Vote Housing: A Campaign To Change Canada’s Housing System

Canadian Museum for Human Rights, The Forks, Winnipeg (500013) photo by Robert Linsdell is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Canada's Human Rights Museum, a castle of symbolism in the harsh reality of a Canadian winter. The nation needs to commit to significant actions in order to turn a symbolic human right to adequate housing into a practical protection for all citizens.

The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) is teaming up with five organizations in a campaign called Vote Housing, which aims to make Canada’s housing policy an election issue.

Why the focus on housing policy?

Canada has witnessed rising levels of homelessness and precarious housing since the 1990’s. The rise is correlated to a number of changes in government policy and spending. For example, the federal government stopped providing funding for social housing. It also reduced the transfer payments to provincial governments, which had helped to pay for social and health services.

Tim Richter, who is the President of the CAEH, says that with the Vote Housing policy proposals, Canada could end homelessness and precarious housing. With a federal election in the offing, he also argues that it’s important to let all political parties know that ending homelessness and precarious housing is a significant issue for Canadian voters.

Who is leading the campaign?

There are five partners in the Vote Housing campaign: the CAEH, the Co-operative Housing Federation (CHF), the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (CHRA), the Aboriginal Caucus of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (Aboriginal Caucus) and the Canadian Lived Experience Leadership Network (the Network).

The CHF, the CHRA and the Aboriginal Caucus represent the non-profit organizations across the country which operate and manage non-market social housing. Altogether 536,000 households live in social housing in Canada.

People in the Canadian Lived Experience Leadership Network have experience of homelessness and precarious housing. Some 1.6 million people in Canada have experience of being homeless. The Network encourages and supports people to speak up about their homelessness and poor housing situations.

What is the campaign seeking?

Briefly, Vote Housing calls for:

  • Implementing an indigenous-led urban and rural housing program. Indigenous people are far more likely to experience homelessness than any other group in Canada. Indigenous people are also more likely to live in housing that is not safe, and/or housing that is overcrowded and/or has high housing costs. The National Housing Strategy, Canada’s current housing policy, promised an indigenous led strategy in 2017: there is still no sign of one almost four years on.
  • Ending homelessness. The National Housing Strategy committed to cutting homelessness by 50% by 2030. The speech from the throne in 2019 committed the current government to ending homelessness. The CAEH and partners want to ensure that this commitment carries over to the next government, with programs to help people avoid becoming homelessness and to support people who are homeless to move to permanent housing.
  • Adding 300,000 housing units to the stock of non-market housing. This would add to the existing supply of housing that operates outside the private rental housing market. Disconnected from the market, it could be offered at rents that are affordable to people with very low and no incomes.
  • Adding 50,000 supportive housing units to the existing stock of non-market housing. This housing would provide to tenants practical social and health assistance as well as low rents. Supportive housing is a key part of assisting people who live with mental illness and/or use substances to avoid further homelessness.
  • Continuing to implement the right to housing. Canada committed to housing as a human right in 2019. Historically, there have been few efforts to consult people with experience of homelessness, or precarious housing. As a result, policies and programs may not be especially helpful or cost more than they need to. The campaign seeks to to ensure that people with experience have a voice in policy setting.
  • Providing financial assistance to tenants who are precariously housed. The 2017 National Housing Strategy included financial assistance for a limited number of households. This began to roll out at the beginning of COVID-19. The campaign seeks to expand the number of households that would receive assistance, to partly counteract COVID-triggered job losses.

Why does this matter?

Staying home was the first line of defense during the COVID epidemic. There were widespread concerns that the housing prices and rents would tumble. Instead, the opposite has happened. At the same time, many people have been working fewer hours or have lost work altogether. Widespread evictions are predicted. COVID’s health impacts have also been especially hard on visible minorities and people who experience homelessness.

As countries slowly shed emergency protocols, there are multiple efforts to influence government housing policy. The Vote Housing strategy and tactics may be of interest to advocates in other countries.

For people in Canada, Vote Housing is an opportunity to improve housing conditions for people with very low and no incomes. For more details see: Vote Housing and the Campaign Platform

Government Policies Create Winners & Losers In Housing Markets

home sweet home photo by Martin Frey is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Public policy is a big factor in whose home is sweet and whose is not.

How did homelessness sprout and then grow and grow? Why are tenants living in substandard housing, or paying unaffordable rents, or both? Why does a commitment to adequate housing as a human right seem like some extraordinary achievement?

Two recent articles by Dan Darrah and Michal Rozworski investigate these questions in a Canadian context. However, the conditions are not exclusive to Canada, and this discussion will be of interest to policy makers, decision makers and advocates in other countries with similar challenges.

These articles look at government policies and their effects. For example, the federal government introduced the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST) in 1995. The CHST governed the financial contribution that the federal government paid to provincial governments to operate their health and social services programs. The CHST replaced two earlier agreements that had been used to redistribute wealth between “have” and “have not” provinces, ensuring some level of equity in social and health services across the country. The CHST reduced the overall amount of funding and how the reduced amounts could be spent1.

At the same time, Canada changed the terms of its employment insurance program. The new terms meant that many Canadians would not qualify for employment insurance if they lost work. Homelessness began to rise and has continued to climb. Today, 1.6 million people in Canada have experience of homelessness.

Darrah and Rozworski’s articles trace changes to other social policies. They also discuss changes to monetary policies, which affect interest rates, the supply of money and government spending. They map the impacts of changes in social and monetary policies to social trends. For example, in addition to rising homelessness, housing costs have risen compared to incomes, especially for people with very low incomes. At the most recent census, 834,000 renting households were paying more than 30% of their income on shelter2.

These articles also shed light about why homelessness and poor housing quality has been allowed to grow. Darrah and Rozworski argue that the wealth of individual homeowners is directly tied to housing prices going up. Should the government make policy changes to bring housing prices under control, falling housing prices would rob homeowners of personal savings and wealth.

What does the future hold? Will a commitment to adequate housing as a human right remain just that, a commitment? Both authors support expanding the country’s permanent supply of social and public housing, which would be affordable for people with very low incomes3. As both authors have ably demonstrated, public policy has a crucial role to play. You can read more of Darrah’s assessment in Jacobin: Canada’s Housing Market Is Out of Control

Rozworski’s article is published in The Tyee: Governments Created the Housing Crisis. Here’s How They Can Fix It

Fulfilling A Promise To The U.K.’s Private Sector Tenants

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© affordableahousingaction.org. All rights reserved.

There’s an interesting housing campaign underway in the United Kingdom. A push is on to give tenants in the private rental housing sector more protection.

Why is the campaign needed?

The national government announced that it would introduce legislation to give tenants renting in the private sector more protections in 2019. So far there is no sign of any legislation. Conditions during the COVID lockdown have ably illustrated the difficulties that private rental sector tenants face. Here are two articles from the Guardian: There is an evictions crisis happening right under our noses, and Covid spread as overcrowding doubles among private renters in England, and another from CACHE: Renting during the COVID-19 pandemic in Great Britain: the experiences of private tenants

Who is involved?

Shelter UK is leading the campaign. Shelter UK is an agency that helps tenants in difficulty. They are concerned with a wide range of issues including repairs to rental properties, eviction, and access to social and private sector rental housing. It is well positioned to understand tenant experience in the private rental housing sector.

What protections does the campaign seek?

More housing stability. Right now, a landlord can evict a tenant for any reason at any time. According to Shelter, private sector evictions are the leading cause of family homelessness.

A Landlord registry. A public source of information about landlords to help tenants searching for housing.

When?

The campaign began in 2019, was sustained during lockdown and continues as the COVID eviction ban has been lifted.

How

There are multiple initiatives, including social media campaigns to ask politicians to make good on their word, opinion polls and round tables with conservative Members of Parliament.

Will it succeed?

The ways of political decision making are not always clear, but there is evidence that conservative party members are preparted to support private sector rental reforms. Read an account of the roundtable, which was held in March 2021, here: The Renters Reform Bill

And to allay any fears that the public might not be on side, Shelter has just shared the results of an opinion poll, which suggest that even people who have never rented in the private sector support rental housing reform. Read more at Shelter: Once a renter, always a renter?

Mi Barrio! How To Exercise The Reverse NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard)

Barrio Húmedo photo by Javier Díaz Barrera is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Barrio Humedo, in Léon, Spain. Tired and old, dating back to medieval times. Worse, the neighbourhood gets wet in rain. Tear it down and replace with high rises and indoor arcades?

New home builders are extraordinarily powerful. It is not uncommon to hear the industry described as the engine that drives the city, state, even country. That’s certainly the case in affordablehousingaction.org’s own city — Toronto.

During the pandemic, calls for restarting the economy everywhere have been couched in pleas for more government assistance to kickstart this supposedly essential engine of progress1.

With cityscapes already built up, what options are available to feed this noisy beast?

Of course. Tear something else down to provide room to build. And so we have decades-old programs of urban renewal, aimed obviously at older neighbourhoods, which can so easily be described by new home developers and their city hall buddies as, putting it as politely as possible, past their sell-by date.

But is this actually beneficial for a city, let alone the neighbourhoods being razed? Refurbishment is not only a practical option, which is less expensive than tearing down and building new, it can have important social and cultural benefits.

And as for providing building jobs, refurbishment in many cities has access to its own army (which overlaps with new-build). During the pandemic in Toronto, suburban streets have been crawling with small refurbishing businesses, as many residents, unable to spend their money in the shops or to travel, have opted for a safer or sexier home makeover.

Which brings us to the reverse NIMBY — Neighbourhood residents manning the battlements of older neighbourhoods against the threat of a new-build invasion that is guaranteed, if nothing else, to destroy a city’s heritage. Read more at KENS5 News: ‘Mi barrio no se vende’ | Voices emerge to push back against San Antonio gentrification

Strengthening Community: Supporting Resident Leadership

20151203_BookLaunch_7023 photo by University of Chicago Urban Network is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Which one is a public housing ambassador? Both? Neither? If you can't tell, that's fine.

This is part of a series about community. Growing and sustaining a community brings benefits to the participants, provides a means of personal development and builds hope and resilience. It can also smooth the path to build more liveable, life-fulfilling housing for people with very low and no incomes. For more on the series, try: Building More Housing By Strengthening Community


In 2019, tenants in Hilltop Homes, a public housing project in Dayton Ohio, contacted Lanese Layne, a staff lawyer at Legal Aid of Western Ohio (LAWO). The tenants were concerned about plans to redevelop the site. Knowing that their homes would be demolished, they were dubious about their chances of finding new housing.

There were lots of legal angles to tackle these concerns, and LAWO began working with Hilltop residents.

Then COVID struck. Health concerns put an end to face to face meetings, but LAWO and the Hilltop residents were determined to continue working together. They opted for a plan that assisted local residents to support each other. Three tenants became Resident Ambassadors. LAWO trained the Ambassadors on legal issues as an way to spread knowledge and encourage action.

As the Ambassadors reached out to their neighbours, it became clear that COVID was competing with redevelopment plans as the top issue for tenants. As Layne describes, the Ambassadors worked with neighbours to strengthen their community on both fronts. Based on the experience at Hilltop, Layne is looking at replicating the Ambassador approach in other public housing communities. She encourages other legal aid groups to consider the Ambassador approach. Read more at Shelterforce: Send In the Resident Ambassadors

Housing Support Payments: Landlords😄, Tenants😄, Taxpayers😖

General Election - Pinocchio - Boris Johnson - Lies, Gaffes & Scandals photo by Diego Sideburns is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Sure, the government says that housing the poor in free market accommodation saves money.

The headline on this post could go further, reflecting winners and losers in the free- market housing support program game: Developers😄, Speculators😄, and those needy and waiting for support that never comes😖.

An Irish think tank has looked at the advantages and disadvantages of housing support payments and found them wanting. There are no great surprises in their analysis.

Their study traces the policy in Ireland of putting low income citizens in to private free-market housing back to the world-wide housing crash in 2008, when there was a flight from home ownership into the rental market. With little new housing being built, the result was a growing cost to rent housing, which meant that government housing support payments bought less and less.

Today, it’s calculated that it costs the some €450/mo more to support a tenancy in the free housing market compared to the cost of a government-built social housing unit.

The results for continued housing support payments would seem to be an either/or proposition. Either the government chases ever-rising rents with ever-rising supports until . . . bankruptcy? Or it supports fewer and fewer citizens who need it.

The second option is operating in the United States, where it is estimated that one in five citizens who are eligible for “Section 8” housing support vouchers ever receive one1.

Read more in the Irish Examiner: Social housing supports ‘go into the pockets of private landlords’, think tank warns2

Strengthening Community: Building Individual And Group Capacity

Resource Area-_ForPrint photo by Tom Britt is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
It's helpful to provide practical supports for the homeless at drop-in centres. But social connections are important to build a community that welcomes them back for more lasting support.

This is part of a series about community. Growing and sustaining a community brings benefits to the participants, provides a means of personal development and builds hope and resilience. It can also smooth the path to build more liveable, life-fulfilling housing for people with very low and no incomes. For more on the series, try: Building More Housing By Strengthening Community


In Brampton, Ontario, at the start of the pandemic, a seniors’ organization had to cancel their programming that connected isolated seniors. The programs all took place at local community centres but now everyone needed to stay at home. How to continue to connect with these isolated seniors?

The staff at the organization tried an on line get-together, amid much angsting about elderly folks and new technology. Would they be able to adapt? The first time, it looked like these concerns were founded: only three people signed on. The second one was more hopeful: 20 people participated. By the third session, the number of participants was higher than when they met in person. It’s stayed that way at subsequent on line sessions.

Needless to say, the staff at the agency were overjoyed. They were also curious. They asked the participants how they learned to sign on. Some had had help from family, but mostly, they’d helped each other. And in this story lies one of the ways that building community helps to strengthen individual capacity.

The participants are mainly women. English is rarely their first language. They would not dream of asking staff at the agency for help. But they wanted to connect with each other, so they reached out and brought each other along.

This reaching out to each other was crucial to growing the network on line. However, reaching out to each other is not often a measure of the effectiveness of community programs. Measurement more commonly would involve asking participants whether they are more or less lonely since joining a program. The story from Brampton suggests that much of what happens in community building activities may not part of the official record, but still very important to the well-being of the participants.

What do participants gain by being in a community?

Some years back, drop-in centres in the City of Toronto worked to demonstrate how their programs helped participants. Drop-In Centres offer supports to people who are homeless or living in precarious circumstances. The participants have few resources and experience a lot of negative feedback in their encounters with other people on the streets, in stores and so on.

It is common to identify how drop-in centres contribute to basic needs such as food, clothing and personal hygiene. The report, Measuring Success: Show What We Know shone a light on a how these basic activities create the place to develop individual capacity and community.

First, there is the drop-in space itself, which is safe and welcoming. For a person who is homeless, knowing that there is a place where people will welcome you is hard to find and very appreciated. You could think of it as a sense of being “at home.”

Building on that safe space, drop-in centres help to create a sense of personal identity. People going to a drop-in centre can expect to be addressed by name. You can also expect that people at the centre will notice if you have gone missing, something that many of us take for granted.

And building on that sense of identity, people who go to drop in centres describe them as places where they worked on developing their social skills in a safe environment. For example, some participants who obtained work faced challenges to fit in. They identified how the coaching and support from their drop-in centre helped make the employment experience a success.

With the social environment provided at a drop-in centre, people experiencing homelessness make significant changes in their lives. Participants have sought treatment for substance use, moved to permanent housing, obtained employment, reconnected with family and regained custody of children. Participants interviewed as part of the Measuring Success project clearly attributed the social basics at the drop-in centre with subsequent changes in their circumstances.

Why does this matter?

The women in Brampton are not homeless, but there are similarities between programs to alleviate social isolation and drop-in centres for people experiencing homelessness. The social gatherings at community centres are safe and welcoming. Activities, starting with greeting each participant by name, support individual identity. And as is demonstrated in this story, it provides a setting to develop and test new skills.

The findings of the Measuring Success project will help community groups and agencies to design and plan community activities and to articulate how participants will benefit from them. Read more at deslibris1: Measuring Success: Show What We Know

Is Institutionalization The Best That Can Be Offered To The Disabled?

Disabled Parking photo by roogi is licensed under CC BY 2.0

While people with disabilities1 by law enjoy the same rights and freedoms as all Americans, what social safety net most thoroughly supports their requirements to live a full life in society?

Institutionalization, more or less isolated from everyday life.

Twenty years-old, blind and wheelchair-bound without family support? You can hope to live out your life in a nursing home with the elderly. That’s about the best freedom you can currently expect from American government support . . . if you can survive on a waiting list long enough to get through the door.

Somewhere around 4 million Americans receive housing assistance, principally in the form of free-market rent subsidy vouchers. This is estimated to be at best a quarter of those who would qualify for them if they were available.

But surely the disabled are only a tiny fraction of this number?

Unfortunately no.

Of the four million quoted above, well more than half — 2.4 million — have disabilities. Nearly 2 million are aged2. Some of these elders may have no specific disabilities, but it’s safe to say that large numbers will not be performing like teenagers, sprinting up the emergency stairs when the elevator gives out (in those limited low-income rentals that actually have elevators).

Family homes, free-market rental housing, as well as social rent (public) housing can provide a range of adaptations that deliver adequate housing for a considerable percentage of these disabled and/or elderly residents. Those changes could defer or remove the need for life in an institution.

But no free-market homebuilder, rental landlord, or budget-conscious public housing authority is likely to go out of their way to provide these “extras” for someone who is disabled/elderly without government fulfilling its responsibilities to require them.

Governments are indeed taking action. But how effective is it for providing the disabled with housing?

On the surface of it, new measures from the Australian Government appear to be good news for people with disabilities. Some fairly simple changes to regulations can make owned and rented housing accessible to both the disabled and to seniors who need enhanced access and safety features in their homes.

The following article explores the impact upon the Northern Territory when the National government modifies its National Construction Code for 2022. Read more in Mirage: Improving Building Designs for Vulnerable Territorians

Good news. But in a way, no news. That’s because this commitment to the disabled will certainly be a step forward. . . one day. But far from immediately.

We can find evidence of that problem in Canada, where the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act (AODA) was proclaimed in 2005 with phased implementation beginning in 2015 and being fully implemented by 2025.

What impact has it had today, sixteen years in, with housing prices exploding in spite of, or because of, a pandemic?

Ironically, the people who may be in greatest need are not necessarily those with little or no income, who may have access to social housing and/or housing support subsidies.

These days, the disabled who are most vulnerable are the ones who are fully employed with modest incomes. Their incomes elevate them above the level that qualifies them for government assistance. With added disability expenses, this can leave them with few or no housing options in the free market, gainfully employed or not. Read more at THIS: Access denied

In Australia, the government plans changes not only for new-build ownership and rental housing. (Canada’s ambitions are less comprehensive, with accessibility enhancements optional for single household new-builds). But, as the above article in THIS suggests, purchasing new-built housing is an impossible dream for a great many disabled whose pocket-books allow only the rental of existing units. (And new-build rental housing is both scarce and expensive.) Further, reflecting the heavy burden of improving accessibility in older units, Australia does not require their current owners to upgrade. Ontario only does so in cases where existing building is undergoing major renovations.

What do the disabled and seniors with accessibility issues need in order to live independently in their own homes? An American study spells it out: read more from the Centre For American Progress: Disability-Forward Policy Recommendations To Advance Accessible and Affordable Housing for All

What do the disabled need and, without more assertive government assistance, what can they expect in their future? These are two entirely different things. What a tragedy that people who could have an income from employment are forced to abandon their livelihoods and dreams of independent living to find a place in government subsidized institutions.

One Housing Standard For All?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this have to do with social housing?

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

Can A Corporate “Person” Treat The Homeless As Kin?

Caricature of "Organized Big Business Interests" photo by John Miller Baer is licensed under the public domain
Big business wasn't portrayed as compassionate, even before it became a person in the eyes of the law.

This post is part of a series about ways that people provide support to those who experience homelessness. The idea that “we treat everyone as kin” resonates through the posts in this series. Finding more and more ways to treat everyone as kin could convince governments to build and operate housing that welcomes people who are homeless.

Connecting With Corporate Kinfolk: Is it remotely possible?

