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The Slow Drift Back To Toxic 19th Century Urban Life & Housing

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Outbreak of Cholera in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Wellcome L0000668 photo by Wellcome Images is licensed under CC BY 4.0
Housing conditions prevalent during cholera epidemics in the 19th century in England.

Everywhere, higher levels of COVID-19 sickness and death are being associated with urban regions of low income, overcrowding and substandard housing conditions. These regions often contain, or are exclusively comprised of, housing where the government is the landlord.

Rather than slapping our foreheads in amazement at the correlation between ill-health and substandard housing and amenities, we must realize that activists and governments have known about this problem for two centuries, not just two weeks.1

For a good part of the 20th century, many nations acted to fix this problem by building social housing. By the end of the twentieth century, some nations began to view social housing as the problem rather than the solution, even as they offered no viable alternatives. The twenty-first century has seen that trend accelerate.

COVID-19 has provided a sharp reminder that ghetto-like conditions continue to exist, and they do so within drastically underfunded social housing. For an Irish exploration of the problem, and what to do about it, read more in Independent.ie: We need a vision for housing that will last into next century

Students Create Financing Model To Protect Affordable Housing From Market Forces

HUD (the US Department of Housing and Urban Development) sponsors an annual affordable housing competition. The competition is open to university students across the country.

The site chosen for this year’s competition was in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Finalists travelled to the site and met with local officials, before submitting their final designs.

A five member team from Yale University won the award. The team includes four students from the architecture program and one from the management faculty. Drawings of the winning design are posted at the Yale School of Architecture: Yale Team Wins HUD Innovation in Affordable Housing Design Competition

An interesting feature of the design is the unique financing model, which is intended to control the prices of the units. Information about the financing model were published in The Architect’s Newspaper: Yale Architecture Students Win HUD Affordable Housing Competition

Social Housing Evictee Death: Can A ‘Safeguarding Board’ Make A Difference?

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Isle of Man, British Isles, June 2016 photo by hectorlo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Isle of Man, a quirky island part of the UK that often does things its own particular way.

What is it with governments and their agencies faced with a need to learn as they go? Even when they come right out and pledge to do so, they seem remarkably resistant to the idea that parts or all of a particular program are poorly conceived, wasteful, discriminatory or even deadly.

A recent example is the introduction of Universal Credit in the UK, which is designed to consolidate six individual social assistance plans into a single, streamlined package. ‘We’ll test it and learn,’ the government proudly proclaimed. In reality, they were completely resistant to changing aspects of their program design, some of which threatened clients who received Universal Credit with eviction. Read more here: Court Trashes UK Universal Credit Testing That Refused To Learn

Social housing residents seem particularly vulnerable to government procedures that may well suit program management practices, accounting principles and political directives but not necessarily the needs of tenants. That has led to calls for independent agents or agencies that can investigate conflicts and help resolve them. Ombudsmen are often seen as unbiased adjudicators as well as hopefully when necessary, agents of change.1

The Isle of Man has taken another route that is unique to the United Kingdom: The Isle of Man Safeguarding Board is charged with protecting the interests of both children and adults.

Can such a safeguarding board make a difference? It recently convened to consider the death of a social housing resident who was evicted for not paying his rental arrears of  £300, and dying a a short while later. For more on the eviction and its link to the tenant’s death through The Isle of Man Safeguarding Board’s findings, read more at 3FM: Lessons To Be Learned’ After ‘Tragic Case Of Mr H’

Prefab: A History of Hope For Truly Affordable Housing

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Lustron House at 128 Central Park Place New Orleans 05 photo by Infrogmation is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Pre-fabricated homes were marketed briefly following World War II. This one is in New Orleans.

Over the last few years, the free market home-building industry has demanded various forms of government bribery in order to shift its attention away from its preferred profitable activity, i.e. the construction of luxury housing, faux luxury housing (McMansions) and, in a reluctant pinch, ‘workforce’ housing for the middle classes.

With national economies damaged by the COVID-19, the largely idled conventional home-building industry in many countries is showing hints of panic. With consumers hard hit by layoffs and job loss, national economic recovery might lack a demand for the housing that is the bread and butter of the free market.

Casting about for ways to kickstart an industry that is a significant contributor to national economies, homebuilding lobbies are finding reason to speak up on behalf of a long-neglected need for truly affordable housing.

If governments can be convinced (far from easy!) that large programs of social housing are appropriate, housing industries in some nations are arguing that such an enterprise could take the place of its more traditional house-building activities to reactivate this important fraction of the economy1.

But conventional construction techniques do not necessarily support the economics of truly affordable housing projects. As a result, prefab, or modular, construction has been growing in popularity in order to bring down the costs of social housing projects. We can expect to see more and more of it used to supply high quality homes at lower prices — of interest to all if the government is footing the lion’s share of social housing costs.

The roots of the increasingly important innovation of ‘manufactured’ (off-site fabrication) housing modules is explored in a recent article in domus:  History and success of prefabricated buildings

Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste: BC Low And No Income Benefit

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Vancouver North Shore photo by Ruth Hartnup is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Looking across the harbour at Vancouver BC's North Shore

Commentators around the world are totting up some of the previously unthinkable changes that COVID-19 has offered to low and no income residents. The response in British Columbia, Canada, had some unusual elements. It also had a much lower low death rate from COVID-19 compared with other Canadian provinces.

Can some, if not all, of these changes become permanent? Here’s hoping.

Read more in the north shore news: COVID Crisis Creating Opportunities For Extraordinary Changes In Public Policy

Homeless-Built Homes: From A Tiny Start To A High-Rise Tomorrow?

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Habitat for Humanity Build-A-Thon photo by Sandia Labs is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Can beginners do the job? Habitat for Humanity has proved it, a global charity that constructs affordable housing using inexperienced volunteers trained on the job.

Anyone can learn to do-it-yourself (DIY), even this writer’s corporate-lawyer father who turned foot-wide biscuit tins into lamps that never fell over.

An intriguing project in Oakland California is assisting youth who are homeless as they design and build a village of tiny homes. It sounds like a fortuitous pairing: employing those who need both employment and homes to DIY. I can only hope their design sense is better than my father’s, as regularly measured by my mother’s dismayed cry of, “Not another one!”

Read more in The Mercury News: Homeless youth build East Bay tiny house village

Small is beautiful, but why stop there? Folks in desperate need of housing are already working on a ‘sky’s the limit’ approach to cooperative DIY home construction. And their energy and enterprise is being legitimized by professional architects. Read more at CNN: Are ‘self-build’ high-rises coming to a city near you?

Vienna Points To Social Housing As A Key To Urban Resilience

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Reumann-Hof photo by Payton Chung is licensed under CC BY 2.0
An example of Vienna social housing — a major cultural and physical mainstay of the city.

The right to adequate housing in a time of civilization-threatening climate change: how will nations respond to these twin imperatives which, on the surface at least, appear to compete for national attention and funding?

The need for affordable housing was already a growing series of life-threatening crises world-wide even before COVID-19 piled extra pressure on people with very low and no incomes.

Meanwhile, a global consensus demands massive changes NOW in order to mitigate the threat of climate change to human civilization.

The article that follows explores urban resilience — the capability of cities to withstand the impact of change. While apparently focused away from the need for human shelter, it unearths a striking and unexpected link between social housing and climate change.

The city of Vienna, with a unique and highly successful commitment to social housing, views that commitment not as a competitor for urban resilience funding, but as an essential and all-important foundation of its urban resilience.

Read more in URBANLAND: Rethinking Resilient Cities around the Globe

Ireland Plans A Rebuild, But Not For People Who Need Housing

Capital Dock Development, Dublin photo by William Murphy is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Dublin's shiniest, newest, tallest, mixed use housing development with 0 social housing units. Not what much of the electorate voted for in the recent national elections.

The government in Ireland has announced its COVID-19 recovery plan. Its promises for housing raise serious questions about whether the government is paying any attention to its electors.

Housing was a key issue in the national elections that were held in February.1 The opposition party’s housing critic evaluates the recovery housing plan and finds that it falls well short of pre-election commitments, never mind any of the promises in the run up to the election. Read more in Rebuilding Ireland limps on in draft programme for government – Eoin Ó Broin TD

Academics have also questioned the wisdom of the recovery plan. Orla Hegarty, who teaches at University College in Dublin, asks whether there is any sense in a plan that will build limited handfuls of social housing units at a price that is twice what it costs to actually build them. Hegarty’s article is published in the Irish Times: Programme For Government Wrong To Put Faith In Private Builders

Moving Day, Québec Leaves A Few Without Leases: Disaster Or Triumph?

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moving day photo by martina knittel is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Moving Day, July 1, Montréal, Québec

A couple of weeks ago the Québec government stuck its neck out and resolved to shepherd that province’s preponderance of rental lease renewals on July 1st every year. They announced a series of measures to be taken with the goal of leaving no family without a rental home. Try: Federated To Death? When It Comes To Housing, I Pick Québec

After the big day, housing activists are pointing out that the province fell short by upwards of 250 households, who found shelter but no leases.

Without suggesting for a moment that every family in Quebec was looking for a lease renewal on July 1, contrasting these unsettled households with the 1.36 million households who rent in Québec1, some of the government’s efforts would appear to be successful.

For more on the results of this 2020 moving day, together with activist concerns about the telling signs of increasing problems to come, read more at the CBC: Hundreds of Quebec families still don’t have a lease after moving day

 

Court Trashes UK Universal Credit Testing That Refused To Learn

My little bean counter photo by Francesca de Freitas is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Bureaucracy vs. social housing tenants: can beancounters learn outside of their playpens?
Apparently not.

The national government in England set out to reform its existing social assistance programs under the banner “Universal Credit” in 2013. It planned a phased implementation over four years. The government promised a “test and learn” approach.

The program is designed to “encourage” people to work, backstopping low wage jobs with assistance. “Testing” revealed that this creates a huge problem. Benefit payments are not consistent, even when pay levels are constant. Despite the evidence, there was no “learning.” The government refused to change the program.1

The issue moved to the courts, where the government continued to defend its uneven  and inflexible payment system.

The court challenge was led by Danielle Johnson, a mom and a school catering assistant who is paid monthly. The amount she received from employment did not change from one year to the next. Meanwhile, the amount she received from Universal Credit varied by as much as £500 a year.  That made it difficult to pay for her housing, food and other essentials.

The court ultimately sided with Johnson, a decision offering a small measure of housing stability to Johnson and some 85,000 other households.2

See the full story in The Guardian: Universal credit rules irrational and unlawful, judge says

American Activists Prepare For Tsunami Of COVID-Caused Evictionsc

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EVICTION photo by Dennis Carr is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Caught in the act: eviction.

In America, COVID-19-triggered eviction moratoriums — where they exist — are bandages over open wounds. Those who continue to be unable to pay their rent continue to fall further and further into debt to their landlords. Thanks to the moratoriums, some tenants are being protected from eviction — temporarily.

What happens when that protection disappears? Here’s a survey of what’s going on across the country to deal with that impending crisis. Read more in SHELTERFORCE: As Moratoriums Start to Lift, Preparing for an Eviction Wave

Will Pandemic Essential Workers Become Homeless After COVID-19?

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Early Learning child care centre Corinda, Queensland 2020 photo by Kgbo is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Child care in Australia was free of charge during the first phase of the COVID-19 response.

The government in Australia offered free child care during COVID-19. In the years preceding the pandemic, the government had refused to increase public subsidies for child care services, so the move to provide child at no cost came as a welcome surprise, especially for essential workers.

However, government didn’t actually pay for the full cost of child care services. Child care workers themselves were required to take a pay cut to continue operating. In this way they helped to pay for the ‘free’ child care. They are also the only group of essential workers who took a pay cut.

Moving forward, child care centres in Australia at least can expect reduced revenues. They must comply with new social distancing requirements (which reduce their capacity), they aren’t allowed to increase their fees and there are no plans to increase subsidies. It seems likely that the COVID-19 pay cut will continue for some time to come.

Child workers typically earned very low pay before COVID-19. Will they be able to continue to pay for their housing and other essential costs? For more on this situation see in The Guardian: Australian government to end free childcare on 12 July in move Labor says ‘will snap families’ and in the Sydney Morning Herald: Free childcare ‘good for parents, but not good for us’, workers say

This story has also been covered in the New York Times:1 A Stimulus Backlash Delivers a Global Warning: Value Female Workers

Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Collected Artist, And Homeless For Years

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Paul Atherton photo by Paul Atherton is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
What will July 3 bring for Paul Atherton?

No, you don’t have to be one of life’s failures (and therefore deserving of your fate) to become homeless. It can happen by simple economic accident in a world defined by payment rules and credit ratings that depend upon them. The same rules and ratings can keep you there.

It’s even possible to be a success in your chosen field while homeless. But that achievement may be no help at all to rescue you from purgatory. COVID-19 inspired government pledges to keep the homeless housed? Too little, too late for Paul Atherton.

How so? Read more at THE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM: I’ve gone from homelessness at Heathrow to a hotel. Where next?

Churchill Was A Prophet And Leader For Victory In ‘World War House’

Portrait of Winston Churchill, by Haeseler, 1908 photo by Haeseler is in the public domain
Winston Churchill, a little recognized giant in the world of affordable housing. He first expressed his thoughts on the subject in 1909.

‘World War House?’ Churchill prophesied that war in 1909 when he was the President of the Board of Trade. He lamented landlords gouging tenants, a chronic housing condition which caused suffering for the entire economy of Britain.

It took 42 years, but Churchill was able to attack the problem in 1951.

According to a recent article in IChurchill’s vision and focus stands in contrast to that of Britain’s current prime minister. Boris Johnson has cried ‘Build, Build, Build’ and evoked the memory of American President Roosevelt’s depression-era housing achievements. But far from following in FDR’s footsteps, Boris Johnson stands accused of  introducing a warmed-over plate of Thatcherite small-government programs unleashing the private sector from building regulations that protect renters from substandard housing.

Vicky Spratt, writing in I, suggests that Johnson would do well to follow the thinking and example of Britain’s own famous leader, rather than pretending to follow the lead of FDR: Planning Reforms Are A Disaster For Housing In The UK

Shelter, an agency in England that helps people with their housing needs, has just submitted a brief to government about the urgent need for more social housing. The brief puts a human face on that need. Read more at Shelter: Home Truths report

Renters Are Deer In Landlord’s Headlights. Banks Help Mortgagees Off The Road

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Once upon a time, no sensible, successful individual or family would own a home when it was possible to rent. After all, who needs to worry about leaky faucets and repainting dingy rooms when a specialist class of managers — landlords — can take the matter in hand? Reinforcing the disinterest in home ownership were a set of economic and political factors that did not begin to change until the 1930’s, when the proportion of homeowners hovered just under 50% in the United States and at 39% in England and Wales.

Even as governments in the US and the UK began building public housing, legislation was introduced to help some people to climb onto the now famous ‘housing ownership ladder.’ By the latter half of the 20th century, with ‘national dreams’ updated to focus on home ownership, everything had changed and the rate of home ownership rose to almost two thirds of all households in both countries.

Today, it’s anyone’s guess whether current trends by wealthier citizens to rent in an urban core will weather the density-focused concerns of COVID-19.

One enduring benefit of home ownership has, however, been made evident by the sudden loss of employment triggered by COVID-19. For those looking for at least temporary release from the cost of renting or owning and paying a mortgage, home ownership wins hands-down.

Read more in The Guardian: Mortgage holidays are a breeze, but try taking a rent break

For a more detailed look at the results of the survey that inform the Guardian’s article, see at the Resolution Foundation: Coping With Housing Costs During The Coronavirus Crisis

Building Better Tenant Experience

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Home Sweet Home photo by Mikael Korhonen is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Moving the tenant experience up a notch.

