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Socially Rented Homes And A Green Recovery

Recovery for People and Planet Campaign 14 photo by Friends of the Earth Scotland is licensed under CC BY 2.0
A Green Recovery demonstration, June 2020.

Public housing in Scotland is leading the way to a green recovery, at least according to two people who work at Shepperd and Wedderburn, a UK law firm. Andrew Hall and Rachel Munro note that most socially rented homes have already met their obligations for 2020 and new goals have been set for 2032 to continue these efforts.1

It is also encouraging to see that socially rented homes are included as part of a comprehensive plan for a green recovery, rather than as a separate initiative. A look at Canada’s social housing programs sheds light on the potential benefit of being part of a comprehensive strategy.

Social housing in Canada fared well when it was included as part of the country’s building program in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. The vast majority of Canada’s social housing stock was built in those years. More recently, the social housing has been built to respond to specific needs, including people who are homeless as well as housing in indigenous communities. These programs are helping, although the total number of units that are built are far below what is needed. Reflecting on the experience of the 1960’s through 80’s, more social housing might have be built today if it is framed as part of a larger construction program.

Based on the Canadian experience, Scotland’s Green Recovery program for social housing may enjoy more widespread support simply because it is included with initiatives that will lift up other sectors of the economy.

You can read more about ideas for Scotland’s green recovery at insider: How housing can build sustainable foundations for the green recovery

Update: Can A Public Trust Help Solve NYCHA’s Multi-Billion Dollar Repair Woes? Not Really

Stapleton NYCHA jeh photo by Jim Henderson is licensed under CC0 1.0
After decades of neglect, New York City Housing Authority Buildings, including this one, together need over $45 billion for repairs.

Update: Following the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA’s) latest plan to save itself (see post below), Kristen Hackett, a member of the Justice For All coalition, has voiced her opposition. The latest plan involves transferring ownership of NYCHA’s lands to a public trust. Among Hackett’s reasons for opposing the trust is that it will privatize NYCHA’s public housing and end its court ordered obligations to remove mould and the lead-based paint in its buildings. Her article in eastnewyork lays out other concerns with the trust plan, as well as two of NYCHA’s earlier plans to save its housing: The City’s Three NYCHA Plans That Will Privatize Public Housing

With years and years and billions and billions of dollars worth of government neglect lying heavily on its shoulders, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is understandably grasping at any and all straws that might preserve its invaluable truly affordable housing.

City and state governments seem disinclined or able to mount a rescue operation. Neither is the ‘small-government’ obsessed Republican national administration stepping up the the plate. In fact, neither Republican nor Democratic federal governments have ever accepted responsibility for the untenable management and maintenance structure that has crippled American public housing from virtually the moment of its inception. Indeed, governments at all levels have preferred to blame all of social housing’s woes on its vulnerable occupants.

In this semi-hostile environment, lip service is often the best that can be expected. What is a responsible housing authority to do? NYCHA’s latest idea is a public trust.

Read more at SPECTRUM NEWS NY1: NYCHA Head Proposes Public Trust for Struggling Agency

Albany Housing Authority Is Ducking COVID News Sensationalism — Plans To DIY


The housing authority in Albany, New York, is apparently fed up with the cacophony of amplified voices providing changes in direction, advice and best practices from moment to moment about how to best support their social housing tenants.

The amplifier? The news media in all its many forms from TV to Twitter, according to the Albany Housing Authority. No matter the outlet, these purveyors of the latest political, scientific, economic and health news would seem to favour sensationalism in order to to boost circulation.

And so the Albany Housing Authority, with local production assistance, plans to DIY (Do It Yourself) — delivering useful and important pandemic info to its tenants, which will counter the morsels that arrive loaded with media hype, not to mention heavy political spin in this U.S. election year.

Read more in the Albany Herald: Albany Housing Authority, groups produce anti-COVID alert system

Want To Join a Rich And Fulfilling Community Life? Try Social Housing

Crescent Hall Quilters at CitySpace photo by Piedmont Council for the Arts is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
A cheery community of quilters from Crescent Hall public housing in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Any upwardly-mobile strivers intent on discovering the pot of community at the end of a rainbow should disabuse themselves of any idea that financial success and conspicuous housing are the shining pathway. One need only read as far as U.S. Senator Rand Paul’s donnybrook with his affluent neighbour some three years ago, in which one or both were suffering from what can only be called ‘leaf rage’ — at least that was the opinion of the developer who built the luxurious gated community in which they live. For more, read in Boing Boing: Gated community developer blames Rand Paul assault on longstanding fights over lawncare, tree branches

Which is a shame, since it seems that community aspirations are often effectively fulfilled in absolutely the opposite economic circumstances — social housing complexes and temporary relief camps. This not withstanding the fact the the upper political and financial classes, together with their fellow-travelling wannabes — the middle classes — go out of their way to disparage the lower classes as degenerate addicts of one stripe or another who are absolutely incapable of forming meaningful communities.

For the latest sneerings from Australia, consider the One Nation Party‘s one member of Parliament, Senator Pauline Hanson, who characterized the social housing tenants who were involuntarily locked-down in Melbourne as “addicts and alcoholics. . . whose second language is probably English,” then followed it up by sending them all beer can holders and a “no hard feelings” note— pretty much a second slap across the face with the other glove. Read more in the Australian Daily Mail: How Pauline Hanson tried to send stubby holders to say ‘no hard feelings’ to public housing residents after calling them ‘alcoholics and drug addicts’ – and why Australia Post was FURIOUS they weren’t delivered

So, for convenience sake, let’s dismiss the middle and upper classes out of hand as a bunch of hopeless community losers, and look for a some rays of light from those most economically disadvantaged — those who absolutely need community in order to survive and prosper.

That was the August 2020 theme in ArchDaily, which explored the subject in a series of articles, including: Social Housing and Settlements: Potential Promoters of Community Living

For an exploration of ways in which design and planning can support community, also in ArchDaily: Living in Community: 13 Projects That Promote Shared Spaces

. . . and for the overall theme that collects together a further number of intriguing articles on past, present, and future of communities: How Will We Live Together

And speaking of the past and the glory and power of meaningful community, look in your local library for a copy of Rosa Parks: My Story. It does not simply celebrate a moment of accidental resistance that somehow sparked the integration of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama. It fills out that moment to describe how a determined African American community, its members well accustomed to leaning on each other for support, came together in an extraordinary effort to provide the city of Montgomery with no other option but to cease its resistance and provide equality for all on its public transit.

Urban Redevelopment: A Case Of Failing To See Who’s There

fops photo by David Krieger is licensed under CC BY 2.0
NIMBY? Developers can self-ambush by ignoring the actual neighbours and their aspirations.

Shelterforce has just published an article about local residents opposing development in their neighbourhood in Camden, New Jersey. Far from being the typical NIMBY story, where people with money oppose any plans to add housing for people who don’t, these opponents have low incomes.

Puzzled, Stephen Danley interviewed the opponents. He wondered why the developments met with such stubborn opposition, despite claims that the local residents would benefit from the new amenities and services that would come with the developments.

Danley learned that the proposals for redevelopment were pitched to people who lived outside the area, not the residents. He also identified that the local experience with other redevelopments in the area excluded local residents and restricted their access to the planned public spaces. Now their opposition made a lot more sense.

Planners and policy makers who are thinking about redevelopment have come to understand and expect opposition to local projects from those with resources and influence, the upper and middle classes. By taking us through his investigation, Danley discusses why economically disadvantaged neighbours oppose developments, even when developers may argue that the disadvantaged neighbours will receive benefits. It also demonstrates the value of engaging local residents of all classes in redevelopment planning from the start. Read more in Shelterforce: Why Do Low-Income Residents Oppose Development Even When Displacement Risk Is Low?

The Selective Seduction Of Adult Homework: For Whom The Siren Doesn’t Call

homework photo by Bjørn Bulthuis is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

This scribbler, having been one for much of his adult life, has always enjoyed the benefits of working from home. Also suffered some of the consequences — it’s not all a bed of roses — that include an eagerness to walk many blocks to collect the dry cleaning in order to engage in a brief conversation with some adult, any adult.

The COVID-19 pandemic has, for better AND worse introduced masses of employees to the joys of homework — that activity so despised by youth. Ticking off all the benefits (such as grubby sweatsuits worn over and over until they escape to the wash under their own ill-scented steam), it is easy to ignore the reasons why boutique broadband-serviced workspace in a corner of a bedroom is an impractical industrial framework for many businesses.

Taken for granted by lucky individuals, but more problematic for staff-heavy enterprises, not everyone possesses a dedicated corner of home workspace in a world of ever-shrinking living quarters, particularly those infested with rug-rats (aka children).

Read more in a recent article that explores one facet of this problem in The Guardian: Working from home is a luxury many renters in the UK can ill afford

. . . and in passing, one architectural response to this kind of problem, in ArchDaily: Curl la Tourelle Head Designs 100% Social Housing Scheme in the London Borough of Brent

Housing Yes, If Not Housing First: Key To Preventing Incarceration Return

Old Carabanchel Prison Center in Madrid. photo by Laura is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
New home for a woman freed from incarceration? Without social supports it may be a return to a prison cage.

An African American producer and documentary filmmaker describes the difficulties incarcerated women face in their attempts to avoid reoffending and being pushed back into the prison system.

To explore the plight of these women, Messiah Rhodes produced a two part documentary entitled Against All Odds. Rhodes’s work is informed by personal experience. His mother was in and out of prison for fifteen years when he was a child.

In an interview with The Crime Report, Rhodes identifies many hurdles that must be overcome to successfully return to society, including the importance of personal development that can begin within the prison system.

With secure, stable housing an essential goal, Rhodes praises positive examples of housing support programs that currently exist, while lamenting the general lack of housing support in the U.S.

Read more on his measured and thoughtful views about supports such as further education that can support a woman’s successful return to society in The Crime Report:  ‘I Lost My Mom to the Justice System for 15 Years’

To view the two documentary films themselves at Al Jazeera: Against All Odds

Right Housing Concept, Wrong Clientele?

Alvide, trilho das Vinhas. 03-18 photo by Rúdisicyon is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Does quaint, hilly Lisbon need a grid of seniors' house-boxes with illuminated, translucent white and red (alarm) roofs? One architect thinks so.

Here’s a senior’s housing project in Portugal with a different approach to its personal alarm system. Retirement residences and nursing homes commonly have buttons for residents to push or strings to pull when they need help. In this building, the whole roof of the unit where the resident lives lights up when the alarm is activated.

The knowledge that pulling a string would start their entire roof flashing red would have been enough to ensure that my grandparents never pulled the string, even if they needed help. What an embarrassment!

On the other hand, what about people who live with a violent partner? Incidents of domestic violence are on the rise, thanks to COVID-19’s home based response. In some communities a towel alarm system has been implemented: a towel on your balcony tells others that you need help. An alarm that causes your white roof to flash red would really get people’s attention. And as far fetched as this might seem, public outing is a strategy that is used to curb domestic violence in some cultures (although not, so far as we know, with flashing lights).

You can read more about the senior’s project in designboom: guedes cruz builds social housing with illuminating box roofs for the elderly in portugal

Welcoming A Tidal Wave Of Battlefield Migrants To Europe’s Pre-Existing Housing Crisis


The BBC has compiled a kaleidoscope of compelling voices to describe the incredible impact of a European migrant crisis that has changed how countries worldwide relate to their underclasses.

In short personal paragraphs from migrants themselves, interspersed with observations by reporters who witnessed and reported events, the article traces a story which begins with a catastrophe fled by millions. It is initially met with compassion as well as assistance in countries that one way or another became the destination of these refugees.

But as the story unfolds, the numbers begin to overwhelm the resources of the destination countries. Compassion changes to dismay and welcoming with open arms to expressions and actions of hostility and prejudice. Assistance becomes resistance.

Over the last few years, anti-poverty and affordable housing activists in many countries have been increasingly hopeful that governments will finally begin to address growing housing crises for their native underclasses, who were struggling to cope even before migrants arrived in such large numbers.

The experiences of European countries overwhelmed by migrants provides some understanding of the social and economic challenges of an unexpected and extraordinary swelling of their native underclasses. It’s not entirely surprising that current solutions, even to provide the most basic shelter from homelessness for all, remain stubbornly elusive, never mind the problems of providing millions with employment and a path to economic self-sufficiency.

The story also shines a light upon a current US government’s almost hysterical resistance towards low- and no-income migration, regardless of its recent historical importance to America’s economic picture.

It also helps explain a certain self-congratulatory smugness of Canadians. They see their generosity towards immigrants as unbounded, thanks to the control they can exercise over new arrivals. This is largely due to two two huge and forbidding ocean barriers east and west, as well as relatively impassible ice north and south.1

Read about some of Europe’s trials in this ongoing story at the BBC: Europe’s migrant crisis: The year that changed a continent

Rentierization: Landlords & Speculators With Their Foot On The Gas Burning Your Dollars

apartment buildings 021 photo by hearingpocket is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Renters! First and last month cash will get you a tired but super pricey apartment. Take comfort! You are helping a poor, out-of-luck housing speculator run laughing to the bank.

What exactly is ‘rentierization’ (aside from being this year’s Grand Loser in the catchy word creation contest)?

An newly-published study by the University of Sydney and the University College London Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose has coined the term to replace ‘financialization’ (which is not even a respectable runner-up in the same contest.)

Their sad attempt at word-branding is, however, a persuasive examination of affordable housing crises in more than one country today. It sums up a situation in which the value of a house has become more valuable as an investment than as a form of personal human shelter, especially in Sydney, which has some of the most expensive housing in the world.

How is this ‘rentierization’ causing a crisis in Australia? And what can be done about it? Read more in THE CONVERSATION: When houses earn more than jobs: how we lost control of Australian house prices and how to get it back

The Hunt For Green Social Housing On A Shoestring: Wales Edition

Hamm - Pelkum - Ein Sommerfeld 07 photo by Daniel Mennerich is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Humble beginnings, plus a little ingenuity . . .

Handfuls of social housing have been built as a nuisance requirement of any free-enterprise housing project in the UK. The failures of this coercive social housing program are many. Critically, the supply of social housing under this program has completely failed to keep pace with increasing need. Meanwhile the predation of the government’s Right To Own program continues to squander existing social housing stock without providing for its replacement.

With a growing need for larger volumes of housing aimed specifically at producing more social housing, there is an ongoing budget-conscious requirement to build social housing that not only maintains high standards of liveability, but does so more quickly and efficiently while meeting ‘green’ requirements for energy efficiency.

Contests are a way to stimulate imaginative solutions to lower costs and increase energy efficiency. For one example, supported by the Welsh Government, read more in News From Wales: Valleys to Coast tenants first to move into innovative new eco-homes with ‘Grand designs’

‘Land Of The Flee!’ Everyone Else Is Using This Quip, So Why Us?

USA Falling Apart photo by Shannon Kringen is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Because we’re not so much commenting on ‘fed up’ New Yorkers suddenly rediscovering the joys of suburbia. More, we’re wringing our hands over the disruption COVID-19 is causing to our conventional thinking. Aren’t decaying suburbs meant to be forced destinations for the underclasses with nowhere else to go?

Where next for those most disadvantaged? Spa towns and ski resorts abandoned by the down-hunkering wealthy? Or is the future back to an ungentrifying inner city, squatting by night in unsellable condos and townhouses owned by housing speculators unhorsed by a COVID comeuppance?