Here’s a story that needs the compassion of kinship to remove a helpless person from the streets. His story is convoluted and very human for all that. Who can provide the compassion he needs to get Jerry and his walker off the streets and back into public housing?

If he were in the United Kingdom at this moment in time, he might benefit from the government directive within a recently published white paper: it requires that non-profit housing authorities pay more attention to the individual needs and concerns of public housing tenants. And this story is about someone who was living in public housing until evicted. Rightfully so? Who is to play kin to Jerry and turn a compassionate ear towards his problems?

Unfortunately, he is American, not British. No such white paper exists, and he is instead a victim of HUD’s RAD program, which allows housing authorities to divest management of existing public housing to free market corporations.

The American courts have declared that for-profit corporations are “people.” Is it possible, therefore, for corporations to treat other people as “kin,” supporting their needs as one might support a brother or sister down on their luck? Can it approach the tenants under its care with anything other than businesslike maintenance of a healthy “tree” of home occupiers — one which profits from pruning shears applied to its weakest branches?

Jerry’s problem seems a test that the “person-ness” of a corporation is bound to fail. And yet the American government and its housing arm, HUD, have entrusted the care of some of that nation’s most vulnerable people to profit-focused corporate efficiency experts.

A situation has put Jerry, together with his walker, out on the streets. Does he deserve the understanding of kinship? Is it possible for him to find it under current circumstances? You decide. Read more in Norwood News: Update: Homeless Man in Bedford Park Alleges Illegal Eviction from NYCHA Housing

Toronto Community Housing Workers Bargain For “Them,” Not Just “Us”

Building neighbourhoods photo by Ashton Emanuel is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
St. James Town, where there are Toronto Community Housing towers, circa 1960's. Still shiny on the outside, but . . .

Well, we took out hats off to honour striking Chicago teachers who went to the bargaining wall demanding better conditions, including truly affordable housing, for students and their families1.

We’re happy to do the same for a similarly unexpected attitude from unionized Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) workers. Their recent bargaining table demands have gone beyond “I Wannabe All Right, Jack” improved working conditions and higher salary. The TCHC workers have pressed for changes in the conditions suffered by TCHC tenants.

In Chicago, the teachers were ultimately slapped down for colouring outside the collective bargaining lines. No doubt much the same will happen in Toronto. Still, hats off to TCHC workers for having their hearts in the right place. Read more in businesswire: Buildings Are Crammed, Dilapidated, and Further Hard-Hit by COVID-19: Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) Workers Aim to Improve Quality of Life for 110,000 Tenants During Collective Agreement Negotiations

The Right Chess Moves Took A Young Boy And His Family Out Of Homelessness

chess photo by Ingrid Lemaire is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

A 10 year old boy in the U.S. isn’t homeless any longer. His remarkable skill at chess has turned his family’s fortunes around and allowed them to leave a homeless shelter and move to permanent housing. It is fantastic that a 10 year chess player lifted his family out of homelessness —  not something that happens every day and cause for celebration.

How many children are homeless in the U.S.? According to HUD (The US Department of Housing and Urban Development), over 100,000 children were homeless at the most recent point in time count (2018). This represents one in five of all people who were included in the count.

The U.S. Department of Education says that 1,455,537 children under the age of six experienced homelessness in the same year as the point in time count (2017-2018).

Children who experience homelessness at a young age face multiple challenges at a time in their lives when they are growing and learning. The disruption can hit them hard. They may not finish school or go to college or get jobs with enough income to pay for decent housing. As adults, they may again experience homelessness. Read more at School House Connection: Young Children Experiencing Homelessness: An Overview

The Children’s Defense Fund fills in the picture of what is needed to help all children leave homelessness. Housing that is affordable and safe is one pillar. Read more in The State of America’s Children 2021

And what about the uplifting story of a ten year old whizz kid?  Read more in People: 10-Year-Old Refugee, Once Homeless, Becomes National Chess Master: ‘Very Happy’

Mixed Income Social Housing A Success in Denmark For Many Decades

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Vårkjærvej 44-46-48 - DSC_1730_1_2_Balancer photo by Lav Ulv is licensed under CC ZERO 1.0
A public housing apartment building in Aarhus, Demark.

There are those who can imagine the benefits of truly affordable housing in a post-Thatcherite1 universe, including affordablehousingaction.org. These hopes come in the certain knowledge that it has been done well elsewhere — government-controlled social rent/public-style housing that accommodates a range of incomes including the lowest.

There are favourite examples of Public Housing success where it works in healthy competition with the free market. Vienna, Austria, and Singapore are two off-quoted examples. However, a number of European countries have had long experience with social housing, and still profit mightily from its use today.

The following article looks at a Danish city’s successful history of public housing, one based on the imperative of serving not only the poorest, but a wide range of incomes. Those higher incomes finance both maintenance of existing housing, as well as development and construction of further housing.

Read more in THE IRISH  TIMES: A Danish city housing model where the residents decide what’s best

Recently Denmark has attracted criticism for its new housing policies that singled out “ghettos” of non-western immigrants in public housing. The above article in the Irish Times uses the term “ghetto” quite casually, to refer to solidly low-income social housing in general as “ghettos.” That would seem to be congruent with an overall housing philosophy that depends on mixed income neighbourhoods, both within social housing, and, as it has been for many years, in a suitable mix with free market housing.

That stands in comparison to America, for example, where “mixed income” is a relatively new philosophy applied to an urban landscape, particularly after many years of racist and economic apartheid, either deliberately or accidentally applied, that has subdivided American communities.

Whatever Denmark’s reasonable economic reasons for managing housing to ensure mixed income communities, the underlying fears that echo from some of their new housing rules2 hint at a nation uncertain about the influx of so many “non-western refugees.”

After 11 Years Of UK Tory Rule, Where Goes Public Housing?

The little engine that could photo by Newtown grafitti is licensed under CC BY 2.0
I think I can't, I think I can't, I think I can't, I knew I couldn't.

The recent record of the Conservative Party in the UK has seen rejuvenation of public housing policies inherited decades earlier from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. (To be fair, a fair quantity of these have been supported by intervening Labour governments.)

A number of other “westernized” democracies still embrace Thatcher’s small government neoliberal aspirations. Those concerned with public housing in other countries may well be interested in an analysis from a U.K. law firm. It traces what has taken place over the last eleven Tory years — changes that have generally leaned towards throwing out the baby (a.k.a. the nation’s poorest citizens) with the bathwater.

The result has been a generally unfocused tinkering with an aging vehicle of public housing as it wheezes and puffs up an ever-steepening hill of unaffordable housing.

What has worked? What hasn’t? Where is the jury still out? Is there the slightest hope of reaching the top of the hill before catastrophe?

Read more in LEXOLOGY: 11 years that changed the face of social housing

Using Data And Partnerships To Add Housing And Improve Health

From the United States comes an announcement about using data to drive health care planning at a local level. The data holder, UnitedHealthcare, will work with housing authorities and federally qualified health centres to develop and implement plans at a community level. This represents an expansion of UnitedHealthcare’s existing partnership with housing authorities. The first phase involves five communities, with five more planned in the second phase and a further 15 in the future.

The data will give local housing and health care agencies insight about the health challenges specific to their community. At the community level, this means planners will be able to find out whether a specific disease (e.g. diabetes, which is a health issue across all housing authorities), is more or less common at the local level than nationwide. Knowing how the national trends manifest themselves at a local level should help to decide how to spend resources locally to improve local scores. Read more at HealthCare Finance: UnitedHealthcare introduces community-based collaborative to improve health outcomes, equity

The article is further evidence of work following passage of the Affordable Health Care Act. Media have well-covered the personal insurance aspects, but the Act also acknowledges that most of what contributes to health happens outside hospitals and medical centres. The focus of this post is three external factors: poverty, access to nutritious food and housing.

Targeting Poverty

The partnership between housing authorities and UnitedHealthCare certainly focusses on poverty, as tenants in public housing have very low incomes. Federally qualified health centres, the third group in the partnership, also serve people with very low incomes.

Nutritious Food

Accessing nutritious food underlies many health issues. These include diabetes and chronic conditions as well as maternal and child health, all prevalent among tenants in public housing at a national level). Supply and price are frequently identified as barriers, as grocery stores are often not easy to reach from public housing projects1. There are numerous accounts about local garden plots and greenhouses, which offer hope on a number of levels in addition to the nutrition benefits2 Programs like these also help the affordable housing problem by reducing food costs and making scarce dollars available for housing, at least in theory.

Housing

Having housing authorities in the partnership is critical because they are the gatekeepers for housing subsidies, which help people with very low incomes to cover their housing costs. They also manage public housing, where rents are geared to incomes.

Public housing is notoriously underfunded. A lack of maintenance and renovation also translates to housing that contributes to poor health (think mold, lead paint and asbestos). Public programs and policies direct housing authorities toward redevelopment, using LIHTC and project based housing vouchers.

This solution is not without its difficulties, which affordablehousingaction.org has documented at length elsewhere3. Here, however, we’re drawing attention to research which looks at the potential for such redevelopments to improve health outcomes. Read more at Shelterforce: Housing Design That Advances Health

Building Kinship to End Homelessness: Connecting Through Shared Joy

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Catch of the Day photo by Linda Tanner is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
This post is part of a series about ways that people provide support to those who experience homelessness. The idea that “we treat everyone as kin” resonates through the posts in this series. Finding more and more ways to treat everyone as kin could convince governments to build housing that welcome people who are homeless.

Connecting Through Shared Joy

Fredericton, New Brunswick homeless shelters have put out a call for fishing rod donations. Fishing rods?

Superficially, the statement carries a whiff of Marie Antoinette’s dismissive attitude towards the peasants her husband ruled. In the face of their overwhelming hunger, “Let them eat cake [bread]!”

“Let them go fishing!”

What a callous statement to individuals and families who have no homes.

But the slightest scratch below the surface of this request for fishing gear uncovers a much more positive message: “Everyone needs relief from the basic burdens of life, and we’re kinda partial to fishing as a way of taking a break from life’s miseries, so let’s see if we can find a way of sharing that with our shelter guests.”

It’s a reflection of a North American aboriginal world view of treating everyone as kin1. If everyone can keep an image in their minds of people who experience homelessness as occasional fishing buddies, not just an alien lump in a sleeping bag in the shadows of a dumpster, perhaps our society might move more quickly to create more truly affordable housing.

Read more at the CBC: Fredericton shelters seek gear so homeless clients can fish along St. John River

NYC Grapples With Low-Income Internet: A Community Necessity?

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Minecraft Gaming Night photo by Kiama Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Libraries have found a new purpose providing scheduled moments of internet access for those without it. A pandemic has revealed that community internet support must go much further.

Do you live in a community or region short-changed on broadband internet access1? Is your local government — in fact, any level of your government — still debating whether it’s a necessity-based moment in time caused by the pandemic, or one requiring that the internet in the future be treated as basic housing infrastructure requirement, much like roads and electricity and sewers?

New York City might be a suitable bellwether for what needs to be done about broadband internet access and its place in modern society. The debate in that world-beating city has progressed far beyond the temporary need for internet-enabled working and learning from home in a time of pandemic.

The gothamist does a roundup and description of the scramble to meet the needs of students expected to participate in distant learning. This “momentary” crisis for those without internet access has shone upon a growing — and arguably essential — need for access for rich and poor, children and adults to the educational, social, political and economic demands as well as opportunities of a digital universe.

Read more in the gothamist: What It Will Take To Bring Strong Internet Service To Every NYC Student

Los Angeles Looks For Middle Between NIMBY And YIMBY

LA homes photo by GPA Photo Archive is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Los Angeles homes. How to squeeze in more?

NIMBY — Not In My Back Yard. Keep current by-laws. The neighbourhood is perfect just as it is. No more housing development, even though the city needs houses.

YIMBY — Yes In My (in reality, YOUR) Back Yard. Remove all by-laws (well, okay, no commercial/industrial development, etc). Let the developers decide: McMansions! High Rise Condos! It will all somehow come good.

Los Angeles is searching for a middle ground that will allow development of low-rise four-plex-style housing in hitherto single family-zoned neighbourhoods. Such housing easily blends into a neighbourhood of single family houses, while increasing the city’s much needed new housing stock.

Why does affordablehousingaction.org care? With our interest in “truly affordable” housing, including public housing, a middle ground approach to housing by-laws opens neighbourhoods to scattered social rent housing developments such as four-plexes (or even six-plexes with basement apartments).

That’s because public housing can be built on a more practical economic basis than single family homes. Scattered throughout a neighbourhood it allows the much touted (and in this case natural) development of mixed income housing, which hopefully leads to vibrant mixed-income communities. Though these particular objectives are not discussed in the following article, they are certainly worthy of thought.

Read more at Slate.com: Los Angeles Has a Plan to Disarm the NIMBYs

Some two and a half years ago, Minneapolis, Minnesota pioneered an effort to find this middle ground balance while opening up the city to more housing. Try: Minneapolis Drives A Stake Into The Heart Of The American Dreamscape. Like the apparent focus of Los Angeles’ plans, the Minneapolis council decision paves the way towards more housing. But it does not lay out a particular pathway towards more deeply affordable housing beyond a faith (possibly misguided) that the creation of any kind of housing will make the housing market as a whole more affordable.

Berlin: If Housing is “Essential,” Expropriating It Could Regulate Rents

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highway photo by Scot is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Essential national transportation networks have been built by expropriating the necessary land. Could essential housing use the same methods?

Expropriation of private property is legal in many countries. If the needs of a community are considered paramount, they trump the rights of individuals and corporations. In many western countries, the entire transportation infrastructure has been founded upon this principle, called by terms such as “Eminent Domain” in the U.S., “Compulsory Purchase” in the U.K., etc. Such terms describe a community (usually government) right to seize private land, with compensation as the laws allow.

Could a government declare its own citizens’ housing to be as important to a community as government buildings (which historically may well have been built on expropriated land)? If so, it could seize housing, presumably with compensation to the owners, and put a stop to endless speculative investment that drives up ownership costs and rents.

In the German State (and City) of Berlin, investor-driven housing rents rise ever higher, unmoored from the ability of tenants to pay a reasonable amount of their wages to live in it.

Such is the current activist thinking in the German state of Berlin, where a recent attempt to curb the rise of rents by legislation was declared unconstitutional.

However, if government curbs on the right of an investor to make unfettered profit is indeed unconstitutional, government expropriation of private land, together with what currently rests upon it, is not.

Expropriation was floated as an idea in 20191. In the aftermath of the recent court decision about rent freezes, expropriation is back on the table. Read more at VICE: Berlin’s Renters Are Coming for Mega Landlords

Strengthening Community: A Tenant’s Story

Westhaven Community Day photo by Sarah is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
An unlikely cast of characters celebrate Westhaven Community Day, Charlottesville, Virginia.

This is part of a series about community. Growing and sustaining a community brings benefits to the participants, provides a means of personal development and builds hope and resilience. It can also smooth the path to build more liveable, life-fulfilling housing for people with very low and no incomes. For more on the series, try: Building More Housing By Strengthening Community


Joy Johnson moved to Westhaven, a public housing project in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1988. Over 20 years ago, with a neighbour, Joy founded the Public Housing Association of Residents. This year, she received the Cushing Dolbeare Lifetime Service Award from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which recognizes her work in building community. Eager to share the credit, she points out that the achievements are the result of community working together, rather than individual initiative.

In 2017, when Charlottesville began planning to redevelop two public housing sites, Joy’s group was at the table, helping to plan and design the new projects. Those years of community building will soon pay off in more housing for people with low incomes and a design that respects local experience.

Johnson reflects on her entire career at Charlottesville Tomorrow: As resident-led public housing redevelopment begins, Joy Johnson reflects on a lifetime in housing advocacy

After 40 years, Johnson still has a housing advocate’s eye on the future. In the following article, she talks about how the Association is evolving to continue its work. She also introduces the new Executive Director, Shelby Edwards, who shares plans for the Association going forward. Read this part of the Association’s story at Charlottesville Tomorrow: “It’s about the generations:” Looking forward to the future of PHAR

Is It Possible? Middle Class Envy of Public Housing Quality? Yes

HDBFitnessCentre photo by Sloutsch is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
An outdoor fitness centre on the grounds of a public housing project in Singapore.

Affordablehousingaction.org operates out of an older mid-rise Toronto apartment building with large rooms and views over a park and lake. For all their desirable features, the apartments wrap around a beaten-earth central courtyard, convenient to the resident dogs and their owners (many) where they bark, sniff, pee, and poop to their heart’s content. (We’re speaking of the dogs alone, now.) All others, keep clear.

So what?

Leading up to an article filled with photographs linked below, we’re reflecting on the contrast between a reasonably well-kept free-market apartment building on one hand, and on the other a number of public housing buildings with courtyard details displayed in the photos.

Are we talking here about looking down into hellholes of garbage, debris and junkie needles scattered everywhere?

Far from it. In every way these courtyards appear superior to affordablehousingaction.org’s own. The are not only enjoyed by those with low and no incomes, but also by the middle class tenants who live in the public housing as well.

For this is Singapore, and the courtyards are not just grudging spaces that developers may be forced to include to bring by-law mandated light to windows. They are community spaces.

Check out a single idiosyncratic feature of a number of Singaporean public housing developments. Reflect on why social housing, properly designed, built and managed, could be an enjoyable middle class home. The attention to detail in the examples shown that they might well equal or better that found in modern so-called luxury condo living. Read and view more at designboom: jonathan tan captures singapore’s social housing tables from above

Cork, Ireland Activists Skewer Council For Passing Empty-Home Buck

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DERELICT RED HOUSE photo by William Murphy is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
A fine home, now derelict in Cork City, Ireland, July 2016.

A story follows, which is dear to affordablehousingaction.org hearts, because we made a wrong call on a similar problem that played out in Oakland, California. That was a year and a half ago when a group of four mothers and their activist supporters occupied an empty house, targeting the land and housing investment company that owned the property.

The wrong target, we thought, but we were proved wrong. Try: Housing Stands Empty? Desperate Homeless May Change That

Now, however, activists in Cork, Ireland are going after “dereliction” — the local term for housing left vacant, whether it be council housing or privately-owned properties.

Which part of a wall of silence and indifference will cave in the face of embarrassment? In California, it was the property owners.

In Cork, the activist’s target is the City Council — more appropriately responsible overall for managing perpetually empty homes in an affordable housing crisis (in our opinion at least). Will they blink in the face of uncomfortable facts? Hard to say — city councils are born with leather eyelids.

Read more in Echo LIVE.ie: Dereliction awareness group calls for action from Cork City Council

A New Facade For Grim North American Public Housing?

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public-housing-new photo by the.urbanophile is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
New public housing, built during the Obama era, is far from a poster child for a unique Democratic "look." Indeed, it almost recaptures the grimness of many existing public housing projects.

America’s public housing, born in the 1930’s, looks refreshing to the eye even today. . .

What’s wrong with the above sentence? By and large, the average eye sees and remembers massive tower blocks that appear old and depressing rather than refeshing.

This is particularly true of the well-built but recognizably institutional architecture that still survives from the urban renewal era when public housing was conceived as liveable long term housing for workers.

So, does public housing deserve a makeover? Would a national revival of public housing be helped along with an image uplift? Could a new architectural style help distract from all public housing’s worst memories? Could it herald a shiny new future for all those features which, over the years, have proven valuable about this form housing for citizens with low or no incomes?

In making a case for a forward-looking national architecture for a new Biden administration, the following article can’t help but make an argument for the benefits of a new-look public housing, in fact it even hints at the possibility, although it does seem to tiptoe around the issue.

Read more in The New Republic: Why the Democrats Need an Architectural Vision to Counter the Right’s

Cuckoo Funds: Why YOU May Be Making Housing Unaffordable

cuckoo photo by Nick Goodrum is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The common cuckoo: an excellent investment manager

There’s a new term on the block, folks: Cuckoo Funds. Let’s begin to describe it using a more mature and widely known “ugliness” — Vulture Capitalism. Vulture Capitalists are those folks who swoop in any pick up any investment bargain that looks to make them a profit through a relatively quick buy-and sell. That includes housing.

The buy-and-sell swoop on one or many houses puts money in the Vulture Capitalist’s pocket and, as an unwanted by-product, drives up the cost of housing. Not that those ugly birds that prey on the dead and near dying care. They’re long gone.