Moving to new housing is a very big deal. This is something that community based agencies, non-profits and charities understand well. As the housing market has changed, community agencies have changed the programs they offer to help people with very low and no incomes who move. Researchers from the Glasgow Centre For Population Health and University of Stirling studied three agencies in Glasgow to find out how the changes were, or weren’t, helping tenants.

The three agencies provide different services. One is a housing provider, the second is a letting agent and the third provides financial assistance. The researchers interviewed tenants who had used a service during their move to understand the effectiveness of the new programs. The tenants reported on their health and housing situation before they moved, shortly after move in and a year later.

On the whole, tenant satisfaction with their housing increased over time. This came as a bit of a surprise. Existing research theorizes that tenants will be very happy with new housing initially and that this happiness will decline over time. The group of tenants in this study were generally happy with their new housing when they moved in and they were even more satisfied at the one year mark.

The research findings translated to a number of recommendations for building managers (both non-profit and in the private market) and for housing policies. Building managers are strongly encouraged to ensure that every tenant has a named point of contact who represents the landlord. Policy makers and decision makers are encouraged to develop and provide tenant engagement standards to assist landlord (again, both non-profit and in the private market). Training is also recommended.

For more on this project, see at commonhealth.uk: Housing through Social Enterprise – Implications For Tenants, Housing Providers And Wider Society

Can The Private Sector Build Social Housing For Profit? No.

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StateLibQld 2 120932 Anzac workers involved in building cottages for returned soldiers at Enoggera, 191 photo by The Queenslander is licensed under the public domain
Volunteer labourers who built homes following World War I in Australia and New Zealand. Is this a model we should be using today?

Can the private sector ever cost-effectively AND the profitably build social housing? A simple economics-101-multiplied-over-time argument might be that if they could, they would. But they haven’t so they can’t.

Australian Architect and Professor Tone Wheeler takes a less speculative approach by setting out the basic costs — everything from land to profit — that a private developer needs to cover in order to build housing of ANY kind. Wheeler then sets out to mitigate those costs, bit by bit, with the goal of creating a social housing unit that can be built profitably by the private sector.

In spite of all his chiseling and penny-pinching, he concedes defeat and concludes by rehabilitating a critique of Australia’s HomeBuilder program.1 Read more in ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN: Tone on Tuesday: On Social Housing Part 2

New Life For 100 Year Old Buildings?

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34-50 Albert Road, Glasgow, Scotland photo by Podzemnik is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
A pilot retrofitting project is underway in Glasgow. It will shrink the carbon footprint of tenement buildings like this one.

Climate change research has identified a number of emission culprits. One of those culprits is older housing stock. A team in Glasgow is setting out to figure out how to reverse that.

Eight housing units in a building that is over 100 years old will be transformed from big emitters to non-emitters. As the work progresses, the team will assess how this pilot could be expanded to a larger scale. A big concern going into the project is maintaining the affordability of the existing units, as transforming housing with a large carbon footprint requires money.

It’s a triple challenge: refurbishment, energy efficiency, and affordability — certainly something for everyone to keep their eye on! For more on this development, see at the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence: Climate Emergency Funding For Major New Project In Glasgow

 

 

Women’s Experience Of Homelessness: What Are We Missing?

Invisible woman on a computer photo by bluesbby is licensed under CC BY 2.0
An invisible victim of domestic violence sits on a park bench, not terribly poor, but terribly homeless. You don't see her because she's adept at hiding. She has to be.

A colleague of mine always asks two questions: what are we missing and who is being left out? These questions are especially important in an era where funders and program managers who live by “what gets measured gets done.”

The Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network recently completed research about women’s experience of homelessness in Canada. The Network has published a report of its findings, which amply demonstrate illustrate the significance of my colleague’s questions.

To the first question, we are missing the ways that women experience homelessness. They are less visible for a number of reasons. Women who are visible (for example living outside or staying at an emergency shelter) experience very high levels of violence and sexual assault. Choosing to stay with a violent partner means less exposure to violence than being on the street. Women are also strongly motivated to be invisible in order to maintain custody of their children.

And to the second, we are leaving out all of the women who experience homelessness by being invisible. In effect, the issue is hidden in plain sight.

Going beyond those questions, the report also demonstrates that our efforts to help women experiencing homelessness aren’t working very well. This is partly because we don’t understand its extent and also because we can’t see its far reaching effects.

The researchers highlight eight priority actions to improve our understanding of women’s experience of homelessness and change our efforts to be more effective. It repeatedly highlights the need for adequate housing that is affordable, permanent and safe.

Compiling and analysing the available evidence was a huge effort. The project team is to be commended for making this effort, which should help us to do a better job of helping women who are experiencing homelessness, and ultimately ending it entirely. The methods used may be of interest to decision makers, researchers and policy leaders in other countries.

The authors have delivered their findings at four levels of detail, ranging from 1 to 280 pages. All four are available at Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network: The State Of Women’s Housing Need & Homelessness In Canada

The 19 page Executive Summary is here: Executive Summary

The Network’s efforts have already attracted the attention of mainstream media. See at Global News: A study says Canada’s homeless women are ‘invisible.’ COVID-19 could make it worse

How We Come To Use Data To Fight Epidemics

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Cholera deaths in England & Wales from May-November, 1849 Wellcome L0039177 photo by Wellcome Collection is licensed under CC BY 4.0
The number of Cholera deaths over a seven month period highlight how the disease spread across England.

Data is a big deal in COVID-19. This refers not to data plans, but the information that is collected, how it is analysed, how it is interpreted and how it is presented.

William Farr, an English physician, was an early convert to using data to understand epidemics, starting around the time of the multiple cholera outbreaks in the 1800’s. Farr believed that cholera was spread by a miasma, but careful tracing of water suppliers in east London established a link between the disease and water quality that convinced him otherwise.

Early in his career, Farr was appointed the Compiler of Abstracts at the General Register Office, which was responsible for recording births and deaths in England. He played a critical role in illuminating health inequities between different social classes and occupations.

The World Health Organization recalls William Farr’s remarkable career and contribution at the turn of this century: William Farr’s Legacy To The Study Of Inequalities In Health

In the context of COVID-19, the New York Times has also paid tribute to Farr’s work:1 How Data Became One of the Most Powerful Tools to Fight an Epidemic

For a look at how COVID-19 is compounding pre-existing health inequities, see: COVID-19: Together Is Coming Apart

Aussie Rough Sleepers: Too Difficult To Deal With?

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(1)Homeless Woman 006 photo by Sardaka is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
COVID-19 provides an extraordinary opportunity to end homelessness.

A number of governments, mid-pandemic emergency, are congratulating themselves for erasing rough sleeping through a dog’s breakfast of temporary shelter solutions that sweep this most visible manifestation of homelessness off the streets.

What next? Can governments capitalize on their blips of social consciousness to achieve a far greater goal — the actual elimination of homelessness? Australian governments, spurred by eager activists, begin to explore the issue.

The experience of homelessness is national in scope, with the mobility of rough sleepers not limited to one or another state in the nation. Nevertheless, the response, in Australia, falls most squarely on state governments as well as local communities.

Much of the thinking about permanent homelessness solutions revolve around building significant quantities of affordable housing. And the reality of providing housing to the people with the lowest incomes, or no incomes at all, directs attention towards social housing.

However, there are no less than three different groups of citizens, with very low or no income, who vie for Australia’s limited social housing stock.

There are people already on social housing waiting lists who are housing cost-burdened. They rent in the free market at prices they can barely pay.

There are people who aren’t visible, many of whom work at jobs that do not pay enough to allow them to rent independently. They couch surf, or stay with family or friends.

A small fraction of the people who experience homelessness are rough sleepers. They form the ‘public face’ of homelessness. A significant fraction of this fraction require more, sometimes much more, support in addition to housing. Are they therefore more trouble than state or city can manage?

Meanwhile, the Australian federal government seems focussed on a national dream of ownership.1 Social housing plans, insofar as they even exist (let alone attract funding dollars) are largely theoretical constructions.

Read more on how individual Australian states are planning to tackle homelessness post COVID-19 in The Guardian: Homelessness: Can The Covid-19 Crisis Help End Rough Sleeping In Australia For Good?

The Police Defund Refund. Not Enough, If Black Lives Matter

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Tucson Police SWAT vehicle photo by Simeon87 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Armoured personnel carriers purchased by the police to preserve safety.

Only the wildest-eyed optimists imagine that defunding the police means abolishing crime prevention by creating a magical world in which the disappearance of police somehow creates an end to crime.

A New York Intelligencer magazine article begins with the widely understood and more pragmatic argument that defunding the police means at worst brutally shrinking, and at best completely designing, community policing.

The objective: to deliver more humanitarian service for considerably less than the current annual national cost of approximately $115 billion for what in America is universally a woefully poor service delivered at best carelessly and at worst with malignant intent and excess brutality, destroying black lives.

In the thrill of a moment when the idea of such a radical social change is gaining momentum, it’s easy to be distracted by a financial windfall that could befall communities which slash police budgets.

Just think of what might be accomplished by stripping the police of paramilitary glory! Diverting monies spent on war toys, such as armoured vehicles, could be used instead to build long-needed and long overdue individual and community necessities such as social housing!

Read more about why this ‘defund refund’ can only be a small step in the redress of social injustices which lie at the foundation of the thunderous cry that Black Lives Matter. In the New York Intelligencer:  Defunding the Police Is Not Nearly Enough

Low And No Income Housing: Putting Lipstick On The Pig In The Middle

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Pig #30 photo by Avi is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

On one hand, the horror1 and glory2 of social housing success. On the other, US Public Private Partnerships of now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t LIHTC 3 combined with Section 8 Housing Vouchers, to build temporarily affordable housing.

Are there alternatives between the dated tsunami of government-built public housing, long reviled in North America, and the paucity of low and no income housing units from LIHTC and Vouchers?

Yes. There are alternatives.

A warning: these alternatives are complex, time consuming enterprises often involving multiple funders who must be wooed and won. Never mind building to combat climate change. Nonetheless, these alternatives do promise delivery of more significant quantities of housing for those with low or no income.4

Collected between the twin poles of low/no income housing success and failure, these alternatives are the pigs in the middle.

We will leave it to the Brookings Institute to put lipstick on these pigs. Read more: Strategies For Increasing Affordable Housing Amid The Covid-19 Economic Crisis

The Why And How Of Social Housing In The Now Of COVID-19

Now photo by Kalyan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

People with very low and no income desperately need housing they can afford. That’s old news, in far too many countries.

Enter the COVID-19 pandemic. National responses to this crisis have been founded on the safety of both the community as a whole, as well as its individuals. Stay home in order to stay safe.

But what about people who have no homes or are in grave danger of losing them? COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the urgent but much neglected need for truly affordable housing.

In many nations, social housing has crept onto the To Do list, inevitably competing with a host of other COVID-19 triggered priorities.

One version of that To Do list goes this way: when COVID-19 has passed and the economy has recovered, then will be time to start building the truly affordable housing. Welcome to never never land, as yet again social housing for those with low and no incomes falls by the wayside of a torrent of economic recovery necessities.

Another version goes this way; social housing doesn’t need to wait for the pandemic to be over and for recovery to happen. Social housing can BE that recovery.

The second version has gained considerable support in Australia, where like other ‘western’ countries, ‘small government’ has resulted in a dramatic erosion of social housing stock without any long-touted but still missing-in-action free market solutions.

The Australian government, still true to its ‘small government’ roots, fiddles while the pandemic burns and blows a kiss to the middle class. Read more in The Conversation: HomeBuilder might be the most-complex least-equitable construction jobs program ever devised

While Australia’s kissyface construction bonus for the middle-class would appear to achieve little or nothing for the country’s economy as a whole, consider instead a program to build a significant volume of social housing. Read more in Pursuit: INVESTING IN SOCIAL HOUSING DURING A PANDEMIC

Universal Credit = Less Housing Security

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Insecure photo by Wilmot is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Repossession rates are up amongst people who receive social assistance in England. Repossession in England is equivalent to eviction in Canada and the US. This rise in repossessions is being linked to changes in social assistance programs.

Iain Hardie, a PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow, decided to find out whether the introduction of Universal Credit had an effect on housing stability. Universal Credit is the name given to social assistance reforms in the the United Kingdom, which merge five assistance programs into one. Implementation began in 2013, and is scheduled to roll out over 10 years.

Hardie used court decision data and the phased introduction of Universal Credit to make his analysis. He also took differences in rents, unemployment rates and wages into account.

One of the reasons this research is so important is that overall, the average rate of repossessions in England went down between 2013 and 2018. In the country as a whole, the rate of repossession claims went from 40/100,000 to 30/100,000 during this period. However, this obscured the pattern amongst clients receiving Universal Assistance, which Hardie has illuminated with his research. As the new Universal Credit rolled out, and the number of clients receiving the Universal Credit grew, their rate of repossession claims went up.

The repossession research demonstrates that the introduction of Universal Credit is linked to less housing stability. Hardie has penned an article as well as a research paper to report his methods and his findings, which substantiate claims that the Universal Benefit is undermining housing stability among people who have the fewest resources in the country.

Why is this report important?

The research demonstrates the benefit of investigating the impact of program reforms. For decision makers, policy makers, and advocates, the report discusses the potential cascading effects of Universal Credit, notably the additional harms faced by the people who receive Universal Credit and the potential for the number of people experiencing homelessness to rise.

The methodology used will be of interest to policy analysts.

The article is available at the UK Collaborative Centre For Housing Evidence: How Universal Credit Is Weakening The Welfare System’s Housing Safety Net

The research paper is published under a creative commons license, and thus also available. See at Cambridge University Press: The Impact of Universal Credit Rollout on Housing Security: An Analysis of Landlord Repossession Rates in English Local Authorities

Social Housing Vs Social Home: A Meaningful Difference

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Garden of Oz photo by Thomas Cizauskas is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

From a likely source: how to squeeze the last drops of profit from the design and construction of a social housing project. The result is housing, but only the least possible offering that fits the description.

From a much less likely source: analysis of the meaning of ‘home’ as opposed to housing, a difference that has been so starkly illuminated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

More, a plea for building homes, rather than houses, for people who need social housing — not just for people who are better off and can afford the features that help distinguish a home from a house.

The sources of these two explorations are in fact one and the same, written by the Founder of Conviva Group, Roy Ledgister.

And Conviva Group does what?

In their own words, ‘Our services help clients turn fixed assets into dynamic assets, ready to make a significant contribution to overall corporate performance, regardless of the economy or business cycle.’

Have you now got a clue about what they actually do? This writer doesn’t. But no matter. This writer is happy to take advice about social housing development that calls for spending as much as necessary to create a social home.

Read more in Global Banking And Finance Review: Creating social homes

Isle Of Eigg And The Tale Of Two Landlords: When ‘Us’ Replaced ‘Them’

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eigg photo by Kevin Walsh is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Does your government really work for you and all the other people who share your corner of the world? Or does it really serve itself, and grant its grace and favour to whom it pleases, meaning just about anybody but you?

One small, compelling answer to that question has proved out on the tiny Scottish Isle of Eigg. There, not so long ago, its inhabitants were oppressed, depressed and totally exasperated by the antics and indifference of ‘them’ who owned the island. And so, in a fit of collective pique, ‘us’ bought out ‘them.’

Looking back over the last few years since that seismic event, does the Eigg experience have anything to contribute to our knowledge of individuals, communities and governments?

You betcha!

Read more at AL JAZEERA NEWS: The Isle of Eigg and the possibilities of building a new economy

Homeless Sabrina Bags One of Society’s Childhood Dream Jobs

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It’s so dreadfully convenient to be able to dismiss the social tragedy of homelessness by harping on about the losers of society who have been condemned by fate to live out their lives in urban back alleys. Of course we mourn their ill-luck and undoubted genetic predisposition to failure, even as we sweep them out of our consciences.

