordable Canada? Do Your Homework. Beware of ‘Some Measures’

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Fort McMurray 2010 photo by Gord McKenna is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Fort McMurray, AB in 2010. The world's most affordable city by some measures, in happier (if snowier) times before a devastating forest fire and tanking oil prices.

Who’da thunk it? Canada, according to ‘some measures,’ is home to the most affordable city in the world.

Aha! thinks this writer, as usual far too impatient to read the fine print. We’ve been dreaming of making a move to get more bang for the housing buck, living as our family does in the sixth most unaffordable city in the world, according to those same ‘some measures’. (BTW, not only does Canada brag sixth least affordable city (Toronto), but also second least affordable city in the world — Vancouver — by ‘some measures.’)

Imagine! Affordability-wise, the best as well as close-to-the-worst affordability all wrapped up in one polite, self-effacing, albeit largish country. Who’da thunk it?

So this writer was more than eager to get into the real estate listings for Fort McMurray, Alberta, in the heart of the Canadian oil sands district. The local economy there is suffering from low international oil prices as well as the evolution of fracking technology, which turns out to produce oil more cheaply than cooking it out of naturally occurring asphalt, not to mention an out of control fire that cut through the community in 2016.

Three bedroom purchase . . .  well maybe rental . . . well maybe two bedroom purchase . . . well maybe rental . . . wait a second! These prices aren’t that far off unaffordable Toronto’s!

So, with heavy heart we drag ourself back to ‘some measures,’ a.k.a. the fine print.

Of course! The studies that have produced this split-personality country of Canada compare median housing costs to median salary in that community. Lots of folks out of work in Canada’s oil patch these days, but the ones who are working earn big bucks!

So anyway, this low-income writer got all excited about the least expensive city in the world, only to discover he didn’t earn enough money to be able to afford the ‘bargains.’ Not by ‘some measures,’ anyway.

On to New Brunswick then, to explore the possibilities in a Canadian province not awash in high salaries that features the fourth and sixth most affordable housing in the world.

Or not?

Or maybe just ignore these greatest/least costly, affordable-type contests and just scan the adverts for cheap housing?

You know what they say: be careful what you wish for. That’s because statistics might well give it to you and you might not even notice. As for this writer, he’s having trouble cashing in his pair of budget airline tickets to Fort McMurray.

Read more in NARCITY: The Most Affordable Place In The World To Buy A House Is In Canada

Health Care Organizations Up Their Game In The Housing Business

Toledo, Ohio photo by Doug Kerr is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
What could health organizations in Toledo, Ohio, pictured here, possibly have in common with Baltimore, California, Columbus, Minnetonka, and Portland?

Here’s a resource for people who want to extend the impact of health care services. It’s a booklet that outlines best practices that have combined goals of providing housing and improving health outcomes. It also includes case studies from six different organizatinos in the United States. The organizations have experimented successfully with a variety of housing projects.

To download the whole report, see the Center for Active Design: Healthcare: A Cure For Housing

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.

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. 1

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.

Affordable Housing Insanity: In Jersey City, You Can Be Too Poor To Be Poor

Jersey City Skyline photo by drocpsu is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Jersey City, where regulations lead to ludicrous results.

Too rich to be poor? Now that’s a concept that’s easy to understand.

Too poor to be poor? In all the world, it’s apparently only possible in Jersey City, New Jersey, where it exists in violation of America’s national ‘redlining’ act, which prohibits discrimination based on income.

So just how does a person get to be ‘too poor to be poor?’ It’s a crazy product of affordability crisis management that is accidentally (or possibly cleverly) designed to exist on paper, but not fact.

That kind of management has become an element of public private partnerships (PPPs), which are designed to sidle at affordable housing construction, rather than approaching the problem directly.

PPPs are a feature of the last three decades, when governments have been banned or discouraged from directly building affordable housing due to their supposedly inbuilt incompetence matched up with decisions to curb government spending.

Free market-oriented private enterprise, by comparison, is deemed to be highly capable of building free market housing with one hand, while also whipping up a small desert of affordable housing with the other. (Whoops, we meant to say ‘dessert’ but the spell checker might have revealed the way it really is!)

With PPPs blessed as the solution, ‘small government’ entities sidle towards affordable housing, and jurisdictions at all levels looked to utilize this framework.

So when a city like Jersey City says, “over to you, PPP,” it may propose a building partnership in which the ‘public’ city contributes to the ‘private’ developer something ranging from permission to build at the least, through tax credits or free land, all the way up to cash dollars.

In the case of Jersey City, the quid pro quo for an ’80/20′ percent partnership is that one house in every five the PPP builds is to be ‘affordable.’

After that, it seems like Jersey City does not particularly care how the term ‘affordability’ is stretched and twisted like pizza dough.

One current result in Jersey City is an arcane but undoubtedly profitable way of thinking and acting that uses a suitably putty-like definition of ‘affordability’ to exclude a class of people ‘too poor to be poor.’