And so we have standard, somewhat ugly, terms for the practice of reaping “ill-gotten?” gains off the backs of the common shelter-seeker, particularly those with low or no incomes.

So let’s move on to a rather smaller, fairly nondescript bird, the cuckoo. That bird is now being used to describe another form of preying upon basic shelter-seekers. The cuckoo is infamous for laying its eggs (think capital investment) in other bird’s nests. Newly hatched cuckoo chicks hoof the rightful chicks over the edge, get fed instead by their foster parents, and mature as a fine investment for their absentee parents.

Well, now that we’ve identified this enemy of housing prices, as described by the term “cuckoo funds,” just who are these nondescript and wicked little beasts? They may very well include YOU, should you be lucky enough to have a gold-plated pension, securing your old age at the expense of those who cannot afford housing.

Here’s a story from Ireland that puts the clash between cuckoo funds and affordable housing seekers in perspective. The article also takes a quick dive into the merits and failings of public housing, where rent was based on resident income and which was a mainstay in Ireland’s housing supply in the latter part of the 20th century. Read more in IrishCentral: Cuckoo funds and Irish property shambles are driving people nuts

Housing Stands Empty? Desperate Homeless May Change That

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Long-disused Gault Middle School, Tacoma, Washington, seized by Tacoma Housing Now in November 2020.

Moms 4 Housing invaded a vacant Oakland, California home a year and a half ago, targeting the “housing bankers”1 who owned it. At affordablehousingaction.org, we initially thought their action was mis-directed. There are few laws to prevent housing and land speculators from buying property and holding it off the market indefinitely in order to maximize their profits. Governments may be responsible for providing shelter for all, but not private enterprise burden.

We anticipated a fairly immediate ejection of the trespassing moms with little or no individual or community impact.

Bad call on our part. The event created international headlines, and in the end it achieved significant gains for the homeless moms, together with a growing awareness of housing that is being held vacant in quantities everywhere, while thousands remain homeless2.

Was this beginning of a national trend in America, fuelled by the desperation of people who are homeless and their activist supporters? The following articles suggest the roots run back a bit further and are spread across the country.

Read more in The Christian Century: Homeless people get organized—and radical and STREETSENSEMEDIA: Housing activism turns confrontational in face of deepening housing crisis

At Sea In A Pandemic, Poorer Oakland Students Thrown A Rescue Line

Fotothek df ps 0000436 001 Kriege ^ Kriegsfolgen ^ Enttrümmerungen photo by Deutsche Fotothek is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Residents cleaned and refurbished bricks to rebuild Dresden, Germany, after World War II. Today, ideas about infrastructure are expanding. People in Oakland are refurbishing and rebuilding computers to strengthen the community's COVID response.

Not all that long ago, a school teacher could assign research projects to students based only upon books and resources available in the school library. Those days vanished in an explosion of data published and available on the internet.

Available to the majority, not to all. This fact was brought abruptly home by the COVID pandemic. Most students can adjust relatively easily to home learning via the internet as long as they have the equipment and the broadband access to participate. It’s a different story for students in families with low incomes and/or living in homes without access to necessary fast internet connections, such as public housing.

On possible answer: make computer access via high-speed internet a community necessity — a fundamental part of public responsibility, like water, electricity, sewage?

Great idea, but one inevitably requiring months if not years of debate before approval, and then years more to successfully implement.

Meanwhile, children lacking hardware and broadband access have been left behind. That goes both for educational purposes, as well as for computer and internet training — skills growing more and more essential for modern jobs.

Solutions during the pandemic were needed immediately, not planned for orderly rollout over several years. In such a climate of urgency, public policy development and execution has been driven by a spirit of imagination and enterprise inspired by insightful individuals.

Here’s one example, from CBSN Bay Area: Oakland Man’s Non-Profit Refurbishes Thousands Of Used Computers, Laptops To Help Close Digital Divide

Can Biden Resurrect the Undead Section 8 Housing Voucher?

photo by Charles Francis Press courtesy of the Library of Congress is licensed under the public domain
This human roulette wheel at Coney Island was a fun way to pick a winner in 1908. Now, for people seeking Section 8 housing vouchers, lotteries are serious business.

On the face of it, President Biden’s new plans to help low and no income citizens in America seems reasonable: more Housing Choice (Section 8) housing vouchers.

Unfortunately, housing vouchers are a paper response to a bricks and mortar problem. Can these vouchers reliably be paired with 30% of a poor person’s income, adding up to the rent necessary to acquire a rental home?

Increasingly, no. Landlords are reluctant to accept them, and most state governments are reluctant to force them to do so. Even when required to accept them, landlords can exploit gaping loopholes to avoid participating in the voucher program.

For two articles that explore the current personal, political, and practical difficulties in converting a Section 8 IOU into an actual place for an individual or family to live, read more WSKG: Government Housing Vouchers Are Hard To Get, And Hard To Use

Ultimately, the true failure of Section 8 was not, and is not, landlord acceptance. The failure is chaining the voucher’s value to free-market rents. This is a fundamental weakness of voucher programs in every country that looks to the free market to house citizens with low and no income.

As rents, driven by speculative housing investment, climb and climb, governments everywhere face two solutions for making voucher programs work. They can, year by year, pour more and more money into the voucher program. Or they can make vouchers less an less available to those who need them.

Budget conscious governments invariably choose the latter option. They make it “fair” to tenants on waiting lists by such bandaids as lotteries. As a consequence in America, it’s estimated that only 1 in 4 who qualify for these vouchers actually receive them1. Try: Housing Rental Assistance Stalls Out In Hot Markets. Even Warm Ones.

T.O. Encampment Sweep: No Home, No Money. All That’s Left Is Love

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Lamport Stadium photo by Jeff Hitchcock is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Green space beside Lamport Stadium: site of the latest encampment sweep in Toronto.

Given the impending evictions worldwide, the number of people experiencing homelessness may well get far worse before it gets better. Looking on the bright side (a bit of a stretch) there’s always the great outdoors, where studies suggest that COVID-19 is tens, hundreds, as much as a thousand times less transmittable.

Hardly surprising then that, along with growing numbers of homeless encampments, there is an increasing reluctance — even belligerence — towards those who would simply sweep the homeless aside as if the problem is somehow going to go away, rather than just go somewhere else.

This ongoing situation is beginning to have overtones of the famous scene in The Naked Gun film, where the voice of officialdom stands before a perfectly obvious exploding hellscape while shooing away passers-by: “Nothing To See Here. Move Along.”

In Toronto a few days ago Global News had little interest in moving along, and neither did the encampment residents. The City of Toronto tried to apply a fire extinguisher to this burning problem with a mob-hand of policemen.

Violence followed, and the police eventually beat a tactical retreat, the job half done.

Which brings this city to Groundhog Day movie overtones, where we wake up over and over to the dawn of a new homeless encampment, the same as the last, which must be cleared away by the same set of blinkered bureaucrats using the same shopworn tools.

BTW what’s all this about love? Scottie Bailey Kelly, who didn’t want to leave the encampment and was interviewed for the article, has a perspective on that.

Read and watch the video at Global News: Clearing of homeless encampment in Toronto halted after standoff with community

In Vancouver’s Orwellian Housing World, Affordable Means “Not”

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Vancouver, BC photo by Robert Ciavarro is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
In Vancouver, BC nearly all new housing is one way or another designated affordable. Developers profit most when they build the most expensive kinds of affordable. The city is glad to help them.

Orwellian? Think of the novel 1984. As in: War is Peace! Freedom is Slavery! Now add Vancouver’s contribution: Social Housing is Unaffordable Housing!

Elsewhere in the world, Social Housing means “truly affordable” housing, where rent is based on tenant income, usually no more than 30% of that income.

Not in Vancouver, B.C. it seems. Hardly surprising for a city proud to regularly make it into the world’s top-two most expensive cities to live in. (It will never beat Hong Kong.) Vancouver’s housing market has been a developer’s wet dream for decades.

Here is a land where social housing can be as unaffordable as you might like to build and price it, thanks to a developer-friendly city council, happy to help developers past pesky bylaws and restrictions that might dent their profits.

However, that particular council’s political day has come and recently gone. But not its citizen-cudgelling housing policies. Why not? wonders a former city councillor.

Read more in The Georgia Straight: Tim Louis: End sweetheart deals for Vancouver developers

Annapolis: Infrastructure Detached From People? Worth Suing Over

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Anne Arundel County Courthouse photo by Pubdog is licensed under the public domain
Court house in Annapolis Maryland: the scene of a court case to save public housing one day?

A government’s construction and maintenance of services necessary to the well-being of a national or local population is inherently socialist. In America, though not everywhere else, there’s a general consensus that government socialist activity such as road maintenance or garbage collection should be kept down to a dull roar.

But it is vital to keep a government’s nose pressed against the fundamental social need of people that underlies all infrastructure and has triggered its creation in the first place. Lawsuits against to the government can help.

One useful example comes from Annapolis, Maryland and features a long-standing government commitment to the socialist activity of ensuring all citizens have adequate shelter, not just for its users but for a community as a whole.

A strictly physical side of this infrastructure has been the building and maintenance of public housing for those with low and no income. As is becoming clear in this time of pandemic, society as a whole suffers if there is not shelter for all1.

But the physical components of this particular infrastructure do not exist apart from the people who live in them. Whether the actual buildings are well maintained or poorly maintained, it is not for the purpose of pleasing the eye of passers-by, or to satisfy the accounting requirements of civil service bean-counters.

The point of the entire, inescapably socialist, public housing activity is to provide adequate shelter. In Annapolis, several public housing residents are suing to make abundantly clear the fundamentally connection between the actual buildings and the health of its occupants. They are doing so by demanding that the government fulfill its infrastructure responsibilities by regularly inspecting the buildings.

Read more in the Capital Gazette: Annapolis public housing residents sue, accusing city that lack of inspections lead to poor living conditions

Recognize Family Homelessness: Systemic, Endemic, And Self-Perpetuating

Buffalo City Mission Alfiero Family Center of Hope and Promise photo by Andre Carrotflower is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
The Buffalo City Mission has been operating continuously since 1917, and opened a family centre on this site in 1984. Family homelessness is an ongoing challenge: this new centre was opened its doors in 2020.

So, some individual or family is stuck living on the streets, couch surfing, or making the best of dormitory life in a shelter. What more is there to understand, particularly through the parsing of a bunch of big words, like systemic, endemic, and self-perpetuating?

Those words are pulled from a phrase in a Shelterforce article that suggests even America’s supposed experts don’t properly appreciate and account for the true nature of homelessness. They therefore lack the ability to mitigate it, let alone end it. Those experts include responsible agencies such as the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The people who experience homelessness are more than the sum of a collection of oopses, by which bad timing, bad decisions, bad circumstances add up to an unfortunate stumble out of housing and onto the streets.

Yes, homelessness does come from just such a collection of oopses, but they are more than serendipity.

When family related, the oopses are systemic, endemic, and self-perpetuating. To help sort out what that means, read more from Claas Ehlers, the CEO of Family Promise, an organization that works to prevent and end family homelessness in Shelterforce: To Fight Family Homelessness, HUD Must Count It Correctly

Building Community During COVID: A Food Story

labor chain is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
A photo taken early in the development of Ruth L. Bennett Farm, which today nourishes local residents and builds community.

This is part of a series about community. Growing and sustaining a community brings benefits to the participants, provides a means of personal development and builds hope and resilience. It can also smooth the path to build more liveable, life-fulfilling housing for people with very low and no incomes. For more on the series, try: Building More Housing By Strengthening Community


Ruth L. Bennett Homes offers public housing to 261 families in Chester, Pennsylvania. The property is also home to Ruth L. Bennett Farm, where organic herbs, vegetables and flowers are grown. When COVID closed the market where the produce was normally sold, the Farm switched to delivering its produce free of charge to families living at Ruth L. Bennett Homes and people living in the neighbouring community who have low incomes.

While the main focus of the article below is about how the Farm changed its pricing and its delivery system during the pandemic, it also discusses some of the reasons why this was possible. The long history on of the Farm and its relationship with the people living in the Homes is one of the reasons.

The community garden, which evolved to become the “Farm,” started 10 years ago. Ruth L. Bennett Homes is in a food desert: it is difficult for residents to obtain fresh and healthy food at any time. The work on the Farm is mainly contributed by Homes residents. Older adults mentor younger ones. The farming and the mentoring builds relationships among residents, as well as producing and distributing the much needed food. The relationships built in the years running up to COVID meant that switching the distribution system to direct delivery was possible and doable.

A second reason for the success of the food initiative is the Chester Housing Authority, which owns the Homes and the Farm site. The Authority holds a lot of power over the success or failure of the Farm. It chose to support the food initiative from the start, by allowing the residents to use Homes land for a community garden, which evolved into the Farm1. The Authority is publicly enthusiastic about the benefits of the Farm for Homes residents and Chester as a whole.

The third reason this worked is the financial contribution, which came from CARES (the national COVID financial relief package) as well as from local charities. The funding helped cover the cost of changing to a food delivery program. Although the article doesn’t mention it, the long and productive relationship between the Farm, the Homes residents and the housing authority probably made the funders more willing to put up the money.

Read more about the evolving food program at Ruth L. Bennett at WHYY: An urban farm in Chester embarks on its second year of feeding public housing residents

Vienna Achieves “Mixed Income” Within Public Housing, Not Beside It

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Gemeindebau Ginzkeyhof side Lederwaren photo by Rosso Robot is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Gemeindebau (public housing) in Vienna.

In North America, as well as many other “westernized” countries, housing developers and government currently argue that “mixed income” is a very desirable social foundation for building strong neighbourhood communities.

Apparently, the best way of making these communities happen is to create and build new housing projects that are largely free-market rental housing for the middle class. A smaller proportion of the project can also be created as public/social housing with controlled rents for those with low or no income. This public housing component of the project rounds out a desirable social mix.

With government investment to subsidize the new public housing, it works well for developers, helping them guarantee profits.

And it works fairly well for governments, too — building at least some truly affordable housing for “social rent” as ever rising, more and more unaffordable, free market rents plague the country.

Does this method of spending taxpayer dollars for desirable “mixed income” housing provide value for taxpayer money?

Decades of neoliberal small governments have stood upon the principle that private enterprise does “it” better than bureaucrats. “It” includes just about activity requiring financial efficiency, including building social-rent housing.

For a government, it is arguably best to invest a subsidy in such a project, making it profitable for developers to include some social rent housing in their free market projects. This achieves socially desirable mixed income housing designed, built and managed (increasingly) by supposedly more efficient free-enterprise developers/builders/managers.

But who pays for ongoing management and maintenance of this new public housing? The expectation is that, under this public/private partnership model, government will have to find ongoing support funding on a regular basis to maintain the value of these public housing properties.

Well! Whatever governments may be good at, providing ongoing support for existing social housing is not their strong suit, at least not in North America. That’s how one housing authority alone, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) was shortchanged by federal/state/local governments to a current total of more than 40 billion dollars in unpaid maintenance and management over the last few decades. The necessary maintenance just hasn’t been done, much to the misery of the tenants.

But, in new mixed income communities, governments will not be allowed to shirk their responsibilities to ensure the upkeep of public housing. Allowing the public housing to fall into disrepair will jeopardize the entire middle class side of the community by making it an unattractive rental or purchase for free-market sellers and buyers. Owners will sue. And win.

Really, is this such a good idea after all, these “mixed income” partially-subsidized communities? Can they only exist by leeching away taxpayer dollars for ever?

As it turns out, a very similar mixed income community development approach has demonstrated itself to be a very successful and long-lasting way of melding middle income tenants with low and no income tenants.

These proven successful communities require no “incentive” subsidy to be offered to developers. Further, no extra funding needs to be set aside for either management or maintenance of the housing. These are self-sustaining communities!

How does it work? Simple, not just part of the project is public housing. Public housing is the whole shebang — middle income, low, and no income alike.

How does it work? We need to go to Europe or the Far East to find present day working examples. Here’s one from Austria. Read more at MARKETPLACE: In Vienna, public housing is affordable and desirable

Engaging A Public Housing Community In Redevelopment

SFPD Park Station August Community Meeting photo by San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Signs in multiple languages encourage non-English speakers to participate in community meetings.

This is part of a series about community. Growing and sustaining a community brings benefits to the participants, provides a means of personal development and builds hope and resilience. It can also smooth the path to build more liveable, life-fulfilling housing for people with very low and no incomes. For more on the series, try: Building More Housing By Strengthening Community


Officials in Madison, Wisconsin, faced with a public housing site with outdated buildings, embarked on a process to redevelop the site. The way they went about the redevelopment process is apparently unusual and certainly worthy of note. Local residents were engaged in planning the development from the start.

The mission of the Bayview Foundation, which owns the homes, is to build community. The redevelopment planning process took particular steps to engage the residents. For example, residents who did not speak English were interviewed and attended meetings in their own language. All print information was translated.

Today, the residents are optimistic about the development, confident about the security of their housing and the prospects for their community. They are not worried about what the redevelopment will mean for them.

Consultations began in 2018 and the shovels are scheduled to go into the ground starting in 2023, which is typical for the pre-devleopment phase of a project of this size. Time, therefore is not a barrier to engagement. As for the cost of the consultations, the Foundation’s President notes, “we have accomplished this work using the same financing tools and methods nearly all affordable housing projects use, but we have applied those resources differently.”

Read more on this story about building community through a redevelopment process at the Wisconsin State Journal: Low-income residents help shape what could be one of the coolest places to live in Madison

Housing Safety Nets: Big? Small? Why Not Automatic Self-Adjusting?

Tough Times Tough Shit: The Republican philosophy photo by David Shankbone is licensed under CC BY 2.0
How well does your government's safety net protect your poorest citizens?

Food, fuel, rent, mortgage payment, transportation, health care — a variety of solid financial necessities make up every household social safety net. For the upper middle classes and above, who can insure their own safety net, a temporary crisis involving one or more of these financial necessities will probably be weathered with little fuss.

But at lower income levels, a crisis involving any one of these needs can become a serious burden. As for those with the lowest incomes, even a small disruption in the ability to pay for just a single one of these basic needs can lead to a catastrophe such as eviction.

A trio of academics from Wharton, the University of Notre Dame, and New York University has set out to design a self-adjusting social safety net that takes into account various forces that influence these necessities, allowing a government employing their “app” to adjust social support payments to allow people who need them to avoid being plunged into crisis.

How does it work? Read more at PHYS.ORG: How to strengthen housing safety nets

Building More Housing By Strengthening Community

Bayanihan photo by Bonvallite is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Today, affordablehousingaction.org is starting a series about community. We’ve put a lot of attention on the policy, program, financing, design and construction aspects of housing for people with very low incomes. Why have a series about community at all? And why now?

As we scanned for stories about housing and homelessness, articles about communities in the most unlikely circumstances kept showing up. For example, some of the people who lived in the community of Cabrini Green remember it fondly (despite its poor conditions and reputation) and keep in touch1. This is completely at odds with the dominant narrative that Cabrini Green was a hopeless and dangerous place to live, and which almost certainly contributed to the 3,000+ unit project being demolished.

Even demolition didn’t take away the sense of community.

Then there are the tenants who lived in Grenfell tower, where a fire killed over 70 residents in 2017. Far from turning their back on the tragedy, the community of survivors is advocating to ensure that tenant concerns about safety and other issues are not ignored2. The concerns about safety aren’t the only thing holding them together: they too speak about the community of tenants in the building.

There are also stories about public housing communities pulling together to make residents safer during COVID. At the Sunnydale project in San Francisco, community leaders worked with local health clinics and through academic connections to improve access to testing and to encourage people who might have been exposed to get tested. Those same leaders also organized food deliveries for vulnerable adults and made arrangements for people to isolate safely3.

These accounts demonstrate some of the reasons that stories about community belong at affordablehousingaction.org:

  • The people who are part of Cabrini Green community describe benefits from being involved. Those benefits deserve more attention.
  • People who are struggling with their housing situation have information and ideas that deserve consideration. As the Grenfell tenants group says, “if you’d listened to us to begin with, the fire would never have happened.”
  • The community leaders and tenants express hope and the idea that they are stronger and more resilient thanks to the community’s work to fight COVID.