Aways nice, therefore, to celebrate a success or two. Read more at ITV: Fire Chief Sabrina Cohen-Hatton recalls poignant past as a homeless teenager

or watch the video: Welsh Lives: Episode Two

COVID Evictees Forced To Gamble For Shelter? Sigh, Same Old Same Old

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My Little Shamrock Lucky Boo Lefou photo by DaPuglet is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Will this be my lucky day?

Nation, an American publication, reacts with some horror to the fate that would seem to be inevitable for no-job no-rent households, and COVID-19 moratoriums on evictions begin to expire.

Depending on the state and municipality, some cash strapped governments are finding a little financial support to dole out, which doesn’t begin to cover the scope of this brewing crisis. But in modern-day America, ‘land of opportunity’ means ‘the right to gamble.’ Winners are a handful of happy campers who win meagre financial support for their shelter woes. Losers get to rip up their ticket and play again. Read more in Nation: When Shelter Comes Down To The Luck Of The Draw

The true horror of this story? Lotteries were widespread before COVID-19. Lottery schemes have become part of the system that short-changes people who need housing. Need a place with reasonable rent that is guaranteed to stay that way? This was the historic purpose of public housing. But public housing waiting lists have become absurd, and the chances of ever being chosen to enter a lottery, let alone winning the right to occupy a home, are growing slimmer and slimmer.

How bad is it? In February, long before all but a handful of American public health scientists were even aware of COVID-19. King County in Washington reopened its subsidized housing lottery. Reopened? Yes, for the longest time, it was closed. Just think about the opportunities of winning a lottery that doesn’t print tickets and doesn’t offer prizes!

But now, a gleam of hope! A few public housing units will be up for grabs. Alas, the threadbare facts of King County’s affordable housing crisis, as well as its American ‘Land Of Opportunity’ lottery solution, are frightening to consider. Read more in the Seattle Times: Vying for a golden ticket: King County Housing Authority reopens subsidized housing lottery

It’s important to realize that even with herculean efforts to solve the post COVID-19 eviction crisis, many Americans with low or no incomes have lost employment or savings. COVID-19 has added to the perfect storm has been brewing for decades.

Social Housing Communities: Strong? Or Strongly Maligned?

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Mjølnerparken photo by Dannebrog Spy is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
A neighbourhood in Denmark slated for de-ghettoising. The residents say it works fine as it is.

Decades of ‘small government’ philosophizing has led to social housing community-bashing by the US and its fellow travelling Canadian and UK governments, among others.

Suggesting that low and no income tenants are constitutionally incapable of forming healthy communities has greased the skids on existing social housing, even as it lionizes ‘mixed income’ housing in which middle and upper class social ‘responsibles’ teach handfuls of lower class social stumblebums how to behave.

Unfortunately those attitudes are soiling the reputation of social housing in a country much admired in the past for its social housing achievements: Denmark.

Facing government attempts to dismantle social housing communities, activists have picked up the government’s stick to beat back against suggestions that some social housing have become supposedly undesirable ‘ghettos.’

Define a ghetto however you like, seems to be the activist message. But don’t dare challenge or seek to dismantle such close-knit, caring, social housing communities.

Read more in Reporting Democracy: GHETTO-BLASTERS: THE DANISH

Groundbreaking Decision In Vancouver For People Who Are Homeless And People Who Are Two Spirited

Two Spirit Society of Denver photo by jimmy thomas is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
A 2011 pride march in Denver that welcomed members of the two-spirit society.

Tamara Loyer runs a drop-in for trans women in Vancouver. Loyer welcomed the announcement about a housing project that will be dedicated to people who are transgendered and people who are two spirited. Read more in the Vancouver Sun: New vision for century-old Ross House in Vancouver means homes for marginalized people

A e-book from the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness provides a lucid account of why this housing is so urgently needed, both in Canada and the United States. People who are transgendered and people who are two-spirited face multiple harms. They are seriously over-represented in the population who experience homelessness. They are far more likely to experience violence, sexual exploitation and poverty. Also, people of indigenous origin and people who are black face discrimination and the continuing impacts of colonialism.

The book also includes descriptions of programs, services and policies that are serving people who are transgendered and people who are two spirited. You can read more here: Where Am I Going To Go? Intersectional Approaches To Ending LGBTQ2S Youth Homelessness In Canada & The U.S.

Empowering People With Experience To Prevent Homelessness

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45161324 photo by Think Defence is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Lived experience can profoundly influence a life of homelessness.

If we are ever going to end homelessness, we need to prevent it from happening in the first place. Getting to prevention requires changes to multiple systems, services and programs. Canadian scholars have developed a prevention framework that acts as a roadmap to figure out what needs to be done and to assess whether a change contributes to prevention or not. Recently, those scholars revised the framework, adding a component to take account of the ‘lived experience’ of people who are or have been homeless.

The full article (which has restricted access) and abstract (which does not) are available Health and Social Care: Evolving an evidence‐based model for homelessness prevention

The web link also provides an email contact for Abe Oudshoorn, the article’s corresponding author.

Homelessness Underfoot: Grey Problems For Black And White Decision-Making

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Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google LLC, used with permission.
An aerial view of Belle Park in Kingston, Ontario. Plans for the site, do not include a tent city that occupies this public parkland, where people who are homeless are living.

This post is about a homeless encampment in Kingston, Ontario that is operating with permission from the local council. It is about the people who are part of the story: the camp residents, the local council, housed residents and community agencies. It is also about making sense of what has happened to the encampment so far, both good and bad.

Read about the difficult nuance of balancing viewpoints and forming decisions during one councillor’s journey of understanding about civic homelessness decisions which must be made, in kingstonist: Eviction, empathy, and engagement: The complex case of Belle Park

The approach in Kingston seems consistent with the advice from the Centre for Disease Control and the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing during COVID-19. It contrasts with a pre-COVID-19 study involving people living in a homeless camp in Colorado reported in the Homeless Hub: People in Public Spaces – What Research Tells us About Laws and Homelessness

Green New Deal Without Buddies And Beer And Football? Forget It!

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A’Chrannag, Bute photo by DraconianRain is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
New social housing 'tower' on the scenic Hebrides Isle of Bute. Designerly? Check. Energy efficient? Super Check! Core of a livable community? . . .Did anyone even bother to check?

For many, a Green New Deal is founded on new forms if human living that respect the balance of life on our planet, a life once assumed to be so robust that it could easily fend off the careless debaucheries of humanity.

How to balance some eight billion lives with a planetary ecosystem now feared to be unable to adapt to the wants and needs of such numbers?

Ingenuity is one foundation of a Green New Deal, which seeks to limit the human footprint on the planet by energy and resource friendly alternatives to wasteful methods of physical survival and growth.

Another is sacrifice — the certainty that we may not be able to continue indulging bad habits such the convenience and thrill of high speed long distance travel.

But fundamental human nature sets limits on sacrifice, in particular our need for the intimacy and support of social interaction.

These limitations are on display in the COVID-19 crisis. People who refuse to participate in social distancing are an indication that there are many who will face increased risk of dying rather than willingly abandon the company of friends and family.

Doctoral Researcher Aaron Vansintjan makes the argument that a Green New Deal will founder unless it can includes the need for need for social interaction and community within its offerings of energy-harvesting and conservation.

There is nothing particularly new about the insight underlying Vansintjan’s proposals. They predate the Green New Deal and can be used to point out failings of profoundly ‘un-green’ social housing experiments of the past.

Affordablehousingaction.org recently featured an article about the famed anthropologist Margaret Mead, during a visit to Australia. There she inspected social housing and spoke out in favour of laundry rooms, not for their utility in cleaning clothes, but as a vital social gathering place.1

Vansintjan picks up the theme of social connection in a lament for the local Macdonalds restaurant, which has closed as part of the COVID-19 response, and carries it forward. He presses the case that the Green New Deal must sell itself to acquire the popular support it needs.

For those designing a new wave of social housing, Vansintjan’s arguments carry beyond giving those with low and no income the very least that penny-pinching can deliver. But more will be needed than the energy-neutral triumph of innovative construction. Vansintjan argues that success in advancing any Green New Deal project depends on having social connection at its core.

Read more in Ecologist: Public abundance and the Green New Deal

An Irish Social Housing Solution to Covid-19 Mortgage Failures?

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Foreclosure photo by BasicGov is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Foreclosure! A step away from homelessness? Not necessarily. A program in Ireland relieves debt. The former owners continue in residence as social housing tenants.

When it comes to social housing, some governments behave like Sherlock Holmes wannabes obsessed with the significance of ‘the dog that didn’t bark in the night.’

Particularly in North America, that behaviour plays out as a continual parsing of the ruins of public housing, despairing of the supposed truths that have added up over the decades to — according to conventional thinking — money ill spent.

But not all public housing needs to be created as monolithic towers with poor security and antagonistic management serving only those so poor that rent cannot possibly maintain the buildings.

There are other, innovative, approaches to social housing. Consider for example, the work of Irish non-profit iCare, whose mission is the rescue of homeowners who have fallen on hard times with incomes so low they qualify for social housing assistance. iCare taps into funding from an innovative Irish Government mortgage-to-rent scheme.

The results, as limited as they may be, are in marked contrast to the fate of so many, many sub-prime mortgage holders in the US following the financial meltdown of 2008. Those ‘under water’ homeowners were forced to abandon their homes and their financial futures, thanks to governments whose fly-by-night regulations and non-existent oversight encouraged the entire crisis.

That is not the fate of those helped by iCare. Read more in the Independent: iCare set to buy 23 homes to avoid families being evicted

Don’t Rebuild, Build Anew: Progressive Formulae For Post-COVID Canada

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New Democratic Party photo by David Allan Barker is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP), proud to be 'progressive.'

Canada is a polite country and it’s sometimes possible for progressives to get a word in edgeways without a nuclear blast of scorn from the centre and right. That’s somewhat unlike the behaviour of our combative neighbours to the south.

Besides, Canada has behaved in polite (but largely cosmetic) flirtation with ‘progressives’ since the Great Depression (think New Democratic Party) with occasional eruptions of public embrace (think current New Democratic Party Government in British Columbia!).

So it’s only polite to give some consideration to progressive views on the rebuilding — sorry, building anew — of Canada’s economic structure. An article in Ricochet offers a thought-provoking set:

  • building a better care industry for children and the elderly
  • involving government and workers in the revival of small business and
  • greening while rebuilding

Read more in Ricochet: Time for a ‘fundamentally different way of organizing the economy,’ say progressive economists

We’d have been happier if Ricochet labeled their article ‘Part 1 of a series’ or something similar, because surely they’re not going to focus only on tidying up the working family by farming out those in need of care to enlightened warehousing while the worker bees concentrate on reviving small business? (‘Greening,’ of course, is a compulsory addition to any kind of progressive activity these days.)

We hope they will expand their ideas to include secure and affordable housing. Then again, these days government economists (perhaps ALL free market economists?) seem blind to the fact that North America, including Canada, is a consumer society.

If consumers, from richest to poorest, do not have the ability to consume above a shaky subsistence level (e.g. by possessing disposable income) the economy can and probably will founder regardless how progressive its construction.

Let’s hear more about giving consumers with low incomes the security to spend by creating an abundance of social housing.

A City’s Coming Homelessness Disaster, By The Numbers

OccupyToronto Day 10 photo by LexnGer is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
The 'Occupy Toronto' tenting protest in 2011 barely dented Toronto's extensive park system. Will the same hold true with social distancing and no rent relief following COVID-19?

It’s become fashionable these days for homelessness and housing activists to proclaim that once eviction moratoriums expire, ‘many, many’ will become homeless. Well, perhaps ‘fashionable’ is an inappropriate description of Chicken Little flapping about the farmyard crying out the ‘the sky is falling!’

Because as far as homelessness is concerned, the sky IS in fact falling. Read more in NEXT CITY: Housing in Brief: Bracing for a New Eviction Crisis

One big question is: how far is the fall?

Our thanks, therefore, to the Toronto Foundation, which has paused to unpack the crisis and determine a reasoned and conservative view of just how serious one city’s homelessness crisis might become.

The methodology may well be useful to other communities attempting to determine the scope of a crisis for which, in most cases, little preparation has been made. Read more at the CBC: COVID-19 pandemic could lead to ‘unprecedented levels of homelessness,’ foundation warns

See the Toronto Foundation’s full brief here: COVID-19 and housing: Will new opportunity emerge from crisis?

The CBC article also covers a joint policy brief from the Maytree Foundation and The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which outlines and costs out two rent relief programs for tenants unable to pay rent. See: Locked down, not locked out: An eviction prevention plan for Ontario

Social Housing Needs To Be A Resource Of Everyday Heroes

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#MyCovidStory - Volunteers-51 photo by UN Women Asia and the Pacific is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Three of the everyday heroes of the COVID-19 response.

It’s always heartwarming to get a lift from the exploits of those who’ve seen a need to help their fellow citizens in a time of emergency. A recent article from Scotland steps away from the heroes in the health care system to sing for a few of the unsung in the voluntary sector who have found ways to contribute to social needs outside of hospitals and care homes.

Of particular interest to us at affordablehousingaction.org was the service of George Charlton, the third story of a number of ‘heroes’ described in the article.

A gas engineer who works with a social enterprise called ‘Homes for Good,’ Charlton has been working tirelessly ‘to ensure those living in social housing stay warm during lockdown.’

Charlton is recognized in his native Scotland. He should also be an inspiration to social housing management in other countries where calls for service or repair in social housing units are seldom answered promptly, if at all.

We recently did a post which featured housing management on both sides of the Atlantic going out of their way to help tenants to keep safe and healthy as they weather the COVID-19 storm.1

Here’s hoping that social housing tenants everywhere can look forward to the prompt arrival of George Charltons — not just during emergencies — but every day.

Read more in Third Force News: Heroes Of The Response

Care Homers: Lost In The Crack Between Homeless And Housed

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Elgin Manor Residents Assist United Appeal Campaign, 1965 photo by Elgin County Archives is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
St. Thomas Ontario, care home residents actively assist a fundraising drive, 1965. Why have we moved on to warehousing people who are bedridden?

The shocking state of care homes in many supposedly advanced countries have so far contributed a lion’s share of COVID-19 deaths.

Why have these poor standards of care, as well as the poor conditions of the care homes themselves, somehow escaped notice?

A large portion of care home residents fall into a “low or no income” category. And yet, for some reason, care homes and their residents are not included in most studies that attempt to tackle the low and no income housing crises that plague many countries.

At a certain age with a certain need for care, it is apparently suitable for older people to become notionally homeless. We no longer think of them as needing a home. Instead, they need a bed.

Care homes are measured in beds, not homes. For example, a recent report estimates that in the United Kingdom, there are currently 460,000 beds. Not homes, beds.

Enter the entrepreneurs of an industry detached from the challenge of housing low and no income citizens in homes of their own. The challenge instead is to warehouse frail seniors in beds.

And because ‘small-government’ politics is built on a foundation that private enterprise ‘can do it better,’ private care home owners join with government to foster a key idea: quality care paid for by government dollars can be delivered more cheaply by private enterprise, while at the same time, delivering a profit to shareholders.

That, at least, has been the public private partnership thinking of the past few decades. Now COVID-19 is definitively demonstrating, over an over again in different countries, that such thinking is horribly, horribly wrong.

In Canada, the military delivered a devastating report on long-term care homes where circumstances had demanded their support. It reduced Ontario premier Doug Ford to tears. Read more at Global News: Ford vows to fix broken long-term care system

Lest we be disarmed by Doug Ford’s tears (which under the circumstances, are undoubtedly genuine) they are not grounds to let Ontario’s Premier off the hook.

The Hill Times puts it nicely, referring not only to Ford but to Canada’s Prime Minister and Quebec’s Premier, all of whom have been expressing emotion lately in the face of care home bad news:  When It Comes To Fixing Long-Term Care, Tears Are Not Enough

The Hill Times is normally paywalled (as you will find if you click on the above link,  which gets you to a picture of three mopey-looking politicians and not much else).