Not only that, sanity is stretched to require a means test on an annual basis, to make sure that PPP-project affordable housing residents have not indeed slipped from a class allowably rich enough to be poor, into a lower, undesirable class destined for eviction: those who have become too poor to be poor.

Read more about how this unthinkable nonsense can happen, together with questions about its legality at NJ.com: How Affordable Is Jersey City’s Affordable Housing?

Looking To Rent With Rental CV Handy? No? Everybody Else Has One!

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Old house, new antenna photo by Tony Wills is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Hoping to rent here in Wellington, New Zealand? Dust off your resume and it could be yours.

With renting a home becoming the flavour of reality (if not desirability) everywhere, it’s tough to stand out when would be renters flock and squawk around scarce opportunities, like seagulls around a lone potato chip.

In New Zealand, one hopeful couple hit upon the idea a rental CV,1 only to discover the rest of the circling flock were also clutching folders filled with glossy testimonials to themselves.

Renting is growing in popularity in many countries, with rental housing becoming correspondingly scarce. Got your rental CV ready?

Read more in Newshub:  Tenants Going To Extremes To Find Housing As Rental Prices Surge

A View Of Social Housing in Countries Where ‘Social’ Is Not Repugnant

Woningbouw - Housing Spaarndammerplantsoen (6142993705) photo by Het Nieuwe Instituut is licensed under no known restrictions on using this file
Social housing in Amsterdam, circa 1917. At the time, they were billed as 'palaces for workers'.

These days, not everyone in the world except Americans (the odd progressive aside), believe that social housing deserves to go belly up in a hand basket, or be otherwise eradicated in some other hellish prescription of permanent doom.

For an extensive and intriguing view of how other countries in the world view social housing, both figuratively and philosophically, view and read more in arch daily: Comparing Social Housing in Countries Around the World

Women Set Up Tent Community For Evicted Neighbours

A recent article reports on the actions of one woman in Oakland California who decided she had a moral duty to both her community and her neighbours who had been evicted. She cleared up a vacant lot in the neighbourhood and started a tent community, which has grown to 21 people.

This decidedly does not follow the proven model of Housing First, which, as implied by its name, places top priority on moving people off the streets and into housing.1 However, with 90 homeless encampments on Oakland’s books, it was pretty clear that finding housing is going to take some time.

The organizers (other housed neighbours have joined in) put special effort into creating and sustaining a safe and social community. They are joined in this by the residents and some go so far as to call it home.

In the absence of immediate housing solutions, Oakland council members are set to consider the tent community as a model to be replicated.

Why is this story important?

Why, you might ask, is a blog about affordable housing promoting a temporary tent community? Some ideas from this story could be helpful for community organizers and decision makers including

  • looking for an opportunity that fits the local conditions. A tent community isn’t the only action that can be taken.
  • taking on something that is manageable and can be sustained.
  • building on experience. The woman who initiated this project used her experience of being homeless to guide her planning.
  • viewing everyone as a contributor. The people who live in the tent community help to make it a success.

To learn more abut the special features of this tent community in Oakland, see in The Guardian: The Oakland Women Who Took Over A Vacant Lot To House The Homeless

This story also calls to mind Jesse Thistle’s work on homelessness in the aboriginal community. Thistle, a professor at York University in Toronto, developed a 12 point definition of aboriginal homelessness. His starting point was his own experience that homelessness didn’t end with housing. The definition he developed following extensive consultation in Canada and abroad.

This is not in any way intended to take away from the importance of physical housing. But when Housing First’s success is undermined by a lack of housing and that first step isn’t possible, Thistle’s work offers ideas toward supporting people who are homeless and will be for the forseeable future. 2

A Clean And Green Future For The 1% After The 99% Are Gone?

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Fælledparken 3 photo by Thue is licensed under the public domain
When there's only nature and the 1% left on earth, things will still be ducky.

It has been said quite recently that only the wealthy can afford to invest in climate change. The rest of the world is too busy trying stay alive. Or, in terms of affordable housing, too busy trying to find and/or keep a roof overhead.

So how will the 1% live after the rest of us 99% have failed to keep our noses above water, or our houses from burning down?

One vision comes from Denmark, artfully mingling a few cherished animal survivors into a wilderness flecked with occasional wooden luxury housing.

Any mention here of affordability? Of course not. It will no longer have any meaning on a planet inhabited only by cockroaches in the wild and the 1% of humanity in their nature-gated community zoos. These folks will undoubtedly always be able to afford whatever is left to afford.

Read more in arch daily: Henning Larsen to Design Copenhagen’s First All Timber Neighborhood

Myth-Busting: What Makes You Think Tiny Homes Will Be Affordable?

SalmonCreekCA3197 photo by Stepheng3 is licensed under the public domain
Homeowners throughout California (including Salmon Creek, pictured here), can add an accessory dwelling unit on their lot. The affordability of the new units is another story.