The stories are about communities of people who are often described as marginalized and excluded because of poverty, the colour of their skin, their sexual orientation, or a disability. Yet these communities are all engaged in undoing that marginalization and exclusion and they are making a difference. The ways they work deserve attention, particularly as the world moves through the pandemic and toward recovery.

In this series, we’ll be reporting stories about communities in public housing projects and in mixed housing communities. We also have some “think pieces” in mind that will delve into the idea of community and how it contributes to ending homelessness and creating the housing that is sorely needed.

It’s important to be clear that this series is not founded on the idealist notion that “community can do it on its own.” There are plenty of structural and systemic barriers between today’s housing situation and one where people with very low incomes have housing that is affordable and safe. These also need to be addressed. We are saying that the contribution that community can make should not be overlooked.

Tomorrow: Engaging Community In Redevelopment

Wanted: Friendly Robot Surveillance Dog To Invade Public Housing

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Lucy, Rest in Peace. photo by Julie Falk is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Here's how a real dog does "friendly:" by charming you to death.

Does a robodog need a loveable lolling tongue, a welcoming wagging tail?

Maybe.

Scientific American thinks the New York Police Department got it all wrong with its recent pretenda-puppy parade in the halls of city public housing1. Dear old Lassie finally came home, only missing a head and surrounded by a gang of heavily armed warriors twitching their hair triggers.

“Creepy” seems a relatively mild reaction when encountering a tin-can version of the zombie apocalypse. Still, at least there weren’t giant stainless steel teeth gnashing inches from neighbourhood throats, explained by a doubtful, “Don’t worry, Ma’am, he’s on a bluetooth electro-leash that’s pretty much completely bug-free.”

Scientific American is happy to explain in some detail how the Dawn of the Undead DigiDogs could have been a happy, friendly experience for public housing residents, if only that world class publication or other electronic psycho-dog experts had been asked for advice. Read more in Scientific American2The NYPD’s Robot Dog Was a Really Bad Idea: Here’s What Went Wrong

Public Housing Needs Arts At Its Core. Who Knew? (Other Than Artists)

Mumbai landscape photo by Senorhorst Jahnsen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A Seattle, Washington public housing arts project provides an alternative meaning to “public housing” that has been much neglected in America. That meaning is a focus on “community” rather than “income.”

In America, public housing long ago drifted away from its Great Depression roots as affordable housing for workers. Today supposed “workers” in public housing include those unable to work at all, together with those with the lowest of all incomes.

Is there benefit to be gained by broadening the definition? For example, these days press releases from the Canadian government are larded with references to the “hardworking middle-class.” This pretty much extends the idea of workers all the way from those paid the lowest, towards the the infamous and stratospheric 1% that generally describes the edge of the upper classes.

Furthering a broader notion of “worker” supports what are now described as “mixed income” housing projects. And indeed, the Seattle project is actually a mixed income rebuild of an old, tired, strictly public housing project. It is now 2/3 new free market and 1/3 public housing — some 1,500 units — admirably far more than symbolic handfuls of public housing that tend to characterize public/private partnerships.

With the overall focus of this housing project shifting away from income qualifications, what might help to weld it together as a community?

Enter artists, stage left.

Read more in Shelterforce: More Than a Mural: How Arts and Culture Advance the Mission of the Seattle Housing Authority

Ontario’s Disastrous COVID Care Home Response: For-Profit Did It Worse

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City Hall - Toronto, Ontario photo by Larry Koester is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Toronto City Hall: refuge for barely competent managers who can't make it in the private sector?

In the great contest over who does housing better, “for-profit” developers and managers compete against government managed construction and maintenance.

The referee is . . . one of the above?!?! Oddly enough, that’s right, government funding often wins the right to decide. And for the last few decades, yes, the government has, it seems, put its thumb on the scales, deciding consistently in favour of housing built and managed by . . . free-enterprise for-profit private individuals or companies.

“The private sector does it better. We do it worse.” That has been a mantra of neoliberal small-government thinking since before the turn of this century.

However, in the grip of COVID, the privately and publicly owned and/or managed care homes, have gone head to head in a sad race to the bottom. Which managements have demonstrated the most incompetence in the face of so many elderly tenants who became infected, fell extremely ill, and died?

In Ontario, many care homes are privately owned and run (both for-profit and non-profit corporations) receiving operations funds from the provincial government to run the homes on a for-profit basis.

Others, fewer, are owned and managed by municipal governments.

Head to head, did the private enterprise out-perform public enterprise?

In this case, a more neutral referee was Ontario’s Auditor-General, whose responsibility is to hold the provincial government’s feet to the fire if and when necessary.

The results of this recent and unasked-for report that probed the many failures of Ontario’s care homes? Hands down, in Toronto at least, government did it better.

A useful sketch of the auditor-general’s report, including the roasting of  some private sector sacred cows, can be found in the Toronto Star1Toronto’s city-run LTC homes had a peak mortality rate less than half that of for-profit homes. COVID-19 shows the value of keeping public services in public hands

For those unable to access the above article, the auditor’s summary and full report are also available. For those looking for solid evidence that social welfare should not be a plaything for speculator-cronies of small-c conservative politicians, it’s worth a wade through the full report: COVID-19 Preparedness and Management

 

Are High Housing Prices Contributing To COVID?

roommates photo by Emily Allen is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Sharing a home with 4 others can provide great memories. Maybe not so much in a pandemic.

The burden of COVID-19 illness has fallen particularly hard on people with very low incomes and on visible minorities. Now, research from Toronto suggests that spiralling housing costs could be a contributing factor.

In the Toronto area, housing prices (rental and ownership) have grown much faster than incomes. In the 2006 to 2016 period, there is a marked increase in the number of working age adults who are doubling up, referred to as being part of “mutually dependent adult households.” The group includes working age single adults as well as couples without children who are living with relatives (e.g. siblings or family), or with non-relatives or a mix. It does not include students.

Mutually dependent adult households are more concentrated in specific neighbourhoods. These are the same neighbourhoods that have experienced higher numbers of COVID infection and higher rates of infection (cases per 100,000 population) in Toronto. This pattern is replicated in neighbouring municipalities.

As the researchers note, mutually dependent adult households on their own do not wholly explain the extra instances of illness, but should be considered as a factor. For example, nursing homes in the Toronto area have had very high rates of COVID infection and death. This research suggests that health workers living in mutually dependent households might have two sources for illness: their home and their workplace. A recent report from the provincial auditor about COVID in Nursing Homes describes employment conditions that suggest personal care workers are prime candidates for mutually dependent households1.

This research, which fingers high housing costs, adds another level of insight to the prevalence of COVID infection among visible minorities and in areas of high poverty. Read more at Open Policy Ontario: Covid-19 & People Living in Mutual Dependence in the Toronto Metropolitan Area

Commenting on the study, a health professional calls for changes to building standards to improve safety at home, based on what we now know about the spread of COVID-19. Read in the Toronto Star2: Scarborough researchers found the link between multi-generational households and COVID-19. What it could change about housing in years to come

 

AU Housing: How Capitalists Used Socialism To Help Workers AND Owners

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Stalin office photo by Unknown is licensed under the public domain
In the 1940's Joseph Stalin, the communist leader of the USSR, and the firmly-capitalist government of South Australia shared an interest in house building.

Warning: this is a socialist article in a socialist publication. However, gun-shy conservative readers with red-under-the-bed phobia will miss out on historic ways that Australian conservative politics turned housing support for the workers into a win for capitalism.

The time: The years immediately following the Great Depression

The problem: A decade and more of joblessness and low wages added up to housing neglect and intolerable slum conditions.

The solution: The South Australian Housing Trust (SAHT), a government housing program. Its objectives meshed with the industrialization of the state and so received enthusiastic capitalist support.

How did it all come to pass? Read more in Jacobin: The Government Can Build Quality Housing for Everyone

A Vancouver Housing Example: How Government “Hands Off” Doesn’t Work

Seesaw at Evelle photo by Rachel Coleman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

There is persistent advocacy in many countries that is fuelled by housing development interests. It can be summed up by the idea of “just build more.”

In The U.S. there is a rather poorly named movement that reflects  this idea — YIMBY. “Y” for “Yes” as in “Yes build more” (so far so good). But “IMBY” stands  for “In My Back Yard.” The developers, realtors and their activist fellow travellers, with the odd exception, are not talking about their own back yards. They mean anybody, indeed everybody, else’s back yards. Those are being offered up as sacrificial lambs to an idea that, by dispensing with regulations and bylaws, new build housing will naturally become available for all incomes.

This advocacy is supported by two theories. “Trickle down” theory is based on the idea that “new” is desirable, while “old” is undesirable. Thus, as housing ages, wealthier people will turn up their noses at older housing stock. It will fall and fall in value over the years, eventually become affordable to even the poorest. This theory is punctured when newbuild housing is suitably glitzy but the construction is shoddy compared to more robust, though older, buildings.

The advocacy also turns on the idea that the “Law” of Supply and Demand has a kind of innate core that favours neither rich nor poor, but somehow auto-balances the interests of all.

By way of analogy, consider a system of ropes and pulleys that interconnect a car’s cameras, ignition switch, mirrors, wipers, steering wheel, accelerator and brakes, all adding up to hands-free car driving. (Please forgive the primitive equipment — e.g. ropes — but bear in mind that the theory of supply and demand is fully several hundred years old).

Perhaps you’d prefer to consider a no-rules seesaw, where everyone wins by sitting wherever they like.

Simplistic social autopilot notions of “trickle-down” and “supply and demand” quickly prove inadequate in the face of complex human wants and needs. Consider the needs of an ethnic old folks home pitted against humanitarian support for destitute indigenous city-dwellers. How can there only be winners and no losers when government “hands off” leaves the solution to a financial war between struggling charities and deep-pocket speculator and/or developer interests?

Long live government!

Read more at CTVNews: Sigh of relief for seniors facing eviction in Vancouver’s Chinatown

. . . or the Vancouver Sun: B.C. government buys Chinatown seniors home at 333 East Pender to prevent evictions

Philadelphia: Beating The Bushes To Find Landlords Pays Off

photo by TimK MSI is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5
Fishtown, Philadelphia. Is there any rental housing around here? Finding landlords is one matter. Finding extremely open-minded ones is another altogether.

After hundreds of calls to landlords, Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless Services has been able to put together a housing program to assist people who are homeless to leave the streets.

The program, called “Way Home,” offers housing that is affordable, as well as supports. The Office of Homeless Services guarantees that Landlords will receive rent for one year. The supports include access to training programs that will assist Way Home participants to gain skills and find work. If they have income, participants pay 30% of it toward their rent.

As the story below relates, Way Home is a good fit for LGBTQ2S people. The program organizers think the model would work in other communities. Read more at The Philadelphia Inquirer: New Project Helps LGBTQ People Move From Homelessness To Housing

Tent Camps: Vancouver City Councillor On Draining Wallpaper Bubble

Strathcona Park photo by Richard Eriksson is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Strathcona Park near downtown Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver, B.C., one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, might be expected to have a chronic homelessness problem. And it does. Its visible manifestations — tent encampments — have lately been been focussed on one 400-tent monster in Strathcona Park, much to the discomfort of authorities, to say nothing of local neighbours.

With the hounds baying at the camp from all corners, Vancouver councillor Rebecca Bligh proposes that the city of Vancouver wake up to the reality of the camp’s closure. It’s not going to happen.

Yes, the encampment might be cleared from Strathcona Park, but all evidence suggests that this bubble under the wallpaper will simply be pushed somewhere else — either one giant bubble, or fragmented yet again into smaller bubbles.

With human rights part of the agenda, courts are becoming more reluctant to permit arbitrary displacements without some alternative place for the people who experience homelessness to live. What, then, are the alternative ways that Vancouver can deal with its growing homeless population?

According to Bligh, that means more supportive affordable housing, starting now. So what are the implications of such an inevitability, one that many other cities and regions will be forced to face?

Read more in the Vancouver Sun: Rebecca Bligh: Clearing Vancouver park encampments means a new look at housing solutions

Building Kinship To End Homelessness: Reaching Out From A Tent

Cabot Square photo by jeremiahandrews is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Cabot Square, Montréal. Winter 2020-21 site of a temporary Indigenous-led pop-up homeless shelter.

This post is part of a series about ways that people provide support to those who experience homelessness. The idea that “we treat everyone as kin” resonates through the posts in this series. Finding more and more ways to treat everyone as kin could convince governments to build housing that welcome people who are homeless.

Reaching Out From A Tent

The combination of COVID and winter was too much for Raphaël Napa André, who froze to death in an outdoor toilet in Montréal in January 2020. The shelter where he usually stayed had been closed to prevent COVID from spreading. This year, a temporary shelter named in his memory operated from a tent in a park on the western edge of the City of Montréal.

André was Innu from northern Québec. The team that conceived and operated the temporary shelter hail from at least three Indigenous nations: Innu, Cree, and Mohawk, a collaboration that embodies the idea of treating everyone as kin.

And in the tent? The Raphaël Napa André Memorial Tent continued the philosophy of treating everyone as kin, as the staff welcomed and supported Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

The story of the Raphaël Napa André Memorial Tent was carried in ricochet: Montreal’s tent shelter saved lives. Now it’s gone.

also CTV News: Cabot Square warming tent, which shelters, feeds dozens of homeless Montrealers, to close by May 1

There are apparently plans in the works for a permanent facility to support people experiencing homelessness in Montréal’s west end. Let’s hope so. The Raphaël Napa André Memorial Tent’s last day of operation was April 30.

In Modern Society, Must Some Dance To Will Of “The Chosen?”

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Myanmar Marionette photo by Anything Tao is licensed under CC0 1.0
Officials in Denmark are pulling strings to move some "non-western" residents but not others.

There was an uproar recently when Trumpian provocateurs in the U. S. House of Representatives proposed an American First caucus in order to (among other things) protect the country’s unique “Anglo-Saxon” heritage.

This triumphal declaration of tailored nativism appears to honour one nation unreasonably, based on a land gobble-fest in which the Spanish and the Francophones pretty much beat the Anglo-Saxons to the punch. As for the johnny-come-firstly certainty of true American natives in all this nonsense  . . . [sigh].

But none of this lightweight political sparring holds a patch to Denmark’s recent adoption of far more divisive and historically chilling terms. They are encompassed in new laws that focus not upon the elevated heritage of the deserving (e.g. Anglo-Saxons in America First’s view) but upon the poisonous and apparently nation-destroying heritage of those who do not deserve at all to be raised to elevated status.

These residents are broadly described as “non-western.” Their dangerous congregation happens in “ghettos” — a frighteningly familiar term in recent European History. There are apparently similar congregations throughout Denmark — of robust citizens with Viking ancestry. But these do not, for some reason, form “ghettos.”

Because of their supposed danger to the social fabric of the country, Denmark is taking major legislative steps to break down these “ghettos.” While the broad objective of a more homogenized society might well be commendable, the social engineering steps necessary to “adjust. . ?” these “non-western ghettos” are complex, high handed and obtrusive. The laws and regulations being introduced make for troublesome reading.

Read more in SCOOP: Ethnic Engineering: Denmark’s Ghetto Policy

Needless to say, the “ghettoization” is viewed as nothing but thinly-veiled racism by those who are being targetted.

They would prefer to see so-called ghettos honoured as a tendency towards the healthy social activity of community formation, to the point of taking legal action to challenge the numbers game of forcible redistribution. We’ve tackled this subject before. Try: Social Housing Communities: Strong? Or Strongly Maligned?

One Bright Idea To Clamp Down On Public Housing Lawbreakers

golden rain photo by Cyndy Sims Parr is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Policing in poor neighbourhoods of cities, no matter how large or small, is contentious. Public Housing neighbourhoods are no exception. And public housing tenants, particularly in Black dominated American public housing, can be ambivalent at best about increased police focus on their communities.

Here’s an example of a program that has gone beyond police patrols to having them actually living in public housing in New Bedford, Maryland. See more from 1420 WBSM: Cops Living in New Bedford Public Housing a Good Thing [OPINION]

A good thing? This kind of opinion is sure to have an opposite one, and it’s not hard to find in New Bedford. The Citizens for Juvenile Justice organization has released a report entitled “We Are the Prey: Racial Profiling and Policing of Youth in New Bedford.” Read more at 1420 WBSM: Racial Profiling By New Bedford Police Alleged in New Report

The Citizens for Juvenile Justice report not only catalogues the disproportionate statistics of police interaction with Blacks in a predominantly White city, it also addresses police living in the New Bedford public housing as an example of over-policing.

Here’s one simple solution for reducing crime in public housing neighbourhoods. It could resolve this impossible tension between a desire for neighbourhood security which rubs up against freedom from what is perceived as spying, or some form of repression. And if the conditions aren’t right for this community, perhaps it will work for others.

The cost? Pennies.

One way to deal with local crime is to throw a little more light on it. Use brighter lightbulbs.

It may sound like some kind of joke, but it’s been tried and proven to work by the New York Public Housing Authority.

Read more in The Dallas Morning News: One simple trick works to help reduce violence in high-crime areas, studies show. So Dallas is trying it.

Body Count: Utah Finds Ways To Not Solve Homelessness

Salt Lake City, UT photo by Ron Reiring is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Salt Lske City in the winter is no picnic for rough sleepers. There's no good reason for them to avoid shelters. Or is there?

Utah’s recent 63 million-dollar homeless “resource center” investment doesn’t really put a dent in its visible homeless. Some of the reasons why are instructive for everyone.

The Salt Lake City region’s three shiny new shelters have been successful in some ways. With their built in-supports, there are a good number of people who have undoubtedly been grateful for its amenities. And these Resource Centers are actively moving significant numbers out of homelessness and into permanent housing, not to mention helping people to keep their housing and avoid having to come to the shelter at all.

Ironically, it’s the most publicly visible who have not necessarily benefited from the new resource system. They are often people who have been homeless for a long time and are invariably the focus of frustrated businesses, neighbourhoods and officials.

What makes the people who have been homeless for a long time more resistant to a cot or bed in a shelter dorm which, with luck and perseverance, is a ticket to a permanent home? It’s only necessary to understand that people who experience homelessness are driven by the same kinds of human interactions that are important to all of us. They include relationships with others, a need for community, as well as a most basic of all reactions towards a place to call even temporarily home — fear. Ignoring some basic human needs common to all is bound to lead to failures of execution, never mind the best intentions.

As far as fear is concerned, one of our recent posts reflects on the need to adjust programs to mitigate it — adapting more unconventional approaches to temporary housing.  Try: Halfway Houslets For Homeless: A Mashup of Housing First + Support First?

As for the social factors that keep people from staying at emergency shelters, one simple technique is to ask them what they need and act upon it. Of late, that’s been been couched as the essential “lived experience” of homelessness. It’s an expression that means, in the most politely possible way, “Why don’t you ask?”

In the following case, Dylan Ginther, a documentary filmmaker living in Kamloops, British Columbia, both asks and answers questions about his own social and community needs that kept him away from shelters and programs that offered to rescue him from the streets during his teenage years. Read more in iNFOnews: Formerly homeless youth in Kamloops calls out ‘short-term’ solutions

The article below discusses the mixed results of homelessness efforts in and around Salt Lake City, Utah. It contains some answers of its own. The importance of community is reflected from the opening of the article, as a person living in an encampment rescues somebody else’s bicycle that has fallen over on somebody else’s tent, even as the whole site is due to be razed, the land cleansed, and its human component moved on.

The bicycle rescuer also explains an understandably fundamental relationship, which makes rough living and tent city communities inevitable for a husband and wife.

Read more about Utah’s no-doubt well intentioned attempts to tackle a growing crisis, as well as some of the ways in which it has not yet been as successful as everyone would like. Read more in DeseretNews: Is Utah solving its homeless problem? The answer is complicated

Building Kinship To End Homelessness: Connecting Through Experience

Pills photo by The Javorac is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This post is part of a series about ways that people provide support to those who experience homelessness. The idea that “we treat everyone as kin” resonates through the posts in this series. Finding more and more ways to treat everyone as kin could convince governments to build housing that welcome people who are homeless.