Currently, however, The Hill Times is offering a free time-limited subscription. If you sign up, read a full and very worthwhile article. Prepare for a long diatribe against classic stall-until-the-problem-goes-away tactics that can usually be depended on from both federal and provincial governments alike.

The Hill Times further points the finger at Doug Ford, leader of a ‘small-government’ style Conservative party. He presided over last year’s $34 million cuts to the long term care home budget in Ontario, as well as cancelling unscheduled inspections. The Ford government’s money-saving actions continue a series of decisions that have made it more and more difficult to provide decent care and support to the residents who call their long term care bed home.

There is a great deal of guilt as well as blame to go around. Doug Ford is most certainly entitled to a share of it.

Federated To Death? When It Comes To Housing, I Pick Québec

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Drapeau du Québec photo by abdallahh is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

State “A” thinks tenants should sink or swim on their own. Maybe you should move. Province “B” is handing out dollars, but stopped yesterday, you’re too late. Nation “C” isn’t much interested in renters, still peddling dollars and tax relief for first time buyers. That’s not you? City “D” might have had an old motel suitable to accommodate you, but they’re pressing on with selling it to a luxury developer.

In a time of pandemic, federal systems have their well-rehearsed “our government level doesn’t handle that, instead try . . .” responses to frantic queries. Already we’re hearing reports of deserving but desperate people falling through the cracks everywhere.

Are federal government systems suitable for emergency use?

This writer has seen arguments in favour, praising the robust inventiveness of so many brilliant people producing different solutions in different regions for different people.

Okay, so somebody flying by the seat of the pants will get it right. Folks in that region may well survive, while the rest of us are flushed down the toilet. Don’t impress me much.

No, what this writer is looking for is something like a recent commitment from La Belle Province — Québec. On that province’s moving day, Québec is pledging that nobody will be left without a home. That’s not just a tall order, but a tall order in a hurry, since that province’s famous moving day is literally days away on July 1.1

No if’s, and’s or but’s, no “sorry, our government level doesn’t handle your particular problem. Just, ‘we’ll get it done.’

Bravo.

Read more in MTLBLOG: The Government Has Revealed New Programs To Help Low-Income Quebecers Make Rent

COVID-19 And Montréal’s Musical Apartment Game

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Jour de déménagement à Montréal (Moving day) photo by Claude Robillard is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
July 1, Moving Day in Montreal, Quebec

July 1 has long been a banner day in Montréal. It’s when many leases expire and a good chunk of the 500,000 renter households move house.

This year’s round of musical apartments will be more complicated than usual.

First, there are social distancing provisions, which residents are expected to follow. Moving is by its very nature a social activity. It is pretty difficult to shift appliances and larger pieces of furniture without help. Imagine the possible revenues from social distancing tickets!

Moving also costs money, with the possible exception of the person in this post’s picture. As some people are starting back to work, others will have reduced hours or no work at all. Will they be able to come up with the cash they need to cover the costs?

In addition, there isn’t a lot of spare housing to go around. Montréal’s vacancy rate is at an all time low of 1.5%: it’s easy to picture bottlenecks as the moving-in households wait for the moving-out households.

This is expected to add up to more households than usual left without housing on the night of July 1. One month out, more than 100 have been identified.

The City of Montréal musters resources for July 1 each year.1 This year it has access to a supply of hotel rooms to help with temporary accommodation. The Mayor has pre-empted the potential cash stream from ticketing. She is also calling on higher levels of government to ease the rental costs for tenants. Read more at CBC: Montreal to use hotel booked for COVID crisis to house anyone still homeless on moving day

With communities all over North America facing the suspension of eviction moratoriums starting this month, evictions and temporary homelessness may be widespread. Let’s hope those communities may take some guidance from Montréal’s long experience in order to prepare.

Remembering To Build Community Into Social Housing Design

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Margaret Mead photographed in 1977 ©Lynn Gilbert photo by Lynn Gilbert is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Famous anthropologist Margaret Mead photographed in 1977 ©Lynn Gilbert

If there’s one thing that the COVID-19 has demonstrated, it is that humans are social animals who are prepared to die rather than go without community. This is a fact of much consternation with logical, sensible, paternalistic politicians and scientists. They would seem to be flabbergasted by those who simply refuse to follow lockdown rules in the face of their freedom to interact with others — family and community — even at the risk of their own sickness and death (never mind their responsibilities to the health of others).

While pandemic restrictions might be a once in a lifetime experience, it just as easily might not. Many individuals may again be trapped in circumstances that remove them from family, community or both. Builders and designers of community living space (including governments and architects) need to be mindful of this.

The pandemic has drawn attention to the importance of housing for low and no income residents. The most successful housing, for all its faults, has been social housing. New social housing has always been constrained by cost. Global warming brings new cost considerations to bear on social housing construction.

Against these concerns, however, is a reminder of the importance of creating communities, not just the rudiments of shelter, for tenants who are impoverished.

An archived story from 1973 in a Sydney, Australia newspaper provides an assessment of social housing by the anthropologist Margaret Mead. Some of her comments are important reminders of vital things — not always expensive — that can turn a human warehouse into a community. Read more in The Sydney Morning Herald: From the Archives, 1973: Dr Mead’s tour of social housing1

Like Moths To A Lantern, Homeless Victorians Pay To Flock Off To Paree

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Gunning Motel photo by Brian Yap (葉) is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
What is it about the glamour of Australian motels that so captivates the imagination? Not much.

How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?) These post WWI song lyrics describe the bedazzled homecoming of American troops. They also sum up the heady experience of rough sleepers in the Australian province of Victoria. Those lucky souls have been been dazzled by the bright light of their luxurious motel surroundings where they have moved ‘for their own good.’

Paree? Not quite. The bright light comes from the room’s microwave as it spins — empty, of course. No food is provided in the special ‘rough sleeper’ luxury package. Not even scrounging in the lounge for morning coffee.

Victoria has earned itself a tempest in a teapot (but not a motel teapot — it’s not part of the rough sleeper luxury package) as social activists question the decision to charge the people who are experiencing homelessness for their temporary rescue.

Read the pros and cons of charging for temporary COVID-19 accommodation in The Guardian: ‘It sucks’: homeless Victorians asked to help pay for lockdown hotels

Australian Report Enumerates The Poor By Their Species

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Everyday Adelaide No. 123 (Spring/Summer) photo by Michelle Robinson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Australian seniors who rent? If so, there's a good chance they are poor.

What does a poor person look like? In a society that dresses down, with billionaires lurking in hedges (fund, not privet) wearing t-shirts and trainers and backwards ball caps, it’s not so obvious at a glance.

Fortunately, a new report from the Australian Council of Social Service and the University of New South Wales helps us with a snapshot of people in Australia who are poor — one that echoes findings in other countries. These folks are often the prospective tenants on waiting lists for social housing, hoping that endlessly long bottlenecks will finally become unclogged.

Read more in Mirage: Report highlights that women carers disproportionately impacted by poverty

PS: In the Mirage article, ACT = Australian Capital Territory and ACTCOSS = ACT Council of Social Services

New And Old Pandemic-Inspired Architecture For Future Social Housing

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Looshaus photo by Andrew Moore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
The looshaus in Vienna, Austria, designed as a 'cleansing' environment.

Architecture inspired by pandemics? Who knew? Serious architecture students, no doubt. But both the broad idea and the detail behind architecture that helps homeowners to cope with a pandemic should also be a study for decision makers who are contemplating the design of social housing.

For a detailed discussion of past design decisions which have been influenced by pandemics, as well as new wrinkles that might be added to social housing architecture after COVID-19, read more at Slate: The Post-Pandemic Style1

Architects to Seek New Directions To The Top Of A Social Housing Tower

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CERN Open Days elevator ride photo by SimonWaldherr is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Elevator interior, September 2019. A bit crowded by today's social distancing standards.

To high-rise or not to high-rise? With increasing environmental pressures to put homes near jobs, the convenience of highrises is not just a once apparent fact for social housing, but these days is a basic cost-effective reality for luxury housing and everything in between.

A century or more of public housing has demonstrated that it’s possible and often more desirable to have individual social housing homes, semi-detached or low rise apartments. Nevertheless, onwards in a world of social housing may often, if not always, be upwards.

As a recent CITYLAB article points out, high rise buildings depend on one important invention — the elevator. Wheezing and puffing up six flights of stairs is somewhere around the limit of civilized walk-up living, without which a lion’s share of social housing in many countries would have been impossible.

The elevator can pretty well be a foregone conclusion in the design of new high-rise social housing projects. Or can it?

COVID-19 has proven to be a serious limitation on the use of elevators. What will architects of new high-rise housing be forced to do about it? Read more in CITYLAB: Elevators Changed Cities. Will Coronavirus Change Elevators?

COVID-19 Rent Relief In Social Housing: Not For Tenants With Income

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RMA at Quartermile photo by Tom Parnell is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Modern social housing in Edinburgh Scotland. No rent relief for those who can afford to pay.

There were huge sighs of relief in Scotland recently when the parliament decided against giving every tenant in social housing a rent holiday during COVID-19.1 Housing associations across the country opposed offering a rent holiday to tenants who could pay. The associations argued the revenue helps them to keep their operations running, including measures that help tenants to be safe during COVID-10.2 Read more on this subject in Scottish Housing News: ‘Huge Relief’ As MSPS Reject Plans To ‘Extinguish’ Rent Liability

Will Social Housing Be Eliza Doolittled To Death?

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sister risqué wearing the flag : folsom street fair, san francisco (2010) photo by torbakhopper is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Eliza Doolittle? Maybe not the helpless lower class cutie you thought she was.

Rattle a container of upper middle class citizens, and, like a basket of live clams, their shells will close to protect themselves. These are not paragons of social living, but the opposite — the reclusive snobs of the human animal kingdom.

Why then the fascination with the leadership that this class supposedly must provide in mixed income buildings? Such modern high-rises are the current and convenient darlings of the building industry. They snare government subsidies by advertising a socially jumbled hodgepodge as some form of more desirable class-integrated lifestyle.

The prejudice that reinforces this myth is easily traceable — systematic public attacks on social housing that have been energized for years by the absurd presumption that the people who live in social housing are so genetically malformed as to be incapable of forming a productive community.1

And so mixed income housing developments can be sold as kinds of perpetual learning machines, in which live-in ‘normal’ higher-class instructors are able to guide and mentor and police the handfuls of lower-class defectives — the Eliza Doolittles (a name quite artfully chosen) who cannot ascend the scales of humanity without suitable instruction from professor Henry Higgins.

The term “affordable” has been a casualty of these My Fair Lady housing projects. “Affordable” housing was once a pan-nation definition that hovered somewhere at a standard 30% of income spent on housing, whether as rent or mortgage payment. Now “affordable” housing means anything that the housing industry and its government co-conspirators decide it means.2

Pretzel-bending the definition of “affordable” is a means of funnelling housing dollars destined to support low and no-income citizens into more lucrative building projects for the middle classes (who are invariably more grateful voters for for government-approved largesse).

What about the future of “social housing” (or in some  countries “public” or “council housing”)? Will these term(s) also fall victim to the joint demands of housing industry profits as well as the need for fruitful additions to a community tax base?

Alas, the future has arrived. Vancouver, British Columbia, has solved the critical need for more social housing in the city in the easiest possible way. The city has simply re-defined “social housing” to refer to the familiar and convenient affordable hodgepodge.

A Vancouver city councillor has recently called out this nonsense. Read more in the Georgia Straight: Vancouver definition of social housing contrary to English language, Pete Fry says in council motion

For a specific example of the absurd consequences of a redefinition of social housing read more, see also in The Georgia Straight: Renters earning less than $63,000 qualify at East Vancouver church’s social housing project

Are There Future Needs For ‘Emergency’ Social Housing?

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Opening of supportive housing building in Kamloops photo by Province of British Columbia is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Modular supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness in Kamloops, BC. Could modular housing like this, which can be erected and relocated quickly, be used for social housing?

Architects are necessarily opportunistic guns for hire, with one project bid for and landed, only to be followed by another, and another.

The events of COVID-19 have triggered a demand for more social housing to quell housing crises in many nations. Which, if any, guns will be hired to develop a new generation of low and no income housing?

The article linked below is a promotion of one vision of new affordable housing — a form of guerrilla warfare against creeping gentrification of city cores, where the architecture must be adaptable to the odd-shaped spaces still available when all the plum locations have been snapped up.

Further-advertised benefits? Speed of erection, modularity and ‘cost effectiveness.’ Read more about one such project in ArchDaily: Aprop Ciutat Vella Emergency Housing / Straddle3 + Eulia Arkitektura + Yaiza Terré

It is the supposed need to throw up something inexpensive that calls attention to a potential weakness. Lower cost will satisfy the inevitable cry from those who believe that people with low or no income deserve only the minimum. It may not at all satisfy the design considerations to make housing more durable and therefore less expensive in the long run. Britain’s ambition to quickly clear slums post WWII led to social tower construction that did not stand the test of time.

Over the last three decades, while Americans have been pulling down towers that were built in the 1930’s (many of which still stand), Britain was pulling down towers that were built in the 1960’s and 70’s, their lifespan already exhausted.1

Further, how important will green initiatives be to social housing? ‘Emergency’ social housing may not satisfy those needs.2

The architects featured in the above post have built an important flexibility into housing that both enhances its utility and may effectively negate any criticisms about flimsy short-lifespan housing. The homes can be dismantled and reused.

Such an ’emergency’ form of housing could be an extremely practical way of grabbing a spot for social housing, providing temporary homes very quickly, all the while acting as a placeholder for future more durable, climate-friendly and energy efficient social housing that might eventually replace it.

The Greening of Cities: Social Housing Can Play A Part

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COLOR THERMOGRAPH SHOWING HEAT LOSS - NARA - 17419418 photo by National Archives and Records Administration is licensed under the public domain
Satellite view of heat loss from residences, circa 1977.

Many recent articles in this age of COVID-19 are touting new building. It’s often considered one of the most, if not the most, important engine of an urban economy.

Reflecting the uncertainty, however, of consumer purchasing power after the layoffs and unemployment of COVID-19, the building industry is showing an uncharacteristic interest in social housing. If individuals and corporations are reluctant to invest in new housing, perhaps governments will take this opportunity to build significant rather than symbolic quantities of social housing — a lack which has been felt for decades in many nations.

Let us hope, however, that the rush back to profit that will undoubtedly influence private developers will not result in the squandering government money on ‘down and dirty’ social housing projects slap-dashed into existence with a decade or two lifespan like pseudo-luxury McMansions.1

There needs to be a commitment to the urban environment.2 Even refurbishment projects help to fire up the construction industry. For a recent example of just such a project read more in TheMayor.eu: Longest green roof on a residential building in the Netherlands completed

Consequences: How Canada Came To Bless Homeowners, Ignore Others

Squeezed into a narrow space. Brighton photo by Trine Syvertsen is licensed under CC BY 2.0
This space is not big enough, but there's nowhere to go.

In one year — 2005 — The federal government of Canada guaranteed 746,157 mortgages to provide housing security for homeowners.

How fared those unable to afford to buy a house? From 1980 to 2005 — 35 years — the federal government financed 633,300 social housing units, 100,000 less than the number of mortgages it guaranteed in 2005.

How did Canada come to blindly fuel the national obsession for home ownership for the middle class, while neglecting a far more vulnerable class of citizens?

The question is one that many that nations are now facing as the costs of both ownership and rental slowly squeeze thousands, even millions, of citizens towards life on the streets.

Jen St. Denis unpacks Canada’s actions in a sequence of events that explain one nation’s sorry story. Read more in The Tyee: Shut Out: How Families Have Fallen Off The Housing Ladder

Social Housing: A Lifeline For Vancouver’s Oppressed And Overburdened

Hotel Europe (Vancouver) photo by Márcio Cabral de Moura is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
This historic 'flatiron' building once known as the Hotel Europe is now part of Vancouver's limited social housing stock.