North America is a land of large housing lots. Not surprising therefore that their potential for doubling density causes affordable housing activists to pump their fists in the air for granny-flat power.

More and more administrations are allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs, as well as dozens of other local names) to be built on lots to co-exist with a principal residence.

It says something (not particularly complementary, though) that ADUs in California have recently created more new affordable housing than any other sector of the building industry.

There is, however, an assumption that because ADUs have practical size limitations (due to sharing space at the bottom of the garden with the rhubarb) that they will inevitably be tiny.

And tiny housing means . . . affordable housing!

Doesn’t it?

No.

A former California mayor is happy to share with you his stark assessment of the future of ADUs, based on the fact that nobody anywhere would seem to be interested in restricting their rental to the market rate.

Who will benefit from ADUs? Housing-burdened low income renters?

According to Larry Barnett, not likely. Read his extensive evaluation of the future of ADUs while making no secret of the greatest beneficiaries. He’s fingered them in the headline of an article in the Sonoma Valley Sun:  Accessory Dwelling Units, aka: ADUs, A Building Industry Dream Come True

Bureaucracy Loves The Pros Though They Won’t Fix Housing Affordability

Slide Rule photo by Dominic Alves is licensed under CC BY 2.0
A slide rule, widely used by engineers before the widespread use of computers. A local businessman in Limerick finds the rules slide too, depending on the developer.

Bureaucrats must sigh with relief when one of the half-dozen or so major homebuilders the United Kingdom walk through the door with a project proposal. The same sentiment is undoubtedly expressed in America, or Ireland.

The pros have arrived! With their years of knowledge and expertise, with the legal resources to get it right. Smooth sailing!

We’re not talking one-man-bands here, wet-behind-the ears wannabe builders with learner license plates strapped to their behinds and spouting a thousand and one questions that they should already know the answers to.

But smooth sailing for any of the many bureaucracies involved a housing project does not necessarily promise a rosy future for affordable housing. The interests of major builders are fixated on profit, not some mission to save a nation through their commitment to a human right to housing. Major homebuilders can be perfectly content making hefty returns on luxury housing without even dabbling in the affordable housing pond.

What future then for affordable housing ambitions which find themselves up against agencies contemptuous of no-experience upstarts and disinclined to bend over backwards to help out earnest learner-drivers?

Ambition and mission too much for his developer boots? Read the frustrated and frustrating story of one such affordable housing developer wannabe in the Limerick Leader: Limerick Builder Reveals Struggle To Build Homes In A Housing Crisis

Habitat for Humanity Middle Class Follies: None Too Impressive?

Wilmington, NC photo by Kaya is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Wilmington, North Carolina, where Habitat for Humanity struggles to fulfill its mission to provide homes for people with the lowest incomes.

Housing For Humanity: a world-beating affordable housing charity now approaching middle age, which is no longer able capable of keeping up with the changing times?

We certainly hope not. But there are worrisome signs.

During a discourse on gentrification in Wilmington, North Carolina, Steven Spain, executive Director of Cape Spear Habitat for Humanity, revealed some of the thinking that sees their organization pursuing building middle-class-focused mixed housing developments.

Oh yes, mixed developments these days can present themselves as ‘affordable,’ but that’s because the term ‘affordability’ has been re-defined to include large swaths of the middle class. Funding agencies have given this interpretation (misinterpretation?) credence by bending their assistance in this direction, supported by the evidence that ranks the social benefits of ‘mixed-class’ developments over the mundane physical one of simply having a roof overhead.

In truth, when all is said and done, mere handfuls of truly affordable housing — completely inadequate to . . . most? all? . . . municipal needs — are delivered by these mixed-class projects.

Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LITHC) are at the core of federal support for affordable housing. This program has two major long-term problems:

  • LITHC is temporary. Affordable units can revert to market rents after a period of time.
  • LITHC depends on private industry deciding it is in their interest to opt in. If developers see no opportunity for profit from a housing development, the tag-along truly affordable housing doesn’t get built, whether it is needed or not.

Why is Habitat, a charitable organization renowned for its housing service to the world’s most needy, supporting a funding model that serves developer pocketbooks far better than the people with very low incomes who need housing that is affordable?

Steven Spain’s answer: “I don’t want to see all the affordable housing go away.”

This echoes a recent article published recently about the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority’s housing program. Authority representatives frankly admit they are, and will continue to, demolish their public housing projects that provide housing for the most vulnerable. There is also resignation in Columbus that as a result, the city must respond to the federal funding imperative and take the little ‘affordable’ funding it can generate. Try: Driving 100 Years Down The Road With Low Income Housing Tax Credits

It’s easy to find reasons why a city becomes an enabler in a fatally flawed federal funding (4F) system, where support for the truly needy is eroding even as housing crises mushroom for households with the lowest incomes.

But Habitat? Surely this fabled housing charity should take a leadership role, rather than as a follower and enabler.