Connecting Through Experience

Erin Khar, writing in the Huffington Post, says, “as someone who struggled with heroin addiction for 15 years, as well as mental health issues, I can see the trajectory that leads to homelessness for so many folks struggling with these issues.” Her comment illustrates a way to connect with people who are homeless: through personal experience.

As Khar says, it is common to think of people who are homeless as lesser beings, people with whom we have nothing in common. Assuming that 500,000 people who are homeless use substances, Khar appeals to the other 19,500,000 people who are also using substances to reflect on what they have in common with people who are homeless, rather than what makes them different.

Carrying her point further, Khar reflects that every one of us needs food, clothing and shelter. This, too, provides a way to connect as kin with people who are homeless. Building on the shared connection, she encourages everyone to think about giving money to people on city streets who ask for donations. And she says, “even drug users need money for basic needs like food and a place to sleep for the night. If they did spend the money on drugs, because that is what they needed for some semblance of comfort that day, that’s fine.”

Read more in HUFFPOST: It’s None Of My Business If Homeless People Use The Money I Give Them For Drugs

Evictions? Glory Be Not! COVID Punctures Federal State Self-Congratulation

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O.S.U. Marching Band photo by OakleyOriginals is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Take a toot in all directions! For clever counter-marching, nothing beats the ingenuity of an American university marching band.

How Do I Love Myself? Let Me Count the Ways . . .

In Canada, some 13-ish. America goes a full 50-ish. In the United Kingdom, having their cake and eating it, it’s either none or a devolved 4-ish. We could go on.

We’re talking the glistening glories of federalism here, in which separate but equal partners band together to share the future while being herded along like cats leashed by a hot air balloon (a.k.a. the central government).

And so we’ve gone to war against the pandemic — one in which the Ontario Regiment marches left-right left-right, while the Saskatchewan Regiment marches right-left right-left. And the Follow-Me-Lads! national government shouts heartily on from ahead in a basket dangling from its balloon1.

In many ways, it has not been a shining hour for federalism.

Take evictions in North America as a subject.

In the US, the national Center For Disease Control (CDC) issued and then extended a weightless eviction ban for 50 states full of contrary landlords who may honour or ignore as their state government is inclined to permit.

In Canada, the national government simply doesn’t DO that kind of rental tenancy micromanagement. So it has only the vaguest opinions, if any, on the subject.

Hats off then, to the bravery of Shelterforce, the American community activist agency and publisher, which deliberately asks a difficult question focused on US eviction performance: Q: Does the CDC’s Extension of the Eviction Moratorium Mean No One Is Being Evicted Now?  . . . and then does its best to answer it2.

Can New Zealand Fix Multiple Housing Crises By Applying The 4 D’s?

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New Zealand photo by Pedro Szekely is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Before white settlement, indigenous Maori were land rich. Now they are largely land and housing poor. Their plight contributes to Aotearoa's (New Zealand's) housing crises.

Why should anyone except New Zealanders care about New Zealand’s ownership housing crisis, its rental housing crisis and its rent-geared-to income (social/public/state housing) crisis?

Well, New Zealand’s housing history roughly mirrors that of a handful of countries claiming a British heritage, including the U.K. itself, the United States, Australia, and Canada.

Accordingly, there may be something to be learned from a comprehensive study of New Zealand housing problems, together with a range of solutions, which was published last year.

Based on roughly shared histories of British-linked nations, we have . . .

  • Nations with a preference for free-market rental housing, not ownership, at the beginning of the 20th century.
  • A Great Depression in the 1930’s where rent-geared-to income housing was built which helped some of the millions of people with little or no income who could not afford rental housing at all.
  • Post WWII, more rental and rent-geared to income housing built as renewal and slum clearance, while a national dream of home ownership dawned.
  • In the late 20th century, as home ownership exploded, neoliberal small governments shifted responsibility for replacing government-owned public housing to private homebuilders. Existing public housing was deemed a burden, demolished, sold on the free market, or continued in use but left to decay.
  • In the early 21st century the soaring success of home ownership attracts not only homeowner investors, but speculative investors with little or no interest in housing as shelter. Prices rise more and more, successfully weathering a depression triggered by financial industry malpractice.

Which leaves countries like New Zealand where they are today: soaring home ownership prices and soaring prices for scarce free market rental housing. As for deeply affordable housing, neoliberal replacement attempts via the free market have been a fizzle.

Meanwhile un-repaired existing social housing is still sorely needed even as it falls apart, while growing waiting lists in the thousands/tens of thousands fail to service the growing number of citizens who cannot afford free market housing of any kind.

For many, their plight has not been helped by rental assistance vouchers and other programs that are tied to free market price rises and rapidly grow too expensive for governments to willingly fund all who need them.

Does any of this sound familiar, New Zealander or no?

If so, you may find it worth exploring possible crisis remedies offered as the “4 D’s” — both theory and policy implications, in a lengthy and detailed article in Scoop: How Can We Achieve Affordable, Secure Homes For Everyone?

The Scoop article in turn is based most significantly on “Transformative Housing Policy for Aotearoa New Zealand, Jacqueline Paul, Jenny McArthur, Jordan King, Max Harris and Scott Figenshow, Public Policy Institute, University of Auckland, October 6 2020.”

Halfway Houslets For Homeless: A Mashup of Housing First + Support First?

Sleeping Pods photo by Mark McClure is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A Portland, Oregon neighbourhood of tiny homes or "Sleeping Pods."

A recent article from London, Ontario expresses a problem made more acute in the pandemic. That city is home to a successful program based on getting housed immediately (Housing First), then providing supports. But COVID’s exacerbated pressure on permanent housing appeared to leave some of London’s homeless with only temporary shelter housing. This past winter, with “Housing First” unavailable, another city charity implemented a “Supports First” program for those who were left out in the cold1.

Some people who have been homeless for a long time cannot handle the shared accommodation that shelters typically provide. It is sufficiently frightening that they choose to risk freezing to death while sleeping rough and thereby pass up on the supports that shelters provide.

There is, however, a rapidly growing alternative, a half-sized, halfway shelter system midway between a dormitory style emergency shelter and the security of a personal home.

Only two or three years ago, communities were at their wit’s end over how to deal with the “pop up, knock down, pop up again” reality of tent communities of people experiencing homelessness in their midst. The idea of more humane living conditions in a tiny home “rescue” neighbourhood seemed a reasonable possibility. But it needed to overcome doubtful communities, including neighbours who equipped themselves with the full range of NIMBY fears2.

Now, however, the tiny house transitional shelter appears to be coming of age. Supportive communities for the homeless are popping up everywhere. How useful are they? Time will tell, but for one particular group of clients — people who are oppressed by fears of violence in congregate shelters — the privacy and security of a tiny home may well be the difference between the “coming in from the cold” versus the precarious, life-threatening existence of a winter outdoors.

Here’s a smorgasbord of new “Tiny Housing First” worthy of evaluation:

Los Angeles Times, via Lima News: Tiny Houses May Help Homeless People

Goshen News: Faith Mission unveils Tiny Shelters emergency homeless housing program

KIRO 7:Sanctioned homeless site in Olympia gets new micro homes

CBS Los Angeles: LA’s Largest Community Of Tiny Homes For Homeless Opens In North Hollywood

KATU: Retired developer tackles homeless crisis with pod village proposal

Reasons to be Cheerful: The Tiny-House Village That’s Changing Lives

. . .  and as a bonus for anyone who gets this far down the article, courtesy of the photographer who took the picture at the top of this post, an off-the-wall article about a proposed electric bicycle-based mobile sleeping pod. Peddle your home to work and back, anyone?

Read more at BikePortland: Portland-based nonprofit sees potential in pedal-powered, housing ‘POD’

Germany’s Supreme Court Overturns Berlin Rent Cap

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Berlin Rent Protest, April, 2019 photo by Prachatai is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A Berlin Rent Protest in April 2019 helped move the government to cap rents . . .
until the courts intervened.

There are important ideas that have a wide theoretical application to housing, but practical examples can be few and far between. Any single new step forward may be worthy of an enthusiastic examination.

The imposition of a rent cap in the city (and state) of Berlin appeared to be one of those landmark steps1.

Alas, it was not to be.

The Supreme Court of Germany has found Berlin’s rent cap to be unconstitutional. Germany has national rent cap legislation already. Berlin’s cap is unconstitutional in part because it is adding to the cap that already exists2.

The decision by the German supreme court unfortunately goes beyond the removal of the cap. Any changes in rent that have already been applied under the cap have been reversed. Many renters will be facing not only significantly higher rents, but also the need to pay back any savings realized under the cap.

Read more on the consequences to Berlin renters at WSWS.org: Germany’s Supreme Court Overturns Berlin Rent Cap

“Lived Experience” Vital To Solutions To Homelessness. Just Ask.

photo by Rosemary Foulds © all rights reserved

The COVID-19 pandemic provides some unexpected examples of the importance of “lived experience” to the practical knowledge that legislators need to craft focused, practical, compassionate rules and legislation to better assist their citizenry.

Without awareness to that lived experience, the results can be truly lamentable. Did it occur to the affluent, well-housed American Fathers of Confederation to declare a citizen’s right to have a house?

Apparently not. Instead, American citizens got the booby prize, the right to own and carry guns.

Which leaves America well behind much of the rest of the world when it comes to a housing commitment to its own citizens.

“Lived experience” is slowly being recognized as necessary for the elimination of homelessness. Recognized, yes, but actually solicited? Not so much.

Here’s a small pandemic-revealed example from the province of Ontario. As the government struggles to tailor its oft-changing business and industry shutdown orders limiting COVID spread, it has received a steady stream of angry push-back from a vocal middle class.

Food Stores Open? Of Course. And pharmacies, too.

Beloved Canadian Tire — a car, home and garden tinkerer’s wet dream? Curbside service only.

But what about Walmart, food AND tinker-goods and clothing and you name it? Full shopping available. Screams of anger from small businesses, either closed or unable to set up for curbside pickup.

Whoops, no, only food in Walmart now. Tape off the rest. Chopping, changing from month to month, the government chooses, the middle class abuses.

Did anyone bother to consider the lived experience of people with very low incomes, as well as people experiencing homelessness? Never mind do anything about it? Let us help you bring the usefulness of lived experience onto your radar.

Read more at toronto.com: Advocates for Toronto’s homeless urge province to let dollar stores sell non-essential items

What’s non-essential to some, even many, is essential to the poor and homeless.

Helping To Target Assistance To Eviction-Threatened Renters

Advocates across the U.S. are calling attention to renters and their financial struggles during COVID. Some renters who are in arrears have been protected by eviction bans, although the threat of eviction is ever-present. As the bans are lifted, without financial assistance to help renters pay arrears, advocates forecast that many thousands of households will become homeless.

Let’s imagine that you’re a local politician in the U.S. and you want to direct emergency relief funding to help tenants pay off rental arrears and help local landlords to stay in business. Who should be eligible? How should the assistance be structured? Data would surely be a big boost in designing your program.

To answer these and other questions, researchers at Harvard investigated the financial stresses of tenants in the pandemic. They surveyed all of the existing studies and assembled all of the findings in one document. As the study team points out, compiling the report wasn’t exactly clear sailing. However, it is far better than having to do all the research yourself.

For example, as a local decision maker, you might be lucky enough to live in a community where some research has been done on rental arrears. It might not include every tenant who is struggling financially, for example those who are skipping meals or dipping into savings to pay the rent on time. These tenants won’t show up as being in arrears, but making sure they pay the rent could have effects downstream. How many are in that group?

There are also national data sources. The US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey is one example. It surveys regularly and has a robust sample size. And, the survey includes questions about whether people are skipping meals or pinching in other ways to make sure that rent gets paid. So some of those data gaps could be filled in with national level data.

Based on the available studies, the Harvard report gives advice about what to include in a policy or program to assist renters. Some communities have tried helping tenants in arrears with mixed results. In some cases, tenants in arrears were not eligible for assistance and in some instances, tenants were not aware that a program existed. The experiences of other communities such as these may well be be helpful for designing a tenant relief package in any community, even ones in other countries.

The full report is available at Harvard’s Joint Center For Housing Research: Renters’ Responses to Financial Stress During the Pandemic

How Middle Class Miami Ran Over Public Housing On The Way Out Of Town

George A. Smathers Plaza 1967 photo by Phillip Pessar is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Miami's George A. Smathers Plaza, built more than 50 years ago, still desirable and still doing a useful job providing truly affordable housing to the elderly.

It was an unfortunate traffic accident. The American dream lay affordable and enticing in the suburbs. Middle America could afford cars to pursue it. Nobody gave thought to the lowest paid workers without the cash to leave the city and buy the American dream home. It’s just too bad that those unfortunates had their own desirable inner city housing squashed by the traffic.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt blessed the construction of public housing during the 1930’s depression era, it was to be both truly affordable as well as desirable. For a time it was.

At the time neither Roosevelt, nor anyone else anticipated the suburb-centric love-in that was to become the American Dream. One of its consequences was the hollowing out of sections of residential downtowns, abandoned to the poorest, increasingly crime ridden, down at the heels.

The jewel of housing for the lowest paid workers — truly affordable public housing — began to turn away the employed, with their higher rent payments that could help maintain the housing. Maintenance funding from government sources did not dry up. It was simply never intended to follow the capital investment in public housing. Public housing was to be maintained by income from tenant rents, even as those who could afford to pay it were ushered out the door.

“Up and out” became the mantra of decaying public housing, unchanged today after nearly a hundred years. In hopeless defence, public housing authorities armed themselves with begging bowls which they thrust endlessly at disinterested governments.

In the end, it was most convenient to blame public housing as the focus and locus of all that was desperate, depressing and evil about hollowed out inner cities. Public housing was declared a failure — a mangy, diseased dog that needed to be put down.

And then . . . with the dawning of a new century came visions of a modified American dream celebrated in a gentrified inner city.

Now the diseased dog was not just a nose-holding occasional distraction, it was thoroughly in the way. And the land upon which it sat sang out to developers as a nirvana of upscale apartment and condo towers.

The consequences are being felt now in cities like Miami, as established communities of lower income citizens are being levered out of their public housing homes either permanently or, (if you drink the koolaid) temporarily, with a right to return. What impact do these events have upon the security and health of those unfortunates?

Read more about the multi-generational history of events that have so battered about public housing residents. More, read about how some folks are doing their best to determine and provide the physical and mental assistance displaced social housing tenants need to help weather the latest round of social injustices, in the Miami Herald: This group helps Miamians transition from public housing. ‘I don’t feel by myself anymore.’

Webinars And Remote Meetings – Getting on with Housing Business When You Can’t Get Together

WEBINAR MCTI photo by Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovações is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Much human interaction is lost in web based meeting, but are there reasons why this way of communicating should outlast the pandemic?

There is no question that the internet has made it easier for people to stay connected during the COVID pandemic compared, for example, to how it was during the Spanish flu. Then, the telephone was only beginning to be a universal method of communication. Like every other technological advance, the internet shapes the nature of our connections.

A Place To Thrive was a webinar organized by community-based organizations for a local audience in Hamilton, Ontario. The format included three personal stories, presentations by experts and a Question and Answer session. A Place To Thrive demonstrates what organizers in another community might consider when thinking about using web based technology to connect around a housing issue.

The web makes it easy to connect experts to participants with a minimum of logistics (once you get over the hurdle of the internet itself). It means that organizers can connect participants with experts located in other communities without the logistics of travel.

The web also makes it easy for the experts to bring the world to the participants, with examples of housing that are beyond the realm of any innovations that may have been implemented in the local community.

A housing example from A Place To Thrive is Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, a U.S. based phenomenon that has evolved in existing buildings with predominantly seniors populations. The concentrated population allows supports and services to be provided on site. The site-based location makes providing services less expensive and facilitates logistics. It also means a minimum of disruption for residents, who continue to live in a familiar location and to build on personal supports and networks already in place. 1

At the same time, however, a web based meeting seems to require a more rigorous structure than would be possible in meetings where everyone is in the same room. In the case of A Place to Thrive, the microphones of participants were muted, and their input was managed using the chat function. This is undoubtedly necessary, especially in a large group, but it takes some getting used to. The participants are simultaneously exposed (unless they turn off their camera) and isolated (for example, it’s pretty difficult to make an off-hand comment to the person sitting next to you about something the speaker says).

Web based meetings also change the nature of leading a meeting. With individual microphones muted, the chair has considerably more power than a meeting in a room where participants can speak up at any time. The function of a leader — “reading the room” — continues, but in a much different form by scanning the faces of individual participants and interpreting their expressions.

Technical support, particularly for large sessions, is essential compared to the often optional use of projectors, etc.

Why Does This Matter?

Meeting organizers need to consider the structural features of web-based meetings ahead of time. The design of the A Place To Thrive session was well suited to sharing information and ideas but as designed would not necessarily suited to decision making. Facilitating a meeting to reach a decision would require a different structure, particularly when there is a need to ensure that the audience/voters can participate.

Certainly, in the absence of people meeting in the same room, web based meetings have been vital and have been used for a range of purposes. Over the course of twelve months, with on-again, off-again lockdowns, community organizations have managed to hold annual meetings, which are mandatory, as well as celebrations which aren’t. Community organizations have also teamed up during COVID to identify community needs as well as to organize and coordinate support for the identified needs.  And in cases where people are still in dire need even with COVID supports (think rental arrears and eviction bans) community agencies are organizing to draw attention to issues and calling on governments and other actors to do more.

As we move along to a time when face to face meetings are possible again, we should remember the benefits that web based meetings have brought us. Many organizations report that attendance at their annual meeting was way up last year. This could be because we were stuck at home and hadn’t anything else to do. But the internet also took some of the practical challenges out of physically attending. Also, since we had no choice but to use the web to meet, we got over the hurdle of getting used to the technology.

And, as noted above, web based meetings make it possible to “be in the same room” with people thousands of kilometres/miles away. This writer recently participated in a series of interviews and meetings that were all web based. One of the participants joined in from 6200 km (3,852 mi) away. Thanks to this technology, it is possible to take in sessions that one would never dream of travelling to to attend.

In every one of these situations, the people organizing the meetings must decide in advance how to facilitate access and participation by those who attend. For example, in meetings where decisions are being made, it would seem absolutely essential that the person selected to chair the meeting is both respected and trusted by the participants.

For more insight into both the potential as well as the drawbacks of such webinars, here is a recording of the full webinar: A Place To Thrive

Here also is a list of resources that were discussed during the session: Resources on Seniors’ Housing – A Place to Thrive

Landlord Unfair: Who’s To Judge? England Believes “Lived Experience” Can Help

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The recent United Kingdom Social Housing White Paper put public housing landlords and their managers on notice. A new era is to be born in which fair tenant concerns must be addressed and remedied wherever appropriate.

The rights of tenants to enjoy their housing will be considered, whether the landlord is the local council, or a housing association, or any other organization or agency that acts on a landlord’s behalf to interact and respond to tenant concerns. There will be no more denying, ignoring or postponing indefinitely — all too frequently the consequence when tenants report a failure in the provision of their housing.

Fine as far as it goes, but who is to decide on the fairness of a tenant complaint?  In England, that responsibility is accorded to an ombudsman. Ombudsmen of various kinds in various jurisdictions are inevitably lawyers or bureaucrats, often with little or no experience of their specialty — in this case the quality of life in social housing.

Which is why England is tackling its responsibilities to address the white paper by enlisting “lived experience” to support the English Ombudsman’s Service — a 600 strong panel of social housing residents, young and old, from nine different regions.

Could your regional or national public/social/council/state housing use an impartial ombudsman, supported by assistance from a reservoir of lived experience?

Read more from the English Housing Ombudsman’s Service: New Resident Panel appointed

. . . and for those unfamiliar with the United Kingdom’s new Social Housing White Paper: The charter for social housing

Truly Affordable Housing As Essential COVID Worker Reward?

20200528_Making a noise photo by Damien Walmsley is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Passé?

Year two of a coronavirus pandemic. The hollow metallic sound of periodic pot banging no longer echos through Toronto city streets. We’re apparently not so proud of ourselves any more for our noisy love-ins for essential workers.

Besides, our understanding of “essential” has changed. Once limited to trained health care professionals pushed to the brink of exhaustion by long hospital hours, our understanding of “essential” has broadened.