Jen St. Denis, a journalist in Vancouver, British Columbia, is investigating the triple whammy of high housing costs, COVID-19 and the current stock of social housing.

In 2019, the city rose to attention as the second most unaffordable place to live in the world.1 In 2018, the provincial and local governments had begun implementing a series of programs and measures to counteract the rising rents, housing prices and homelessness. City residents were starting to see results.2

Then COVID-19 arrived, and with it, direction to stay home and to follow social distancing and safe hygiene practices. These protocols heightened awareness of the importance of housing. At the same time, many people took a huge hit in income, and with it, the ability to afford housing, any housing, at all.

Although COVID-19 is affecting everyone, it is clear by now that some people are taking a bigger hit than others. Initially attention spotlighted people with pre-existing health conditions and people over 70. Media were also quick to publicize the risks for people living with abusive partners as crisis phone lines were overwhelmed. Less has been said about people with low incomes and members of visible minorities, who are more likely to be infected and to die during COVID-19.3

In this article, St. Denis reports on the housing challenges facing female headed single parent households and people living with violent partners. These two groups have been adversely affected by the housing market in Vancouver and COVID-19.

Noting that very little in the private market is remotely affordable for people in these groups, St. Denis concludes that more social housing is the only way to satisfy their dire need for shelter.4 Read more in The Tyee: No Escape: The Human Cost of Making Social Housing Scarce

Past Pandemic Rent Strikes. Can They Inform Our Current Crisis?

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Rent strikes occurred in New York City during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. There are reflections in those events of current conditions that have triggered calls for rent strikes in the US. One obvious similarity: middle and upper class politicians initially presuming that a pandemic would be of little consequence to the ‘well-nourished’ when so many today as yesterday are neither well-nourished or healthy. It was a recipe for an out-and-out class war in the years that followed.

Explore potential similarities of rent strikes then and now, in openDemocracy: New York Rent Strikes During The 1918 “Spanish” Influenza

COVID-19 Relief For Private Rental Housing?

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New apartments and garden tubs in Bellingham photo by Robert Ashworth is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Some rent relief advocates favour giving assistance to private landlords during COVID-19. Others adamantly oppose the idea.

Evidence is growing that millions of unemployed renters in many nations have neither the money to pay their accumulating back rent, nor the ability to save and pay that rent in the foreseeable future.

One solution that is being touted is to relieve rental responsibilities by extinguishing rental non-payment debt during the COVID-19 pandemic.1

Advocates are divided on the issue of whether landlords also deserve consideration. Those in favour of including landlords argue that rent revenues are used to pay taxes, which fund the essential work that is being done by emergency responders and, yes, health care workers, during COVID-19. A study of this and other issues involved, as well suggestions for resolving some of the possible roadblocks, is explored in Shelterforce: We Need Emergency Rental Assistance to Address COVID-19 Fallout

Foundational Provision: What Is It? Why Must We Reinforce It Post COVID-19

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Geld aus einer Brieftasche herausnehmen photo by Marco Verch is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Consumers with cash in hand are a fundamental foundation for a consumer society.

Imagine the sunlit figure of a merchant leaning anxiously in an open shop doorway. Perhaps it is the proprietor, pleased with a government small business grant that has helped the cost of marking a pandemic-conscious pathway with social-distancing footprints upon his floor.

Or perhaps it is an employee, pleased that a government back-to-work grant has allowed the proprietor to rehire.

Either . . . or . . . there’s still anxiety on that face. Something is missing.

Customers.

It turns out (not an absolute surprise) that customers are essential to a business. Who knew? Apparently, not the governments that are handing out direct-to-business-oriented grants.

Alas, that government may not have grasped a foundational provision for the country’s economy. In a consumer society, that means consumers with money to purchase the goods and/or services from businesses, small or large.

Indeed, far from providing a stimulus for a consumer society, close examination may show that the government is actively degrading its own economic foundation. Are they misguided in cutting — or threatening to cut — financial relief to people who are unemployed in order to force them back to work? And, if governments help businesses to hire workers — the employees and their bosses — will stand idle in sunlit doorways.1.

Read more about foundational provision at openDemocracy: After The Pandemic: A Ten-Point Plan For The Collective Provision Of Basic Needs

Prejudice And Zoning Convenience: Lower Classes Can’t Do Community?

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Dog on a balcony photo by John Blower is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Sharing the good life in a Spanish apartment.

Decades of government-abetted shaming in North America have turned social housing into a monster. Its enduring image is one of menacing towers, either filled with the malignant detritus of society, or thankfully collapsing under a wrecker’s ball.

What is the explanation then for the image of prosperity that is a modern condo or luxury apartment tower piercing the sky? Inside that building? No one imagines the depraved dregs of civilization. Presumably an exception can be made for the eccentric wishes of those wealthy enough to have them — a downtown convenience apartment close to work and fine restaurants and theatre.

And, with enough imagination, we can imagine a handful of social housing units embedded in such a luxury tower — part of a government program to do not-much about housing for low and no income people. We can further imagine with some satisfaction that these privileged poor folks are getting the benefit of a single-building community that they are incapable of otherwise achieving with their own limited, brutish social skills.

These images one way or another press people away from social housing. But suppose the benefits of apartment living as well as a vibrant community within can be realized by all social classes. An impossible dream?

Have a look at a society that lives that dream. Read more at the BBC: Why Flats Dominate Spain’s Housing Market

Social Housing: Finding Middle Ground Between Managers & Tenants

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Mediation photo by EpicTop10.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Recently we’ve been exploring necessary steps that will need to be taken in order to allow future social housing communities to flourish. In this regard, we are not giving consideration to the benefits, whether actual or imaginary, that derive from mixed income housing.

Strong communities suggest the possibilities of active, positive community involvement, including the will to address community problems and to promote or choose constructive pathways to address and heal community problems. Whether largely middle-class dominated communities have some special advantages in creating healthy mixed class communities is not really the issue.

What is of growing concern is that government funding for mixed communities is hostage to the profit-making needs of the Public Private Partnership arrangements that almost inevitably form the foundation of mixed income social housing solutions. After years of experimentation, it’s clear that for better or worse, PPP arrangements have yet to provide the volume of social housing that is needed in many, if not most, countries.

Which leaves tomorrow’s larger low-income-only social housing projects to deal effectively with chronic social housing problems that have plagued low-income communities, such as crime and drug use.

One of the most significant issues related to social housing tenants’ attempts to police their own communities has been the degree to which they are able to engage the support of management, which is inevitably preoccupied with budget restrictions. In the face of problems such as building repair, or building security, it seems that there is a management culture of pushing all responsibility down upon the tenants, rather than balancing complex issues by at least partially pushing back on management’s ultimate masters — the funders.

Previously, we’ve looked at two ‘hopeful’ approaches that allow tenants a greater say in the solution of the problems they face. One looks at the potential of ombudsmen, who examine the roots of a social housing problem, and have at least some influence in triggering ombudsman-recommended solutions.1

A second, would be shifting social housing management away from penny-pinching — a decades long manifestation of ‘small-government’ policy.2

What follows is an exploration of another practical solution for achieving some social housing improvements that often lock management and tenants in debilitating battle. That solution is mediation. Read more in NEXT CITY: Helping Tenants and Landlords Resolve Issues — Before Going to Court

Social Housing Management: A Little More Of the Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing, Please

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Decades of ‘thatcherite’ austerity government on both sides of the Atlantic have promoted the narrowest vision of housing for the most vulnerable: while its existence may be an objective of society, it should be of no concern to government.

Shrinking funding for social housing, as well as attempts to lay the problem at the door of the private sector have created a deepening housing crisis for those with little or no income. Under austerity-oriented governments, social housing management’s role has become one of collection and deflection. Demanding the rent, and evicting those without it, while at the same time remaining deaf to tenants and their complaints of physical and social deterioration.

Recently, we explored the possibility of helping preserve social housing by the use of ombudsmen. They might, under the right circumstances and with appropriate authority, give tenant complaints a fair hearing, then wield some influence where changes needed to be made.1

We proposed that a more effective solution might be to encourage social housing management that behaves not just an overseer and enforcer of government penny-pinching, but also as magistrate to judge tenant concerns with the added bonus of having authority to take action.

All very well in theory, but what would such management look like? Fortunately, they are alive and kicking in some places. Here’s an example from the Wolverhampton Express & Star: Wolverhampton Homes Offers Support To Tenants And Homeless In City

. . . and another example, this time from the US, from WBUR: Housing Authorities Play Integral Role In Keeping People Stable, Fed During Pandemic

Sure, a little bit of the huff and puff may be needed from time to time. But in a world where cozy housing is desperately needed, let’s have governments commit to — underneath everything — a heart of wool.

COVID-19 Sheltering Action = Homelessness Job Done? Hardly.

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20200417-Homeless-Tents-Site-Water-Ave-MN-01 photo by MultCo Communications is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Multnomah County, Oregon. Socially-distanced tents proclaim fully institutionalized homelessness.

The UK’s kickass national government decision to house all homeless people in the face of COVID-19 has not been 100% successful. But it has come pretty darn close. It illustrates how a national will to end homelessness permanently, expressed by strong government action, can get the job done.

Should we view streets devoid of rough sleepers as permanent success? Don’t bother. The fix, most unfortunately, is temporary.

A useful article linked below explores why street-sweeping actions in the UK as well as other countries point to a dead end for eliminating homelessness. It explains the long row to hoe which lies ahead in order to permanently end homelessness.

Read more in The Impartial Reporter: Temporary Housing For Homeless ‘Unlikely To Lead To Long Term Solution’

Hiding Rough Sleepers From COVID: Not Quite A Crackerjack Blessing?

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2020 - Vancouver - DTES - 3 of 3 photo by Ted McGrath is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Homeless home, Vancouver, BC

One contemporary way of dismissing the crisis of homelessness: “They actually prefer living outdoors.”

Well, COVID-19 has come close to making truth out of that nonsense. But not necessarily in a positive way, as well as one that might come as a surprise to some people.

The United Kingdom has lately been fielding congratulations for the speed with which the national government was able sweep rough sleepers off the street.

But what do people who are homeless have to say about the sweep up? It’s working well for some.1 But some is not all. From Calgary, Alberta come some personal stories on sleeping outdoors during a chilly spring. The fear of COVID-19 has driven some people to leave shelters and sleep outdoors. Read more in the Bashaw Star: ‘It’s awful’: Calgary homeless sleeping outdoors over fears of catching COVID-19

Hotel accommodation has been offered to some who were living outdoors. For others the offer has been a bed in a shelter.

In some communities, ‘stay or go’ was not an option. When tenters in Victoria B.C. chose to remain outdoors, where they assessed that COVID-19 is less of a threat, they were not forced into shelters. But they were  forced to leave their tent communities, and their possessions were cleared away from campsites. A Victoria B.C. man reports on his third option after losing all his belongings. Read more in CHEK News: ‘I took refuge under somone’s hedge:’ Camper ousted from Pandora still hoping for hotel

COVID-19 was not alone in casting a shadow over well-meaning attempts to protect people who are homeless. In British Columbia, COVID-19 arrived in the midst of another public health emergency, which was dealing with rising numbers of opioid overdoses and deaths. Alone in a single room, those who use drugs face a higher risk of overdose.

Special guidance was issued in March 2020 to support residents who are vulnerable to the two emergencies.2 For a look at how the guidance is working out, read more at CBC: B.C. government, advocates spar over success of moving homeless people into temporary housing

Any idea that people who are homeless would take to hotel room living like ducks to water was dispelled in Australia, where a project to provide housing was abandoned.3

And did those many who resisted being placed in shelter have good reason for their fear for their safety? The answer would appear to be that they did, if the City of Toronto’s recent settlement of a lawsuit is any indication. Read more at Toronto.com: City of Toronto settles lawsuit over COVID-19 safety at homeless shelters

All of this adds up to a sobering reality about the complex nature of homelessness: it will not be solved easily by the simplest or even the most obvious solutions, like plunking a person down into the isolation of a room of their own. At best, the sweep of rough sleepers into temporary accommodation is a celebration of what governments can accomplish if they are determined to act. Translating that determination into permanent housing requires much more effort.

Could Social Housing Kickstart COVID-Stalled Building Industries?

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Collingwood Tower Blocks photo by David Jackmanson is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Collingwood Tower, some of Melbourne, Australia's most recent social housing, built more than 50 years ago.

For decades, many governments inclined to goose their housing industry have favoured assistance to new homeowners, rather than stimulating the economy by supporting new rental housing construction. Australia has apparently not changed its spots now that a post-pandemic return to boom days for the national housing industry is considered vital to the country’s economic recovery.

And so, predictably, the treasurer of Australia is said to be leaning toward boosting potential young buyers onto the shopworn ‘national dream’ ladder of home ownership that increasingly few can afford to hop aboard or maintain.

Some economists, however, are looking elsewhere for a construction kickstart — towards social housing, which they feel could provide a bigger boost to the economy. It would as well ease a low and no income crisis that has only been exacerbated by COVID-19.1

For the how and why of such an idea, read more in THE NEW DAILY: Social housing will provide bigger economic boost than new home buyer grants

A Fifty Year 0ld Pointer Towards Both A Renewed Environment And Global Health

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Air Conditioners - Abstract photo by Zeev Barkan is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Links between air quality and COVID-19: raising the standard for circulation?

In a new/old Treehugger article, The Architecture of the Well-tempered Environment: a late review, author Lloyd Alter pokes fun at his reaquaintance with an article some 50 years old. That intriguing and still entirely relevant exploration of architecture of modern homes and offices lays a rationale for abandoning some of the miracles of modern living that are so badly serving both our living and work spaces, together with the environment as a whole.

Like air conditioning.

Events are moving so fast in the unfolding world of COVID-19 that only a few days have been needed to add another potential chapter to Alter’s environmental explorations. Architectural features that we have come to think of as essential, like air conditioning, may well be seriously endangering our health and indeed our lives.

The health problems caused by malfunctioning air conditioning, such as Legionnaires’ Disease, have been known for many years now. But as data emerges from the world-wide pandemic, there are indications that poor air circulation contributes to the rapid spread of the COVID-19, providing an even more compelling reason for passive energy architecture and construction. That emerging technology may not only be essential to our endangered global environment, but also to reimagining our living space, for both our individual and community health.

If any solace can be taken from the often-deliberate degradation of sorely needed social housing stock, it at least paves the way for creating new social housing that is not only well built, but well designed and well built.

Read more at Treehugger: The Architecture Of The Well-Tempered Environment: A Late Review

COVID-19: Getting To The Bottom Of The Nursing Home Story In Ontario

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Contactless photo by michael_swan is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
During COVID-19 lockdown, a daughter waves to her mother in Providence Healthcare, Toronto.

In Ontario, Canada, there have been two COVID-19 stories: one in the community and one in long term care homes. The number of outbreaks, and higher frequencies of COVID-19 illnesses and death in care homes has raised a lot of questions and a determination to “get to the bottom of this”.

The provincial government has promised a commission to look into the situation. This doesn’t sit well with SEIU Healthcare, which represents 60,000 health workers in long term care homes and hospitals in Ontario. SEIU Healthcare wants an Inquiry, which is public and can compel reluctant witnesses to testify. See at CBC: Union calls for public inquiry, criminal investigations into COVID-19 deaths at long-term care homes

The media is asking about the independence of a commission. Read more at Toronto.com: Scarborough COVID-19 outbreak ‘exactly why’ Ontario needs public inquiry and at this paywalled article in The Globe and Mail: Ontario says it will ‘review’ long-term care system post-COVID-19, but won’t commit to independence

Academics have also weighed in to advocate for an Inquiry, this time at the national level. One of the reasons for a national Inquiry is to be able to evaluate different responses across the country. See more about this in The Conversation: We need inquiries into why coronavirus is ravaging long-term care homes

A recent post at affordablehousingaction.org compares care home responses in BC and Ontario: COVID-19: Nursing Home Care — A Tale Of Two Provinces. The differences in the responses demonstrate that some questions about the COVID-19 reponses in long term care homes would be best addressed at a national level.