We can understand why a mature agency might look to survive by peddling its housing expertise, rather than its housing mission. But we hate to think that Habitat has reached the point of casting about to find ways to survive simply for survival’s sake.

Are there other roles Habitat could undertake instead of fellow-travelling with, and thereby giving credence to, a funding system that isn’t working?

Steve Spain touts improving the current Housing Choice (section 8) voucher program as important step forward.

Habitat could support that with a little change of focus to its mission. And do so with its head held high, by taking a leaf from a recent section 8 pilot project in Seattle.

The results showed that section 8 recipients encounter multiple barriers when trying to use their voucher and find housing. However, providing human support can dramatically improve the success of this program.

Staffing support programs costs money. Lots of room here for an agency with an incredible record of success in recruiting and retaining volunteers! Try: Seattle Does The Section 8 Two-Step: A Vastly Improved Housing Voucher Plan

For the views of one Habitat for Humanity executive director (Habitat is far from a monolithic organization), read more in PortCityDaily: Habitat For Humanity Talks Gentrification And Affordable Housing In Castle Street Area

Landlords Vs. Climate Change: How Will Renters Weather The Clash?

Bush Fire Reflection, Victoria, Australia (7040883045) photo by Rod Waddington is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Reflection of bush fire in Victoria, Australia. Experts say renters need protections from the smoke and heat from the fires as well as climate change.

Australia already appears to be suffering from the dramatic and devastating effects of climate change while being led, like America, by a government that refuses to see any sign of climate change.

Some people in Australia, however, are feeling it as well as seeing it, though well away from the wildfires.

Unlike homeowners who can rationalize the sticker shock of a more efficient cooling (or heating) unit, renters are at the mercy of landlords, many of whom pursue a policy of benign neglect when it comes to upgrading. Experts suggest that future regulations should force landlords to make their properties more energy efficient.

And indeed, a responsible landlord might well upgrade to more appropriate efficiency, then share the costs with his tenants.

But what about Landlords who refuse to upgrade, old and increasingly more costly systems and pass the responsibility on to their tenants. Those tenants are already facing either health risks, or an increasing burden of unaffordability by paying a penalty to power energy-gobbling cooling and heating systems.

Read more in Domain: Minimum Energy Standards Needed For Rental Properties Ahead Of Climate Crisis, Experts Warn

Could Reviled Public Housing Beat Current National Affordability Programs?

3 doors.. photo by lensnmatter is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Three doors, one for each of the US housing programs. Which one(s) to open wide(r)?

Useful articles on the subject of public housing have been a rarity in mainstream American publications. “Not in our lifetime,” has been a characterization of a date when the benefits of social a.k.a. public housing might one day be reconsidered.

And yet, as decades pass, the two key replacement programs meant to support America’s most vulnerable citizens have had ample time to demonstrate their superiority. Both have been abject failures.

The Housing Choice voucher program for lowest income renters, universally known as ‘section 8’, has been sabotaged from the start because landlords are not required to accept the vouchers. But even in the states that have mandated landlord cooperation, enforcement is lacking and illegal abuses are rife.

As for the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program (LIHTC), we will leave aside its tendency to line the pockets of investors at the expense of aiding low income citizens. Instead, we point to two profound flaws present in its design. LIHTC:

  • creates temporary affordable housing, not permanent affordable housing, because the affordability requirements expire, and
  • can’t deliver quantities of housing that are needed because it applies to a small subset of the much larger number of market rate units that a private developer decides to build.

Experts are quoted in the excellent article linked below on the future of social housing in America. They show a strong preference to believe that Housing Choice vouchers can be fixed, or LIHTC can be fixed. So, too, could the flaws of public housing be fixed. And yet all three programs have carried on and on without care or attention to their improvement. (Vestiges of social housing programs still exist.)

It’s perhaps time to reconsider Winston Churchill’s famous comment on democracy and apply it instead to public housing: “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

At any rate, public housing was once a mainstream program. It burst into the open again as a part of 2020 electioneering in the United States. Attacked as left-leaning progressive at best or subjected to America’s rote ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’ sneers at worst, it has at least brought the subject of social housing back to the national table.

For a historical perspective on public housing, and summary of current replacement programs seemingly as flawed as the original, read more in Curbed: Affordable Housing Is In Crisis. Is Public Housing The Solution?

America’s Governments: Social Housing Needs You!

American government: point that urgent finger at yourselves. Your citizens need YOU to recreate a public housing program!

Articles like the one linked below have been scarce to nonexistent in the American media over the last few decades. It is an intelligent presentation in a prominent national publication. And it makes the case that America can’t solve its affordable housing crises without public housing.

In America these days, unlike most everywhere else in the world, public/social housing is reviled. An experiment in poorly conceived, badly managed public housing for the most vulnerable in society, American public housing has certainly presented some ugly sides of itself to the public, all the way from the government experts and the legislatures that supported them at the top, down the the building managers and tenant behaviours at the bottom.