And will the vulnerable ungentrifying underclasses daily populate transit (nobody else will) on employment journeys to the suburbs where they will provide low-paid services such as peddling latte carts through fear-wracked asphalt mazes, or building gates for newly gated communities?

Things are so confusing that apparently over-stressed professional moving companies are forced to rent from U-Haul. More on this topsy-turvy world and its puzzling futures from The New York Post: Moving companies in such high demand as New Yorkers flee the city

Poverty For Profit: REIT Hard At Work In the Homelessness Mines

Trading Floor at the New York Stock Exchange photo by Scott Beale is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Attention Investors! Make 7.5% trading in homelessness!

This post is a tale of two viewpoints. From the bastions of free enterprise? Confirmation that there is literally nothing on earth that cannot, with good conscience, be turned into a profitable investment.

And from the ‘Red Under The Bed’ crowd who believe the principal purpose of government is to serve the needs of all the people? Shock and horror at yet another escalation of profiteering from the poorest who cling to life in modern societies, to be paid for by the taxpayer.

Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)1 follow a time-honoured footpath towards financial profit to be gained from the poor. From the landed gentry and their serfs of the middle ages through Victorian middle and upper class slum-holders renting accommodation to the underclass, few exceptions mar the honourable tradition of profit-taking from those least able to afford it.2 Such behaviour is to be anticipated from, and fulfilled by, the landlord classes.

Now, as exemplified by Home REIT, based in the UK, the honour of housing the poorest can be shared not only by landlord classes, but by investor classes. They will be encouraged to learn that the lowliest of all, the people who are homeless, can be serviced with a form of shelter, to be paid for by local government and with an expected profitability of 7.5 percent.

‘A form of shelter’ sounds a little mealy-mouthed, doesn’t it. So let’s try to define it. What is ‘a form of shelter?’

The single greatest adventure in providing non-profit housing for low and no-income citizens has been the mixed successes of social housing in various countries. Early attempts to do so a century or so ago often focused on a well-built housing — a very solid form of shelter. Indeed, some of this century-old housing was so well-built that it survives to this day, even in countries where social housing is currently disparaged. Some of this well-built shelter is either still in service as social housing in the UK,3 or increasingly more likely to be found now in private hands under the UK’s Right to Buy program, which has eviscerated its social housing stock.4

In the US, a similar form of well-built shelter still exists, though in a state of sad neglect, mainly in housing tower estates in major cities.5

For the last half-century in the UK, the quality of shelter built for social housing substantially deteriorated, with shrunken lifespans as low as twenty or thirty years.6

So what ‘form of shelter’ might REIT’s construct for the homeless, leasing their product for some 20 or 30 years to a local council to house a particular locality’s growing numbers of homeless?

The answer is already perfectly evident. The UK, interested in promoting worthless and contaminated ‘brownfield’ land for a variety of uses,7 recently established them as ‘regulation free zones,’ which enterprising developers could use to advantage to build whatever.

‘Whatever,’ has increasingly produced brand new ‘out of the box’ cramped and squalid temporary housing,8 which in turn is being increasingly used by councils to deal with a growing housing crisis pre-COVID and only exacerbated by current pandemic conditions.

And now the current UK government, intent on finding ways to build the economy out of the coronavirus process, is engineering a much broader relaxation of building standards.9

Back to the the question, then: what form of shelter will REITs build so profitably for the homeless? In other words, what might the public expect from a free-enterprise business-oriented government using so-called regulation reform to help the building industry dip their hands ever-deeper into the pockets of taxpayers?

The answer, based on Britain’s brownfield relaxation of standards, is incredibly shoddy overcrowded sardine tin towers that will be barely inhabitable when new, let alone after 30 years of taxpayer funded life.

But hey, even the little guy may be able to join the investor class. Read how you too might be able to convince yourself you’re an honourable free-enterpriser and get in on this kind of racket, at Reuters: REIT Focused On Accommodation For The Homeless Okays London IPO

A New Deal That Thinks Big For Social Housing

Front of apartment building, middle photo by stepnout is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Housing designed and built by Black business for Black tenants? Unlikely.
Here's why American needs more of it.

Marvin L. Mitchell calls for a “new deal” to construct millions of affordable homes for the African American population in the United States. Mitchell, an African American who teaches architecture in Washington DC, sieves through a host of public policies and programs and identifies their racist elements. He also picks out some that have contributed to de-segregation.

Mitchell calls for actions that transcend the often-narrow limitations of architectural focus on structural design.

Needless to say, policies and programs don’t happen without political support. Mitchell also describes initiatives that could be the foundations of support for his new deal, starting with African American architects and going much further. His article has many ideas that will capture the interest of advocates and policy makers. Read more in Archinect: Build Something Big! One Million New Affordable Housing Units, 2020-2030

Can Solar Power Be A Cost-Saving Retrofit For Social Housing?


In some countries (America in particular), decades of neglect to social housing has presented an overwhelming mountain of repairs for many local housing authorities.1 What future then, for improvements that go beyond catch-up towards the most basic liveability standards?

Like what? Well, an urgent response to the burgeoning climate crisis for one. Too much to expect? Some of these climate-driven responses will actually save housing authorities money in the longer term. Meanwhile, the truly affordable housing crisis plaguing so many countries has been exacerbated by war-driven waves of impoverished refugees.2 There is an ever-deepening need to build new social housing, as well as to preserve and improve what already exists.

Using solar panels to supplement electrical service in social housing is one example. In single-family dwellings, its cost-effectiveness is already proven.

Installing solar panels can augment a more traditional electrical supply when a housing authority pays for the building’s entire electrical service. And in the happy circumstance of generating excess electricity, it can be sold.

But what happens when electrical power is metered to each home? How could a supplemental source of cheaper electricity be fairly distributed to tenants preventing, say, one electricity hog sponging up most of the bargain solar-generated electricity?

Australia has a solution to this particular problem. Fight your way past an article headline that will be truly incomprehensible to most and read more in ecogeneration: Salvo’s to trial Allume shared solar solution with ARENA backing

And indeed, ARENA (Australian Renewable Energy Agency) has recently announced it is partnering with Tesla3 in a ‘Virtual Power Plant’ solar panel project. It is expected to provide as much as 80% of total power consumption to 3,000 social housing homes in South Australia. Read more in Renewables Now:  Australian govt, Tesla to expand VPP in S Australia

Landlords Vs. Tenants: The New Warm Is Cold

London Eye in 2015 (1) photo by Joseolgon is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Each capsule on the London Eye, a tourist attraction, is air conditioned. Why not your home?

The US is suffering the effects of climate change along with many other countries. Like those countries, it has taken literally centuries before both landlords and governments have come to understand at least nominally that warm housing is essential in winter.

But uncounted millions have suffered through cold spells when landlords have been unable or unwilling to deliver, for example, more hot water to radiators. Even the need for heat in cold winter climates is a tale in need of a good polish.

Unsurprising then, that too much heat in housing is life threatening is an idea in its infancy. That’s not in the experience of tenants, of course, but it is in terms of both government and landlord action. (The modern air conditioner, after all was only invented in 1902.)

With heat waves now understood to be a growing danger of climate change, the awareness of the importance of air conditioning is finally prodding governments into action. The news is hopeful. Read more at Reuters:  “Life or death”: Baking US cities legislate for air conditioning

Domestic Violence And The Poverty Trap

UN Women - Domestic-violence photo by UN Women is licensed under CC BY 3.0
The UN's symbol for domestic violence. The UN called out the rising risk of domestic violence early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Australia, COVID-19 has dealt a double blow to people who experience domestic violence. The lockdowns have made it much more difficult to leave and/or avoid violent partners. At the same time, job layoffs meant reduced financial independence.

Women form the majority of the service sector workforce, which has been largely classed as non-essential during COVID-19. Layoffs have been widespread.

Research about domestic violence during Australia’s bushfire emergencies in 2019 found a strong connection between financial independence and decisions to leave violent relationships. Cathy Humphries argues the bushfire findings should also apply with COVID-19.

Humphries, who teaches at the University of Melbourne, urges that the temporary emergency funding, which was paid to laid off workers during lockdown, should be extended. An extension could mean the difference between people staying in dangerous relationships and leaving them. This is particularly important because domestic violence has been on the rise since COVID arrived in Australia, along with cases of domestic strangulation and sexual assault.

The research reported in this article is of potential interest in countries that have been experiencing a rise in domestic violence during COVID-19. Read more in PURSUIT: Poverty Is Trapping Women In Abusive Relationships

Suffering From Illness? Take One Tiny House and Call Us When You’re Better

Tiny House Herzogsreut SJ Eda 2019 P1140187 photo by S. John, Elsterwerda is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Surely not COVID-19 quarantine solution! But . . . based on historic practice . . .

Imagine that a member of your family has a contagious disease, and your home is too small to protect other family members from the risk of infection. No problem! The government has a plan. A tiny home delivered to your lot can provide temporary accommodation and keep everyone safe.

Sounds a bit magical, doesn’t it? This actually happened during the 1930’s in the United States. Naomi Klein relates this and other government initiatives from that era. Klein focuses on strategies to engage young people and how those strategies paid off as the country emerged from the Great Depression. In the face of today’s epidemic and economic tailspin, she calls for government leadership. Read more in The Intercept: How Not To Lose The Lockdown Generation

Social Housing At Odds With Architect Pride: Recipe For Community Failure?

Southgate Estate, Runcorn, August 1989, 2 photo by Ruthdonnamills is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Southgate Estate, 1989. Now Demolished.

A daring architectural experiment in Greater Manchester in the 1970’s is a cautionary tale for those looking towards a new era of social housing. At a time when shoddy construction shortened the lifespan of too much UK social housing, the Southgate Estate in Cheshire had a truly rapid downfall, accelerated by other reasons.

Conservative attitudes towards the shape and function of a desirable home know no class barriers. Indeed, even in exclusive enclaves of luxury housing, a mix of classical housing styles generally far outnumber the occasional architectural . . . monstrosity? Or perhaps that startling apparition is no beast, but a truly a breathtaking stroke of avant garde beauty . . .

Where the Southgate Estate was concerned, was there much thought about the importance of community identity and pride in their individual homes when designing this daring architectural experiment? The evidence suggests that any potential individual discomfort was swept away in the interests of art.

Even today, those more interested in the glory of architectural form lament the early destruction of this unusual estate, blaming its failure on the shoddy, underfunded construction that defined an era.

Some blame, however must surely fall on the hubris of architectural adventurism that set sail to conquer all before it, only to run aground on a stolid human sense of what constitutes a comfortable, safe, home, in a community of shared pride.

Read more in the Manchester Evening News: Washing Machine Flats And Legoland Houses – The Rise And Fall Of The Region’s Weirdest Council Estate 

Aussie Trash Talk Blights Social Housing Future. Why Does It Happen?

Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2013 (9331883077) (3) photo by Chris Phutully is licensed under CC BY 2.0
A cool background for a light show. Is this the best we can find to say about social housing?

Propaganda is an effective tool for stigmatizing social housing. Governments trade in propaganda, swaying the view of their citizens for cynical reasons that range from a political ideology of a party in power (such as thinly-veiled racism) to purely pragmatic means of balancing budgets (for example by dismissing or downgrading the importance of a social housing solution in spite of the fact it has proven worldwide to be an enduring necessity and thus an unqualified success on that ground alone).

Stigmatization can happen when a government, like that of Australia, identifies difficulties or failures of a program such as social housing and then proceeds to sell those problems to the public as as unsolvable, insurmountable, or untenable in the face of reasonable cost-benefit analysis.

What are these sources of stigma in Australia? Do they represent a wall of unsolvable issues that justifies either aggressively axing a century of accumulated social housing experiment, or less controversially, slowly strangling social housing to death by deliberate neglect?

Decades of stigmatizing social housing have left a number of modern nations in positions similar to Australia. An exploration of how this stigmatization of social housing can be ‘fixed’ is well worth their consideration.

For more on this phenomenon in Australia, together with some ideas of what can be done about it, read more in The Conversation: Why public housing is stigmatised and how we can fix it

COVID-19: Not Everyone Loves Hotel Rooms, Not Even The Homeless. But Some Do.

Travelodge London Bethnal Green Hotel, Cambridge Heath Road, London photo by David McKelvey is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Some hotel chains have been providing temporary accommodation to people who are homeless during COVID-19.

In Western Australia, officials reacted with dismay and annoyance when a number of people who were experiencing homelessness “looked the hotel room gift horse in the mouth” and abandoned their new COVID-19 housing as unsuitable.1

Other well-meaning jurisdictions have reacted to COVID-19 and whisked rough sleepers into hotels and motels. And they too have discovered that “housing first” on its own — to use the title of one of the best known and successful housing for the homeless programs — is, without follow up support, not in itself a permanent solution to homelessness. Indeed, the unexpected isolation provided by a warm, comfortable hotel room doesn’t automatically mean the end of other harms, such as drug use.2

Fortunately, the news from homeless-occupied hotel and motel rooms is not all gloomy. Here’s a more hopeful report from Shelterforce: Hotel Rooms for the Homeless Change Health Outcomes Beyond COVID

More Housing In Suburbs Need Not Be A High-Rise Horror Show

Over and under house type of duplex house. photo by Degen Earthfast is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Come on now, folks. With single dwelling footprints, multiplexes barely rattle the suburban cage.

Alan Mallach recently poked a hornet’s nest with his article published in Shelterforce that strongly questioned the affordability benefits of “build any kind of housing, anywhere.” That movement identifies deregulated zoning and an unbridled building industry as the most effective solution of creating affordable housing via a “trickle down” process.

In a detailed article Mallach, a senior fellow at the Center for Community Progress and the National Housing Institute, carefully unpicks the wishful thinking that underlies what appears on the surface to be a simple solution to the multiple, complex causes of unaffordable homes in different urban centres. In particular, he questions the enthusiasm for “building anything” in the overbuilt cores of most cities.

Read more in Shelterforce: More Housing Could Increase Affordability—But Only If You Build It in the Right Places

The article triggered a vigorous response from readers. In his defence Mallach has written a second post, calling more explicitly for urban densification in the suburbs, not the city core: Densifying Suburbs Is the Better Path to Housing Affordability


High Density Communities: Social Housing Does It Better

East Village September 2013 photo by Paul Watt is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
East Village, London: part of an extensive study of housing satisfaction.

When it comes to developing healthy, vibrant social communities in high density projects, two groups do it better — social housing tenant and owner-occupiers. Their longer occupancy allows them to commit more successfully over time to a local community.

By contrast, private renters often have little or no community connection, and indeed express no interest in having one. A recent architectural design study of high density living found that many private renters identified their communities as existing elsewhere, even in other countries!

High density, it seems, it not in itself a factor in determining successful social environments, but the length of occupancy most certainly is.

The study of some fourteen differing  high density “schemes” in London, UK, identified several other factors that made made some high rises both individually and socially more successful than others.

Length of stay — strongly linked to the financial structure of occupancy — certainly played an important role. Also important were a number of issues related to building structure and living space design, as well as amenities that made high density living more enjoyable.

For a useful summary of the findings, read more at Building Design: Key Lessons To Be Learned About High-Density Living

And for a detailed exploration of the issues, read the entire report in LSE London and LSE Cities: Residents’ experience of high-density housing in London

A Peculiar, Militant Source of Vancouver Homeless Support. Is It For Real?

Strathcona-map photo by Strathcona Residents' Association is licensed under CC BY 3.0
Strathcona, where residents love the homeless people living in Strathcona Park.

Vancouver B.C. neighbours have recently invented a compassionate new way of saying NIMBY to the homeless.