Does a call for a national inquiry have a chance? It seems more likely with the disclosure that one of the country’s largest private care home companies is owned by the federal government’s pension fund. See CBC: One of Canada’s largest long-term care operators is owned by a federal Crown corporation

The Canadian Armed Forces have been deployed to assist operations in five Ontario long term care homes. The Forces’ report of conditions in those homes is nothing short of appalling. The findings certainly lend weight to the calls for an Inquiry. See at CBC: Ford faces blowback after military report reveals ‘horrific’ conditions at Ontario long-term care homes

Ontario’s Premier remains determined that a formal inquiry is not the way to go.

Take A Trip Into Democracy’s Dark Ages — Already Here And Spreading

From a romantic point of view, America’s flower-child city has everything. San Francisco has atmosphere, sea views (when the fog has lifted), quaintness, vibrancy, and most of all success — so much success that only well-paid romantics can afford to live there.

Today, the city stands at the apex of the very utmost that America’s free market religion can provide. And yet a seemingly incurable rot grips the human foundation of this shining city on a hill.

For those romantics fixated with climbing their golden ladders of investment towards some bullion-encrusted heaven, the rot is nuisance. It is worthy only of impatience and exasperation when it is noticed at all.

For those enmeshed in the rot, it is an unendingly complex maze of human struggle , one that offers little promise to either those who need help, or to those who would help them.

For a vivid journey into the world of San Francisco homelessness, read more in The New Yorker: A Window Onto an American Nightmare

Housing Crises: Developers Love The Problem, Not The Solution

k_adam_smith photo by Caitriana Nicholson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
The housing industry creates a distorted reflection of Adam Smith's 'perfect' economic theories.

To hear the housing industry talking about it, they are the embodiment of all that is right about Adam Smith’s economic theories. They build only to satisfy a public need. They are the supply. The public is the demand.

Leave everything alone and all the housing that is needed for everyone will be provided — thanks to the miraculous laws of supply and demand.

And if the problem of overly expensive housing has not exactly been solved today, just wait a moment. Demand will fall. Presumably all those indignant souls without the cash to buy or rent will withdraw their custom and huff their way off to live in a hollow log. Or a tent. Prices will accordingly fall, buyers will emerge from their hollow logs, and some day in the very near future, everyone will be happily housed.

It’s all based on laissez faire — leave well enough alone. Except the housing industry doesn’t. And here’s why you shouldn’t, either. All is revealed in the review of a new book in The Guardian: Fatcat Developers Created Our Housing Crisis. Here’s How To Stop Them

Yes, the article relates specifically to dishonest and disingenuous dealings in the United Kingdom housing market. Be assured that similar footprints can be found all over the cleverly rigged ‘free-market’ in many nations.

Samuel Stein looks at New York City in his recent book Real Estate City, where landowners and the development industry have taken over the public discourse on land development.1

Jenny McArthur, studying the housing market in New Zealand, identifies how public programs and policies allow a small group to extract excessive profits. Similar to the Guardian story, McArthur calls for policy changes to control land prices and build much more social housing. Interestingly, she also cites Adam Smith.2

COVID-19 Brings New Urgency World-Wide For Rent Controls

Rent-Control-Rally-7 photo by Seattle City Council is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Seattle, Washington rent control rally.

Before COVID-19, there was evidence that investor influence, which dammed up attempts to prevent rent control measures, is crumbling.

The past year in the United States, Oregon led the way with ‘cost of living’ (COL) plus a maximum 7% annual rent hike allowance.

In the midst of COVID-19 come new regulations in the Netherlands to limit rent increases to COL+2.5%.

In Oregon, after celebrating the introduction of rent controls, renters might well question the annual boost to rents that are permitted. Under the approved scheme, rents are allowed to double in 10 years, lifting the cost of renting well beyond the limits of affordability for many tenants.

By contrast, Ontario, Canada allows COL — there is no ‘plus XX%’ gravy added to the meat of the increase. (To keep this in perspective, however, it should be noted that in the past this was applied to all rental housing but now applies only to ‘legacy’ rental housing of a certain age.)

The Netherlands adds the gravy, but only a smallish 2.5% amount.

Encouraging the construction of new rental accommodation is the usual reason for ‘incentivizing’ landlords by waggling excess profits under their nose.

If Oregon’s 7% seems excessive, at first blush Ontario’s 0% seems draconian. The impact on the actual construction of new rental accommodation needs to be examined closely, however. When Ontario removed all rent controls for  new buildings, a massive increase in rental construction was promised. It never happened.1

Does the Netherlands’ 2.5 above COL strike a more reasonable balance? Read about their new rent controls DutchNews.nl: New Controls For More Affordable Rentals And Starter Homes

COVID-19: Together Is Coming Apart

We’re all in this together. This sentiment is expressed by children and adults in the posters and signs that are going up to help us get through COVID-19. If only it were true.

At the start of COVID-19, some high profile cases (think Boris Johnson and Prince Charles in England) certainly supported this thinking.

Quite early on there were reports of outbreaks and deaths in nursing homes, at rates that were much higher than in the general population. Experts pointed to age and pre-existing health conditions as significant risks.

But as the illnesses and deaths mount up, the numbers are telling us that it is not only the elderly and people with pre-existing chronic health conditions who are most at risk. COVID-19 is being particularly hard on some of the people within these groups, specifically those with low incomes and visible minorities.

Some health authorities have not been collecting data about race and income in their data and can’t report on it.1 See at CBC: Early Signs Suggest Race Matters When It Comes To Covid-19. So Why Isn’t Canada Collecting Race-Based Data?

It’s hard to understand why we would not be collecting this data from the start. Before COVID-19, there was clear evidence that pandemics are hardest on people with low incomes and members of visible minorities. See this historic overview in the New York Times: As Coronavirus Deepens Inequality, Inequality Worsens Its Spread

Now, from Scotland comes research that studies socio-economic differences and the uneven affects of COVID-19 more deeply. Dr. Naomi Richards looks at the pressures that keep people working at low paying jobs, even when they may be feeling ill themselves or may have sick relatives. She asks how these and other factors affect the experience of death in low-income communities. For more on this issue, see in The Herald: Is Covid-19 Exacerbating Inequities In End Of Life Experience? Asks Dr Naomi Richards

Homes For The Homeless: Mission Impossible Or Impossible Missionaries?

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Apollo 15 flag, rover, LM, Irwin photo by Astronaut David R. Scott, Apollo 15 commander, NASA is licensed under the public domain
At one time we thought a mission to the moon was impossible. Is this really easier than ending homelessness?

In the United Kingdom, COVID-19 has demonstrated the awesome power of a government with a clear objective and the means to achieve it. Under the direction of the national government, most of the nation’s homeless were removed from the streets and placed into housing within days.

Into temporary housing.

Now there at least appears to be the will to consider a phase two, keeping the homeless in housing. Will this be ‘Mission Impossible?’ Or will it be an exercise for ‘Missionaries for the Impossible’ — government functionaries assigned the task of demonstrating all the obstacles that make housing the homeless a pipe dream that is far too expensive and impractical and simply cannot be achieved?

Certainly a long term solution is daunting. It ultimately would seem to depend on the existence of more social housing. But decades of deliberately dumping the nation’s stock of affordable housing leaves waiting lists everywhere, in some places many thousands of people long.

Are people who are homeless to jump to the head of the queue, displacing those who have been waiting years, even decades, for a home?

Can more social housing be built quickly? Certainly not using Public Private Partnerships, which require hundreds of market rate houses only to produce mere handfuls of social housing.

And as seems is always the case in such discussions, there is the unmentioned elephant in the room, familiar to all social workers whose task it is to support people who are homeless as they transition to permanent housing. ‘Housing First’ sums up the problem by its very name.1 Housing First . . . and then?

Nevertheless there would seem to be a will in the UK to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a springboard to end homelessness permanently. Read more in Local Government Chronicle: Councils Embark On Mission Impossible: Finding Permanent Homes For Rough Sleepers

For those who might consider even the most temporary housing to be unimportant in the life a person who is homeless, consider this article from The Guardian: ‘I Might Have Died If They Hadn’t Rescued Me’: Life Inside The New Hotels For The Homeless

Housing Ombudsmen: Whose Ombuddies Will They Actually Be?

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Public housing in Alphabet City photo by MaxVT is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (with public domain mod)
Do ombudsmen help tenants sweep out bad practices? The answer is a firm 'maybe.'

The ever-growing low-income housing crisis is largely due to the uncontrolled free-market commodification of housing that raises rents and purchase prices beyond the reach of those with small, or no, incomes.

The severity of this crisis has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In many nations, calls are increasing for a return to social housing with stable, affordable rents that can be insulated from free market housing speculators.

Any return to social housing must address the ‘old chestnuts’ such as crime and drug use in social housing projects. The chestnuts may be old, but they are, alas, still lurking!1

In modern cities, it’s possible to find brand new high rise condos right next door to social housing. Why does one have clean, safe hallways while tenants in the other put up with drug dealers lurking in the stairwells? The obvious answer: condo boards simply will not permit a depraved living environment and will take whatever security steps, however expensive, to eradicate such a problem.

Most social housing tenants have no such powerful board of peers to make decisions, let alone the budget resources to make those actions happen.

In fact, complaining about carpets strewn with drug needles in a social housing building can in most cases only be made to the very source of the problem — housing management. The response will all too frequently be no response, or ‘sorry, we haven’t the money to provide the security you feel you need and deserve.’

Which in turn, passes the buck back to the government entity that underfunds the social housing project and which has literally thousands of years of tried and true municipal excuses to fall back on.

So what is a concerned tenant to do? Wish for the advent of a powerful housing board on which tenants sit, and where they have a meaningful say? Not the world’s worst idea by any stretch of the imagination, but not a consideration for this post.

Instead, we’d like to follow the lead of a number of Australian tenants who have begun to agitate for the creation of a public housing ombudsman. Read more in The Age: ‘Issues Not Addressed’: Push For Public Housing Ombudsman

Assumptions are fairly made about the role of an ombudsman — they run to such ideas as careful and compassionate listening to even the lowliest, as well as a meaningful influence to press their impartial judgements upon those who have transgressed. But ombudsmen, like social housing managers, have government masters.

For an object lesson in how ombudsmen can engender hope, achieve improvements, and yet still disappoint, consider the life and times of a Canadian Ombudsman for Veteran’s Affairs, one covering a somewhat broader territory than housing alone. Read more in the CBC: Veterans Advocates Lament Sudden Departure Of Ombudsman Craig Dalton

Yes, ombudsmen can do an important job in advocating for tenants, but ultimately their actions are limited by their own masters. And those masters might see the role of ombudsman as a sympathetic ear to tenant worries designed to defuse anger and frustration before consigning those worries to a black hole of government inaction.

Because of this, it may well be as effective, or more so, for activists to address their campaigns directly towards changing the attitudes of those directly responsible — the housing managers.

Ombudsmen or Housing managers? Who can most effectively help clean up and make safe the lives of social housing tenants? The jury is well and truly out on this question.

The West Has Elevated Nations Of Millions. Why Not Its Own Homeless?

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Mobile Showers for Homeless and Underserved - Siouxland Community Health Center, Sioux City, Iowa (29992673937) photo by Tony Webster is licensed under CC BY 2.0
A mobile shower facility for people who are homeless helps with hygiene. But isn't this the institutionalization of homelessness? Shouldn't everyone have housing?

A must-watch Ted Talk1 uses global statistics in an extraordinary animated way that is highly visual and actually understandable! The talk and its attendant animation punctures the myth that there still exists an elite ‘Western World’ floating serenely above a sea of human misery in ‘underdeveloped’ or ‘third world’ countries.

It seems that over the last few decades, a large number of other countries (though far from entirely all) have joined the the ‘West’ in its elevated life, whether by pulling themselves up by their own political bootstraps, hitching a ride through interaction with ‘Western’ economies, or both.

Better health, more education, greater longevity, and more material comfort have spread across the world. The ‘West’ has arguably been at very least a catalyst in this process.

But for all the ‘West’ has contributed to other nations and other citizens, it has remained remarkably unable to elevate its own homeless populations beyond ‘third world’ standards of poverty, misery, and early death. If anything, this problem is getting progressively worse.

Why? One convenient excuse for waving away a problem staring the West in the face is to classify homeless people as deservedly beneath notice — an underclass who are best defined as victims of their own toxic bad habits, and thus undeserving of basic human kindness and support.

A way of dispelling some of the myths that create the ‘untouchable’ categorization of homelessness is to meet some of them at a level beyond a handout.

A book that co-authored by two formerly homeless men provides that opportunity: The Man In The Dog Park

You can read excerpts in Next City: The Skills And Schedules Needed To Navigate An Unsheltered Life

A New Irish PPP Approach For Meaningful Volumes Of Social Housing

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MacDonagh Implosion photo by Ballymuner is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Council flats coming down in Ballymun, Dublin in 2005. Dublin has approved a new private partnership plan to build quantities of social housing.

This website has been rather relentless in its criticism of social housing built by public private partnerships (PPPs), which tag a small social housing caboose onto the back end of large private housing train. Time has shown that these partnerships (apart from the inevitable time and money-consuming partnership quarrels), simply cannot deliver the quantity of low income housing needed. As well, the starts, completions and locations of such projects depend on private sector profitability.

The use of this kind of PPP collapsed in Ireland in the economic downturn following the 2008 housing crisis. Now public private partnerships are being revived using another partnership model. Unlike earlier PPP models, the entire project will be social housing and will eventually owned by the local council. Private partner profits are earned over the first 25 years of the completed project, after which ownership reverts to the public partner.

This approach avoids the ‘bubble under the wallpaper’ approach to Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) PPP partnerships in the US. In those, the ownership of the entire project reverts not to the local council, but to the private sector at the end of 30 years, which postpones, rather than solving, a long term need for social housing.

Read more in The Irish Times: Almost 300 Social Homes To Be Built On Three Dublin Sites Under PPP Deal

Let Banging On Pots Be A Brief Stand-In For A Gift Of A Fine Social Home

File:WWI Victory Parade.jpg photo: Official Marine Corps Photo # 529659 is in the U.S. public domain as a work of The U.S. Marine Corps
Victorious U.S. Marines parade in France following the end of World War I. What more fitting gift for a front line soldier than a secure home?

A group of UK housing associations are proposing a ‘Homes For Heroes’ housing initiative modelled on the social housing drive following World War I. Banging pots in appreciation daily or once a week is probably well enough received. But what a meaningful reward an affordable home would be for underpaid health industry and care industry workers.1

Let us hope that the reward will be based on social housing built to the post World War I standards. Much of that housing is still going strong.

Let us hope those homes can also be built as permanent social housing, not available to be sold out of the social housing community under such as Right-To-Buy, that has so decimated social housing stock in the UK.

Nor, hopefully, would the homes be social housing which reverts to private market pricing after 30 years, as is financed through schemes such as the US Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC).

For more on this praiseworthy initiative, read more in Construction News: Housing Associations Call For Offsite ‘Homes For Heroes’ Pipeline

COVID-19 — England Steps Up Fight Against Domestic Violence And Sexual Slavery

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The National Government in England has joined other countries in announcing additional funding for programs to assist people who experience domestic abuse, which has risen significantly during the COVID-19 lockdown.

When the new legislation is passed, families fleeing domestic violence will have priority status in social housing.

The new legislation also includes measures to combat sexual slavery.

See these announcements, which are short on detail, at Metro: Government Announces £76,000,000 For Domestic Abuse Victims After Lockdown Spike and Domestic Abuse Victims To Get Priority Housing Status Under New Law

From Australia, A 2-Step, Costed, Plan To House EVERYONE

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Street Art in Abandoned Building Melbourne photo by Nick carson is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Is this abandoned building a candidate for spot purchasing?