But few if any countries except America, even with their own histories of expensive financial and social missteps, have simply written off public housing completely. And for good reason. It is perhaps the only way to deliver the quantity and quality of housing that is desperately needed by low-income and no-income citizens everywhere.

Why has the potential of public housing been so ignored, and how could it help dramatically to ease current housing crises in America?

Read more about why the US needs to rethink its attitude to public housing in The Nation*: The Case For Public Housing

*The Nation is paywalled. As a progressive publication which generates a cornucopia of thought-provoking articles about American issues, it is well worth a subscription. However, the paywall does allow a small number of viewer reads per month. For those interested in the future of public housing in America, this article alone is worth, if not a full subscription, a free read. If you’ve run out of them, save one up for next month!

US Housing Vouchers Don’t Work. Time To Turn Back the Clock For A Better Idea?

Standard Floor Plans for a Cape Cod Cottage - NARA - 5928284 photo by National Archives and Records Administration is licensed under the public domain
Plan of a Cape Cod house. One struggling section 8 voucher recipient actually managed to rent a house like this — a lone fairy tale ending in a sea of sad stories about voucher failure.

The following article begins with a personal adventure in attempting to utilize a Housing Choice (Section 8) voucher in order to rent an apartment. These vouchers were created in the 1970’s as a more efficient and effective way to serve the housing needs of America’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens. The nation was retreating from the construction of much-reviled social housing (not to mention tearing them down), and needed a replacement program that would overcome the much publicized failings of public housing. Today, Section 8 vouchers have been revealed to be a failure. Ultimately, the voucher program was, and still is, as poorly designed as social housing programs were.

Both were, and still are, chronically underfunded. (Remnants of America’s public housing program still struggle along, slowly smothering under its crumbling infrastructure.)

It was all too easy for managers of public housing and section 8 programs to blame the virtually voiceless recipients for bad design and bad management. “You can’t find anyone to accept your housing voucher? Must be your fault. Sorry, it’s expired now and you can’t have an other one. Try tenting.”

The Propublica article that follows moves from a personal saga to an in-depth look at everything that is wrong with section 8 vouchers. The article headline conveys the impression that towns full of wealthy people are responsible for throttling the voucher program to death. This is possibly because Propublica has teamed up with a Connecticut publication, the Connecticut Mirror, produce the article. And Connecticut is indeed a state of wealthy cities that seem to be filled with residents who are rushing to protect their assets, at best, or at worst, poor-and-minority-hating citizens.

But don’t be put off by the narrowness of the headline. Section 8 vouchers are abused and ignored across the country in wealthy neighbourhoods, middle class neighbourhoods and poor ones. They are sneered at and refused legally, thanks to landlords availing themselves of a Swiss cheese of loopholes built into the voucher program. And where some of those loopholes have been plugged, they are sneered at and refused illegally.

Time for a rethink on public housing? Perhaps a visit to other countries where public housing has proved to be efficient and effective for a bit of ‘how to’ construction? That’s a story for another day.

In the meantime, experience the full horror of the Housing Choice voucher program in Propublica: How Wealthy Towns Keep People With Housing Vouchers Out

Low Density City Neighbourhoods Fingered as World Economic Nightmares

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Smallest House in Great Britain, Conwy (8036) photo by Nilfanion is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
The smallest house in Great Britain. The Economist includes its owner, and all others, in the the largest mistake in policy history: home ownership.

From a worldview of a gang of teenagers trying to break a record for the number who will fit into a car (and haven’t noticed they’re parked too close to the incoming tide) comes a mega-handwringing article from the prestigious Economist.

Summed up in a nutshell, the Economist views home ownership as a historic disaster, with NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) attitudes taking the rap for stunting world economic development.

Sure, ‘powers that be’, or ‘powers that were’ need to be retroactively slapped on the wrists for welcoming home and rewarding World War II soldiers with various newly minted ‘national dreams’ of home ownership. That fad gradually caught on internationally to the point where it became a self-evident goal.

Of course people want to own homes in delightful new neighbourhoods. Of course sad, frustrated wannabes who can’t make it up the first rung of the housing dream ladder are stuck with an inferior, less noble, less carefree, less stable, less responsible, less valuable no-dream inferior form of housing existence called ‘renting’.

But what’s done is done. Nations are now addicted to the housing-ownership drug, together with its fever-dreams of ‘cashing in’ then living in . . . who knows where? . . . but with a pocket full of inflated cash as a soft security bed to fall asleep on.

Meanwhile, indignant experts with totalitarian instincts point to suburban housing clogged with expiring boomers who are still living their reward dream as they rattle selfishly about their empty nests. Quite outrageously, these living, breathing and aging ‘city planner’s nightmares’ are quite prepared to democratically vote for their right to continue dreaming, as well as advocating democratically in favour of their satisfaction with their status quo. (Go NIMBY!)