Forget the old, “I hate you. I don’t care where you live as long as it’s Not In My Backyard.”

In the Strathcona neighbourhood, folks have realized that you can achieve the same objective with love, not hate.

And so, the message to those 300 or so tenters in nearby Strathcona Park has turned right around. Now, the message is, “I love you. You are cherished folks who are part of our neighbourhood. You deserve so much better than our insignificant, unattractive Strathcona Park.”

And just to show they are serious, these Strathcona neighbours are signing petitioners threatening to withhold city taxes until the city ensures these cherished homeless neighbours are given housing. Not in Strathcona Park, of course. It is just a public park without suitable amenities, after all.

But somewhere better, where there is housing. Or, failing housing, then at least a tenting place with showers, toilets, etc.

That will, undoubtedly, be somewhere else. It will be sad to say goodbye to all their dearly loved tenting neighbours. But you know, what’s a gang of loving single family homeowners to do?

And, yes, of course it’s NIMBY. But it’s NIMBY with a heart.

Read more at CTV: Strathcona homeowners declare ‘tax resistance’ until homeless camp is relocated, housing provided

Eviction Reprieve For UK Tenants?

Canva - Woman Feeling Emotional Stress photo by MismibaTinasheMadando is licensed under CC0 1.0
Saved from eviction, for now.

Private sector tenants who are in arrears in the UK have been given a reprieve from eviction until September 20, 2020. The tenants learned of this decision just two days before an earlier eviction ban expired.

The announcement affects 230,000 tenants who have rental arrears arising from job losses brought on as part of the response to COVID-19. The following article discusses the how tenants are affected by last minute decision making (poorly), measures to protect tenants beyond the September 20 eviction extension (murky), and actions the government should take to avoid widespread evictions and enable tenants to continue to pay their rent. Read about private sector tenant troubles in I: The last-minute eviction ban extension will do little to help Britain’s renters – what will have changed by 20 September?

Delaware Experiment: Can Open Door To Public Housing Keep Former Felons From Reoffending?

Open door at Hidcote Manor photo by Neosnaps is licensed under CC BY 2.0

For many years, U.S. governments at every level have been determined to provide no “free ride” for those newly released from various prison systems.

One incredibly self-defeating consequence of these policies? Released prisoners are barred from even temporarily staying with friends or relatives in government financed public housing. Without this inexpensive and supportive alternative, many are immediately threatened by homelessness. They are left with a difficult or well-nigh hopeless task of finding rental accommodation from wary and reluctant private landlords.

No thanks to the threat of homelessness hanging over their heads, as many as three quarters of such newly-released inmates in the state of Delaware will be re-arrested. Two thirds will wind up back behind bars.

Can at least modest housing security for newly-released prisoners help turn around these dismal statistics? Five of Delaware’s public housing authories are prepared to give it a try. With few exceptions, these authorities aim to make it possible for former inmates to spend time in public housing not just accessing the benefits of shelter, but also the potential benefits of reconnecting with family and access to professional support.

Read more in the NEWARK POST: Inmate re-entry program garners strong support at public hearing

Just The Job To Provide Civilization’s Objective Of Health For All

Vanishing point photo by Andy Simonds is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Without employment, walled off from health, water, food and housing.

Modern free-enterprise civilization has one resounding response to human health, “Get a Job, Ya Bum!”

It is addressed to each of its human “civvies,” either directly or by inference, and presumably fulfills civilization’s purpose to lift humanity above survival of the fittest.

Human health has been long defined as access to adequate housing, adequate food, and clean water.1 But the conductors of free-enterprise civilization — the most effective of those being governments — stubbornly resist providing “civvies” with a free ride — in other words subsidizing individuals who might have difficulty obtaining any of food, water and shelter.

Employment has therefore become the sole provider of individual human health, and is distributed to all, we are led to believe, by immutable ”laws” of supply and demand.

How are these “laws” managing to provide employment, and by extension, human health for all in this time of hardship and opportunity — accelerated by both a pandemic and technological change?

Not terribly well, it seems. Read about one instructive employment example in Vice: ‘You Couldn’t Swipe Fast Enough’: How the Pandemic Devastated Instacart Workers

With free enterprise society reducing the solution to all the fundamental human health requirements of a civilization to “get a job,” perhaps it’s time to stop advocating for subsidiary necessities such as food, water and shelter and go right to the source of all of them.

Time to demand a basic human right to an adequate job?

Philadelphia Homeless Moms And Children Commandeer City Houses

Low Cost Moving photo by Bill Smith is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Over the last few months, the saga of a Bay Area empty house occupied by homeless single moms with children has made national headlines in the U.S.1

This California good news story may have been hogging all the limelight, but activities in Philadelphia may well be winning the race to get more homeless single moms and children into housing.

Read more in IN THESE TIMES: Single Mothers and Their Children Are Taking Over Abandoned Public Buildings

Do UK Planning Changes Spell The End Of Social Housing?

_JWT5196 photo by Reading News is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
New Council Housing in Reading. An endangered species?

In the midst of the COVID-19 recovery, where rules change from one day to the next, the UK government is rolling out an array of planning reforms. The planning reforms are being billed as part of the country’s economic recovery strategy.1

Social housing in England has been financed by developer levies. The new reforms would exempt businesses developing “small” sites (up to 50 units) from paying any levy at all. On larger sites, the levies will be replaced by a charge to be calculated based on the final value of the development. The reaction to these proposals is mixed.

Local councils and housing agencies that help people to find housing have been critical of the developer levies. Typical of public private partnerships, the levies produce a trickle of social housing, far below the levels needed to meet the needs of the 1.1 million households that are on the waiting list. However, with the new reforms, the same councils and agencies are concerned that the trickle of social housing will diminish to nothing. See at The Guardian: Affordable housing ‘will diminish due to UK planning changes’

The development industry heralds the reforms as “cutting red tape.” Is this a clue that the concerns expressed by councils and housing agencies about the future of social housing are well founded?

Shelter, a housing agency, has dug into the red tape story. Far from a history of planning permission red tape, it turns out that number of planning permissions is hundreds of thousands of units more than the number of units that have been completed. In addition, the planning permissions are issued promptly, within specified time frames.

As to the claim that social housing deters developers from building, Shelter’s analysis shows the complete opposite: developments with social housing units have much better completion rates than ones that have no levies. Read more on this research at Shelter: Shelter responds to major new planning reforms

Helping Homeless Shelters To Welcome Pets And Their Owners

Dog walking photo by AaronBarlow is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Turned away from a homeless shelter?

Streetvet, a cadre of volunteers in England, offers veterinary services to over 1,000 pets that belong to people who are homeless. During the COVID-19 lockdown, local councils offered emergency accommodation to people who were sleeping rough, but that offer didn’t always extend to their pets. Rather than give up their pets, people declined the offer of temporary accommodation.

During COVID-19 lockdown, Streetvet began helping the agencies that had to turn away pets, offering practical supports including pet cages and sample policies for shelters and other services that would allow them to accommodate people with their pets.

As the story makes clear, programs that welcome pets could be the difference between staying on the streets and accepting services indoors. This story will be of interest to anyone who wonders why pet programs are so important. The story will also be helpful to shelters and other services that are looking for advice on how to broaden their services to welcome pets.

Read more in The Guardian: The pet project helping to get rough sleepers in the UK off the streets

Evicted Oakland Squatter-Moms Buy That Vacant House — Updated

ReclaimMLK_Oakland_IMG_8608-1 photo by Peg Hunter is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Moms 4 Housing marching in Oakland California.

Update: Since publishing this post on January 24, 2020, one of the activists who supported the squatter moms plans to stand for a November election to Oakland’s City council. Read more at The Mercury News: Moms 4 Housing mastermind runs for Oakland City Council

Stage-managing the moms’ success described below, might yet be a useful political stepping stone towards curbing both house-flipping speculation and rising homelessness.

Fabulous news for the evicted moms. A totally meaningless victory in a war that desperately needs to be fought against house flipping? Or has something important been achieved here beyond a house for two moms?

From abc7NEWS: Moms 4 Housing: Oakland moms reach deal to buy vacant house they squatted in for 2 months

Follow the issue:

Oakland’s Moms 4 Housing Were Evicted By A Giant Corporation That Runs National Home-Flipping Operation

Cops in Riot Gear Showed Up to Evict the Homeless Moms Occupying a Vacant Oakland House

Occupier California Moms Evicted Quietly, Peacefully. (They Must Be Canadians!)

California Eviction Fight: Is The Housing Owner Blameless — Not A Villain?

Housing: Asset Or Necessity? Disobedience May Define It, Along With The Future of Capitalism

COVID-19 Cools The Short Term Rental Market, But . . .

DSC_0092.jpg photo by Mike Procario is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Tourist London is suffering from COVID-19, including its hospitality landlords. Tenants have more seats on the ferris wheel, but the landlord decides when it's time to get off.

Hamptons, a real estate company in the UK, reports that landlords there are switching from short- to long-term rentals. There is good news and bad news in this story.

The good news: The amount of long term rental stock is going up

In the years leading up to COVID-19, landlords moved existing rental stock from the long- to the short-term rental market, which drove down vacancies and drove up rents in the long-term rental market. Enter the pandemic: revenues in the short term rental market have dropped. Landlords still need revenue, and some landlords are switching from short-term rentals to long-term ones. This is especially the case in London, where the switch is greatest. Hamptons also reports that the rent levels are well below the short-term rental levels. The average drop in rents in London is just shy of £2,000 per month.

The sort of good news: long term rents are holding steady

Compared to last year, average rents across the country are holding steady overall, with some areas (notably London) reporting a drop, and some (notably the Southwest) rising. For the 1.1 million households waiting for social housing, the average rent of £1,000/month across the UK isn’t good news at all.

The bad news: tenants renting in England have no security of tenure

Landlords can still evict tenants for no reason at any time. When/should the market in short-term rentals rebound/s, the tenants could lose their housing even while they have paid rent and met all of the tenancy requirements.

Read more about the private rental market at Hamptons International: Short lets drive up London rental market stock as rents continue to fall

Social Rents Reduced — Comeuppance for Newham Pontius Pilate Performance

Henniker Point photo by Nico Hogg is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
A social housing tower block in the London Borough of Newham.

In the UK, there at last seems a limit to washing your social housing hands. To be sure, the national government continues to get away with its scheme of pushing its truly affordable housing responsibilities onto lesser government shoulders. The downloading began decades ago, along with cockamamie recipes for funding that instruct local councils they must force the private building industry to foot the bill.

Doesn’t work. At least not in any way that produces the volume of truly affordable housing that the nation needs.

Meanwhile, some local councils have taken a leaf out of the hand-washing handbook, and pushed the responsibilities of existing public housing upkeep down to private management companies, with a similar cockamamie recipe for funding: extract it from the tenants.

As the London Borough of Newham has recently discovered, courtesy of the courts, that doesn’t work either. Oh sure, they’re bleating up a storm about ‘management failures’ as if the blame for being forced to dramatically cut tenant rents can be assigned to a few faulty employees, instead of the entire hand-washing process itself.

Viewing this court-assisted tenant pushback, four long years in the making, could there be hope for effectively taking the national government to task? Could the pushback eventually ripple upwards to the hand-washers-in-chief at the national government level, thereby unclogging a pipeline of desperately needed UK social housing?

Read more in The Guardian: ‘It hasn’t sunk in’: Residents win 60% rent reduction in London council flats

Historic Affordability: Dancing-Lady Sweat-Equity on Houses Wearing Silly Hats

the architecture of environmental disaster photo by seier+seier is licensed under CC BY 2.0
On the Danish Island of Læsø, not only a silly hat on a house, but a roof built in 1600.

For an unlikely look at how the past can inform the future, see and read how plastics can be replaced by seaweed that is everywhere, how multi-ton roofing can be accomplished by community cooperation, and how housing affordability is only limited by the human imagination.

For all this, plus houses wearing silly hats, visit the BBC: Denmark’s 300-year-old Homes Of The Future

Clever Designs for Tomorrow’s Hobo Jungles

Three hobos, Chicago, 1929 photo by DN-0087599, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society. is in the public domain
Text over picture reads: Hoboe's 'Jungle' Under Loop Street.

Does a spontaneous camp of the starving homeless profit from design or planning? There are architects who believe so.

Applying the thought to past hobo jungles of the Great Depression makes for unconvincing speculation.1 But then, most of us do not have the particular imagination skills of architects and/or urban planners.

The United Nations has recently reported that nearly 25% of the world’s population is now living in ad hoc informal communities such as refugee camps.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has focused the attention of both poor and rich countries on the importance of universal housing to everybody’s health. And yet, even in many of the world’s most advanced societies there is inconclusive evidence that any national housing gains that might be realized during a COVID-19 response will ultimately survive the moment.

Indeed, there is an almost universal disregard for the consequences of coronavirus-triggered evictions for the citizens of some wealthier countries, let alone the fate of migrants pounding at the gate, or the even more hopeless prospects of refugee hoards huddled in camps in other countries with little or no hope of relocation.

So while it may seem an affront to human morality to plan for “better” hobo jungles, it would seem to be prudent to listen to arguments that architectural design and planning might, while lending permanence to catastrophe, somehow improve the lot of those who struggle to survive in quasi-permanent, informal community settings.

Read more in ArchDaily: Social Housing and Settlements: Potential Promoters of Community Living

Blacks In Tampa, Florida Seem Less Likely To Contract COVID-19. Why?

Haley Pk 15 photo by Florida Community Loan Fund is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
2016 construction of Tampa's Haley Park Apartments, which offer affordable rent to seniors, veterans and people who were experiencing homelessness.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (the Foundation) recently shared stories about COVID-19 responses in nine locations across the US.1 Tampa’s story stands out because COVID-19 levels are roughly in line with the city’s race and ethnicity distribution. This is unlike national patterns, and indeed international patterns where Black people are in a minority. In these situations, Black people have generally been much more likely to be infected than white people.

Tampa’s Black residents’ average incomes are lower than their white neighbours, and their access to publicly funded health care is very limited. Since both of these ought to mean more COVID-19 infections, the Foundation looked for other factors that might explain the lower infection rate in Tampa’s Black population.

The Foundation identified two possibilities. Tampa residents are less likely to live in high rise buildings, where residents may have difficulty practicing social distancing as they use elevators and hallways to reach their homes. Lower density housing may make it easier to practice social distancing.

Next, the City has improved the quality of housing for its poorest residents. Housing quality includes crowding and running water as well as other factors. Less crowding and running water may make it easier to implement quarantine and safe hygiene practices when someone in a household has been exposed to the coronavirus.

The link to Tampa’s response, Sentinel Communities Insights: Spotlight on COVID-19 – Tampa, Florida, is at the foot of this page: COVID-19 Community Response: Emerging Themes Across Sentinel Communities

Will this promising trend in Tampa continue? The Foundation plans to continue to track the Sentinel communities and will report next in the fall.

Short Term Rental Disease: Europe Uses COVID As An Affordable Housing Cure


Until the coronavirus pandemic, a rising number of world cities were suffering from affordable housing problems.