Without any true desire by governments to make the changes needed to end homelessness, the problem has been growing towards a crisis in many nations. That was before COVID-19.

Now, maybe, it’s a different story. From Australia, here’s a two step plan based on 1) spot purchasing, plus 2) a tried and true social housing initiative. Read more at The Conversation: The Need To House Everyone Has Never Been Clearer, A 2-Step Plan To Do It

Australians Resist COVID-19 Path To Eliminate Homelessness

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IMG_2507 photo by Calmudge0n is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
COVID-19 is over and the Western Australia government has pulled the plug on temporary housing. A downward spiral back to homelessness?

Lucky (or well-managed) Western Australia with its flattened COVID-19 caseload curve. It is no longer freaking into the air — a startled cat — like all the rest of the world’s nations.

No, it’s able to settle down to self-grooming now and, with its tongue out, rediscovering its ass.

Western Australia’s return to an ugly normal included un-housing those souls who were swept off the streets and bundled into hotels to permit social distancing for an entire population.

Once social contact restrictions eased, it took Western Australia mere moments to recall one of the classic justifications for ignoring the problem of homelessness.

That is: merely stuffing homeless people into shelter doesn’t work.

Any and every conscientious social worker in the world committed to providing permanent shelter for homeless people can explain to Western Australia why a physical roof overhead is only a first, albeit critical, step in permanently housing the homeless.

Economically advanced societies are nearly all lamentable in their ‘inability’ to rescue their shelterless underclass. Western Australia deemed it necessary to ‘discover’ the ungratefulness of the people who had been homeless. Suddenly rounded up and dumped under a roof, they are neither as grateful nor as satisfied as the government expects them to be.

Woah! Mission Failure. Homelessness did not miraculously vanish overnight! Cancel the initiative! Back to same old same old!

We can only hope that others might recognize the obtuse thinking that prevents Western Australia from capitalizing on an unexpected potential benefit of a pandemic. Read more at news.com.au: WA Government Stops Homeless Hotel Trial

The Question Of Handouts For . . . Evil? . . . Essential? Landlords

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Snow Men 6 photo by Neil Moralee is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Black hat or white hat? Evil Landlord gouging the rent, or important housing provider for society?

For anyone who is a renter (as this writer is) there’s never any difficulty to finding some transgression, small or large, over which to gnash teeth.

(For example my landlord’s ‘let’s all pull together’ contribution to the pandemic is radio silence plus one small hand sanitizer bottle, frequently empty, wobbling in a soap dish at the entrance to the apartment building. Rumour has it that ‘he’ has retired to a summer palace to wait out the storm. Other rumours: ‘he’ is a corporation, suggesting multiple summer palaces. Who knows for sure?)

However satisfying the free market sport of hating the evil landlord, these private enterprise individuals and corporations nonetheless provide an absolutely essential part of a nation’s housing. By and large, the alternative to free market rental housing is government rental housing. For many, if not most in this day and age, that is no alternative at all.

So when an outcry demands relief for those unable to pay the rent due to job loss in a land of COVID-19, it seems only fair — if not essential — that balancing relief be afforded to landlords. Your non-rent payment is likely their non-mortgage payment, foretelling the loss of one more home from a rental housing supply that is probably already unequal to the demand.

In Scotland, where the need for landlord relief has been recognized, the case for extending that relief to balance an ongoing crisis for renters is made at Scottish Housing News: Why Landlord Loans Need To Be Extended

Scotland: COVID-19 Is Bringing Modest Good News To Some Renters

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Skye photo by Becky McCray is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Portree on the Scottish Isle of Skye, a tourist mecca with a hitherto long term rental crisis.

At the price of losing what may be an all-important local industry — tourism, renters in holiday destinations are seeing the impact of dramatic economic changes upon landlords.

This is a story that will undoubtedly change the fortunes of both renters and landlords in popular tourist regions around the world. Profit-minded landlords have paired with budget-minded tourists to create a flourishing industry in STR’s (Short Term Rentals), almost always at the loss of local long-term rental availabilities and accompanied by rising rents. Needless to say, low and no wage earners have been the prominent casualty of this trend.1

With COVID-19, the worm has turned. Tourism has dried up. Longer term rental opportunities are becoming available, at least temporarily, in tourist districts as landlords scramble to protect their investments.

Read more about the flight from Airbnb and other STR forms in The Scotsman: Coronavirus: The Shifting Foundations Of The Lettings Industry – David Alexander

Reviving Adam Smith

State Housing, New Zealand photo by Archives New Zealand is licensed under CC BY 2.0
New Zealand Social housing - a remedy for profit taking in the housing market.

A researcher at University College London draws attention to Adam Smith’s theory of economic rent. Smith is widely known as the the father of free market economics. The theory of economic rent provided Smith the means to speak about the surpluses that landlords extracted from their property and the detrimental effects of those surpluses for other members of society.

Jenny McArthur makes this observation in her highly readable report that discusses the public policies that fuel high housing prices, and identifies who benefits and who doesn’t. She recommends a series of truly thought-provoking policy changes to control the level of profit that can be extracted. Her prescription also features a non-market housing program to ensure that people who are homeless and people with very low incomes have access to decent, affordable housing.

For more, see at the Helen Clark Foundation: Somewhere To Live

Resilience, Mandatory Savings And Successful Social Housing

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Singapore Public Housing - HDR photo by jarrodstone is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Singapore Public Housing

Resilience, mandatory savings and social housing might appear to be strange bedfellows, but an article linked below from Nigeria explains how mandatory savings steered into a national housing fund led to what is arguably the most successful social housing initiative on the planet — in Singapore.

As for resilience and houshold savings — unfortunately not mandatory — we need look no further in this post than our own nation, Canada, which is predicted to have a difficult recovery from COVID-19. Our particularly poor resilience comes from our lack of household savings — indeed the opposite — our high average household debt.

How could mandatory savings provide more national resilience to disasters, and at the same time build affordable housing? Many may be aware of Singapore’s spectacular social housing success that contributed not only to the near universal housing of its residents but also to their wealth. Fewer will probably know that it was build upon a mandatory national savings program for workers.

From Nigeria, a revealing article about the roots of Singapore’s success follows a lament on the low level of contributions in Nigeria to an all-important national housing fund. Read more in The New Telegraph: Poor Savings Into Housing Fund Stirs Concern

What Is Social Exclusion, Anyway?

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Three Doors photo by Peter Miller is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Three rental homes, six families apply, three judgements. Who wins? Who loses?

Imagine three sets of people who are asked to describe their housing search:

  • The first set are one person households looking for a one bedroom apartment. One is employed, the other is not.
  • The second set are also one person households looking for a one bedroom apartment. One is a member of a visible minority, the other is not.
  • The third set is looking for a two bedroom apartment. One household consists of a parent with a child, the other an adult with an elderly relative.

Each set has the same basic housing requirement. Would the individual experiences of looking for housing be the same? Of course not.

So what?

In these individual experiences, some will report that doors are open to them, while others will not. But when those experiences are added together with those of many other people, it becomes evident that whether the door is open or closed is not down to random chance. Patterns start to emerge.

The individual experiences give clues to why the door isn’t open. Putting those clues together with experience of other people illustrates why some people have a privileged housing search experience and who those people will be. Some of the whys will be based on individual discretion or whim. Most turn out to be thoroughly embedded in our laws, policies and procedures.

Despite grand statements to the contrary, our systems limit the possibilities of some groups of people. At a societal level, this is called social exclusion.

A group of researchers in the United Kingdom investigated social exclusion in housing and approached the question in two different ways. The first reviewed the results of existing research. In the second case, the researchers interviewed landlords, housing providers and tenant organizations and compiled the responses. The first study demonstrates that specific groups have been excluded from housing opportunities for a long time. The second demonstrates that the excluded groups have seen their opportunities narrowed even more as the cost of housing has gone up.

Returning to the sets of home seekers at the start of the story, it’s possible to see why personal experience could make practices of exclusion invisible to some and all too apparent to others. The two reports linked to this post will leave the reader in no doubt about the extent of exclusionary practices in social housing, which is supposed to be the safety net for anyone should they fall into difficulty.

Both studies are published by the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence:  Forms And Mechanisms Of Exclusion In Contemporary Housing Systems: Evidence Review and Forms And Mechanisms Of Exclusion In Contemporary Housing Systems: Scoping Study

COVID-19 — Government Killed Work. Should It Kill Rent, Too? If So, How?

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A Day In New York 14th May 2015- Rally to Save NYC (17036117274) photo by The All-Nite Images is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Banners at a rally for renters in New York City, 2015.

Shelterforce takes a lengthy look ‘from the left’ at the plight of renters without income to pay their rent. It focuses on rent cancellation for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency and considers options that might be implemented by the government that might ensure that renters do not become the second wave of victims of COVID-19.

Possible solutions are offered that take into account the plight of some, if not all, landlords who are also facing ruin thanks to the pandemic.

Read much more on this issue in Shelterforce: What Would It Mean to Cancel Rent?

An article in The Atlantic, takes a broader view of the ‘cancel rent’ problem, exploring how we got to a situation where many if not most renters don’t have enough savings to cover a single month’s rent, let alone several months. It carries on with an exploration of the impossible predicament that renters as a class faced before COVID-19, and will continue to plague them into the future unless there is some change to the financial structure of rental housing in America. Read more in The Atlantic: Cancel Rent

Need An Extra Tax For The Poor? In The UK It’s ‘Too Many Bedrooms’

Bedroom photo by ilovebutter is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Whoa! Check out the empty bedroom. There's a tax revenue stream, right there!

Considerations of what not to do in a coming future of more plentiful social housing. 

What better time to be thinking about a better social housing future than standing in a quicksand of failure from the past?

Even before nations were mired in a COVID-19 crisis, there has been renewed interest in the potential of long-shunned social housing.

Why?

The housing industry itself has been focused on any kind of affordable housing that isn’t really affordable, as long as it’s profitable.

Governments have grudgingly subsidized symbolic handfuls of truly affordable housing to earn whatever muted praise they can reap from largely symbolic gestures.

Meanwhile, commodification of housing is driving both rental and mortgage costs beyond the reach of most low income individuals and families.

Social housing, which holds homes away from the free market, is getting a healthy second look from many governments. (Post-COVID-19, it has a particularly timely extra added attraction: large government-fuelled social housing construction projects could well be — as they have been in the past — a quickstart for a flattened construction industry.)

Still, everyone is uncomfortably aware that social housing has had more than its share of problems over the years. Casting eyes beyond national failures, however, reveals social housing success stories in other nations that have been downright spectacular.

This post, however, is not about doing ‘right’ things with new social housing. It’s instead learning from past failures to avoid them in the future.

Take a bedroom tax. It’s a fine idea for a future that has not yet arrived in most places. Unfortunately that hasn’t prevented its implementation.

When the fledglings leave the social housing nest, empty bedrooms become available. Why not encourage the empty-nesters to move into a smaller social housing unit. And why not prod them to do so by imposing a bedroom tax?

Except . . . with social housing waiting lists running to the tens, hundreds, even thousands of thousands of people in various jurisdictions, just where are the ‘smaller’ social housing units? By and large, they aren’t. Which means that empty-nest adults find themselves stuck with unwanted bedrooms while having tiny incomes brutalized by government in the name of efficiency that isn’t.

Read more about the UK’s experience of this great social housing idea that is distressingly ahead of its time, in LEFT FOOT FORWARD: The Tories Want You To Forget About The Bedroom Tax – But It’s Still Hurting People

COVID-19 And A Tested Program That Helps Tenants To Pay Rent

Manitoba Legislature at Night photo by Benw is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Thanks to the action of the Manitoba Legislature, tenants can sleep better at night.

This is a shout out to the Rent Assist program, which operates in the province of Manitoba. It helps all tenants with low incomes to pay their rent and has a low administration cost. It also enjoys support from all sides of the political spectrum.

Rent Assist is paid directly to tenants. All tenants with low incomes are eligible, regardless of their source of income, whether it be pension, or employment, or social assistance, or insurance. The amount of assistance is determined by household size and median rents. The amount of assistance is revised annually. If/when a tenant moves, Rent Assist goes with them.

To apply, applicants demonstrate their income using their tax return and that they are tenants using their lease. The monthly payment is made electronically to those who qualify. This keeps the program administration costs to a minimum, while ensuring a level of oversight that satisfies the auditor and the political opposition.

The Caledon Insititute of Social Policy decided Rent Assist was hiding its light under a bushel and commissioned an assessment of the program in 2017. It anticipates several objections to the program and assesses whether those objections apply in the case of Rent Assist. For example, the report’s authors demonstrate that Rent Assist is not a barrier to leaving social assistance. A second discussion looks at the question of whether rents are affected by having Rent Assist in place.

With COVID-19 focussing attention on housing, Rent Assist is especially important because it offers a tested way to assist tenants who have high housing costs. It will be of interest to advocates, and policy and decision makers. For more details about the program and an analysis of how it is working in the field, see at the Caledon Institute of Social Policy: What Does An Actual Housing Allowance Look Like?

 

Renter Or Owner-Frog Cozy In Warming Water? Stop The Future Now!

frog in a pot 1 photo by James Lee is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Don't get too comfy, frog, before it's too late. The water is getting hotter and hotter.

Do you own? Or rent? (That would seem to cover most of you.) Take a look at your future as the commodification of housing ever-so-gradually turns up the heat. The temperature is fuelled by investment dollars. Your governments skim the take, so won’t stop the action unless you demand it.

The future is here. In Hong Kong. Take a look, frogs, at a few simple, easy to understand, personalized facts and figures about life as the water approaches boiling. Read more at CNA:  Too Many Hong Kong Residents Want Affordable Housing But There Are Too Few Flats

Stop the future! Swimming won’t work. Jump out of the pot.

Staying Home Is Not The Centre Point Of All COVID-19 Responses

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Deline, NT photo by mattcatpurple is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
May in Deline, on the shores of Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories, Canada

Governments in Canada’s far north have taken a different approach to the COVID-19 epidemic.  They are encouraging residents to resume traditional practices of living on the land, rather than staying home, which is an anchor to responses in the south.

Why?

Staying at home presumes an adequate supply of housing, which simply doesn’t exist in Canada’s northern communities.

And what about safe hygiene practices like handwashing? How does one accomplish this when water rationing is the norm?

As for health care, many communities operate without any professional medical care.

In the article linked below, the Canada Research Chair in Northern Governance and Public Policy, Julia Christensen, demonstrates why the COVID-19 response in the south can’t be expected to work and would likely make the situation worse in the far north. She cites studies that document extreme overcrowding, compared with the rest of the country, widespread water rationing and the absence of even the most basic health care.

Leadership in these circumstances indicated other measures. Christensen commends the territorial governments for acting swiftly to control access and encouraging residents to resume traditional land based practices.

As for the future, Christensen is hopeful that COVID-19 will spur the construction of more housing, much more than currently planned. For more on the situation, read in the Conversation: Housing Is Health: Coronavirus Highlights The Dangers Of The Housing Crisis In Canada’s North

A further thought: returning to the land may prove safer for people who experience domestic violence. In communities with stay-at-home responses, incidents of domestic violence are spiking significantly.1 Domestic violence is more prevalent in the far north compared with the rest of the country in ‘normal’ times.2

Homeless Services For Indigenous People In Canada Get A Boost

emerging artist profile photo by Eyesplash - Summer was a blast, for 6 million view is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Colouring a brighter housing future for Indigenous people in Canada.

A group of researchers in Canada has just issued a guideline for those assisting Indigenous people experiencing homelessness. This assistance is most timely, as Indigenous people are eight times more likely to be homeless than non-Indigenous people. Depending on the city, Indigenous people represent 10%–80% of the homeless population in large urban centres, while comprising less than 5% of the country’s population.

The guideline includes four protocols. The researchers advise against straight adoption of the protocols. Instead, the recommend using the research methods, with appropriate local adaptations, to develop guidelines and protocols for other locations.