These events, together with several other annoying outcomes of democratic clumsiness that have constipated modern cities, have brought us to the present.

Enter the quasi-totalitarian teenage clown car packed with sweaty bodies: the modern city. The future of cities, in the Economist’s view, largely depends on density. NIMBY stands foursquare in its way. 20 bodies in the car of teenagers? Pack in 4 others. Still need more room? Can-opener off the roof and raise it, add 60 more.

In the eyes of the densifying class (builders, financiers, economists), apparently together with its chattering class fellow travellers (e.g. The Economist publication), density can do no wrong. It is self-evidently right, just as sprawl is self-evidently wrong, (even if nobody wants to live in sprawl any longer except boomer retirees hogging space by living out their dream as their gas-guzzling pollutionmobiles gather dust in the driveway in front garages filled with half-finished hobbies and extra freezer space to delay driving yet again for groceries).

Density is the solution, not the problem. A city going straight up like magnificent New York or Hong Kong is a veritable temple of high rise heaven, a pinnacle of desire even in countries with bags of space.

A satellite city sprawling to sap jobs from the urban core? Problem, not solution.

An aging Detroit suddenly gaining extra space when industry departure hollows it out? Problem, not solution.

A pop-up city built in plenty of space (retirement sunshine, gambling, resource extraction, an industry chasing cheaper housing)? Problem, not solution.

Best if governments get off that silly democractic hobby-horse and totalitarianize this new national density dream by simply ordering homeowners to see the self-evident value of sardine-packed cities.

(BTW, none of this would have happened if we’d taken the advice of various 19th century socialists and stuck with renting.)

Read more in the Economist*, both the linked article and the ‘special report’ that amplifies its thinking: Home Ownership Is The West’s Biggest Economic-Policy Mistake

*Paywall Alert: The Economist is one of the world’s most prestigious publications, but doesn’t entirely restrict its excellent articles to its subscribers. Currently, there is a ‘five free article/month’ policy, likely requiring an email address so they can encourage you to subscribe.

The Ownership Housing Ladder: For Growing Numbers, A Stairway To Nowhere Desirable

The Shadow Pulp 4918 photo by Brecht Bug is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Future Rent Wars:
is this the evil landlord, or the evil tenant? Caution! By your answer you may reveal your bias.

Two important factors are gradually swinging the attention of house builders in a number of countries away from the ‘National Dream’ of home ownership — a mantra that has been popular for many years.

First, housing prices have risen so far that many first time buyers must wait half a career in order to buy a heavily mortgaged house that will then require a career and a half to pay off.

Second, middle class interest is shifting to a lifestyle that includes a healthy walk to work, nearby shops, and entertainment. That lifestyle, made particularly desirable by removing the worry of home repairs, is making renting, even luxury renting, more attractive.

Karl Marx and his nineteenth century socialist fellow travellers long ago identified a third factor, which is currently playing a growing part in determination of where and how to live.

Workers! Don’t be lured into bourgeois home ownership! It kills your mobility and leaves you anchored in a jobless environment when the siren call of employment in some other locale beckons. Meanwhile carefree renters can move immediately to exploit the opportunity.

These days, not only the workers but the bourgoisie (a.k.a. the middle class) have more and more reasons to see that the mobility of renting is both a necessary and desirable objective.

A recent article by Richard Jones in Housing Today explores how these various factors are promising a £550 billion future for a ‘build-to-private-rent’ sub-sector of the housing industry. Housing Today is a UK building industry magazine, so it’s hardly surprising that Jones calls for government study and intervention as necessary to ensure a smooth and profitable passage into a new era of free market housing. Read more in Housing Today: The Growing Importance Of The Private Rented Sector

Absent from Jones’ article are calls for some of the government studies and interventions affordablehousingaction.org would like to see about people who will be the private-renters.

At the moment, UK private renters face the worst of all worlds — landlords unconstrained by law who are able to evict on a whim, and are limited only by safety regulations to supply important physical and mental basics of life.

If there was ever reason to doubt that the ‘natural balance’ of a free market currently serves the interests of buyers and sellers alike, here’s one small example from The Guardian: Nine Out Of 10 Shared Houses Don’t Have A Living Room. Here’s Why We Need Them

In Berlin, Germany, with a shrinking rental stock and skyrocketing rental prices, a clear need for housing regulation to protect buyers has resulted in an upcoming city-wide 5-year rental freeze. Needless to say, it has been greeted with shock, horror and tales of the housing apocalypse by the house building and housing finance industries. Try:
Can Renters Survive Without Commodified Housing? Berlin Aims To Find Out

Why is this of interest to other jurisdictions?

Wherever renting lures more and more people away from the home ownership dream and towards a more flexible rental lifestyle, there’s also the tension between landlords who deserve a reasonable profit for their effort, and renters who deserve both affordability and security of tenure.