In some cities, overheated housing markets have attracted investors acting from purely speculative reasons. With short turnarounds in mind, speculators often prefer to avoid the hassle of tenants. They leave the housing vacant. This has led to some cities imposing “empty housing” penalties of one kind or another. The City of Vancouver in Canada has recently made a success of this practice, helping to cool the overheated housing market and at the same time raising revenue that is being directed towards affordable housing construction. Try: City Of Vancouver Successfully Puts Idle Homes To Work

There is also a rise in short term rentals such as airbnb, which have enticed landlords with the promise of higher profits from serving tourists, compared to longer term rentals for locals. The arrival of COVID-19, however, has dramatically reduced the number of tourists in many, if not most, countries. This has led to landlords with empty housing and few or no short term renters in sight for an uncertain future. Some may be encouraged to return to the long term local renting market. Others seem prepared to tough out the crisis. As a result, several jurisdictions are working actively to promote the return of rental accommodation to long term local needs. Recently, we’ve looked at two ‘incentives’ aimed at empty accommodations, one a carrot: Lisbon’s Answer To High Rents For Essential Workers, the other a stick: Beating Affordable Housing Out Of Cities. After the Carrot Comes The Stick

Here is a more in depth look at the SRT “disease” that has infected affordable housing in Europe: In the Intelligencer: The European Cities Using the Pandemic As a Cure for Airbnb

Nanaimo BC Activists Want Social Housing As A Neighbourhood Feature

IMG_4455 photo by Andy Nystrom is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A Nanaimo, British Columbia neighbourhood street.

A new article about Nanaimo, B.C. affordable housing is an example of growing sophistication by activists who weigh in on truly affordable housing proposals for their local neighbourhoods.

The traditional, and now widely expected, stance by neighbourhood defenders is NIMBY. That response is often couched in sympathetic packaging such as “we agree that more truly affordable housing is needed, somewhere.” But the bottom line is: Not In My Back Yard.

Nanaimo, however, has had the benefit of experiencing a recent British Columbia program based on modular housing for the homeless.1 The housing is not only modular, but can be disassembled and reused elsewhere, promising neighbours that the arrival of supportive housing for people who were homeless need not be a permanent fixture.

And that’s just what’s happening in Nanaimo, where plans are afoot to eventually dismantle existing the temporary modular housing and transfer residents into two new and permanent residences, pending community and council approval.

Which is where more sophisticated neighbourhood activist input has reared its hopeful head.

Some Nanaimo activists, having experienced the concentrated focus of a single residential building, are advocating that the residents should be scattered into smaller residences in more locations, more effectively integrating their occupants into the social fabric of neighbourhoods.

Gone, at least in this case, are apocalyptic spectres of drunks smashing bottles in every driveway on their way to lurking outside local schoolyards, attitudes that have traditionally resulted in neighbourhood bans on social housing.2

Read more about what sounds more like a negotiated “Yes, In My Back Yard” than the classic NIMBY reaction to a proposal for new social housing, in the Times Colonist: Nanaimo Group Wants Supportive Housing Spread Out

A final note:

With social housing residents most often plucked from immensely long waiting lists, or determined by lottery, there is little chance for a city to poll those who might be living in the local social housing which has not even been constructed. What would work best for them?

But for situations like Nanaimo, where the new residents of social housing are in this case already identified, we would hope that the principles of Housing First also include supporting the residents of new social housing, by determining not only what is best for their neighbourhoods, but also what works best for them.

Preventing Homelessness Among Young People: The Employment Factor

Whistler, B.C. Trip 2006 photo by Cloganese is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Remote Whistler, B.C. an elite, expensive ski town with little affordable accommodation that nevertheless needs low wage employees and apprentices.

Witnessing young people experiencing homelessness in Vancouver led to the creation of Zero Ceiling, which is based in Whistler, British Columbia. Zero Ceiling’s programs to support homeless youth have evolved over its 26 year history. Today, their Work 2 Live program offers one year of employment in an entry level position in Whistler’s skiing operations. The program also includes housing and other supports to make the employment experience a success. Some, such as a weekly group dinner, are mandatory, while others come into play if needed.

There are good reasons behind this employment program. People who experience homelessness before they 20 are more likely to experience periods of homelessness throughout their adult lives. There is a high prevalence of homelessness among young people who are transitioning from government care, and/or who identify as LGBTQ2S, and/or are members of a minority community. Also, the unemployment rates for all young adults suggest that finding steady work is a challenge.

When 90 people had participated in Work 2 Live, Zero Ceiling engaged researchers at Royal Roads University for an independent assessment of the program. The reviewers gathered evidence through focus groups with six kinds of stakeholders: employers, prospective employers, program participants, program graduates, housing representatives and Work 2 Live program directors. The results of the review are available from Zero Ceiling: Work 2 Live

An article about the employment component of Work 2 Live has just been published in the Children and Youth Services Review. The article’s literature review attests to the value of the housing and supports, especially in employment programs for young people who are homeless.

The article also includes quotes from the focus groups with employers, which add to the evidence in the literature review. For example, employers reported that the employees who had no experience of homelessness changed their perspective on homelessness when they worked alongside Work 2 Live participants.

The researchers conclude with recommendations that could apply to anyone operating or contemplating a program to improve the employment opportunities for youth who are homeless.

A summary of the report is available in Children and Youth Services Review: In Search Of Employment: Tackling Youth Homelessness And Unemployment

For those who lack a subscription to the journal, but want more information about the article, here is contact information for the researchers: Jo Axe (jo.axe@royalroads.ca), Elizabeth Childs (elizabeth.childs@royalroads.ca) and Kathleen Manion (kathleen.manion@royalroads.ca)

Beyond Food Banks

Oregon Food Bank photo by Walmart is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Pay the rent or feed the kids” articulates an extreme choice. Yet it is one that people with housing costs that eat more 30% of their income face all the time. It’s one of the reasons that grocery stores have bins to collect food donations from shoppers. Individual donations help shoppers to feel they are helping. Others have tackled the issue on a larger scale. This post looks at two organizations that improve access to affordable, healthy food, using different approaches.

The Company Shop Group is a business that began as a strategy to redistribute surplus food, taking unsold stock off the hands of businesses. Some of the stock is sold through Community Shops, which are located in five (soon to be six) neighbourhoods where most residents have very low incomes. The rest of the stock is sold through 11 Company Shops. Company Shops sell to select employee groups, including people working in the armed forces, police, fire, the national health service and the food manufacturing and distributing sector. Proceeds of sales from Company and Community shops are invested in services in Community shop neighbourhoods. Read more about the newest Community Shop in the Liverpool: New award-winning social supermarket for Liverpool’s Walton Road

Community Food Centres Canada supports community groups interested in improving food security and strengthening community connections. The Community Food Centre model was developed and piloted at one centre before expanding. Today there are 13 across the country. Community Food Centres provide community meals, volunteer opportunities, programs that support kids to cook and grow plants, community gardens and other strategies to boost local food production and advocate for change. Some community food centre participants share their experiences here: “It’s given me a new sense of purpose.”

On reading these examples, one might ask “how far is far enough?” when it comes to supporting people who have limited incomes and struggle to meet basic needs. Belinda Yuen, writing about about Singapore’s housing programs, describes two schools of thought about lifting people out of poverty.1 One focuses primarily on individual initiative. The second adds the element of redistribution. Yuen also demonstrates the policy and program choices that derive from these schools of thought.

The first view relies largely on private sector business activity to lift people out of poverty. A micro loan to an individual would be consistent with this view. The loan might allow a borrower to purchase additional supplies and sell more product and increase their income. With more income, the loan recipient can purchase better housing, more food, etc.

The second view considers how a whole community’s wealth is distributed to support its population, spending public funds to raise the standard of living for people with low incomes. Her example is a comprehensive construction program that invests public funds in meeting the basic need for housing. By putting public resources to housing supply, there is both a steady source of employment and a housing program that includes permanently affordable for people with very low incomes.

Food donations, food banks, the Shop Company Group and Community Food Centres have all come into being because people are struggling to meet basic needs. In terms of Yuen’s ideas, each one is an initiative that redistributes wealth. Each one gives voice to the idea that as a society, more redistribution is needed. They are typical of some of the responses that are thrumming through the media as governments set their path to economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic. People holding Yuen’s first first view will tend to argue that it is business that needs help. Those taking the second view will be more likely to support programs that will make housing and food more affordable.

Homeless Numbers Shrinking? No Consolation For The Unfortunately Unhoused

Couch Surfing photo by ephidryn is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Of course he's not homeless. You can see he's in a home. He's just 'couch surfing'.

A recent article in Huffpost draws attention to a common yet frightening administrative technique for declaring a ‘social success’ when exactly the opposite is happening. Or, just as commonly, when nothing new is happening at all.

In this case, homelessness can be identified as ‘declining’ when in fact, it is increasing in a COVID-19 world where penniless renters have been threatened with, and are now experiencing, evictions.

The technique in play? Create a subset of a social phenomenon such as ‘homelessness’ then casually remove that subset from its previous connections.

For example, let us apply a different label to someone if they have become homeless through the unique circumstances of coronavirus-induced, and hopefully temporary, poverty. We will focus on the process of becoming homeless, rather than the end result.

Let us identify this unique subset of homelessness as ‘unhoused.’

Now rationalize, using some mental gymnastics, that an ‘unhoused’ person is not homeless.

Voila! Your homelessness statistics at worst stay steady, and may indeed decrease, even though thousands more adults and children may be sleeping in alleyways, or forced to ‘couch-surf’ with friends or relatives.1

Read more in Huffpost: My Daughter And I Just Became ‘Unhoused’ During The COVID-19 Crisis

The Decline And Fall Of Public Housing, Or . . . Back To Tent Camps & Slums

Slum photo by krosinsky is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
How soon we forget! Even today's richest nations have needed government money to eliminate substandard housing for their poorest citizens.

Is the villain called ‘small-government conservatism’ or is it called ‘neoliberalism?’  Here at affordablehousingaction.org we’ve given up puzzling it out. Maybe we seriously need an academic lecture on the terms (which we’re avoiding). In any case, we’ve decided that it’s all down to whether you want to slam liberals or conservatives on your way to explaining what a disaster “it” has been as a governing principle for the last few decades. Whichever one it is, it unfortunately continues to be a governing principle in many advanced countries today.

One product of this political philosophy has been unaffordable housing, the lack of which became a serious crisis (or a series of crises if you wish to nitpick) well before COVID-19. Now, as literally millions of out of work citizens face eviction or foreclosure, unaffordable housing promises to become a public health disaster on a scale with infectious disease pandemics.

One of the supposed triumphs of small-government conservatism/neoliberalism has been to denigrate the historic successes of social housing. Arguments have been accepted and implemented that undermine a critically important public good, one that lifted modernizing nations above the mire of their ubiquitous slums.

We need that public good back again, urgently. From an American perspective, read more in Shelterforce: We Need a Federal Housing Agency

Even As Temporary Housing, Shipping Containers Can Fail To Do The Job

from the oak trees photo by Nicolás Boullosa is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Temporary housing” has become a growing industry. It started when the UK government gave local councils a “duty to accommodate” people who were homeless. As the number of households grew, councils developed all kinds of strategies to provide temporary housing.1 Vicky Spratt at I relates a cautionary tale about counting shipping containers among the solutions.

Shipping containers aren’t big, even when you bolt a few together. Families are managing in small spaces that don’t meet the country’s occupancy standards. To say that lockdown was challenging could be one of the biggest understatements of COVID-19.

Then there are health concerns, which include mould and ventilation. The temporary housing is also very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter.

And then there’s the meaning of “temporary.” It’s one thing to be thinking about living with crowding and mould for months. It’s another thing altogether when that stretches to years and there’s no prospect that it will end.

How does this square with stories of living in tiny homes? For years now, shipping containers have been a darling of “tiny home living,” a lifestyle that its proponents suggest is a bright future for all.2 It’s true that some people live in very tiny spaces, as numerous news items and videos on the web can attest. It’s also important to remember that countries have occupancy standards and undercutting them has consequences.

And what about that latest darling of the affordable housing solution: modular construction? It offers speed. It also offers quality control. From the stories that I has collected, the offer isn’t enough: quality control is essential.

See Vicky Spratt’s full investigation in I: Shipping container Britain: Growing number of homeless families are being housed in container-style homes

UK Tenants and Landlords Propose Government Assisted Sharing Structure For COVID-19 Losses

High Street, Corsham, England photo by Billy Wilson is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Spot the residential tenancies in this UK commercial high street picture.

OMG, landlords and Tenants are getting together to put forward a comprehensive plan that will share the burden of COVID-19 with the government. Brilliant! Can this be a signal in the UK at least that hundreds of thousands of residential tenants in arrears on their rent will not be evicted?


It’s all about commercial tenants and landlords. Well, bully for them!

But why aren’t similar arrangements being discussed for residential landlords and tenants?

Because unlike residential rents, both sides of the commercial rent arrears crisis are businesses, and nothing is too good for business?

Because in anti-union government environments that have existed for decades, the idea of tenants organizing to take a strong position is toxic and to be actively resisted, or at least ignored?


Isn’t it about time the UK government started looking for comprehensive settlements for both residential tenants and landlords to spare the chaos, misery and social upheaval that will follow mass tenant evictions?

Read more in a press release from BPF: Business & landlords call for introduction of Property Bounceback Grant

Can Micro Income, Micro Houses And Micro Businesses Add Up To Micro Communities?

Bayview greenhouse photo by WayneRay is licensed under the public domain
This greenhouse contributed food and employment in a community of modular homes in the 1960's in Stephenville, Newfoundland.

The success of human communities over the eons have been centred around many different physical and social needs, from water or food sources to protection from enemy attack.

Why not income size?

There are far too many existing examples of how badly such communities present themselves. Favellas, slums, hobo jungles — lots of different names. They may satisfy a vital human need for shelter, but generally, at least in the eyes of outsiders, they appear to fall far short of the basics of healthy community living.

But suppose smallness was actually planned, not grown like topsy? Is there a future for living large in communities planned for tiny-ness?

Read about one such project in the Springfield News-Leader: Elevate Branson creating tiny home community for those in poverty

Students Pitch In To Build Housing For People Who Are Homeless

Bicycle Rider (2759738399) photo by Tulane Public Relations is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Classes are over. Now off to summer work.

The foremost affordable housing charity in the world proved the method: unskilled volunteers can be enticed to pay to travel to another continent, make a cash donation, then contribute sweat equity (physical labour) to construct a truly affordable home for a needy family.

A few modifications to Habitat for Humanity’s proven model can serve a similar purpose. Make it a summer experience and training project for youth. Cut the intercontinental travel back to biking distance. Reduce the scale of the product by targeting a slightly different clientele.

And there you have it, a Kitchener, Ontario 2020 project: Read more at the CBC: Teens spend summer building tiny homes at St. Mary’s Catholic Church

Beating Affordable Housing Out Of Cities. After the Carrot Comes The Stick.

Barcelona photo by Sean MacEntee is licensed under CC BY 2.0
As Barcelona's affordable housing vanishes, city gets serious with empty housing owners.

With the coronavirus pandemic has come a remarkable downturn in tourism. This has crimped the style of high-flying Short Term Rental (SRT) landlords, who have over the last few years been stripping rental stock away from city workers in favour of fly-by-night tourist accommodation.

Some regions have taken advantage of this turn around in the fortunes of the short term rental market. How best to encourage landlords of any and every kind to choose longer term rental that would help local workers?

There’s the carrot.  And then there’s the stick.

One of our recent posts explored Lisbon’s “carrot” approach to enticing landlord to turn their focus away from SRTs and towards to city workers: Lisbon’s Answer To High Rents For Essential Workers

Barcelona, by contrast, is looking around at too many empty apartments in the city, held for whatever reasons away from the local long-term housing market, and made it clear it’s no longer a time to play Mr. Nice Guy. They’re threatening the “stick.”