For example, we now understand the word to include shelf stockers in grocery stories, buffetted by regular contact with pushy customers. And of course there are those working two jobs in two care homes without paid sick leave. We hope they manage to shelter and feed their families as they convey COVID from one location to another in order to keep food on the table and a roof overhead.

Those, as well many other essential folks, could really use a lift from slightly more substantial gratitude than pot clatter. And anyway, most of them certainly do not live in sanctimonious middle-class neighbourhoods, where the tinny chorus once rang loud. Nor are they around to notice the silent pots sitting on cold porch floors while the once-zealous gang-bangers are comfortably warm inside watching Netflix.

This story is repeating itself internationally. One common theme: low paid essential workers cannot find housing in the expensive cities where they are instrumental to pandemic management.

Here’s a personalized story from The New York Times, via Opera News: She Works in a Homeless Shelter, and She Lives in One, Too

Robots In NYC Public Housing: “Big Brother Dog Is Watching You”

Robot dog photo by billadrian96 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
A robot dog can be built to be cute . . . or it can be built to be creepy, even menacing . . .

The use of a robot surveillance “dog” during a police intervention in New York Public Housing seems to have a human “creepy” value of 100% with complaints flying thick and fast.

Let’s ignore as unlikely the possibility that robo-dog is not actually a “policeman’s best friend,” but is there to keep tabs on officers who don’t wear body cameras, or those who have incurable finger-ticks that switch cameras off at embarrassingly critical moments.

And sure, robo-dogs may be nothing more than elaborate surveillance cameras, immobile versions of which are already an accepted part of life in cities everywhere.

It’s the creep factor that seems to get everyone’s back up. Hard to imagine that anyone, anywhere — public housing, expensive gated community, shopping mall, city street, holiday beach — would be comfortable to find a four-legged animatronic camera platform fixing you with its beady swivel camera while stalking in your direction.

How soon before the militarized version, capable of firing a rocket to take out entire wedding parties like the surveillance drones that operate over Afghanistan?

Read a pointed comment “blasted” by New York Congressmember Jamaal Bowman, in Democracy Now!: New York Police Deploy Advanced Surveillance Robot in Public Housing Complex

For a broader and more detailed discussion of New York City Housing Authority recent robo-dog events, read more in Gothamist: NYPD Deploys “Creepy” New Robot Dog In Manhattan Public Housing Complex

Should Private Investment In Public Services Replace Public Spending?

homeless photo by wonderferret is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Can paying for the task of supporting a chronically homeless person to leave the streets be achieved today by borrowing from tomorrow's savings in hospitalization, corrective services, street outreach, etc?

A recent article in Forbes asked whether value capture could be used to fund intensive case management and other supports as a way to speed up initiatives to end chronic homelessness. See: Addressing Chronic Homelessness Using Value Capture

How does value capture work?

The mechanics of value capture are similar to a loan or a mortgage. Money is provided up front by investors, who agree to specific repayment terms. Like a loan, the terms include when the money will be paid back (the term), the frequency of payments during the term and the amount of return on investment. These agreements are also called “social impact bonds” 1.

In the era of small government, social impact bonds have attracted attention. Private investors agree to finance social services for a price. The alternative is to raise taxes and pay for them from the public purse. Governments prefer to avoid raising taxes and are attracted by the idea that they can get something for less. Or can they?

In the Forbes article, the author is suggesting that investors contribute now for more social service case managers. With more case managers, people who have been homeless for a long time would be assisted to move to permanent housing more quickly than they are now.

In the future, when the multiple case managers have done their magic and there are fewer people on the streets, it will cost less to provide the services that the people who are living on the streets are using now (e.g. policing and hospital emergency visits).

This may sound familiar. It is exactly the argument that has been used to obtain public funding for Housing First programs, which use intensive case management to assist people who are chronically homeless to move to permanent housing. In this context it’s called as “value for money.”

Now, let’s go the next step, and bring “value capture” into the picture, by bringing in private investors to pay for more case management, instead of increasing the amount of public funding. The investors are promised payback of principal as well as a return on their investment.

Where do these payback payments come from?

In theory, it should be from the services that experience the savings that pay back the initial investment and the interest. In practice, this varies. Government as a whole may do the paying (rather than the departments that have lower costs). And it may be another group entirely. For example, the lottery system in England, which uses its proceeds for “public good,” has agreed to pay back principal and interest to investors who purchased social impact bonds.

This sounds like a complicated, even expensive, package to put together. Is it worth it?

Do social impact bonds make social services work better?

While social impact bonds have their fans, there are many who question them. For example, how does social impact bond financing affect the way services are delivered? As well, is there any evidence that private investors are more willing than governments to invest in new ideas, as proponents claim?

Jesse Hajer, who teaches in the faculty of Economics and Labour Studies at the University of Manitoba, surveyed the field in 2019. The available reviews identified that social impact bond financing does affect the way services are delivered, for example by setting unrealistic performance targets, which service providers are then pressured to achieve. As for investing in new ideas, Hajer noted that most of the examples available for review were for services that had an established track record. Read more the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives: Social Impact Bonds: A Costly Innovation

And in 2020, John Loxley, who also taught at the University of Manitoba, completed a review of social impact bond investments in several child welfare programs. The programs aimed at preventing children from being taken in to care2.

These were all innovative programs, undertaken on a trial basis. He concluded that the trials were effective, and should be expanded. He also found that the trials, which all used private financing, were overpriced when compared with the cost of direct government spending to test the innovations. You can read the full study at Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives: Social Impact Bonds and the Financing of Child Welfare Revisited

Winding up

Back to the Forbes article that started all this. More people would leave the streets if there were more case managers. The evidence for this approach is well established.

Using social impact bonds to pay for the case management up front is not guaranteed to provide a cost savings. Experience from investing in other social impact bonds suggests it will cost more and will likely affect the way the program is delivered.

Affordable/Council/Public/Social/ State/Community Housing: What’s In A Word Salad?

Catherine Palace.Екатерининский дворец photo by Andrey Korchagin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
What words best describe housing that is affordable to you? A story of who found the home above affordable can be found here.

David Park’s book “A Fire In the Eye: A Historical Essay On The Nature and Meaning of Light” reviews the ideas, debates and thinking about what light is. Plato used stories. Aristotle preferred something more specific: he sought definitions that always meant the same thing. A debate grew early on about whether light was a “substance” or an “accident.” Experiment and scientific inquiry gradually become more rigourous and yet, as Newton concluded, “as to what light is, is not so easie.” Today as we’ve moved to quanta and other concepts that are far beyond our easy comprehension, we’re still trying to figure out what light is. Park says that throughout history, asking questions has been one of the most helpful ways to advance our understanding of light.

What does any of this have to do with housing? It began with the idea that a post was needed to help people navigate the myriad terms and expressions used to talk about housing. These days, affordablehousingaction.org is dedicated (mostly) to talking about housing for people who don’t have housing and for those who are struggling to hang on to it. And we aim to share ideas that are being tried in different countries.

Based on the “wisdom” of going on five years of posts, one thing has become clear. Definitions abound. Adjectives attached to housing include: affordable, deeply affordable, truly affordable, non-market, social, public, council, social rent, state and community (probably there are more, but you get the idea). Sometimes different terms mean the same thing. Sometimes the same term means different things. And, sometimes the definitions change1. In the present context, Aristotle would be more than a little frustrated.

So, how is affordablehousingaction.org dealing with the issue of multiple and competing definitions?

There is a UN definition of adequate housing, which was adopted through an international process of consensus building. This definition is pretty comprehensive, including issues such as cost, quality, safety, connection to community and access to infrastructure. Individual countries elect to sign on, following appropriate national political processes. However, countries that affordablehousingaction.org feature regularly, including Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, have not yet adopted the UN’s definition.

Countries that have adopted the UN’s definition of adequate housing agree to move toward achieving the right to adequate housing. Transforming internal law to align with the UN Definition is also a political process in which many actors have an interest. Here are three:

  • Governments seek definitions that appeal to voters. As more and more voters experience housing costs that are beyond their reach, definitions get sliced to address the housing needs of specific sub-populations.
  • Business seeks to maximize profit, and at minimum ensure financial viability. Definitions are of interest to the extent that they affect the bottom line. For example, a particular definition of affordable when applied to a construction project may earn a government subsidy.
  • People who don’t have housing or are struggling to hang on to it seek definitions that will reduce high housing costs and add more housing that they can afford.

With just these three interest groups, it is easy to imagine that current laws and definitions of affordable housing lie some distance from the UN definition. As well, it seems likely that it will take some time and effort for an individual country (for example Canada) to move its current laws toward the UN definition.

Despite this uneven terrain, affordablehousingaction.org believes it is valuable to share ideas about housing. Affordablehousingaction.org makes an effort to keep up to speed with housing housing definitions used in different countries. It’s also important to acknowledge that the issue is complex and critical details can be overlooked.

However much Aristotle’s wish for unwavering definitions might appeal, when it comes to housing, Newton’s comment “it is not so easie” applies as much to housing as it did to light. To bring the problems of multiple definitions into focus, affordablehousingaction.org asks the question, “what does this mean for the people who don’t have housing and the people who are struggling to hang on to it?” Readers may choose to do the same.

Built For Zero In London, Ontario Meets Temporary COVID Housing

Victoria Park - London Ontario photo by WabbitWanderer is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Victoria Park, London, Ontario. A fine winter scene for skaters, not so much for people experiencing homelessness who will spend the night in the cold.

London, Ontario is one of the first communities to join Built For Zero Canada, a campaign that aims to end chronic and veteran homelessness.

Built For Zero follows a prescribed set of steps, monitoring the housing that is coming available and supporting the people who are best suited to the available housing to move in. 

The steps proceed in a specific order, based on evidence gained from Built For Zero campaigns in the the United States1. In Canada, Veterans Affairs is funding Built For Zero for Veterans who experience homelessness. On its Veterans campaign, London achieved its goal in less than two years. And, even more encouraging, when some veterans experienced homelessness after being evicted during COVID, the Built For Zero team went into “rapid re-housing” mode. The veterans weren’t homeless for long. See more at London’s Community Progress Indicators

Support First: is there a new kid on the block?

Recently, the London Free Press reported on a temporary initiative that operated during the winter of 2020-21. The City of London renovated donated trailers to provide temporary safe accommodation for up to 62 people who were sleeping outside. Local agencies were engaged to provide support at two sites where the trailers were installed. Over the course of the winter, the trailer sites project also met with success: 19 people staying at the sites moved to permanent housing. Now the sites are scheduled to close.

The physical support offered at the trailer sites included a drop-in space as well as individual rooms. Sarah Campbell, the Executive Director of Arc Aid Mission, wants the temporary project to become part of the ongoing array of supports offered to people who are homeless. She is appealing to the City of London to support the trailer/drop-in model by relaxing zoning regulations and providing funding and land.

The London Free Press reporter says “Campbell wants to do nothing less than lightly flip the mantra that has guided housing for homeless people over the last 10 years.” (emphasis added)

That mantra is Housing First, which gives preference to assisting people who are homeless into permanent housing over all other forms of support. It is also the foundation for the Built For Zero campaign. You can read the full story at the London Free Press: ‘Supports First’: Building new hope for London’s homeless

Campbell is saying that if housing is unavailable, supports need to come first. The trailer/drop-in arrangement suits the “Support First” approach. As she describes it, it does seem to be outside the “Housing First” model.

How does Built For Zero decide what’s in its box and what’s outside?

The success of Built For Zero is founded on its attention to data. One of the first steps is the “by name list.” London has been keeping a by name list since December 2019. Maintaining that list means that the Built For Zero team knew the names and circumstances of every person who was a veteran or chronically homeless who stayed at the temporary trailer sites. Built For Zero will also know where the people who are on the by-name list are today.

When the numbers are going in the right direction (homelessness is going down), Built For Zero asks “what is working?” When the numbers go the other way, Built For Zero looks into what is keeping the numbers from going down. If the trailer sites, which use the Support First model, are working, Built For Zero will have data that shows it is effective.

If that turns out to be the case, and tinkering with various legalities (as well as funding) can be worked out, London could become uniquely serviced with both a Housing First program, as well as a Supports First program!

Public Housing Homes As Worker Castles: Way Back When

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Victorian Social Housing photo by Steve Cadman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Scattered here and there in the United Kingdom, there is still standing social housing that is 150 years old, not only early "high rises" like these but also rows of worker's cottages.

From Liverpool UK, here’s a modest little “good news” post about public housing — if you’re prepared to head back to the Victorian era in the 19th century for your news.

It’s a small celebration of what social/public housing was meant to be — good solid housing for workers. No, public housing was not originally intended to fulfill current thinking as the housing of last resort for the unemployable. Nor was it meant to be an “up and out” temporary way-station on an inevitable (and indeed required) path to better things.

As well, the dating of the now-unique rows of housing featured in the following article puts them maybe a century and a half ahead of some currently acclaimed thinking about the shape of a modern livable city.

In this case we’re referencing the trendy topic of the “15 minute” city in which neighbourhoods should be built such that its citizens are no more than 15 minutes from everything they need: work, recreation, and amenities.

Never mind 15 minutes! The housing featured in the following article is just a pop round the corner from work at a bread factory that still exists.

Finally, it seems many North Americans are convinced that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt invented public housing in the 1930’s as a response to the Great Depression. Here’s a small history lesson which admittedly does little for American Exceptionalism while dialing back history by a number of decades, if not more1.

Read more in the The Liverpool Echo: Mystery of the terraced houses on suburban street frozen in time

A Kansas City Prescription For Rough Sleeper Disease

Dormitory in Fort Douaumont photo by Eric Huybrechts is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
For the chronically homeless, an emergency shelter is a hellhole rather than a haven.

A useful article in the Kansas City Star explains with insight and compassion why the simple act of putting a chronic rough sleeper into their own home may well do little or nothing to eliminate a particular kind of homelessness.

The article is written by Eric Burger, a guest writer who is executive director of Shelter KC, a Kansas City rescue mission. He is well placed to understand the problem that a city’s population of visible homeless faces when confronted with what amounts to a double-whammy.

Visible homelessness victims are often trapped between the perceived “dangers” of temporary/emergency shelter crowds on one hand, as well as intolerable isolation of individual housing units which might “ideally” be assigned to them, on the other.

The following article, both sympathetic and pragmatic, can be well augmented by the detailed statistics and more personal stories about rough sleepers in New York City.

The Kansas city article can be read in The Kansas City Star: Yes, Kansas City has a housing problem, but roofs over heads won’t fix homelessness

And that article is further enhanced by this one in THE CITY: Sleeping Behind The Bronx Zoo: Why Some New Yorkers Choose Streets Over Shelters

An important further thought, however, is essential for understanding the current national homelessness crises in many countries. Most people who are homeless are not visible as chronic rough sleepers encountered on city streets.

The largest proportion of people experiencing homelessness simply cannot afford accommodation. They include individuals and families who do not particularly live with physical or mental illness or substance use. They may well work for a living but earn wages so low their home becomes a bed in an emergency shelter system.

Or they couch surf with friends and families for as long as they are welcome, working to stave off the horror, indignity and uncertain future of life in an emergency shelter or on the streets. For most of the people who are homeless and not visible, whether individual or family, specially-designed physical and mental support services are unnecessary.

Eric Burger, who wrote the article about homelessness in Kansas City says, “Providing safe housing is only part of the solution to homelessness, because no individual can thrive in constant crisis.” Right now, what most folks who experience homelessness need is stable housing that they can afford.

Burger also says, “Putting a roof over the homeless problem does not answer the basic question: what comes next.” Not every person who leaves homelessness will have a “what comes next” chapter to their story. But when planners and practitioners are prepared to support that chapter, there’s a much better chance that that person will not return to the streets.

Khaleel Seivwright Has Hit The Big Time! Who? You Need To Know.

IMG_2580 photo by Bill Herndon is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Epiphany in Peru. Folks around the world know how to celebrate a good carpenter. But not officialdom in Toronto, as events have transpired.

At affordablehousingaction.org we were quite taken with Toronto’s Khaleel Seivwright when he hammered his way onto the local homelessness scene. So much so in fact that some might consider our initial coverage of him to be rather over-the-top1.

So, what’s he famous for? Well, this past fall, Khaleel noticed something that seems to have escaped the government of Canada, the government of Ontario, and the government of the City of Toronto. Thanks to a combination of crises including the pandemic, a whole bundle of homeless people would be spending a harsh Toronto winter outside in tents or worse.

So, unlike any of the aforementioned governments, he decided to do something direct and pragmatic about the problem: build small winterized shelters for the homeless.

Now we’re pleased to see that Khaleel has hit the international big time. We think you can’t do much bigger or better than an article in the New York Times. It’s a very good, comprehensive article that not only covers Khaleel’s recent deeds, but also a little of his character and history.

Normally we’d be wringing our hands and wishing we didn’t have to recommend an article available in a media outlet that allows maybe once a month reads to non-subscribers.

But there is (we hope) good news at hand. The article seems to be consistently available and you can read more at Finance&Commerce: The carpenter who built tiny homes for Toronto’s homeless

Building Kinship To End Homelessness: Connecting Through Construction

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Habitat for Humanity Build-A-Thon photo by Sandia Labs is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Habitat For Humanity is a world-famous homebuilding charity training volunteer labour on the job to assist with construction. Can a similar program provide both useful training and emotional support for people who have experience of homelessness?

This post is part of a series about ways that people provide support to those who experience homelessness. The idea that “we treat everyone as kin” resonates through the posts in this series. Finding more and more ways to treat everyone as kin could convince governments to build housing that welcome people who are homeless.

Connecting Through Construction

Waterbeach Barracks1 in Cambridge England is providing indoor construction space for modular housing. The idea to build temporary transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness began to take shape in 2019. To date nine units have been built and six are occupied.

Starting a project like this from scratch means putting together a team with the skills to design the homes, find the land, obtain planning permission, construct the buildings, transport the homes and install them on the site. And all this costs money, which has to be found somewhere.

The construction phase was lead by the New Meaning Foundation. This social enterprise firm employed skilled workers and trainees to build the units. The trainees on this project included people with experience of homelessness. One of the trainees describes how it feels to be part of the team in an interview with the Cambridge Independent: Mission accomplished as modular homes for the homeless installed in Cambridge

The project team is currently stumping for funding to build three more units as well as a site where they can be installed: More modular homes being built to tackle Cambridge homelessness

US Veteran Finances Can Lead To Homelessness. More Than Just A “Duuh” Story?

US Veterans photo by Louise Ladd is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Our first thought was that linking financial woes to homelessness was a celebration of the obvious. The second thought, however, was that a large number of non-veterans in different countries should be grateful towards the U.S. long term commitment to their former armed services members.

The U.S. Veterans Administration has spent a lot of time and money determining how and why veterans become entangled with homelessness. More than that, they have researched useful steps that can be taken to do something about it.

Yes, there are unique burdens carried by those who have seen military service, particularly active military service. But those specialized burdens aside, there is much in the VA Administration’s study of the problem that can help U.S. non-veterans, as well as veterans and non-veterans from other countries.

For a more, read this article from MyChesCo: VA Research Reveals Link Between Financial Strains and Risk of Homelessness

The VA research results are published in Medical Care, an academic journal. This particular issue of Medical Care is special for a couple of reasons. First, all of the articles in the issue report recent research about homelessness and health. As well, none of the articles require a password or subscription to access them. In addition to the article reported in MyChesCo, here are titles of some of the other articles in this special issue:

  • Does Housing Improve Health Care Utilization And Cost?
  • Explaining Service Use and Residential Stability in Supported Housing
  • The Efficacy of the Geriatric Model Of Care In Emergency Housing Programs For Homeless Veterans

Each of the articles can be accessed at Medical Care. The title of the special issue is Multimorbidity and Social Drivers of Homelessness and Health

Homeless Tent Camps Unsanitary? Humans Have To Go Somewhere.

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Portapotties photo by Wendy Soucie is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Sweep the homeless away or leave them where they are, it's senseless, inhuman and a danger to public health to ignore sanitation.

Compassionate responses to growing homelessness crises can be frustrating. The responders may be people experiencing homelessness themselves, or activists, or local government. The recipients of the responses may be neighbourhood residents, local businesses, even other levels of government that feel they have a better perspective on the problem1.