The right answers may not be found in missing UK living rooms, or in draconian Berlin rent freezes. But some government intervention will be necessary in every country where:

  • the business faithful place their hope in the coming of the Angels of the Free Marketplace, heralds of an unfettered Economics 101 nirvana, believed to exist in some housing heaven but not yet seen anywhere on earth.
  • the tenant’s dream that annual rent payments really shouldn’t go up faster than the rate of inflation, nor should security of tenure be made to vanish at the snap of a landlords fingers.

“Thanks, But No Thanks:” Austin TX Scorns State Affordable Housing Bribery Cash

Austin - Texas Capitol: Senate Chamber photo by Wally Gobetz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Senate Chamber of the Texas State Legislature in Austin. Seems governments can attach so many strings to funding that even other governments can't make use of them.

The willingness of governments to scrape affordable housing responsibility off their plates finds an almost perfect match with ‘small government’ philosophy, founded on the idea that ‘private enterprise can do it better’. Well, it matches on paper at least.

For a fine example of how regional government can exploit this advantage both philosophically and in practical terms, consider Ontario, Canada, which has recently published an explanation of how non-family members can purchase housing together and make housing more affordable by co-living.1

Those private enterprisers are just every-day folks. Let them do it better! The government outlay is pretty much limited to a brochure. A brilliant commitment without commitment, unfortunately not entirely what is needed these days. Try: The Dream Of Co-Ownership? What To Consider Before Sharing A Home  

However, when it comes to pushing public affordable money towards private enterprise in the form of housing developers ‘who can it better’, the story becomes much messier.

Invariably, private developers ‘don’t wanna.’

Which brings us to bribes. When it comes to governments bribing private enterprise with cash or in-kind to do affordable housing better, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is some kind of clever economic leverage that magics a one-house $200K bribe into a $1 million, five-house product.

Developers see this thinking aimed at the most flexible source of money — their profits, and are far from amused or cooperative.

So when a $200k bribe nets only one 200k house, that’s not really much value for money, bribe-wise, is it? And that’s before the real bribery project math kicks in. Because a program that carefully sets aside a $200K bribe at the right time under the right conditions to the right people requires administration. That costs money.

Is it all really worth it? After evaluating one such Texas state program aimed at preserving, rather than building, affordable housing, the city of Austin said, ‘Thanks but no thanks.’ Read more at the Austin Monitor: State Empowerment Zones Seen As Wrong Tool For City To Preserve Affordable Housing

Better value for money? Local councils have spent several decades of spinning the magic PPP2 wheel of fortune in the United Kingdom, with results often falling far short of actual needs.  More and more local governments are eyeing a return to non-profit DIY3 development, either alone or in partnership with a non-profit company. For kind of solution under consideration, try: UK Affordable PPP Problem: “One Of Our ‘P’s Is Broken”

Can Renters Survive Without Commodified Housing? Berlin Aims To Find Out

Berlin photo by William Helsen is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Berlin, Germany: a city of 3.5 million people with nearly 3 million renters.

The vast majority, 85%, of Berlin’s citizens are renters. These days, rising rents are squeezing the life out of them. So Berlin is looking to impose a rent freeze for five years beginning in the spring.

Investment oriented news outlets predictably predict doom. ‘Berlin Foundations Shake’ cries Britain’s (paywalled) Financial Times: Berlin Rent Freeze Shakes Foundations Of City’s Construction Sector

The Financial Times tells us (no surprise) that economists, conservative politicians, and the housing industry all have their knickers in a twist. An un-devastating climate for renters will apparently have a devastating effect on Berlin’s investment climate. Such a shame there can’t be one without the other!

Berlin’s housing minister, Katrin Lompscher, has issued the challenge. “We need solutions,” she says.

Take your pick:

. . . More of the same, only more of it (and by the way, kill all those restrictive building regs). This offer from the housing and finance industries would self-evidently be the cause of Berlin’s crisis in the first place. In spite of that, it’s a frequent housing industry theme world-wide these days. An earlier article from Politico generalizes beyond housing to all aspects of life where Germany stands accused of being the quintessential nanny state, rather than a swashbuckling pirate haven:  Germany Edges Towards Deregulation

. . . Or, lefty-righty diatribes poisoned with shudder-inducing epithets such as ‘socialism’ and eye-rolling ‘lefties will have to learn all over again’ thought that drains all the construction out of the constructive criticism. Try some here at aptly named Grizzle: Germany’s Swing To The Left Could Result In Greater Fiscal Union

All of which seems at the moment to have left Berlin with little useful option beyond government intervention. Read more in The Local: Berlin Rent Freeze: 340,000 Tenants ‘Paying Too Much’ For Housing

And by the way, Germany’s Berlin is not the only city in the country facing a rental price crisis. Those unprepared to swing a Berlin-style hammer are not optimistic about the coming year. Also in The Local: Bad News: Why Rents In Germany Will Continue To Rise In 2020

Columbus, OH, Teeters, Then Topples: Housing For The Poorest . . . Or Federal Funding?