Read more at Bloomberg CityLab: Barcelona’s Latest Affordable Housing Tool: Seize Empty Apartments

Homeless To Housing: Housing First. And Second? There’s A Big Time Second!

Counseling photo by Alan Cleaver is licensed under CC BY 2.0

‘Housing First’ is a world-respected program designed to rescue individuals from homelessness. It has been very successful. Indeed, its success has been communicated to city councils everywhere to the point that such governing bodies, without necessarily understanding the full scope of the program, often insist that funding for homelessness be earmarked for “Housing First”.

“Housing First’s” name strongly reflects the necessary step to begin the program. Put the homeless person into housing.

Right. Done and dusted. Success. End of Story?

Far from it. Official dismay and even resentment that can occur when people who are homeless move to housing. Without followup support, there’s every likelihood they won’t stay. Consider this pandemic-triggered housing of homeless in Western Australia: Australians Resist COVID-19 Path To Eliminate Homelessness

It might be argued that the most important part of Housing First is NOT housing first. That should be the easy step on the road to rescuing an individual from homelessness. (Not in fact so easy, unfortunately, as so many regions suffer a critical lack of truly affordable housing.)

The essential meat of Housing First is delivered after a homeless individual obtains the physical and mental security of shelter that is pemanent and affordable.1

How important, how expensive, how complex are the supports that must be part of a “Housing First” program after a person is placed in housing?

For an insight into the challenge for health workers providing follow-up support to people newly moved from the street to housing, read about a modest new mental health support program starting up in northwest Arkansas. The support and housing teams are ready: they know who needs housing by name and the kinds of services that will help them.2 Read more in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette: Program to combine housing and mental health services for the city’s most vulnerable

Health Services In US Supported To Use Housing First Treatment

Housing First photo by Homeless Hub is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Housing First gets another first.

The evidence supporting Housing First continues to pile up.

The Community Preventive Services Task Force in the U.S. compared results from studies of Housing First and Treatment First and have concluded that health practitioners should recommend Housing First to patients who are homeless, using drugs and/or alcohol and living with a mental illness.1 Housing First is also effective for people who are homeless and living with HIV/AIDS.

This report is important because it addresses two criticisms that are frequently levelled against Housing First programs:

  • Housing First encourages people to use drugs and alcohol. The studies demonstrate that in Housing First programs, alcohol and substance use stays the same or goes down.
  • Housing First is a deterrent to seeking employment. Not only are people in Housing First programs willing to work, their housing stability makes it easier for them to find and keep work.

This report will assist health practitioners who have patients who are homeless and using substances or alcohol. The health practitioners can refer (or better yet assist) their patients to enroll in Housing First programs, based on evidence from these studies.

The report also gives health policy advocates and researchers reason to align with people in other disciplines who are advocating a Housing First approach. Perhaps this will help to increase the amount of housing that is so sorely needed for Housing First to work.

Read more at the Community Preventive Services Task Force: Health Equity: Permanent Supportive Housing with Housing First (Housing First Programs)

TOPA Power: Allowing Distressed Tenants To Buy Out Landlords

Evicted photo by Gideon is licensed under CC BY 2.0
A evicted tenant turns the tables and buys out his landlord. Fantasyland? Read on.

The headline above seems to suggest an absurd impossibility. The idea that a battered tenant on the brink of rent default and eviction might somehow rise from the floor of the fight cage to deliver that decisive knockout blow to the perennial bad guy . . . come on now, this ain’t a movie!

And yet, multiple jurisdictions in the U.S. have entertained, or are now entertaining, just such ideas (minus the over-the-top imagery, of course.)

The following article shortens the mouthful “Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act” to TOPA and describes existing and proposed legislative frameworks that give tenants under threat of eviction the right to purchase their rental accommodation.

How does a struggling near-penniless tenant wind up as an owner instead of a renter? It sounds unlikely, but there are a number of ways. For an extensive discussion of the possibilities, read more in Shelterforce. Giving Tenants the First Opportunity to Purchase Their Homes

Can Partnerships, Not Legalities, Solve Kamloops’ Social Discord Problems?

kamloops is pretty sometimes photo by David Wise is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Central Kamloops

Social discord between businesses, neighbours, social service agencies and their customers seems to be an inevitable feature of modern urban life.

Chronic nuisance, perceived or actual, is often the target of hopeful legal remedies like panhandling fines or littering regulations. These legal remedies may discourage. Often enough, they are more problematic than useful. The fines work against efforts to help people leave the streets and move into housing.

The City of Kamloops, British Columbia, is currently attempting a somewhat different approach: good neighbour agreements. Conceived by a city planning committee concerned with vulnerable residents, the agreements are not presented as legal commitments but more informal partnership relationships.

Testing has proved encouraging, and so the City is pursuing the project on a broader scale.

Agreements have been tried in other communities, often proscribing the behaviour of the tenants and their landlords. These ones are unusual because all stakeholders, including local businesses and social services, have responsibilities. What do the agreements cover, and how do they spell it out? Read more in KAMLOOPS THIS WEEK: Good neighbour agreements eyed for social agencies and City of Kamloops

Update — Is Segregation Actually A ‘Progressive’ Political Tool For Retaining Power

US Marshals with Young Ruby Bridges on School Steps photo by US Department of Justice is licensed under the public domain
Are today's 'progressive' politics entitled to take ownership of landmark events like this one, where Black student Ruby Bridges has a US Marshal escort to attend school in 1960?

An article linked below by a housing advocate from the US calls out progressives who suggest they are the political force most suitable for ending the race discrimination that has persisted since the end of the civil war.

Based on past history, the Democratic Party has little or nothing to be proud of when it comes to housing segregation. Read in beyondChron: Will Democrats End Segregation?

Update: Thomas Sugrue has interesting research, which complements Nicole Hannah-Jones’ discussion in Will Democrats End Segregation?

Sugrue, who is based at New York University, used census data to trace geographic shifts in ethnicity, race and income in US suburbs. In an interview with Politico, he explains that far from being homogeneous, suburbs have distinctive demographic patterns within them. He also notes that the shifts in demographics map to a change in electoral support from Republicans to Democrats.

Sugrue also demonstrates that the emerging Democrat suburbs continue to do everything they can to block affordable housing projects and similar efforts to promote integration. Read more in about this research in Politico: Trump Doesn’t Understand Today’s Suburbs—And Neither Do You

UK Housing Associations Are Teaming Up To Reduce Repair And Building Costs

Looks like Toronto Community Housing is rebuilding this building, south of Church and Carlton, 2019 05 17 -d (46972576535) photo by booledozer is licensed under CC0 1.0
Would teaming up with other housing providers reduce the cost of repairing and upgrading this Toronto Community Housing building?

Social housing providers have been teaming up to reduce costs by making bulk purchases for years. It’s a tested method to reduce insurance, utility and financing costs for individual housing providers.1 Here’s an initiative from England to try the same idea for construction, maintenance and repairs. To get a taste of what is planned, see this micro-article in Building: Firms on notice for £400m modular housing framework

What Is The Faircloth Amendment? How Is It Crippling Social Housing In America?

Governor Alfred E. Smith Houses photo by Reading Tom is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Governor Alfred E. Smith Houses, New York City. How come it can be against the law to build projects that are as fundamentally important as this one?

The Faircloth Amendment, passed in 1999, attempts to freeze American social housing in time. Now and in the future, cities may destroy public housing. Cities may neglect public housing until it falls down. But, borne on the wings of a visceral hatred of social housing by a ‘small government’ philosophy that has dominated American political thinking for several decades, the amount of social housing in a community can never exceed its 1999 inventory.

How is it crippling social housing in America? An article in the Boston Globe explores the reasoning behind the City’s rent-geared-to-income social housing crisis. It neatly lays out the Faircloth legacy that faces most cities in America where there is a critical need for truly affordable housing. It also identifies the loophole specific to Boston that means more social housing can be built right now.  Read more in the Boston Globe: Public housing is an investment in the public good

Update: Indigenous And Homeless? 12 Reasons Why Affordable Housing Alone Is Not Enough — Update

Typical residential street in Factory Island 1 Indian Reserve, Moose Factory, Ontario, Canada photo by P199 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Housing such as this on a First Nations Reserve is only part of Canada's huge aboriginal homelessness problem.

A Canadian definition of homelessness neither mirrored nor explained the aboriginal experiences of Jesse Thistle. He decided that a definition that reflected the indigenous experience was an essential foundation upon which to build a truly effective program to end aboriginal homelessness. Years in the making, with consultations across Canada and around the world, that single definition which Thistle sought to replace ultimately became twelve, which describe the indigenous homelessness experience. Thistle presented his definitions last week at the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness conference in Winnipeg, November 2017.

Read an extensive article describing Jessie Thistle’s work defining aboriginal homelessness in The Tyee:  For Indigenous People, Homelessness Is More Than Lacking a Home

Update August 2020: Jesse Thistle describes the evolution of the Indigenous definition of homelessness and shares some of his own experience in this video conversation with Jayne Malenfant and Stephen Gaetz.1

The conversation is interesting because it demonstrates how Indigenous ways of learning strengthened academic research on ending homelessness. Indigenous people are over-represented among the people experiencing homelessness in Canada and are a source of knowledge that had largely been overlooked. The definition of Indigenous homelessness has proved relevant far beyond the indigenous community.

The conversation also addresses some of the difficulties of working in today’s academic environment, particularly in the social sciences. There has been a strong emphasis on scientific objectivity, which on its surface denies the relevance of lived experience. Perversely, this has put research on a course that privileges individual career advancement over initiatives that move us along in understanding and overcoming social and societal issues.

For more, watch at the Homeless Hub: Making the Shift Virtual Event Series: In Conversation with Jesse Thistle

Can A Public Trust Help Solve NYCHA’s Multi-Billion Dollar Repair Woes?

Stapleton NYCHA jeh photo by Jim Henderson is licensed under CC0 1.0
After decades of neglect, New York City Housing Authority Buildings, including this one, together need over $45 billion for repairs.

With years and years and billions and billions of dollars worth of government neglect lying heavily on its shoulders, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is understandably grasping at any and all straws that might preserve its invaluable truly affordable housing.

City and state governments seem disinclined or able to mount a rescue operation. Neither is the ‘small-government’ obsessed Republican national administration stepping up the the plate. In fact, neither Republican nor Democratic federal governments have ever accepted responsibility for the untenable management and maintenance structure that has crippled American public housing from virtually the moment of its inception. Indeed, governments at all levels have preferred to blame all of social housing’s woes on its vulnerable occupants.

In this semi-hostile environment, lip service is often the best that can be expected. What is a responsible housing authority to do? NYCHA’s latest idea is a public trust.

Read more at SPECTRUM NEWS NY1: NYCHA Head Proposes Public Trust for Struggling Agency

COVID 19 Recovery — Financing Prospects For New Social Housing

REIT photo by EpicTop10.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Real Estate Investment Trusts are marketed as a safe investment tool, though not without impact on land and housing values. Can they work successfully for social housing?

There is no question that the COVID-19 response has messed with the economy. Recovery planners are eyeing social housing as a potential win-win for the construction industry and households with very low or no incomes. COVID-19 has underlined the importance of housing, especially for people with very low incomes, who were having a desperate time finding housing that was affordable even before the pandemic. Meanwhile, measures to limit COVID-19’s damage put the brakes on construction activity, which now needs to get restarted.

Governments have implemented quite substantial public spending programs during COVID-19 and have received high ratings in the polls. Governments have also paid to build social housing in the past, but in most countries there’s still not much evidence that this might happen again.

Alternative ideas for funding have recently been featured in the media. Examples include Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), Ethical Investment Funds and Pension Plans. They are potentially large sources of capital, which seek reliable investments that provide a modest rate of return.

Here is an article published in IP&E, an industry publication for institutional investors and pension funds: USS bullish on shared ownership housing, debuts with £300m debt facility

See also three earlier posts about potential funding sources for social housing:

One Size Fits All Social Housing? Nope. Doesn’t Fit Seniors

Affordable apartments open in Prince George photo by Province of British Columbia is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
An affordable housing building for seniors, families and people with disabilities.

Is the idea of mixed age social housing a clever attempt to build more complete (and therefore presumably healthier) housing communities? Or is it just a government slapdash cost-cutting convenience?

The decision in British Columbia to mix younger adults into buildings that had been built for seniors isn’t working out well. The consequences for seniors are literally terrifying, and threaten to last their lifetime.

It turns out that the reasons behind this decision are rooted in human rights. In the 1970’s and 80’s there was a move to close mental health hospitals and other facilities that provided permanent homes for their residents.1 Needless to say, the transition wasn’t always well supported and it wasn’t always smooth.

The skills and behaviours for living in an institution are not the same as those for living in rental housing. For example, paying rent was a new thing. These new renters were paying for their new housing from their social assistance income, which was well below the poverty line. Without transitional support, people who left institutions were at great risk to become homeless.

Add to that, anyone under 65 who was moving from and institution to the community was not eligible for social housing. Opening seniors’ buildings to single adults under 65 was a practical solution.

This article is particularly interesting because the author Josh Cook, makes a case for more tenant support workers in these buildings. Their task? Working with the tenants, young and old, to make the buildings safe and comfortable for all residents. The role of tenant support is integral to Housing First, which has demonstrated success in helping single adults to leave the streets and settle successfully in permanent housing. Why not apply the same idea in social housing that is home for single adults?

Read more in The Province: Josh Cook: Mixed-age approach to social housing is failing low-income seniors in B.C.

Pardon Our Enthusiasm: The UK Momentary End To Homelessness That Wasn’t

homeless photo by Farhad Sadykov is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Has the familiar face of a street person been missing for a while? A small positive benefit of COVID-19: some chronic homelessness victims have been swept off the streets and into housing.

So where did it come from — all the COVID-19 homelessness good news that actually wasn’t?

Affordablehousingaction.org thought that Everyone In, which directed local councils to provide housing for everyone who was homeless, was a remarkable achievement. What a wonderful example of all that a national government can do when it puts its mind to it: requiring that all of the UK’s homeless population be housed for protection in a pandemic.

Local council response? Equally admirable. Accepting the challenge and rising to the occasion to sweep virtually all people who were homeless off the streets and into protective shelter.

Virtually all? Well, 90% anyway.

Not even that.


Read more in The Guardian: Reports of rough sleeping in UK rose sharply during lockdown

Everyone In included people who have been living rough for years. That indeed is praiseworthy. Further, The Guardian reports that some of these habitual rough sleepers have already been moved to permanent housing — also a considerable achievement.

A New Building Solely For Social Housing Tenants?

Vancouver CCF-Brill T44 2040 at VTC photo by Jason V is licensed under CC BY 2.0
What does a bus have to do with social housing? Its portrait was taken on a 5.6 hectare (13.8 acre) lot that is slated for housing development in Vancouver, B.C.

A Vancouver based developer is proposing to consolidate social housing units in a single building, rather than spreading them across multiple buildings.

What should we make of this?

These days, public-private partnerships predominate the delivery of affordable housing. By necessity, the units are part of a larger construction project. In this case, there will be multiple buildings, so one building dedicated to affordable housing is possible.

Still, the proposal doesn’t sit well with affordable housing advocates. Evidence from the US, which indicates that income integration means better outcomes for households than in public housing, would seem to support their position.