In a growing number of cases, complaints are no longer being met by bulldozers and garbage trucks to “sweep” the problem away. A recognition of basic human rights, complaints may instead be met by suggestions such as “have a care for your your fellow humans in their hour of need.”

Which does little or nothing to make the problem go away.

From Hawaii, here’s an example of just such an exchange following neighbourhood complaints. The government response is compassion with a side of pushback, suggesting that a neighbourhood problem is possibly best solved by a neighbourhood solution. Read more in the Star Advertiser: Honolulu Office of Housing’s new leader says sweeps are an unsuccessful approach to homelessness on Oahu

But there are temporary solutions for neighbourhoods and governments alike. (Permanent solutions, such as massive public housing builds, remain in short supply as homelessness gradually becomes its own life-threatening pandemic.)

One such short term solution is being quite literally employed in the town of Elk Grove, California. Read more on both its success and potential by way of an interest in the project from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Read more at Global News:  Advocate for homeless population says California initiative could work in Winnipeg

The Elk Grove strategy doesn’t get in to how sanitation is being managed, although with growing numbers of people who are homeless, it can’t be overlooked. San Francisco, which is 180 km (97 mi) down the road from Elk Grove, offers some insight. Try: Indoor Homeless Sheltering Pricey? San Francisco Finds Outdoor Shelters No Bargain

Here’s The Dope On Green Public Housing In Paris

a bundle of hemp stems photo by Tara Jones is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A bundle of hemp stems. The stems, which until now were considered waste, can be made into "hempcrete" for insulation purposes.

Vegetation, it seems, has a history as effective housing insulation. Straw bale houses were not uncommon as first residences during the settlement of the American West1. Seaweed roofs still exist that are hundreds of years old and were originally danced into shape by Scandinavian wives2.

Eel grass insulation boomed along the maritime shores of eastern North America during the early and mid-nineteenth centuries, providing income for maritimers3.

A future for seaweed? In theory, it’s a self-renewing resource, but one very much susceptible to coastal pollution, and more than easy to over-harvest.

If Paris, France, is any guide to the future of green insulation, it is not based on an under-water resource but growable, renewable, land-based vegetation with a long history of other useful material and industrial applications.

Hemp.

How is hemp playing a role in the greening of Paris housing? An article from Grist follows exploring its features.

Carry two thoughts with you into the article. There will be all kinds of opportunity to snigger at the idea of a cannabis family plant residue enveloping housing occupants, embedded in housing walls as insulating “hempcrete.” For example, it marries two ideas of the word “joint” together, as in “I live in this joint!” Ha ha.

More important, while learning about the considerable benefits of hemp insulation, North Americans in particular should note one significant feature of public housing in Paris. It is not viewed dead-end accommodation for losers, nor as some kind of punishing way station for those struggling to move onwards and “upwards.” Public housing in Paris is also a desirable, long term housing solution, not only for the poorest, but also for lower income middle class citizens.

Read more in Grist: The secret ingredient in Paris’ green public housing

Postwar Public Housing: US Built A Failed Lower Class, Japan Created The Middle

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Urbania Shigakoen 20191013 photo by 円周率3パーセント is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Public housing for blue and white collar workers in Nagoya, Japan.

There’s a well-known saying: “you are what you eat.” In postwar US and Japan, it might fairly be argued that you were how you were housed. Supposedly classless America busied itself creating a significantly racist public housing that over the years defined its tenants as degenerate failures. In Japan however, public housing, through its architecture, its location and its supporting services, created that nation’s modern middle class.

American postwar public housing policy was profoundly undermined by a fierce political resentment that those who were (naturally?) undeserving had to be blocked in every way possible from a free ride courtesy of the public purse. (It’s a philosophical attitude that survives and prospers to this day as the supposedly deep moral failing of “entitlement.”) By contrast, through its architectural design and execution, Japanese public housing aspired to, and succeeded at, creating the epitome of that nation’s middle class aspirations.

Of course we are looking here at two profoundly different societies. Nonetheless the nature of the Japanese success in employing public housing for the public good is worthy of considerable thought. What if America had brought the ingenuity and optimism of the Japanese to its own public housing experiment, instead of a “dog in the manger” attitude that has not only prevailed, but infected the attitudes of other countries such as Canada?

Read more in Bloomberg CityLab: How Tokyo’s Public Housing Defined Japan’s Middle Class

Cabrini-Green: The Frankenstein Monster of American Public Housing . . .Revisited

Goodbye Cabrini Green Apartments, Chicago photo by Apartment Therapy is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Goodbye Cabrini Green.

Ten years ago, the last building of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green public housing project was torn down.

During its lifetime, the 23 buildings housing more than 15,000 mostly black residents became a national poster child of everything that was horrible and hateful about American Public Housing. The ten year anniversary of its death is an appropriate time to reconsider some of its many alleged sins.

Was everything true as claimed about Chicago’s, and probably America’s, most notorious public housing project?

Did a gore-filled Hollywood blockbuster horror film set within its boundaries capture the dark spirit of its degeneracy?

Were the residents themselves so sick of Cabrini-Green’s drugs and violence that they were just as happy as the rest of Chicago to see the buildings destroyed one by one? If so, why did so many residents fight tooth and nail against its destruction, prolonging the demolition over a period of some 15 years?

Did tens of thousands of residents ejected from Cabrini-Green move on to the better housing, in better neighbourhoods, that a national housing voucher system promised for them?

Did Cabrini-Green not so much earn its horrific reputation as a “little hell” as inherit it from a time long before public housing, and long before Blacks were the majority in this particular Chicago neighbourhood?

Indeed, the history of Cabrini-Green can help answer some broader questions about the failure of American public housing as a whole. What special American evil clutches at the heart of the nation’s public housing, making it inevitable that public funding for low and moderately low income citizens can only end in disaster when many other countries have found, and continue to find, value in such a system of housing?

Is it racism?

Faced with the irresistible attraction of profits generated by the gentrification of Chicago’s downtown — indeed the gentrification of many American cities — have developers and their political allies deliberately engineered the failure of Cabrini-Greens all over America? Has the reputation of public housing been systematically destroyed, effectively selling millions of public housing tenants downriver in order to free up land necessary to fatten investor wallets?

Does Cabrini-Green sum up all that public housing in America can never become? Or is there buried deep within its notoriety the seeds of a future rebirth for public housing?

One overwhelming positive that cannot be easily denied about Cabrini-Green: it had a strong community, which flourished in spite of the project’s trials and tribulations, and which lives on today even though its physical foundation no longer exists.

The above questions and others are touched upon in a Cabrini-Green anniversary article/audio interview with Ben Austen, author of High-Risers, Cabrini-Green And The Fate Of American Public Housing. Read the article and/or listen to the more extensive audio interview at NPR’s WBEZ CHICAGO: What Cabrini-Green Can Teach Us About Public Housing

Australia Ponders How Community Housing Benefits All, Not Just The Poorest

Alt Erlaa Estate, Vienna photo by Rob Schofield is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Alt Erlaa Estate in Vienna, Austria, built 1974, a tribute to the glory of well-built mixed income social housing. More: Alt-Erlaa, Vienna: ‘the World’s Best Council Housing?’

A recent article in Australia’s Fifth Estate explores two important benefits that may accrue in the future from a more active program of building community housing.1

First, the article details the benefits to communities as a whole when there is a rich spectrum of supporting services for community housing. These can be made available to others in the community, even though they may not be residents of the community housing.

The article goes on to explore a future of mixed income neighbourhoods in which lowest income citizens and more affluent ones can both benefit. It presents the obvious advantages of funding new construction by development projects in which some non-market housing (community housing, or any of the alphabet salad of such housing types) can be successfully built, albeit with government support.

What the following article does not address: the challenge to maintain non-market housing in developments that are built through public/private partnerships. Following construction, the private sector invariably allows for its own needed maintenance, and looks to ultimately pocket any excess as profit. The community housing, with small rents that are geared-to income, is left to sink or swim on its own.

Historically, this creates community-type housing with rents collectively unable to manage housing maintenance. The only option: begging bowls waved towards any level of government or philanthropy that might respond.

The reluctance of governments in particular to pay and pay and pay has led to the decay and physical collapse of far too much public housing worldwide.

The alternative may well require a rethink of social rent-geared-to income housing to include not only the lowest income citizens, but also those who have more income, and who contribute a portion of that income to overall project maintenance, not pocketed as profit. Read more in two articles from THE FIFTH ESTATE: The future of community housing includes social solutions and Industry Applauds New Sustainable Public Housing At Ivanhoe, But Is The Model Sustainable?

The Brookings Institute Compares Rental Housing Strategies Around the World

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The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has played havoc with that nation’s housing, as it has in most, if not all, other countries in the world. This is particularly true of rental housing, where tenants have been faced with job layoffs and loss and rising rental costs adding up to an uncertain future.

The Brookings Institute decided to explore solutions to some of the dilemmas that are facing its landlords and tenants by describing what five other advanced countries are doing to manage their rental crises.

Each has evolved political, legal and policy frameworks that can be very different from America’s. These countries also can have ingrained national attitudes to rental housing, particularly rent-geared-to income housing which may have state landlords, non-profit landlords, or other forms of rental housing ownership such as tenant cooperatives.

Needless to say, the evaluations that the Brookings Institute have commissioned for the five countries as they contrast with America’s own have an intrinsic value. They offer a great deal of useful information and insight for other countries as they fight their way through the thicket of  housing problems that have arisen during the last year.

Designed to be read before each of six in-depth articles is an introduction to rental housing in America and the five others, Germany, Spain, Japan, United Kingdom and France. It’s most significant purpose is to “highlight a few of the important lessons drawn from comparing the six countries.”

Following the introduction, each country, beginning with America, has an article dedicated to the advantages and disadvantages of their national approach to rental housing.

The first, the introduction, is: What The US Can Learn From Rental Housing 1

Public Housing: Love It Or Leave It? America Can’t Make Up Its Mind

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NYCHA public housing photo by Stephen Rees is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
What to do with Public Housing? Burn it at the stake? Bless it as the only guaranteed solution for low income Americans? A nation dithers.

The new Democrat administration is proposing to broaden American infrastructure to include public housing. With such an act, is the country accepting that public housing is an essential public service, of a kin with road building and garbage collection?

If so, then why doesn’t the administration provide — within a once-in-a-generation $trillion+ infrastructure funding proposal — the wherewithal to finally cure the nationwide public housing crisis?

As two New York City Congressmen point out, the $40 billion proposed for “the new kid on the infrastructure block” will only go far enough to cover the public housing woes of current housing stock of the New York City Housing Authority alone. Never mind dealing with the ever-lengthening waiting lists for public housing in that city, as well as supporting public housing residents and shelter seekers in the rest of the country.

Or is this infrastructure wrinkle just a new way of killing public housing softly, the latest method of cranking its life supports down notch by notch in hopes that some day soon a miracle will emerge from the financial shitstorm of housing commodification1 to provide homes for America’s growing numbers of people who are experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.

America just can’t seem to make up its mind.

Oh well, perhaps there may be some comfort to be gained (by politicians at least, if not a nation’s shelter-seekers) from knowing that many other nations are dithering about in the same boat.

Read more in TAPinto: Abreu and Torres Call for Billions for Public Housing

Eviction Bans Help The Whole Community To Control COVID Infection

A Federal Court judge has ruled against landlords who fought an eviction ban in Philadelphia. The landlords maintained that the ban was unconstitutional because it conferred a benefit only to tenants at risk of eviction. The judge found that the eviction ban benefited the community as a whole. This post is about the evidence that convinced the judge, a study that modelled the spread of COVID with and without evictions.

The study, completed by a team of 15 researchers, includes several simulations. The first one modelled the transmission of the virus in a hypothetical city of 1 million people, comparing what happened when evictions were allowed and when they were banned. The researchers then added elements including

  • varying the severity of the lockdown restrictions,
  • adding socio-economic diversity within the community, and
  • assigning different eviction outcomes (doubling up with friends/family or moving to an emergency shelter).

The effect of the CDC’s national eviction ban was also considered. The final step was modelling the effects in a specific city — Philadelphia.

Here are a few of the findings:

  • Eviction bans reduced the spread of infection and reduced the total number of people infected.
  • Bans limited the spread of the virus for all households, not just those directly affected by the ban.
  • Reimposing the eviction ban limited the spread of the infection.
  • People directly affected by eviction were more likely to experience infection, even when an eviction ban was re-imposed.

The study supports the community-wide effectiveness of an eviction ban in a pandemic, regardless of the results of a court case. It should be of interest to emergency planning teams and decision makers in communities across the U.S. as well as in other countries.

The study results also points to a need for programs to counteract the economic impacts of COVID, and to assist households to avoid evictions going forward. Lifting the eviction ban, without helping tenants in arrears, will prolong the epidemic and increase the total number of deaths, based on the modelling in this study.

Researchers will be interested in the methodology, which includes the use of data generated as COVID unfolded across the U.S. Many of the resources cited in developing the model have been produced within the last 15 months.

Finally, the article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, and does not require a subscription in order to access it. Read more at Nature Communications: The Effect Of Eviction Moratoria On The Transmission Of SARS-CoV-2 

COVID’s Economic Effects Come Home To Roost

IMG_8470 photo by Neeta Lind is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Spot the historic feature in this 2011 Santa Rosa "tent city." COVID has brought big changes.

Across Canada, we’re somewhat envious of the Maritime provinces, which have managed to keep their COVID infection numbers to a minimum. However, COVID’s economic effects are definitely being felt in Halifax, Nova Scotia where housing prices (ownership and rental) have grown significantly1. The number of people living in temporary accommodation is growing.

Hotels have been used for some time now as overflow when the emergency shelter system doesn’t have enough capacity. In the past year, the number of people staying in hotels has risen dramatically. It also seems they aren’t finding housing that they can afford so they can move out. As this CBC story relates, the people staying in the hotels are grateful but wishing they could “go home,” and the government might be wishing it had moved faster to ban evictions: With nowhere to go, number of income assistance clients living in hotels skyrockets

Meanwhile, on the west coast, decision makers in Santa Rosa, California decided to get ahead of the game when COVID began. They proposed a temporary encampment in a city park for people experiencing homelessness. Local residents were initially outraged, but the city pressed on, leading with the idea that “these are our neighbours, too.”

An orderly encampment with supports from community agencies appeared in one of the parking lots. People staying at the camp found jobs and some were lucky enough to move to permanent housing. As for the neighbours who were up in arms? Their lives changed, too. As Next City reports, the whole story is something that other communities might find instructive: What Other Places Can Learn From Santa Rosa’s Tent City

Vancouver, B.C. As A Public Landlord: One Hat in a Two-Hatted City?

HMS Menestheus being towed out of False Creek in 1945 photo by James Crookall is in the public domain
Once an ocean liner, then a minelayer, refurbished as military "amenity" ship complete with brew pub(!!!) HMS Menestheus is towed out of False Creek in 1945.

The City of Vancouver, BC has, as a responsible landlord, found itself going head to head with the authority tasked with extracting the most profitable solutions for the development of resources. That authority is . . . Vancouver, B.C.

This two-hatted, conflicting set of responsibilities has come to light thanks to an historic city decision to exercise more control over residential land use. (Vancouver is well known for, among other things, being regularly listed as the world’s second-most expensive city to live in, losing the dubious honour of “most-expensive” to Hong Kong.)

By the mid-twentieth century Vancouver found itself the owner of a tumble-down industrial district lining the shores of an inlet called False Creek. Some 50 years ago the city made a decision to explore housing development beyond the traditional sale of city land to developers. It exercised long term control of some 80% of the False Creek lands by retaining ownership and allowing only leasehold development.

Activists might hug themselves, imagining that Vancouver’s capacity to preserve the residential development around False Creek is as good as gold — indeed, a responsible municipal inevitability.

A winter morning, False Creek, 2014

But not so fast! Yesterday’s city tenant-lovers are not necessarily today’s city economic growth visionaries.

Particularly in the case of public housing, there is a misguided assumption that public ownership goes hand and hand with perpetual support of, and commitment to, affordable housing. But are cities themselves inevitably the best champions of housing affordability? Even today, with more and more people at teetering on becoming homeless in the face of rising house prices and rents, can a city be guaranteed to act on behalf of even its middle-class tenants, let alone those with low and no incomes?

The future of Fall Creek leases that will be coming due is now under discussion. A recent article considers dilemmas presented in the supposed “negotiations” between the city and itself. Read more in the Georgia Straight:  The City Of Vancouver’s Flawed Public Engagement at False Creek South

The conflicts that are driving the controversy over the future of False Creek are rooted in a 1970’s reluctance to redevelop the area all-in with massive, and massively dense, high rise residential complexes. That in turn led to the “accidentally successful” mixed use development that included both luxury and more affordable housing in what became a very liveable neighbourhood.

Today? massively dense high rise development with its attendant swelling of the city tax coffers is back on the table again. Read more in The Vancouver Sun: David Hulchanski: False Creek South is a community, not just a cluster of buildings

“Big Tent” US Infrastructure Proposals: Catching Up With Modern Reality?

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DSC_8972 photo by Joseph Young is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
A group of bikers delivers food to the less fortunate in Washington, D.C. Could this support be "infrastructure?" President Biden thinks so.

For the past few decades in America, “small government” policies have been supported by both Democrats and Republicans. In particular, the name of the game has been to shrink what the government invests in, leave as much as possible to the blessings(?) of free enterprise.

In the grand scheme of things, the central thinking of both political parties has been focused upon a century-old idea of the infrastructure of a nation: those basic “hard” services — roads, bridges, water services, sewer services, electrical grid, and the like. Over recent years, lip service has increasingly been paid to the need to repair such hard services as they decay. But successive governments, having sounded the alarm, promptly hit the snooze button.

Now the new Biden administration, once imagined to be as centrist and snooze-worthy as its recent predecessors, has brought a cattle prod to the legislative table — a wake-up call in the form of an expansive definition of infrastructure. Not only does it embrace never before considered services such as broadband internet, it also includes commitment to public housing as a both a basic national “service” that should be addressed through infrastructure legislation and spending.

Most controversial of all, it boldly includes “soft services” such as child care and preventing homelessness.

This new and extremely expensive ($trillions) proposal supported by the Biden administration is guaranteed to provoke impassioned argument. Read more at POLITICO Playbook: The question that’s about to dominate politics

How will this “Big Tent” approach to infrastructure impact on those who press for an end to homelessness, as well as truly affordable housing for all?

Details so far are sketchy, but if the promise of this progressive legislation leads to optimism, there is still good reason to be cautious about its content, let alone its chances for adoption.

An NBC News article quotes a White House source on the scope of President Biden’s affordable housing plan as “All Carrot, No Stick.”

This is far from encouraging. Without any sense of the final details, we can be fairly certain that the carrots will be induce (bribe?):

  • neighbourhoods to accept low and no income incomers,
  • local governments to encourage the change of zoning regulations,
  • developers to ensure they profit from any low-cost housing that they choose to build.

This is a developer dream vision promoted by the US so-called YIMBY movement: open up neighbourhoods to allow developers to build whatever. Pay developers to include at least a tiny bit of somewhat more affordable housing. And if the fantasy plays out, in the fullness of time, the higher end buildings will begin to decay, and some carrot peelings from the billions that will be invested may fall to those with low and no incomes. Read more about the sketchy details, if not the causes for skepticism at NBC NEWS: All carrot, ‘no stick’ in Biden’s affordable housing plan

UK Child’s Play: Post-Pandemic Back-To-Basics When The Basics Aren’t There

Deserted photo by Torsten Reimer is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Warning! Do not use. Playground closed indefinitely for necessary repairs.

The budget fallout from the extraordinary costs of the COVID-19 pandemic are already being felt in the United Kingdom.

Restrictions of the pandemic have fallen heavily on everyone, particularly those families that are fortunate to retain jobs and have handfuls of children to constrain and home-train, juggling job(s), child care and teaching at the same time.

Child development experts have been calling hopefully for a “summer of play,” to enable children to heal from a harsh regime full of restrictions and largely devoid of playmates.