IMG_7414 photo by Becker1999 is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Poor People Campaign march in Columbus Ohio. What would they say about the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority's housing program?

That there is a ‘need’ for housing across the American nation is largely self-evident. Housing developers would be heading out of business otherwise, and the largest of them at least are still building homes. As for groups with a ‘need’ for housing, that would seem to cover everyone, with even the richest 1% probably ‘needing’ housing in their own perverse way.

But a housing affordability crisis? ‘Affordability’ has been redefined in so many ways that any difference between ‘need’ and ‘affordability’ has become irredeemably (and also very conveniently) blurred, to the point that some conservative commentators doubt that a national housing crisis even exists.

But the left and the right agree one thing. There is not enough housing to support America’s lowest income citizens. When it comes those with no income, inadequate pensions, or working overtime at minimum wage, many communities are suffering from this particular kind of affordability crisis.

So what are we to make of a recent upbeat article detailing Columbus, Ohio’s forward looking, ambitious plans to rescue the city from housing misery?

Honesty.

In between tooting its own horn for its full steam ahead attack on the ‘affordable’ housing crisis, the city is prepared to admit that it is in the process of dismantling whatever has been existing as direct support for those facing a truly affordable housing crisis.

Columbus, along with American cities everywhere, has a housing authority that survives only by doing it the way the federal government defines a housing crisis, which coincidentally is the only way the federal government will provide funding.

Some of that funding goes directly into developer and housing finance pockets.

Some of it goes to help quell the need from various slices of redefined affordability-worthy citizens in the middle class. And finally, marching though the pearly gates of new affordable housing, for every hundred or so free market purchasers, a small handful or two of those truly in crisis.

As for the rest of those facing a true housing crisis, well, Columbus is at least honest that they’re in the process of dismantling whatever part of the crumbling support system that still exists. And honest again to admit that the section 8 voucher system to help the poorest rent housing is totally inadequate.

So, having signed on to the federal way of thinking and having accepted federal funding, what plans does Columbus have for all those left behind?

Find it if you can beyond the razzmatazz of Tomorrow’s Columbus Affordable Good Times in NEXT CITY: Columbus Housing Authority Plans a Year of Big Acquisitions

Tiny Houses: A Figment Fit For The Imagination, But No Big Affordable Solution?

Tiny houses on display in Portland, Or photo by DanDavidCook is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Tiny houses in the "wealthy musing" category.

In a lengthy, entertaining and informative article, Miles Howard explores the past, present and future of one form of dinky living. He focuses particularly on high tech gingerbread cottages with amenities packed together like a Swiss army knife that can do for one, or maybe two, or even a family of four at a pinch — one heck of a pinch!

Whether imagined nestled in a sylvan copse, perched on a remote mountain top, or wheeled for a quick getaway by stealing an night in a Walmart parking lot, Howard is not overly impressed with tiny homes’ future as an affordable housing solution.

His survey includes more practical affordability solutions as a means of increasing urban density (think perching tiny homes at the bottom of suburban gardens). Purpose-built tiny house villages also come in for his scrutiny.

Howard’s article does not, however, tackle a rather more likely and more frightening future — tiny homes — not self-contained houses — with the floor space of a roomy closet that are proving to be such a claustrophobic success when stacked into vertical towers in housing-unaffordable Hong Kong.

Read more at Shelterforce: Tiny Houses — Not a Big Enough Solution

See more affordablehousingaction.org posts about these tiny solutions at: Tiny Homes and Tiny Places

Co-Ownership: Pride Cometh Before The Fall

swallowtail nursery back in business! photo by Vicki DeLoach is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Two can share. Even three!

Apologies for the doom-laden headline, but there’s seldom a chance to use a pithy poetic-sounding phrase, particularly one that containeth that sophisticated ‘eth’ sound. After all, a sleazy single or double ‘s’ can often do the job.

Our headline paraphrases the thoughts of a real estate agent on the whole co-ownership thing. These are:

  • it’s easy to start
  • it’s not for everyone
  • it’s best to prepare for the worst

The Ontario, Canada government has published guidelines for people thinking about sharing ownership of a home. It’s one step a legislature faced with a housing crisis can take: convincing voters to take care of the problem themselves by encouraging them to cozy up in a co-owned house. The cost? One pamphlet. (We hesitate to praise the Ontario Government for its cleverness. Knowing its current political leanings, it might take approval as an indication it can bail out of its real affordable housing responsibilities.)

A recent article delved into co-ownership further, interviewing one realtor who was a consultant on the Ontario guidelines.

Why might this be of interest to those in other jurisdictions?

Co-ownership is happening elsewhere. Advice about general prudence and caution in this matter should travel relatively well, even if it does not touch on regional legal peculiarities.

Read more in the loop: The Dream Of Co-Ownership? What To Consider Before Sharing A Home

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