However, stories from other cities suggest that even when the units are integrated in a single building, developers and managers find ways to exclude the households that will live in the units that are affordable. The idea of integration is more of a myth.1

Advocates also point to the sorry state of public housing buildings, where all of the units are subsidized. The state of the housing is undeniably bad, but the reasons for its condition are the subject of debate. Some people blame the bad conditions on tenants, while others attribute the situation to management neglect, limited maintenance and relentless budget cuts.2

Models such as proposed by this developer were actually the norm when constructing social housing during the 1960’s and 1970’s in Ontario. Looking back, that experience possibly sheds light on the debate about dedicated housing. Fifty years on, all of the buildings (private and public) are in need of significant upgrades, especially to improve energy efficiency.

The United Way of Greater Toronto surveyed residents in the public and private buildings in 2009. Residents’ opinions about building management were pretty consistent between the public housing units and the privately operated buildings with one exception. The tenants in public housing were less confident that needed repairs would be completed. This could indicate that private landlords were investing more in repairs. The United Way’s research tends to support the view that building condition is a function of management, maintenance and budgetting. Read more at the United Way Of Greater Toronto: Poverty by Postal Code 2: Vertical Poverty

Read more about the current proposal in the Vancouver Sun: Oakridge-area developer wants to consolidate social housing in 14-acre city project

Good Housing You Deserve? Not Possible By Capitalist Speculation

Catherine Bauer photo by Unknown is licensed under the public domain
Catherine Bauer strongly advocated the need for public housing, beginning in the 1930's.

The ultimate degradation of the term ‘affordable housing’ has been reached by returning it to a strictly individual expression. Pat YOUR pockets. Is it affordable to YOU? How much do YOU have to spend?

Speculators embedded in the capitalist economic system, according to Catherine Bauer, ensure that you will never have enough. Even if you are wealthy, you will get less than you bargained for. And if you are poor, Bauer’s vision of capitalist speculation offers you only a slum.

Bauer was an architect, urban planner, civil servant and academic, who began her career in the early 20th century. She wrote, spoke and taught on a wide range of issues, including urban development, architecture, and public housing. Her legacy is evident in US legislation, popular media, academic journals and numerous books.

She saw housing as a right that, if necessary, should be provided as a public service. Her book Modern Housing was published in 1934, a time of high unemployment and homelessness.  The book was reprinted in 2019, and is reviewed in the New Yorker: The Depression-Era Book That Wanted to Cancel the Rent

The New Yorker article makes a big deal of a conflict between Bauer and Jane Jacobs, an urban philosopher and author, who fought urban renewal plans for New York City and Toronto.1 Jacobs saw Bauer’s “socialist” housing philosophies stultifying to the human imagination. Left to its own devices, unshackled in a world of free enterprise, Jacobs believed that capitalism plus unfettered human imagination would effectively deliver the best possible housing to all citizens.2

Yet on many points, Jacobs and Bauer were in agreement. Evidence to this effect is presented by Barbara Penner, who described Bauer’s extensive career in Places Journal in 2018. Penner sets Modern Housing in a much larger context.

Penner’s comments introduce a reprint of The (Still) Dreary Deadlock of Public Housing, which Bauer wrote in 1957. The article is frank in discussing the failings of public housing within the context of US housing and the role of the dynamic interplay across many interest groups. These include the development industry, housing advocates, local housing authorities, and local and national governments. Looking ahead, she also forecasts how segregation and discrimination (already evident) would be exacerbated.

Both Penner’s introduction and Bauer’s article suggest ways for moving toward a future where public housing has a respected place. In view of today’s rising homelessness and high unemployment, it is particularly timely. See their full comments in Places Journal: The (Still) Dreary Deadlock of Public Housing

UK Housing Development Deregulation: A Willful Celebration of Past Ignorance

cutting through red tape photo by brewminate is licensed under the public domain
Are slums in England's future as well as its past?

The United Kingdom is in a unique position. It actually knows the truth about what happens when housing developers are handed their Holy Grail — the unrestricted right to build what they want where they want in the way they want. Rules, regulations, by-laws and zoning requirements? All abolished.

According to ‘Economics 101,’ the free market will ensure that in such a freewheeling environment, developers will at last be capable of responding to the needs of society, therefore able to build not only what everyone needs, but what everyone wants.

Is that what actually happens? The UK knows the answer. It’s a resounding ‘no!’

How did the the UK come by this valuable information? By deciding to stimulate developer interest in ‘brownfields’ — old industrial sites that, once cleaned up, offer useful housing potential. Perhaps developers could be enticed to remediate these sites — make them safe for habitation — in exchange for giving developers a pretty much unrestricted free hand to build what they want.

For those interested in exploring the scope of this developer adventureland together with some of its emerging problems, affordablehousingaction.org not long ago provided the following post: Permitted Development Rights: Housing Stumbles As Red Tape Crumbles

This is a worthy subject of interest for any country that is continually bombarded with developer propaganda pressing to abolish development restrictions. It happens everywhere — an endless drumbeat of praise for deregulation based on the notion that unregulated ‘laws’ of supply and demand will best satisfy society’s needs.

The UK is actively discovering the inherent weakness in this simple — and simple-minded — theory. And are they sensibly acting to curb their initial enthusiasm, based on rapidly accumulating evidence?

Of course not! Why let crass experience mess with a wobbly fantasy of economic and political achievement?

Read the latest in The Guardian: Our slum future: the planning shakeup set to blight English housing



A Call For Change As Promises To Build Social Housing Fail To Deliver

OIC fremantle townhouses at marmion-carrington photo by Orderinchaos is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
New housing in Western Australia isn't built to help people who are homeless to leave the streets.

The government of Western Australia recently announced plans to build 15,000 units of green social housing units as part of its COVID-19 recovery strategy.1 From this side of the world, this seemed nothing short of amazing. And as the article below attests, two people who work in Western Australia offer some reasons to doubt the announcement.

Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos are deeply involved in suicide prevention work in Western Australia. By their estimates, which draw on census information, the state needs 15,000 more units.

Why aren’t they excited? As Krakouer and Georgatos point out, the government has promised units in the past, but they haven’t been built. Overall, the total number of social housing units in Western Australia has been going down, not up. Read more in the National Indigenous Times: Street-present homelessness growing as public housing remains stagnant

Here are two thoughts from this story for people who are working to build more social housing:

  • When an announcement at a distance sounds too good to be true, it’s a good idea to look for other stories to get a balanced picture of what’s going on. The internet can help in this task, as this article demonstrates.
  • It’s helpful to have reliable data at hand for the time when you are the one to challenge the “good news” perspective.

Wonder Why Rehousing The Homeless Needs Support? A Dog Explains It

Homeless dog photo by Steren Mexico is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Owner wanted? Who would even think of abandoning this adorable Mexican homeless dog, which on top of everything else is quite possibly a beagle-cross.

If you think about people who experience homelessness at all, do you wonder why it seems so difficult to simply insert a certain number of street people into the same number of rooms in flats or houses?

The story of Leon and Marley, his beagle-cross companion, nicely sums up the complexity of the issue. Bean-counting persons and beds and rent subsidies doesn’t begin to address what will enable this duo to leave the streets and move to permanent housing.

Up to now you’ve probably assumed that a person who is experiencing homelessness with a dog in tow is nothing but an expert in self-indigent folly. Read more in The Anglo-Celt: Homeless man refuses to abandon his dog


A Missing Chapter: Housing Development In The Global South

View from our Santiago Apartment photo by Travis Alber is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Note the non-traditional medium-rise apartment housing in Santiago, Chile. Not necessarily a product of westernized free enterprise influence.

If you’ve been reading affordablehousingaction.org for a while, you might wonder why there are so few stories about housing in the global south. There hasn’t always been much to report as the field is often characterized by stories of shantytowns and favelas, sometimes contrasted with large residences built in the colonial era. Łukasz Stanek’s article, which is published in e-flux architecture, tells of a different kind of housing altogether.

Stanek shares information about housing developments in a host of countries and the financial, technical and logistical support that helped to build them.

Why don’t we know about these developments? Perhaps one reason is that all of the support came from communist countries. Stanek argues that we have a lopsided view of urbanization in developing countries because this part of the story has been excluded in western thinking.

The article covers a lot of territory and a broad time frame, beginning in the 1940’s, and extending to the present day. For example:

  • The domestic post war housing program in Russia was founded on modular construction. There were more than 200 house building factories dedicated to this purpose. The neighbourood housing blocks included spaces for social supports.
  • Russia and its allies deployed technical expertise to the global south, which in turn influenced the shape of cities and housing there. The experts were directed by local leadership.
  • A range of instruments was used to finance the supports. These included loans, commodity trade, barter and gifts.

Western narratives typically credit free-market practices for the economic advances in the global south. The development of modern housing in these countries, together with the growth of economically important construction industries, has not received attention in the west. Stanek suggests that this is both a more believable and balanced — not to say politically troublesome —  foundation for understanding urbanization in the global south.

For much more on this story of housing and urban development, read in e-flux architecture: Gift, Credit, Barter: Architectural Mobilities in Global Socialism

Green Social Housing – New Source Of Pride For Local Councils

gate, fence, bin stores photo by london road is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Local councils in England are turning to green social housing to add stock and reduce emissions.

The Royal Borough of Greenwich recently showcased a pilot project of four new homes. The homes are built to meet exacting emission standards and will rent to people with very low incomes. The homes were built using modular construction methods.

Taken to scale, this project will help Greenwich to achieve two long term goals: adding 750 new council housing units and having net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.1 Read more at pbctoday: Modular homes in Greenwich will be ‘greenest in UK’

Poverty + Overcrowding = COVID-19 Infection? Not In Vancouver, B.C.

Vancouver Urban Decay photo by Xicotencatl is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
The COVID-19 infection rate in Vancouver's downtown east side has been much lower than expected. Why?

Infectious disease specialists know that poverty and overcrowding as well as chronic health conditions are likely to produce increased numbers of infections in a epidemic or pandemic.

In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, events have unfolded as expected. These relationships have proved to be true internationally. For those keeping track of COVID-19’s progress, reports from neighbourhoods around the world — and even from individual buildings — have consistently confirmed infection links between poverty, overcrowding and chronic health conditions.

But not always.

There is much that remains to be learned about the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is causing the current pandemic. Why, for example, have expected high levels of infection in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side not materialized? The area is poor, over-crowded and home to many with other health problems.

What accounts for the unexpected result?  Read more at the CBC: Did COVID-19 skip Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhood? Antibody testing might have the answer

Will Aussie ‘Vertical Cruise Ships’ Founder Upon A ‘Generational Catastrophe’

Monarch of the Seas San Diego photo by Rennett Stowe is licensed under CC BY 2.0
A cruise ship in harbour. Turn it on its end and it might fit right in.

A recent pandemic-centred article from Australia paints a lurid vision of a not-so-brave new world in which downtown high-rise tenants and owners retreat to the suburbs where they ‘feel safer.’ Will a new generation of social housing become available in the empty husks of once trendy downtown towers?

In point of fact, the article’s intriguing visions of urban future are contradictory, though delivered with the usual authority of self-assured experts. Read more in The Age: ‘Generational catastrophe’: How COVID-19 could reshape Melbourne

With a concern that low and no income citizens will be caught in potential stampedes to coronavirus safety, where does their future lie? There are certainly examples of lower-rise social housing suitable for a future of ‘safer’ suburban sprawl.1

But all is not lost for the future of urban density via high-rise living and working. Tower structures, much maligned for social housing, have been affectionately embraced worldwide as suitable for middle class and luxury lifestyles. Could such post-pandemic ‘towers of fear’ be rescued? Read more in ARCHITECTUREAU: ‘Vertical cruise ships’? Here’s how we can remake housing towers to be safer and better places to live

Social Housing Policy And The Art Of Do-Nothing Apologetics

National Zoo photo by angela n. is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Howler monkey: a model legislator? Specialist in making a whole lot of noise without necessarily any other action.

In a 1946 essay, George Orwell proposed that “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.”

Surely the lack of truly affordable housing for citizens with low and no incomes, as well as its most horrific result homelesness, is one towering example of “the indefensible” in a caring society. So, does your government’s speech and writing — at any or every level — seem to today to continue to reflect Orwell’s long-ago observation?

An Australian article unlaces a government shoe that seems to suitably fit the legislative impotence that invariably greets cries to ‘do something’ about an ever-deepening housing crisis. Read more in THEFIFTHESTATE: Social housing is not a bloody-minded numbers game

Vancouver BC Decline And Fall Of The Million Dollar Social Housing Unit

1000000 cs photo by Pavouk is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5
It's official. Vancouver Council has abandoned the idea that a $1,000,000 house is affordable.

In business-oriented Vancouver, BC, all roads would seem to lead towards profit. For a city regularly rated #2 in the lists of world’s most expensive cities to live, it hardly comes as a surprise that its attempts to build truly affordable housing are often founded upon a sham.

Absurdly, city regulations allow any kind of housing unit, no matter how luxurious, to be defined as social housing if it belongs to a housing project that includes a handful of actual, truly affordable, social housing units1.

However profitable this may be for the housing development industry, Vancouver’s ‘faux social housing’ days are now apparently numbered. Read more in THE GEORGIA straight: CMHC measure of ‘core need’ to guide City of Vancouver’s new definition of social housing

Baltimore:  Healthy COVID Cynicism Creates a Care Home That Really Cares

Wheeling WV - Altenheim photo by jcsullivan24 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Comfy settings are inviting, but staffing and cleaning are proving more important in nursing and retirement homes during COVID-19.

February 28, 2020 was a memorable day for the staff and residents of the Maryland Baptist Aged Home. It was the day President Trump said that COVID-19 was a “hoax”.

By now, we know the markers for a COVID-19 outbreak in a senior’s home: residents with low incomes and members of a visible minority, along with staff working at multiple facilities, lack of personal protective equipment and poor sanitation practices. The Maryland Baptist Aged Home is located in a poor district in Baltimore, which has a crumbling infrastructure and a high crime rate. Yet, it has made headlines because it has not had a single case of COVID-19.

This remarkable achievement is attributed to several factors. The home’s director initiated safety procedures on February 28, the same day the President called COVID-19 a hoax. The Maryland Baptist Aged Home’s leadership also had the foresight, years earlier, to include an infection control expert in its staff team. The home’s staff have implemented safety practices when not at work, up to and including isolating themselves from their families. See more on this story in The Washington Post: In Baltimore, a struggling, black-owned nursing home keeps covid-19 at bay

The Maryland Baptist Aged Home experience demonstrates that a foundation of basic sanitation, good care and good food can go a long way to countering COVID-19’s negative effects for people with chronic health conditions, low incomes and members of visible minorities. This calls to mind a story in the Guardian, which discussed the idea that COVID-19 is itself the outcome of inequality.1 The evidence from the Maryland Baptist Aged Home suggests that when it is possible to practice social distancing and implement safe hygiene practices, it reduces the risk for people who should have been more likely to contract COVID-19.

What If FDR Had Beaten The Great Depression By Handing Out Toolkits?

Gerstner Chest 3 photo by Jameslwoodward is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Nice looking toolkit. If only it had something useful in it.

America’s greatest housing and employment crisis occurred after the 1929 stock market crash. We’re facing another, perhaps even greater one today with the still uncontrolled COVID-19 pandemic.

During the 1930’s, the United States government responded by funding massive recovery programs.

Social housing moved from isolated experiments to an enormous initiative to house America’s poorest. Labour initiatives put Americans back to work in huge government-funded construction projects undertaken by a specially-created Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Who was the president with the foresight to invest the resources and the strength of purpose to help build America out of its crisis? It was Franklin Delano Roosevelt (with possibly vital support from his wife Eleanor, who was apparently more enthusiastic about social housing than FDR).