Unfortunately, while the pandemic has highlighted the importance of community gathering in common spaces, there is also the reality of cash-strapped councils with limited, or no, funds to maintain all-important community spaces such as playgrounds.

Solutions? A successful one in the UK has been crowd-funding. Regardless of the country you live in, could such an initiative soon become an essential tool for your community, too? Read more in The Guardian: Parents forced to crowdfund to stop playgrounds in England crumbling

Repairing US Existing Public Housing: A Pact With A Toothless Devil?

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Italian woodcut of citizens-making pact with the Devil. photo by erico luxero is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Fear not, citizens, the good folk of government will borrow mightily to build and house the nation's poor, repaying by magik only what is borrowed, so that no clever devil shall profit.

Recently, America has been forced to confront two inconvenient truths that have nullified each other. First, it needs public housing — not to house all citizens, but at least to house Americans with very low incomes who cannot find housing on the free market.

The second conflicting truth: “small governments,” which have been in style for several decades at the federal level, do not spend “many many billions of dollars” fixing up inconveniently necessary public housing that has been allowed to decay.

The current U.S. government is attempting to give the lie to the second truth, by setting out to spend trillions on coronavirus relief and upon repairing national infrastructure. The term “infrastructure” has been expanded to include housing.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will lead the solution to the first truth — the need for public housing. HUD’s plan is a quasi-religious fairy tale: you can make a pact with the devil, and contrary to all previous versions of the fable, the pact will never require payment.

It has actually managed to get one of the HUD-inspired tales to stick. The programs have gone by failed acronyms such as PETRA and RHRA before succeeding finally as RAD. The “D” of RAD stands for demonstration — it was meant to be a kind of trial run, but has succeeded where the others failed.

The underlying principle of all these schemes is that a pact can be made with private investors that will generate billions of dollars worth of repairs to existing public housing, and, unlike a conventional pact with the devil, the bill will never become due.

In other words, public housing, protecting tenants from endless unaffordable rent increases, can become private housing, delivering anticipated profit to its new owners. The cost to the government (and taxpayers) will somehow vanish like a pea under a blur of walnut shells shuffled for decades.

It is not privatization, insists HUD, citing controls to  . . .  prevent private investors from ever making a profit???

It is privatization, says just about everybody else.

Shelterforce explores the dilemma of repairing hundreds of thousands of public housing units by a process it describes as “the only game in town:” From PETRA to RAD—The Path to Converting 140,000 Public Housing Units

Building Kinship To End Homelessness: Reaching Out Through Art

Banksy in Boston: F̶O̶L̶L̶O̶W̶ ̶Y̶O̶U̶R̶ ̶D̶R̶E̶A̶M̶S̶ CANCELLED, Essex St, Chinatown, Boston photo by Chris Devers is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A work attributed to the famed British guerrilla artist, Banksy

This post is part of a series about ways that people provide support to those who experience homelessness. The idea that “we treat everyone as kin” resonates through the posts in this series. Finding more and more ways to treat everyone as kin could convince governments to build housing that welcome people who are homeless.

Reaching Out Through Art

Kevin Harmin is an artist who really likes to push the edges of what art is. His Signs of Life project all started with a sign.

Steven Jenkins was homeless in Edinburgh. Steven put a lot of effort into creating the signs he used to ask for help to find a place to sleep. The signs caught Kevin’s eye and he bought one, and then another and another, eventually accumulating 300.

The signs inspired Kevin’s art installation in 2017, where they adorned a large four poster bed. Through the installation, Steven’s signs reached people who had not encountered him on the streets.

In 2020, still with the idea of connecting people with the experience of homelessness, Kevin took his inspiration in a different direction. He contracted with local manufacturers to produce pillows and other “soft goods” that are based on Steven’s designs. There has been a lot of interest.

Read more on this most assuredly unconventional artist, in The Herald: Galleries: Artist Creates Opulent Soft Furnishings With Begging Pleas From Homeless Friend’s Signs

New York City Requires Housing Broadband: Spirit Willing, But Flesh is Weak

Blue Fiber photo by Michael Wyszomierski is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Glass fibres are the foundation of modern high speed broadband internet. They allow a limited bend without losing light. Each fibre can carry far, far more data than copper telephone wires.

Recent good news for rural America: billions of federal dollars have been promised to provide high speed broadband internet access that is currently as spotty as the rural housing that is in need of it.

And now, in America’s largest city, encouraging regulations that will ensure that future new “affordable” housing is built with broadband capability as part of its essential framework. At least, the broadband requirements — quite robust and specific — will apply to all NEW affordable housing that require some level of city funding.

Alas, public housing, by virtue of rent geared to income, is arguably the only “truly” affordable housing that is encompassed by the denatured term “affordable.” Unfortunately only handfuls of NEW public housing are being constructed in America as part of mixed income housing projects.

The bulk of citizens who desperately require currently non-existent broadband in their homes are residents of New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA’s) run down public housing projects, already collectively facing upwards of half a trillion dollars worth of repairs.

An entire generation of children growing up in these projects are being left behind as education shifts some of its focus to the internet. Cities in America — indeed worldwide — need to expand their determination to level the internet playing field to encompass today’s citizens, young and old, not just tomorrow’s.

Read more in Next City: New NYC Affordable Housing Must Come With Internet Service, City Says

Building Kinship To End Homelessness: Connecting Through Archeology

nya lodose 150507-6979 photo by Nya Lödöse is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Archaeology supporting people experiencing homelessness? It's not as farfetched as it seems.

This post is part of a series about ways that people provide support to those who experience homelessness. The idea that “we treat everyone as kin” resonates through the posts in this series. Finding more and more ways to treat everyone as kin could convince governments to build housing that welcome people who are homeless.

Connecting Through Archeology

Rachael Kiddey trained as an archeologist. During her training, she couldn’t help but notice the privilege accorded by archeology to some people’s stuff. She was more interested in the work that elevated the lives of people who had been overlooked, not only by archaeology, but in general. And she found a way to test how archeological methods could support people who are highly marginalized in contemporary society: people experiencing homelessness.

Working at the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, Rachael came to know people who were homeless. The initial connections developed as she assisted them to negotiate the institutions that shaped/intruded in their lives.

She also thought that archeological methods could be a way to elevate lives that are largely unknown in mainstream society. She deliberately embarked on a collaborative process with the people experiencing homelessness as colleagues. Rachael and colleagues came together as the team leading the “Bristol Heritage Project.” Here’s Rachael doing a presentation about the project during Ignite Bristol: Homelessness as Heritage

Rachael’s homeless colleagues introduced her to their regular travel routes and sites that were significant to them. A three day dig was organized at one site, which offered an opportunity to increase the diversity of people involved in the project (including two police officers). Her homeless colleagues organized an exhibition of the finds, which was attended by community members (including a local magistrate) as well as others who were homeless. A BBC news crew covered some of these events: A History of Stokes Croft in One Hundred Objects

Rachael and her colleagues also journeyed to York, where they met with people living at Arc Light, a housing project for people with a history of homelessness.1 This encouraged the people living at Arc Light to team up with Rachael and embark on a similar process: walking, mapping, digging and exhibiting.

The York project demonstrated an opportunity for people with experience of homelessness to develop skills that are useful in other aspects of life. It also provided a structure for people who have no experience of homelessness to connect with those who do. As well as the archeological documentation, a film has been produced that records this process. Participants also reflect on the benefits of participating in the project: Arcifacts: Unearthing York’s Homeless Heritage

Is Your Lived Experience Valuable But Ignored? Convert It To “Lived Data”

Bus queue photo by John Blower is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
For those who can't afford cars, buses that all come at once . . or not at all.

For many who hope to influence how governments and other institutions provide their services, the term “lived experience” is gaining prominence as a means of determining just what kind, location, and quality of service is needed.

For example, lived experience, it is argued, can help inform ways to deliver services to people experiencing homelessness, with the ultimate goal of eliminating homelessness. Organizations such The Canadian Lived Experience Leadership Network collect and interpret individual lived experiences, fashioning them into advocacy programs to influence government service decisions.

What happens, however, when lived experience is not some newfangled advocacy principle but goes no further the an endless litany of complaints shouted loud and clear by clients who are least able to shoulder the personal costs of badly, or unfairly, managed services?

Shouted loud and clear, but shrugged off, ignored, dismissed as inaccurate and personal. Lived experience, after all, can easily be dismissed as “a matter of opinion,” an “inadequate grasp of necessary realities,” or any number of semi-meaningless phrases which add up to: “we can’t be bothered to pay attention to your endless whining.”

One solution to this problem? Build those “matters of opinion” into factual data. Lived experience may be easily ignored. “Lived data” not so much.

One American project to achieve this goal aims to support low income transit riders who complain about service and routes that do not adequately serve their needs: complaints that are routinely lost in translation between the needs of the clients and unresponsive transit management.

This project converts transit users’ cell phones into data-gathering tools to provide the hard-to-ignore statistics necessary to trigger positive, meaningful change. Read about how that is currently being tested at GCN: Data-driven transit advocacy, with a side of cloud

Building Kinship To End Homelessness: Connection Rooted In Faith

Rotary Club Langar @ Hemalkasa, India photo by Rotary Club of Nagpur is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Virtually all religions are grounded in community support. Langars, are community kitchens serving all comers regardless of status or belief and have been operating in India since the 15th century.

This week, affordablehousingaction.org initiates a series of posts about projects where people provide support to those people who experience homelessness.

The inspiration for this series draws from an indigenous definition of homelessness1. Rather thank thinking of people experiencing homelessness as ill, or social outcasts, indigenous thinking begins with the view that “we treat everyone as kin.” This involves

  • acknowledging that individual paths lead to homelessness,
  • accompanying people who are experiencing homelessness in their life journey and
  • assisting people to make a transition away from homelessness.

The ways that people express “treating everyone as kin” resonates through these posts.

Some will say that these kinds of projects have nothing to do with essential political activism that convinces governments to build more housing for people who experience homelessness. Yet, approaches that begin by treating everyone as kin may be one of the ways to persuade governments that building more housing is the right thing to do.

Kinship Through Spirituality

Elisabeth Jordan founded The Human Impact in Dallas/Fort Worth in 2013. She chose this route after losing her job. Instead of plunging into a job search, she looked around and asked, “what can I do to help?” She saw people in her community who were homeless and struggling. She decided to get involved.

The Human Impact offers a way to connect for people whose paths would not normally cross in their daily lives. The concept is simple: reach out to people who are homeless where they are (The Human Impact has no office). Provide food. Mark important events like birthdays. Listen and learn. Offer help and support.

Read more at 98.7 KLUV: Dallas woman who lost job inspired to start foundation to help area homeless in need

Bridge of Hope, also faith based, takes another approach. The program started in Pennsylvania in 1987 and has branched out across the U.S. Trained professionals connect families with volunteer teams and supports these family-volunteer clusters for 18 to 24 months. Participating families are homeless or at risk of homelessness when they begin the program.

Families can access financial support, which is very flexible: it can be used to pay for everything from tuition to rent.

The volunteer teams are made up of individuals from a local church. A team of community volunteers signs up to dedicate their support to one family. They might help with child care, moving, buying groceries, or a “how are you doing” check in. As the story below relates, the supports can go both ways. Read more at LancasterOnline: Here’s how Bridge of Hope helps local mothers experiencing homelessness

Homelessness & Emerging Techno-Sin: The Techno-Devil Made Me Do It

Closed door of shop in Mellah Essaouira photo by TomiValny is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
It's a door all right, but there's no obvious way in.

Dispensation is apparently no longer available in a world where technology is the new religion.

In Ontario, Canada very recently, the techno-priesthood was half querulous, half scolding as it lowered the minimum age for receiving COVID-19 vaccine from 75 to 70. It seems that the 75-100’s were not cyber-stampeding to the mass clinic sign-up site, and justly deserved a good telling off.

However, the failure of aging Canadians to get with the priest/congregation internet challenge-and-response keyboard rituals are but a blip in the evolution of the new religion. It’s a small sin, albeit one in which the wages of sin can rather directly be death.

More concerning is the long term impact of techno-religion to another vulnerable class of citizens: the people who experience homelessness. In this case, it can be difficult or impossible for them to access rituals that are becoming essential to survival in the the modern electronic state.

So it’s welcome news that some important agencies, such as banks, are prepared to forgive the unorthodox situation of people who are homeless, lacking an address, which is the foundation of acceptance into techno-religion, and key to unlocking its largess.

Which is a long way around to congratulating HSBC for its “notwithstanding” service to people who are homeless in the UK. Read more about what the HSBC service offers, and how it can change the life and fortunes of a homeless person, in i News: ‘I was trapped in homelessness’: HSBC offers bank accounts to people with no fixed abode

Irish Plan To Implement Compassionate, Orderly, Permanent Refugee Reception

Nasc World Refugee Day photo by Sandra is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Irish citizens gathered for a 'Walk In Their shoes' event supporting refugees.

Global political upheavals have produced steady streams of asylum seekers and refugees hammering at the gates of wealthier countries. There is ample reason to believe these upheavals will continue. That in turn suggests national planning is needed to best serve this unfortunate flood of humanity.

Easier said than done. For example, in America throughout the recent Trump administration, the opposition unrelentingly criticized the federal government’s handling of its southern border crisis. Elected to power, the Democrats have discovered that, far from conveniently going away, the problem has grown worse. Much-maligned solutions employed by the Trump administration, such as temporary tent encampments for unaccompanied children, have received an ad hoc revival by an administration that clearly needs a better plan for coping.

Ireland has embarked on a journey to replace knee-jerk solutions of the moment that result in a less than humanitarian treatment of new arrivals. As well, the ad hoc scramble has impacted on Irish citizenry. From time to time, locals who experience homelessness and those who are marginally housed have been losers in a competition for resources with penniless newcomers.

There’s a back story to the report linked below. In 2015, Dr. Bryon McMahon advocated for reforms to the Irish government’s programs that support refugees and asylum seekers. McMahon’s work is referenced by Catherine Day, who chaired the Irish Government’s Advisory Group on the Provision of Support. The Advisory Group published its report in 2020. It called for wholesale reforms, focusing particularly on the housing provided for refugees and asylum seekers.1 More recently still, the Irish Refugee Council commissioned a report by Campbell Tickell2 to build out the Advisory Group‘s recommendations for housing.

Notable in the Campbell Tickell report is a recommendation against the formation of a new agency tasked with building out the needed housing and support resources. However, recognizing that the problem is essentially housing, Campbell Tickell recommends shifting the responsibility for housing refugees and asylum seekers from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The report focuses in some detail on a collaborative effort spread across a number of existing development capabilities. According to the report, a multi-agency response is likely to provide the most reliable and robust way to scale up an efficient, compassionate and respectful welcome to these incomers.

The report should be of interest of any country seeking to regularize appropriate management, housing support and service delivery for refugees. An Executive Summary is available at Consultancy.uk: Towards a new Irish housing system for asylum seekers and refugees*

The full report is available from the Irish Refugee Council: Implementing Alternatives to Direct Provision*

*Note: in the context of these reports, AHB = Approved Housing Bodies

San Diego Works To Develop A Homeless “Bill of Rights”

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Damn Clever Hobo photo by Kevin McShane is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
San Francisco: clever sign. Historically, not so clever urban responses to homelessness.

Bill of Rights? Well, San Diego’s mayor is actually calling this by a far more mundane phrase: policy changes.

But reading down the list, many or most of which have already been implemented, it’s possible to capture a sense of history. The list was “developed by the city’s Homelessness Strategies Department, incorporating feedback from people with lived experience.”

It reflects what may have recently been unthinking and uncaring community behaviours that were inflicted upon the people who are experiencing homelessness. The policy changes represent a victory, of sorts, for human decency and compassion. Indeed, whether described by dry bureaucratic language as “policy changes,” or overhyped (maybe a little) as a “bill of rights,” important basic protections are set forth for this extremely vulnerable (and in California, distressingly large) group of people.

There are a great many jurisdictions worldwide that are coming to grips with an explosion of homelessness and could well do with the enlightenment1 of San Diego’s “policy changes.”

Read more at NBC San Diego:  San Diego Mayor Announces Policy Changes To Homeless Encampment Cleanups

Meanwhile…

Just 200 kilometres (120 miles) up the road in Los Angeles, a neighbourhood park has been closed and surrounded by a fence. The official reason? Upgrades to equipment. And what happened to all the people who were living in the park? Outreach workers offered temporary accommodation in hotels. This suited some, but wasn’t a good fit for others who either left the hotels or didn’t accept the temporary accommodation in the first place.

As described in Slate, the closure in LA would appear to conform to San Diego’s policy changes. On the other hand, a whole new set of questions are raised by the article. If we’re looking at the birth of a homeless bill of rights here in California, there is still a long way to go. Read more in Slate: L.A. Cleared One of Its Largest Homeless Encampments. Is It the Start of a Crackdown?

 

Post-Construction “Community Preference:” Right to Return Home? Or Racial Exclusion?

Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google LLC, used with permission.
St. Paul's public housing, Norfolk, Virginia, being "revitalized" under protest from tenants, unsure of their temporary fate and right to return. For more: ‘People can’t afford to live where they grew up’: Advocates want more protections as Norfolk overhauls St. Paul’s

When it comes to American neighbourhood housing development, what does the term “community preference” mean?

It’s a policy that might be required by some level of government, or put in place voluntarily by a housing developer. The idea is that those who previously lived in the community and who might have been displaced by the housing development will have first rights to return to any housing suitable for them in that neighbourhood. Those from outside the neighbourhood who might wish to live in the particular housing development will have to queue up behind those who are qualified to own or rent the housing but have been temporarily displaced.

The intent behind this policy is a belated recognition that the community in which people live is an important part of their lives. This is particularly true for those who value the opportunity to participate in a fellowship with their friends, schoolmates, neighbours, shopkeepers etc., etc.

It may well be necessary for a developer to engineer a lengthy displacement of residents in order to tear down and build new, or to renovate existing, housing. But from a community preference perspective, it is patently unfair for the developer to fulfill an obligation to maintain a particular number of, say, social housing units, then fill them with “just anybody from anywhere,” no matter how convenient that might be.

This thinking makes perfect sense to many, at least until the neighbourhood is predominantly white and/or largely inhabited with those with higher incomes. Suppose Blacks have been unable, thanks to discrimination, to get a foothold in such a neighbourhood (which may well have superior services, such as schools and recreation facilities)? Does a community preference policy actually perpetuate discrimination and racially divided communities?

An article in Shelterfore continues to tackle this thorny issue: The Dark Side of Community Preference Policies

For an post about community preference that features two earlier Shelterforce articles, try: Little To Ask: The Simple Pleasure of Affording To Return Home

And as for the extent to which community preference policies have been manipulated, try: Community Vs Diversity? NYC Affordable Housing Study Reveals No Right Answer

Is Vancouver City Council Proposing To Dabble In Racist, Segregated Housing?

Milestone reached, 600 supportive homes now open in Vancouver photo by Province of British Columbia is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
First Nations faces in a crowd celebrating 600 new supportive housing units in Vancouver, BC.

A belated recognition of urban aboriginal needs? Or a dismaying state-supported adventure in racist and economic apartheid?

Vancouver, BC’s city council has approval a First Nations construction project slated for the downtown. On one hand it stands as a long overdue recognition that shelter, social and economic support for First Nations people extends beyond the boundaries of reserves and traditional territories to embrace plentiful aboriginal populations in non-reserve, often urban, spaces.

But at what price, this separate and very much unequal housing project? Two towers are planned on the property. One will house First Nations truly affordable housing (i.e. social housing) as well as a shelter for people experiencing homelessness and transitional (supportive) housing.

The second tower will house market rate units, with entirely separate access and facilities.

Should government money and government blessing profit residents of the complex who need to be exclusive — racially, economically or both — and prefer to have their facilities locked away from contaminating undesirables?

Canada is possibly somewhat slow to catch up with the drift of this question.1 Not so in London, UK, where similar practices are generating public rage.2

For more on the blessings of this recently approved project, as well as the shape and nature of its potential curse, read more in the Daily Hive: City Council approves First Nations shelter and social housing in Downtown Eastside

England: Social Rent Housing Deserves A Better Rep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does COVID Spur Unexpected Partnerships?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London, Ontario Looks To Expand Its Residential Licensing Program

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

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

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

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

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