And what is America’s current response to an already existing unemployment nightmare, soon to be coupled with a staggering rise in evictions and homelessness? To put a face or two on this question, what are President Donald Trump, together with his Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary, Ben Carson, offering to those in dire need of employment and and affordable housing?


These toolkits will help you find all the most useful skirt hems to tug hopefully (but most likely hopelessly), in case you find yourself unemployed and out on the street.

Find out which toolkit will best suit you here: Public And Indian Housing Covid-19 Resources

COVID-19: Public Support To A Special Group Of University Students

Didsbury Campus, Manchester Metropolitan University photo by Rept0n1x is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
All universities closed down during the COVID-19 lockdown in England.

Young people who are wards of the state achieve instant adulthood when they reach the age of majority and “age out of care”.1 They are at particular risk for becoming homeless. They are also less likely to continue on to post secondary education than young people who grow up living with their parents.

Researchers have identified significant financial and social barriers that underlie these patterns, and government and universities have stepped in with programs to help.2

Some universities aim to replace supports that these students lose when they age out of care. For example, university staff check in regularly with “care experienced” students to make sure they have what they need to study, live and feel comfortable in the university setting.

What happened to these supports when the COVID-19 lockdown measures were implemented? A journalist decided to find out, through interviews with six care experienced university students in England.

University based support could no longer be offered face to face as campuses closed down. The article relates ways that university personnel and students continued financial and social support.

In addition, financial support from the government is officially available from a student’s local council. The interviews speak to weaknesses in this strategy, as some received assistance and others had not been able to connect with the council charged with providing the support.

From the interviews, it is clear that COVID-19 measures have added more complexity to the challenge of leaving care and completing post secondary studies. The article points up the need for a broader based investigation to find out how care experienced students are managing and the kinds of services and supports that would be most useful to continue in school and avoid experiencing homelessness. See in The Guardian: ‘All my safety nets went overnight’: how Covid-19 is isolating student care-leavers

Lisbon’s Answer To High Rents For Essential Workers

Lisbon apartments (8217032171) photo by Cat Burston is licensed under CC BY 2.0
High rents in Lisbon have been driving essential workers out of the city.

Lisbon is inviting short term rental landlords to get into the long term rental business.

Concerned that there is no housing in the city that is affordable for essential workers, Lisbon is offering to top up tenant rents to cover the gap between 30% of their income and rent being charged by the landlord. The program will run for five years and is planned to apply to up to 1,000 units. This will be welcome news for the households that receive rent relief.

With COVID-19 cutting off revenues for short term rentals, this is a good opportunity for Lisbon to dangle an attractive income-producing offer to landlords while improving housing affordability for essential workers.

The following article is particularly interesting because it discusses the series of public policy decisions that led to the proliferation of short term rentals and high rents for locals. Housing advocates, policy makers and decision makers may find this aspect particularly helpful.1 Read more at Huffington Post: Lisbon Says Airbnb Forced Out Locals. Here’s Its Plan To Bring People Back.

What Is Social Infrastructure And Why Has COVID Made It More Important?

Traditional definitions of social infrastructure focus on a building and its facilities: a library, a hospital, a recreation centre.

From Australia, however, a much broader definition has come into focus as the absence of social necessities impacts negatively upon those struggling to stay housed and clothed and fed and educated.

Read more in THE FIFTH ESTATE: COVID-19 highlights the value of social infrastructure – let’s not forget

Empty? British Columbia Translates Housing Speculation Into Social Housing

turret roof photo by Mike is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Revenues from a tax on homes held empty are being directed to build new social housing.

Vancouver, B.C. has been home to some fairly insane social housing practices that, rather than supporting residents with low and no income, seem far better designed to leech government subsidies for industry profit.1

One recent action by the British Columbia government, however, is indeed benefiting low and no income Vancouverites. Two years ago it was decided that outrageous housing prices — not just in Vancouver but province-wide — were at least partly a fault of rampant speculator involvement in the housing market. Many of the speculators found it more profitable to kept their investments empty, adding to the scarcity of housing and driving up prices. Accordingly, BC decided to tax empty homes.2

This new ’empty house’ tax has indeed proved fruitful, and Vancouver (among other B.C. communities) is now beginning to reap the rewards. Read more in VANCOUVER IS AWESOME: City of Vancouver awards $8.7 million in grants for social housing

Can Floods Of Lawsuits Prevent Homeless Camp Bulldozing?

Moss Park Toronto 2011 photo by marc falardeau is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Toronto's Moss Park, empty in 2011.

Casual notice of commentary on legal matters leads most Canadians to believe that the slightest American disagreements inevitably result in lawsuits, compared to our more occasional, sober and civilized(?) visits to the courts.

People experiencing homelessness in Toronto, however, would seem to be taking a leaf from their ‘sue-happy’ southern neighbours as they confront city attempts to engage in the same old harassment tactics for dealing with homeless encampments.1

Toronto continues its efforts to find accommodation to house people who are experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. Many people have moved indoors, including one who met a tragic end, despite repeated efforts. See this story in The Toronto Star: ‘Somebody got left behind’: The story behind a quiet death in a Toronto homeless camp

Under pressure from community neighbours to clear the parks, and frustrated by its difficulties in organizing accommodation, the City has been using its ultimate stick — a by-law to clear away encampments. People staying in one such encampment in Moss Park, supported by activists, are asserting their legal right to remain and have threatened to file suit against the City.

How successful will this tactic be? For the moment, the City has caved. The encampment will be allowed to stay. Read more in The Toronto Star: Toronto postpones evictions of homeless campers from Moss Park

Earlier stories on the same subject: Einstein’s Definition of Insanity: ‘Sweeping Away’ Homeless Again And Again

Social Housing — Who Says It’s Affordable?

London, Greenwich, Blick vom Hügel des Royal Greenwich Observatory -- 2016 -- 4693 photo by Dietmar Rabich is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
New tenants in public housing in Greenwich (above) will be paying higher rents, thanks to a local council decision.

Thanks to COVID-19, your hours of work have been reduced and you’ve had to apply for emergency financial assistance to help make ends meet. You’ve been on a waiting list for social housing for years and your name has finally come up. Doesn’t this sound like an answer to a prayer?

If you’re in Greenwich, someone hasn’t been listening to the prayers. The local council’s housing program is running a deficit. To fix it, the council (aka the Royal Borough of Greenwich) decided to jack the rents for all new tenants.

Whatever happened to the idea that social housing is affordable? Isn’t this illegal? Well, no. Local governments in England are allowed to raise social housing rents to be closer to rents in the private sector. Read more in Greenwich Conservatives: Council uses loophole to push up rents for new tenants

This decision will surely work against the financial stability of new tenants. It is an example of local council decision making that has been going on across England.

Greenwich, along with all local councils, have recently been given new local powers. The idea is that councils should be free to taylor local programs and services to meet local needs. But at the same time, Councils cannot run a deficit and the funding they receive from the national government has been cut significantly. For people who are vulnerable, including people experiencing homelessness, local powers means a patchwork of service provision. It has also translated to less access to programs and services. For a look at the broader impacts of local decision making, for people who are vulnerable try: Homelessness In England: How Councils And Localism Make It Grow

Hotels For Houses

J.W. Marriott Hotel Los Angeles photo by Prayitno is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The government paid $270,000,000 in public subsidies to construct this hotel.

Vacant hotel rooms have been identified as a potential source of new housing on a large scale. These particular rooms are in the Los Angeles area, where as many as 100,000 more people could become homeless when the COVID-19 eviction ban is lifted. Just about that many hotel rooms are currently lying vacant and predicted to remain so, thanks to the downturn in travel during the pandemic.

Using hotel rooms for housing, temporary or permanent, is not a new idea. But, there’s a new twist in this story. These hotel units received public subsidies, averaging $187,000 per room, to build them. Ananya Roy and Jonny Coleman are the scholar and organizer who penned the following article. They argue it’s all the more reason that the rooms should be used for housing.

Are Roy and Coleman on to something that could be applied in other communities? Read their full story in The Appeal: People Are About To Be Pushed Into Homelessness On A Large Scale. Hotels Are Key To Keeping Them Off The Streets.


100 Year Old Experiment in Social Housing — Ignored — Can Inform Us Today

Cité Frugès, Pessac 03 photo by JosepBC is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1920, one of the world’s best known architects, Le Corbusier was funded by a French altruist to create a social housing complex for industrial workers in Pessac, France.

It was frankly experimental, exploring and encountering such issues as location, integration with the environment, generational reuse/modification and more. Many of the ideas and experiences resonate with our continued need to develop and build social housing

Read and view more of its time-proven results in ArchDaily:  Le Corbusier’s Cité Frugès: Lessons from a Modern Social Housing Neighborhood

Is Segregation Actually A ‘Progressive’ Political Tool For Retaining Power

US Marshals with Young Ruby Bridges on School Steps photo by US Department of Justice is licensed under the public domain
Are today's 'progressive' politics entitled to take ownership of landmark events like this one, where Black student Ruby Bridges has a US Marshal escort to attend school in 1960?

This following article by a housing advocate from the US calls out progressives who suggest they are the political force most suitable for ending the race discrimination that has persisted since the end of the civil war.

Based on past history, the Democratic Party has little or nothing to be proud of when it comes to housing segregation. Read in beyondChron: Will Democrats End Segregation?

Protocol Breach Undermines Support To Families Experiencing Homelessness

NTT docomo smartphone Sony Xperia XZ Premium SO-04J DSC 0042 edited photo by DR17 Sagittarius Runaway is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
The all important mobile device. Not much help without contacts.

Imagine leaving all your local contacts behind and not having any idea of how to find help in your new community.

In England, local councils have a duty to assist families with children who are experiencing homelessness. With the long waiting lists for social housing, assisting families can take the form of assistance/encouragement to move to another community while they wait. The council in the receiving community is supposed to be notified, but as an investigation by Ross Kemp ITV found, this doesn’t always happen.

This breach of protocol means families are left to their own devices as they settle in. Read more in The Guardian: English councils breaking law in ‘secretly’ relocating homeless people

This story is a cautionary tale of the limits of local decision making. Despite the specific mandate, local councils often struggle to meet their obligations. Councils in England are good subjects for study as they have recently taken on new powers. In this new world, people who experience homelessness face new and significant barriers. The English experience provides a quick study of the impacts of local decision making for people working to end homelessness in other countries. For a broader discussion of how local decisions are affecting community members who are vulnerable try: Homelessness In England: How Councils And Localism Make It Grow

How “Minor” Bureaucratic Delays Magnify Into An Eviction Life Crisis

Regents Canal Nicholas Grimshaw flats photo by Justinc is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Tenants in treasured flats like these along Regent's canal are at risk of being evicted as part of the fallout from COVID-19. Those who have lost work may wait up to five weeks for emergency assistance from Universal Credit to come through.

COVID-19 has meant less work or no work at all for too many people. National governments have stepped in with emergency financial assistance. In England, two million people had applied for the emergency financial assistance program (Universal Credit) by the beginning of May. Even with the assistance, many renters fell behind with rent payments. One reason? Universal Credit clients wait up to five weeks to receive their first payment.

The five week waiting period was well documented as a source of rental arrears and evictions before the COVID-19 lockdown.1 Adjusting the regulations to flow the benefit sooner might have made things a bit easier for all of the new Universal Credit clients.

Some of those tenants live in social housing, which is owned by local Councils. Councils are already pressed to manage COVID-19 costs — the national direction to find accommodation for all rough sleepers within 48 hours being just one. The Councils that evict their tenants who are behind in their rent are face the prospect of a much larger number of rough sleepers in the near future.

It seems that councils and their tenants are expected to sort out these problems on their own. Apparently that impressive national leadership — displayed when directing councils to find temporary housing for people sleeping rough — rather fizzles away when it comes to providing actual national-level support to a brave initiative.

See in the IslingtonTribune: Lockdown rent arrears soar for council tenants

Social Housing Typology: What Works. What Doesn’t. A Personal View.

Public housing in Sydney photo by Phil Whitehouse is licensed under CC BY 2.0
What typology of housing will be at the end of the rainbow?

Australia, with its eyes locally focused but with a continuing awareness of developments around the world, has tackled social housing in a variety of ways. However well-meaning, some have been successful, others far less so.

With a photographs and commentary on a variety of social housing projects over the decades, Tone Wheeler, an Australian architect and professor with plenty of opinions, runs his personal rule over 10 different social housing architectural typologies.1

Read more in ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN: Tone on Tuesday: On Social Housing Part 3 – Typologies

Irish Government Re-Starts Evictions Midst Happy-Clappy Rental Smokescreen

Eviction Scene, The Council photo by Robert French is licensed under the public domain
Political decisions in Ireland permitted the evicted thousands of families from their homes in the 19th Century. Will the Dail repeat history by failing to prevent evictions in the aftermath of COVID-19?

COVID-19 got you penniless and unemployed? The Irish Government has legislation planned to get you dancing for joy. Soon, folks in arrears on the their rent payments will legally have twice as long before they’re evicted. Good news indeed!

And well, of course, the eviction moratorium will have to end to make it all work. That’s essential to allow the aforementioned good news to actually become good news. Otherwise the extra time before you’re booted out of your home would be quite meaningless, wouldn’t it?

But hey, look on the bright side, you’ve got an extra couple of pandemic-flavoured weeks now in which to not find another job that isn’t there. Happy tenting!

Read more in the Irish Examiner: Government accused of misusing constitution with new rent legislation

Praying To Protect Renters In Britain

Official portrait of Baroness Grender crop 2 photo by Chris McAndrew is licensed under CC BY 3.0
Baroness Olly Grender offers a secular prayer to save tenants from eviction in the United Kingdom.

Two members of the House of Lords in the United Kingdom have resorted to prayer to protect tenants who are at risk of being evicted. Skeptical about the power of prayer? Read on.

The protections for tenants during COVID-19 have never been as robust as those for homeowners.1 The temporary ban on tenant evictions is due to end on August 23. The government is about to rise for its annual vacation. There are no plans to pass legislation to extend the ban or any other protections.

There are some new regulations, which experts say offer no protection at all.

Enter the “prayer against,” the rarely used procedure for the Lords to annul government actions they consider egregious. It hasn’t been used for 20 years.

You can read more about this in I: The Government failed renters on evictions – but a House of Lords motion could force them to act

As COVID-19 Lingers, A Focus On Coming Landlord Vacancy Crises

Collaborate and Create photo by Subhamay Ghoshal is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Shelterforce hands over six ideas for governments interested in supporting landlords and tenants in the wake of COVID-19.

A tsunami of evictions looms on the horizon for individuals and families who have suffered job loss in the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. But every single eviction often has two kinds of sufferer — the evictees themselves as well landlords — especially the small ones — who face the challenge of re-renting their lodgings. How long might they remain vacant? Days? Weeks? Forever? And what price might rental accommodations fetch with a glut of rental housing on the market? A fraction of previous rental income? Nothing at all?

A tsunami of evictions may well be matched by a tsunami of rental vacancies in a world that lacks renters to pay for them. Small landlords in turn may well face ruin.

Activists, not surprisingly, are pressing governments to consider the plight of homeless evictees, and pleading for longer term solutions to help renters in arrears.

Unfortunately, governments in general are often deaf to pleas on behalf of their most vulnerable citizens.

By contrast, in free market economies where the promotion of healthy business trumps all other demands for support, it is the plight of small business landlords that is most likely to move the government to action.

Shelterforce explores this avenue of advocacy by focussing on rental housing vacancy, and what governments could do to prevent such grim consequences as a rental housing price collapse. Government actions to prevent such a calamity might at the same time have a positive benefit for potential evictees. Read more: 6 Ways To Prevent Post-COVID Vacancy

A Different Way To Fight Housing Discrimination

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Belle Park On Its Way To Becoming A Land Trust?

Belle Park Brownfield photo by K7Waterfront is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
At the time of this picture Belle Park was in its brownfield phase, having been abandoned as an industrial site.

Last month, we shared a story about a homeless encampment at Belle Park in Kingston, Ontario.1 As of today, the site at Belle Park continues to operate with supports from the local government and community agencies.

The City has also signalled its intention to remove the encampment, and to open a permanent overnight drop-in space at a location that has yet to be determined.

Local opinion about these plans is mixed. At least one politician hoped City’s plan would work. To the politician’s dismay, a gofundme campaign raised $1,500 to help make the encampment more permanent. The people staying in Belle Park don’t see a drop-in space as a reasonable alternative. Meanwhile, the park’s neighbours want the encampment gone. See more in the Kingstonist: Mixed reactions to $1,500 raised for wooden shelters at Belle Park

In an earlier life, Belle Park was an industrial site. In Canada, it is quite common for such spaces to be transformed to parks. Elsewhere, it’s a different story. Take this example from Voi, in Kenya. People who could not afford housing in the community occupied an abandoned industrial site by the Voi river. They built temporary structures. Time passed. Eventually, after a lot of local political pressure, a community land trust was created. Ownership of the site was transferred to the community land trust and people who had been living there (some for as long as 30 years) were legally allowed to occupy the homes they had built.2

Clearly, Belle Park isn’t ready for a land trust today. But tomorrow? Who knows?

WA COVID-19 Recovery Plans Include Green Social Housing

DSC00815.JPG photo by matt pounsett is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Perth, Western Australia: an old brewery recently converted to social housing. Coming soon to WA, 'green' social housing.

What an opportunity to kick-start the national housing industry by building much needed social housing! There is a great deal of activist push for this COVID-19 inspired recovery program. Too bad not everyone is snapping at the activist bait.

Some nations and states are disappointing activists and citizenry by ignoring the social housing opportunity. For example in Ireland1 and Australia.2

However, the state of Western Australia is climbing on board the social housing recovery wagon to aid its ailing housing industry with plans for housing that is not only truly affordable, but ‘green’ as well. Read more in Energy Magazine: WA to build 15,000 energy-efficient social housing homes

Bang-A-Pot COVID Key Worker Support Fades Towards A Housing Tragedy

Anzac Cottage photo by Mitch_Ames is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
A home built for a World War 1 Veteran. Why not for the heroes of COVID-19?

Australia’s COVID-19 response required some people to work, not from home, but at their job site. Similar to other countries, the government heralded these key workers, who included waste collectors, child care providers and bus drivers in addition to the nurses, doctors, laboratory technicians and cleaners who work in hospitals and labs.

Now that the worst is over, some had hopes that the government would translate its thanks to something more substantial, like affordable housing. The construction industry has been strongly affected and new and social housing would certainly help stimulate recovery plans. So far, the news has been disappointing. Read more in Domain: Low-income earners, key workers, left behind by housing stimulus plans

Charitable Housing Associations Step Up

We can do it! photo by Petri Damstén is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Network Homes and other housing associations want to build homes for the heroes of COVID-19.

Housing associations in and around London, England have been increasingly frustrated in their efforts to build housing that is affordable for households with low and very low incomes.1 They have created a Homes for Heroes program that targets people who worked on the front lines during the COVID-19 lockdown. They are also pitching three strategies to make land more affordable.

Homes for Heroes

Homes for Heroes takes its inspiration from Homes fit for Heroes, which saw thousands of homes built for veterans of World War I and their families.2 It also builds on the groundswell of support for front line workers during the lockdown. The proposal is to add 100,000 new housing units in the London area that would be affordable for the heroes who worked on the front lines during COVID-19. The units would be built over five years. Housing associations are joining with businesses that build modular homes to make this proposal. For more, see at G15: Homes for Heroes

Making Land Affordable for Social Housing

Network Homes, a charitable non-profit housing association, owns 20,000 units in the London area. Founded in the early 1970’s, the association takes the view that housing is a right, regardless of income. Their long history means they are well versed in the land development business.

Based on their experience, Network Homes is proposing three changes that will make it possible to build social housing in greater quantities by bringing down land costs. One of the ideas is a mandatory fee to be paid by private developers who are building new housing. The fee would replace the current public-private partnership agreements and viability assessments, which have proved so disappointing as a pipeline for affordable units. News of this idea has been carried in propertywire: London housing association calls for development tax to ease the housing crisis

The second and third strategies would give councils more authority to decide land uses on developable land, and reign in the extraordinary profits that come with the jump in value that occurs when land receives planning permission. These strategies are discussed more fully at Network Homes: Making Land Deliver

Canary’s Song: Australia Needs Social Housing, Other Big Construction Projects

Turner Studio Architects, Sydney Australia photo by Turner Studio is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Offices of architectural consultants — canaries for the construction industry?

Australia went at COVID-19 ‘hard and early’. It is now moving on to recovery schemes well in advance of countries such as the United States, which continues to struggle with its first waves of infection.

But the price the country is now paying is an uncomfortable peek into the future as it attempts to revive industries essential to the economy. One of the giants is the construction industry. Can it recover without significant government spending on large public project developments?

Early national government kick-starts have focused on small scale attempts to lure private dollars to the construction industry. For example, a HomeBuilder grant scheme now offers private homeowners a modest subsidy for home improvements or reconstruction. That program has been met with little but scorn by critics. So far there has not been much interest from private homeowners.

By contrast, the housing industry is lobbying the government to invest in public projects such schools and hospitals as well as augmenting the nation’s sorry supply of social housing, the need for which has only become more evident during the pandemic.1

Without major government investment in infrastructure, how badly will this important industry be hurting in a few months? An article in the Australian Times examines the ‘early warning system’ unique to the development of both residential and commercial construction. Read more about the grim results now being offered up: If architecture is the canary in the coalmine, the outlook for construction is appalling

As the COVID Wolf Lurks Outside, Evictions Will Soon Push Millions Out The Door

Hooverville Portland Oregon 1936 photo by Arthur Rothstein is licensed under the public domain
Does this 1930's Hooverville encampment in Portland Oregon foreshadow the future for millions in the United States?

What happens in a country like XXXX when YYYY renters are evicted? The Big Question is being asked in many countries around the world. Meanwhile, governments proceed as if the coronavirus pandemic is somehow over, and eviction moratoriums can now be cancelled within days or weeks.

The answers may be country specific, but the misery won’t be. Here’s one current survey of  the looming crisis in America, courtesy of Shelterforce: What Happens if 23 Million Renters Are Evicted?

Poor Folk Get Connected As COVID turns Homework Into Schoolwork

Toronto Reference Library photo by Lord of the Wings is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Some libraries provide internet access, workspace and computers for use by the general public.

For several years now, it’s been clear in America and other countries that internet access is growing in importance for providing individuals, old as well as young, to equal opportunity education.

But not everyone has the money to pay for home internet connections that are fast enough to keep up with these online teaching opportunities.

Do education departments or any other branch of governments recognize a responsibility to support internet access for less fortunate families and individuals? The answer, by and large, has been “no.”

Governments and boards of education can label homework a parental responsibility, which allows them to look the other way. Unequal opportunity disadvantages access by the poor to the internet.1

Whether children trying to keep up with research to complete classwork, or seniors searching for health education, pretty much the sole solution has been to book time on limited numbers of publicly available terminals in libraries or other resource centres.

But the pandemic is providing an unexpected silver lining for families and individuals with low and no income. It has forced educational institutions to look seriously at providing, not just homework assignments, but also teaching, by way of the internet.

The following article bills broadband access as a ‘crisis.’ It may well be, for school systems struggling for funding in these strange pandemic times. But for those have been falling further and further behind their peers through their limited access to the internet, it may be more appropriate to call it an opportunity for real educational equality. Read more at AXIOS: Schools confront broadband access crisis

Will New Large Social Housing Projects Become ‘Food Deserts’?

Small Market photo by Lin Mei is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Greengrocers like this one are common in more affluent neighbourhoods.

For those low and no income residents lucky enough to win a lottery and move into one of the handfuls of subsidized housing, finding food will not be a problem. Grocery chains are attracted to large luxury and middle class developments, and social housing residents of the same complex will doubtless get an easy walk to a well stocked food store.

There are supposed social benefits to mixed income developments, in which government dollars leverage public dollars into a few truly affordable homes within a private development.

But such mixed income projects are yielding a tiny fraction of the low and no income housing needed to stem the tide of a deepening crisis. Alternatives to public private partnerships could fund projects with much larger numbers of homes for people with low or no incomes.

However, even in better designed, energy efficient  social housing highrises, an old problem rears its head — food deserts.

For more on this problem, read this Virginian-Pilot article: Tackling the “food desert” crisis

One solution to the problem that is not mentioned in the above article: integrating lower-rise social housing in more affluent neighbourhoods. Is there any truth to the argument that communities with different income levels are healthier — one that just happens to support Government social housing investment in otherwise private projects? If so, clusters of different-income low- and medium- rises could create the same mixed-income communities in a different way, with the added bonus of neighbourhoods attractive to food stores.

Abrupt Endings: The Child Welfare System

Birthday Cake with Candles (Unsplash M20ylqCzSZw) photo by Annie Spratt is licensed under the public domain
Happy 18th birthday. You're outta here!

Instant adulthood. That’s what’s expected of youth in Ontario’s child welfare system. The idea behind the child welfare system is to provide stability for young people as they grow up. So why the ‘out you go’ farewell on your 18th birthday?

As part of the response to COVID-19, the government temporarily suspended the ‘out you go’ provision until the end of 2020. Two organizations have seen this as an opportunity to rethink the system and are recommending a process to ensure that system changes meet the needs of youth in care. See: Support Our Proposal To Fundamentally Change The Trajectory Of Youth Leaving “Care”1

The recommendations are endorsed by many organizations and individuals, including the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. Through its own work, the Alliance has documented that instant adulthood is often a precursor to multiple experiences of homelessness. Taking the time to review and reform the system presents an opportunity to consider upstream initiatives, including preventing children from entering the care system altogether. 2

The process also offers the opportunity to create a system that works better for indigenous youth. The National Inquiry of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women contains many accounts from people who were in care. The Inquiry’s recommendations for system changes are based on those experiences. See this post for more about indigenous experience in the child welfare system: Canada’s National Inquiry Of Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women

Housing Commodification Weakens Social Reproduction: The Undoing Of Cities?

Is social reproduction a suitable topic for an affordable housing web site? In the hands of David Madden, definitely.

The term ‘social reproduction’ incorporates the activities and the processes that go into creating a functioning society. Examples of the ‘social’ aspect include child and elder care, laundry and meal preparation. These obviously involve work and although it is often unpaid, it is essential to keeping society running. Social reproduction also includes essential activities like sleep, which doesn’t itself involve work, but does require a place for it to occur.

‘Reproduction’ speaks to the repetitive nature of the process. The activities aren’t permanent, yet society would ‘stop’ if they didn’t happen. Repeating the activities again and again reproduces the base conditions for society to operate.

Madden traces the origins of social reproduction to 18th century France. In the 19th century, the classical economist Karl Marx discussed social reproduction as the fundamental root of all of society’s labour and therefore essential for capitalism to create profit. Today, social reproduction is frequently linked to the field of gender relations, as a large amount of the labour is unpaid and done by women.

But what about the role of housing? It is one of the primary sites where social reproduction takes place. Madden argues that social reproduction is increasingly undermined by the private housing market, which has been more and more focussed on housing as an investment.

Gentrification is one example: tenants lose their homes when a landlord decides to renovate or replace aging units. If the people who lose their homes engage in work that is part of social reproduction (say in a grocery store or at a child care centre), the location of their new home may dictate whether they can continue that work. Gentrification, which replaces low cost housing with more expensive new units, may also make it difficult for the grocery store or child care centre to recruit new staff.

Madden also demonstrates how social reproduction links the situations of the majority renters and homeowners (with the exception of the very, very wealthy). This discussion will be of interest to advocates and decision makers who are interested in ideas that bring homeowners, tenants and people who are homeless together in the same tent.

Madden’s article is available at e-flux: Housing and the Crisis of Social Reproduction

Everyone In? Not Really.

photo by vanessa cornacchia is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The "Everyone In" program in England cleared benches like these by providing temporary accommodation for almost all people who were homeless. Post lockdown, it's a different story.

England’s Everyone In program drew a lot of attention. On Mar 27, 2020, the national government gave local Councils 48 hours to find housing for everyone who was sleeping rough. Councils sprang into action and rough sleeping virtually ended, at least briefly.

People who were homeless were happy of the help, but also fearful of what would happen when lockdown ended. Advocates and agencies serving people who were accommodated temporarily shared those concerns.

Some funding has come through to avoid undoing the good of temporary accommodation. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has been looking into how the funding is helping and who is being helped. The results suggest that many of the people who received help from Everyone In during the lockdown may not receive any assistance to stay housed at all. For more see: Gap In Homelessness Help Could Force Thousands Back Onto Streets

The people who don’t qualify for assistance have “no recourse to public funds.” As the story makes clear, some of the people who have no recourse to public funds have been working and paying taxes in England for years and even decades. This story begs further investigation in England.

Elsewhere, it is a cautionary tale for advocates who see temporary emergency housing programs, implemented to fight COVID-19, as an opportunity to end homelessness.

Energy Cost Of Home Shelter Suggests Urban Development Policy Options

Jane-highhrise-Prii photo by Spacing Magazine is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Buildings like these, which were built in the days of low cost energy, are home to thousands of newcomers and visible minorities.

Why does COVID-19 discriminate? In the U.S, the Centre for Disease Control reports that Black people — some 13 per cent of the total US population, accounts for close to one third of all COVID-19 patients.

A clear answer to the question is evident in Canada, a country where only the tiniest trickle of the American Black population found their way North on the Underground Railway.

Canada, however, has a large and growing population of all stripes and colours who have arrived as more recent immigrants. COVID-19 has disproportionately struck this immigrant population, not by virtue of their historic presence in Canada, or because their skin is one colour or another, but because a disproportionate number of first generation arrivals are poor.

With many newcomers looking for some language or kinship community, they gravitate to older, less expensive neighbourhoods, since a large proportion can only initially find low income jobs. Even then, accommodation is often a huge cost burden.

It is these crowded1 urban communities that are seeing the brunt of COVID-19 infection (outside of the shocking numbers of care home infections which otherwise overwhelm reporting data).2

The realities of a pandemic are demanding that nations and communities consider investment for both individual and community well-being through better housing for low and no income citizens.

One intriguing approach to help planners and decision makers to accomplish this goal is an an “energy poverty and equity explorer tool”  developed by the Canadian Urban Sustainability Practitioners.

They have defined energy poverty as households that spend more than six per cent of their income on energy, which is more than double the national average. Energy poverty disproportionately impacts crowded and inadequate basic shelter that characterizes Canada’s rainbow of immigrants. Visible minority households in Vancouver, for example, are twice as likely to experience energy poverty, compared with non-visible minority households.

With nations and communities under simultaneous pressure to ‘go green,’ this energy poverty data can provide municipalities with financing options that may be able to solve more than one housing objective.

How might this work? Read more at the Canadian Urban Sustainability Practitioners Network: Equity Implications of Energy Poverty in Canada

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