The research structure included a project elder, principal investigators, co-investigators and a national advisory council and consisted of 13 people.1 Research methods included a literature review, interviews with service providers and people with experience of homelessness in Winnipeg and Saskatoon, transcription and analysis of the literature and interviews, and discussions to create the protocols.

Two resources are currently available from this important research. One is a commentary by the principal investigators about the research process. See in CMAJ: Pekiwewin (Coming Home): Advancing Good Relations With Indigenous People Experiencing Homelessness

The second is a summary of the research and the protocols. See at Well Living House:2 Pekiwewin (Coming Home): Clinical Guidelines for Health and Social Service Providers Working with Indigenous People Experiencing Homelessness Executive Summary

Why does this research matter?

First and foremost, Indigenous people who are homeless will have a better experience with homeless services that are organized to include these protocols. The specific protocols will have particular importance in Winnipeg and Saskatoon, where the interviews took place.

The research method paves the way for complementary initiatives in other communities. The research method will also be of interest to non-Indigenous service providers and researchers looking for ways to adapt homeless services to local conditions, in Canada and beyond.

A New Yorker Update On The Slow-Rolling Rent Non-Payment Disaster

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IMG_0344 photo by Ervin Lopez is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Shades of a long-gone American social safety net, shredded away in an ‘every man for himself’ world of modern profiteering where no human necessity is safe from predation. Ideas of social responsibility have gone the way of religion-inspired charity. They are no longer guides to everyday human interactions, but moral imperatives reduced to hot-house flowers to be indulged by service clubs and congregations as Sunday hobbies.

What future for the tens of millions who fall through a fading patchwork of still-existing government programs social support programs? Read an early May update in The New Yorker: Cancel the Rent

Political Shaming Has All But Killed Social Housing In America

Prisoners whipped photo by Unknown is licensed under the public domain
Pillories and whippings: public shaming activities that persisted into the 20th century.

Whatever the many reasons behind the collective government destruction of social housing in America, the mechanism of that destruction was straightforward — shaming. Shaming those who lived in social housing has turned out to be a tool of political power.

Forget wrong-headed architecture, forget debilitating management practices forced on tenants by penny-pinching governments at every level. Forget about maintenance. Forget about building security, the lack of which abets petty crime and drug-dealing. Forget financial burdens that demanded that tenants are poor, and must remain poor, even though it meant they could not contribute to the necessary upkeep and protection for those who lived (and some who still live) in public projects.

All of these many possible reasons for the disappointing performance of social housing were abandoned for the political power of humiliation.

Encouraged and abetted by governments, the citizenry of America has been encouraged to create a class of supposedly defective citizens worthy of being shamed. And shamed they were, and still are — the victims of a disease only identifiable by the buildings they call home — social housing.

By all means, let’s work on humiliating people who may be freely called too stupid, too immoral, too violent, too criminal, too careless, too sloppy, too incapable of proper parenting, too addicted to drugs or television, too . . . whatever.

Shame them all.

New to English language readers is a book by highly respected author and historian Ute Frevert,1 which delves into the mysteries of why people care to humiliate others and how encouraging this process can serve political ends.

Anyone interested in the future of social housing in America could well stand to acquire greater appreciation of how and why humiliation happens — a process that the internet has made even more powerful.

Read more in Prospect Magazine: The Internet Has Normalised Collective Shaming. What Are The Political Costs?

COVID-19: Nursing Home Care — A Tale Of Two Provinces

Florida National Guard coronavirus response photo by The National Guard is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Military personnel have been deployed to support civilian staff at nursing homes during COVID-19.

Meet Laurie and Kim. They are over 80, and need help with activities daily living and the care of a nurse. They both live in privately operated nursing homes in Canada. Both homes receive public funding. During COVID-19, neither Laurie nor Kim can have any visitors from the community (not even their spouses). Their home is the site of a COVID-19 outbreak. What happens next depends on where they live.

At Laurie’s home, when the outbreak began, the government took over responsibility for managing the COVID-19 response. All staff at Laurie’s home are working there and only there. Any staff member who was part time has been given full time hours. Individual staff are being paid on parity with their counterparts in other nursing homes (some staff have seen their wages rise by $7.00 per hour).

At Kim’s home, the nursing home operator is responsible for leading the response during COVID-19 outbreak. In normal times, an outside agency provided most of the daily assistance that Kim received, a practice that continued during COVID-19. The agency’s staff are allowed to work at more than one nursing home. This week, personnel from Canada’s armed forces are being deployed to help manage the outbreak and provide care at Kim’s home.

How is it working out?

Laurie and Kim live in British Columbia Ontario respectively. Both provinces have COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes, but have chosen different ways to manage the response. The result for Laurie and Kim is profoundly different. Nursing home staff in British Columbia are working one job, full time, until COVID-19 ends. Their wages are the same as workers in other homes. They have some degree of financial stability. They can concentrate on supporting Laurie and other residents. If a staff member should fall ill, they continue to be paid and know there is work to come back to.

In Ontario, there’s no shortage of part time work through agencies. Staff can cycle through a number of homes as they piece together enough time to make a living wage. If they fall ill or must take time off work for any reason, there is no income and future employment is not assured.

Like agency workers, staff employed by nursing homes in Ontario are also often part time and work at more than one nursing home. Both agency and nursing home staff live with the possibility of being exposed to COVID-19 at multiple sites and of transmitting it from one site to another, especially if they are symptom free. Regardless of whether they are working for the nursing home or an agency, every part time worker is faced with a difficult decision. If they work at one site, they reduce the risk of infection. They also lose income. If they work multiple sites, they sustain their income, while at the same time increasing the risk of infection.

Two recent events suggest that the part-time agency-based strategy may not be working as well as hoped. As noted, the armed forces have been called in, which suggests staff shortages. Armed forces personnel are now working at four homes in Ontario in addition to Kim’s. The Ontario government has also announced a $4/hour wage subsidy for people who work in nursing homes, beginning April 24, 2020. The federal government is helping to pay the subsidy. There is no provision to apply it retroactively. See at CBC: Ontario Announces $4 An Hour Pandemic Pay Increase For Front-Line Workers

What’s going on elsewhere?

COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes are not unique to British Columbia or Ontario: they are reported in other provinces and in other countries. See in the GuardianCare Homes Across Globe In Spotlight Over Covid-19 Death Rates

There’s a lot of diversity in the way the responses are managed. Ontario is not alone in calling on the armed forces for help.

British Columbia’s decision to take over from the daily management seems to be unique.

Why has British Columbia gone a different route?

The BC government decided that nursing home residents are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and normal emergency procedures for an outbreak would not be enough to provide a robust response. The vulnerability is certainly evident in these early investigations, reported in the Guardian: Half Of Coronavirus Deaths Happen In Care Homes, Data From EU Suggests

Why does this matter?

We need to protect people in who live in nursing homes. Let’s remember that they are home for Laurie, Kim, and thousands of others.


Laurie’s and Kim’s stories are constructed from information presented by Fay Faraday, a lawyer specializing in labour and human rights, during a podcast organized by the Broadbent Institute: Lift the Floor: How Provinces Can Provide Protection For All

Fay was joined on the podcast by Jesse Hajer, a Labour Economist at the University of Manitoba, and Michael Mendelson, who during his career was a deputy minister in the Manitoba and Ontario provincial governments. Fay’s comments that are specific to this post begin around the 17 minute mark.

The podcast also contains a discussion about financial assistance for renters, and how to pay for the COVID-19 response. It is well worth a listen.

For North American High Rise Social Housing Haters: Small Can Be Beautiful

Buffalo, NY photo by JasonParis is licensed under CC BY 2.0
A Buffalo, NY public housing project. No, social housing doesn't have to look like this.

Or, in the case of one particular social housing project in France, small can be pig-ugly, at least in the view of this affordablehousingaction.org writer. But fortunately we all agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, don’t we?

And fortunately as well, the whole world doesn’t retain the unrelenting ‘crime-stuffed apartment block’ image that helps to limit America’s commitment to what pretty much the rest of the world understands: social housing is society’s most effective way of providing housing for people with very low or no income.

And since “small is beautiful” is another way of looking at things, an alternate vision of social housing is handfuls of homes scattered in different physical forms throughout a community.

Have a look at this “small and different is . . . beautiful(?)” example in Designboom: d’houndt + bajart Extends An ‘Eccentric’ French Villa Into Eight Social Housing Units

Can we all agree at least on ‘eccentric-looking?”

Tracing NY COVID-19 Death: A Broken Trail Towards Housing?

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Emergency food, drinking water and shelter to help people displaced in Rakhine State, western Burma. (8288488088) photo by DFID - UK Department for International Development is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
In this refugee camp in Burma, the need for food, water and shelter is obvious. It won't look the same, but don't New York City residents have those same needs?

New York is suffering a tragedy befitting a country, not a city. This small, though densely packed, corner of the United States has the dubious honour of being harder hit by COVID-19 than any nation in the world, save the American nation itself.

A recent analysis published by CNN searches for reasons why New York City appears to have suffered more than its share of COVID-19 infection. Density is one possible answer, as are delays in addressing the crisis, as well as erratic testing.

However, the article ultimately settles on the vulnerability of huge neighbourhoods filled with those who have little access to health care, affordable or not, and who suffer a wide range of illnesses upon which COVID-19 preys.

One solution to the problem of avoiding future pandemics would seem to be clear. Not only do individuals need to be healthier, but the health of society as a whole also depends on health that resists the spread of COVID-19 throughout a community.

It is easy to imagine a forthcoming debate over the advantages of medicare for all versus the cost of  managing an uneasy alliance of fragmented public and private medical care.

Will the trail end here, at medical facilities and their staffing? It would honour and support the health care professionals who have given their dedication, and sometimes their lives, to this dread disease.

Read more at CNN: Why New York Has Been Hit So Hard By Coronavirus

Let us hope however, that the search for the roots of the New York public’s health doesn’t end with improved medical care. If the trail ends here, it will be broken prematurely. So will the objective of creating a safer New York, as well as a safer America.

Except in times of war, pandemic disease, and natural disasters, public health does not depend on medical care and mobilizing effective integrated responses. The trail towards a healthy society leads on past these very necessary ‘wartime’ medical health capabilities.

Housing, food, and clean water are the foundations of human health. Without food and water, we die in short order. Unfortunately, it’s possible to get by for periods of time without good housing — indeed, as people who are homeless can attest, without any housing at all. But there are well documented health consequences to having no housing at all, or housing that is poorly maintained or unstable housing.

Attesting to the importance of housing maintenance to human health, England has just introduced a new act — The Fitness For Human Habitation Act, which places specific health responsibilities on landlords, and gives tenants the power to require compliance.1

And yet, in America particularly, there has been so far no decision to stave off the inevitability of thousands and millions of evictions facing those who have lost jobs because of the COVID-19 crisis.2 Further, responses to the pressing need for more housing for low and no income New Yorkers are apparently being shelved.3

Social Housing: Why Women Get Evicted When Some Other Dude Did It

Oakdale Manor, North York Toronto photo by Jed Sears is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Toronto Community Housing townhouses, where tenants risk eviction if someone in the household is arrested.

You’ve lived in the same home for over 20 years, and always paid the rent on time. So why has your landlord decided to evict you?

You live in social housing in Toronto or New York City. A member of your household has been arrested. You and the other members of your household can be evicted.

You can also be evicted if you have a guest who is arrested. Note that in both cases, the person in question has been arrested. They have not been tried and convicted. Yet, the landlord is allowed to proceed to evict the entire household.

Landlord-tenant legislation was modified to explicitly allow third party illegal act evictions at the time when governments were fighting the ‘war on drugs’ and continue today. See this story about a Toronto tenant at TVO: Should An Alleged Criminal Act Get You Banned From Social Housing?

How do third party illegal act evictions affect the people who are evicted?

In 2017, Leora Smith investigated third-party illegal act evictions in the two largest public housing authorities in North America: the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) and the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

Smith encountered many challenges in her efforts to compare the eviction experience of women leaseholders in TCHC and NYCHA buildings. For example, NYCHA publishes data about leaseholder gender: TCHC does not. Details of the eviction hearings and appeals are available for TCHC: there was information about NYCHA eviction appeals, but not the hearing. At TCHC hearings, the burden of proof is on TCHC to prove why the eviction should take place. At NYCHA hearings, it is up to the leaseholder to provide evidence about why the eviction should not take place.

Despite these challenges, Smith was able to review enough cases to conclude that women leaseholders were far more likely to be evicted on the grounds of third party illegal acts than men leaseholders. You can read more about illegal act evictions in TCHC and NYCHA buildings in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review: The Gendered Impact of Illegal Act Eviction Laws

It hardly seems fair.

COVID-19: Brought To You By Bats & Pangolins . . . Or. . . Inequality?

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Indian pangolin. Photo: Ansar Khan / Life Line for the Nature Society photo by USAID Asia is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
An Indian Pangolin: coronavirus culprit, or just a convenient fall guy?

An intriguing article in The Guardian dares to turn the cause of pandemics on its head. It offers historical evidence that, whatever ‘bug’ might trigger an outbreak of illness, the explosion into epidemic or pandemic proportions is a result of crowding and poverty. Historically, the vulnerability of a social underclass to disease is a strong candidate to be considered as the true foundation of the pandemic.

Read more in The Guardian: Inequality Doesn’t Just Make Pandemics Worse – It Could Cause Them

Canada’s Alternative Budget Urges Feds To Step Up To The Social Housing Plate

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Canada Day Parade 2015 photo by GoToVan is licensed under CC BY 2.0
"Budgeting as if people mattered" . . . Canada Day, 2015, Vancouver, BC.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives issued its 2020 alternative budget just as the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.1 This budget aims to shift public spending to improve the quality of social programs for all Canadians and raise the incomes of people below the poverty line.

The alternative budget calls for increases to federal spending on affordable housing, noting that at present the federal government is spending $1 for every $13 that is being invested by others. The proposed federal expenditures would enhance the National Housing Strategy programs. This would mean:

  • more new housing for people with low incomes
  • new housing for people who need support to live successfully in housing
  • more repairs to existing social housing
  • more non-market housing units
  • more funding for allowances to make housing more affordable for people with very low or no income
  • more funding for housing in remote communities and
  • more funding for people of indigenous origin.

The alternative budget would also increase the incomes of people with very low or no income by funding public pharmacare, more child care subsidies, lowering post secondary education costs and raising the level of the guaranteed income supplement, which is paid to seniors.

It also includes income protections for people affected by COVID-19. People affected by the collapse of the petroleum industry would be eligible for training to shift to green employment.

Regardless of income, all households would receive more publicly funded services.

This sounds like a lot. How would this be paid for?

The programs are funded through three measures. Some programs would be cut. One example is the subsidies that go to the oil sector through tax expenditures. Some households would see their taxes rise, specifically those earning more than $450,000/year. The tax increase would be $17,500 for those households. Third, government would borrow more money than currently planned. The amount it would borrow would rise less than 1% of GDP.

For more on this interesting document, see the CANADIAN CENTRE for POLICY ALTERNATIVES/CENTRE CANADIEN de POLITIQUES ALTERNATIVES: New Decade, New Deal —Alternative Federal Budget 2020
The programs for homelessness and housing are described on pages 41 to 43.

Government Will Protect Your Homes When . . . What? Evicted Already?

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Are you encouraged by national and regional government crisis measures to forestall evictions and mortgage foreclosures?

Think again.

There seems to be an inclination to believe that, by stalling the inevitable, governments will come up with ways to rescue large chunks of their citizenry from homelessness before it actually happens.

Trouble is, it’s already happening. And governments are failing to take effective, ongoing action,1 both before and after evictions and foreclosures. Read about some of those consequences in The Guardian: ‘London Is So Strange And Sad’: The Sacked Hospitality Workers Sleeping Rough

Homeless? Have We Got A Solution For You! (The Usual One)

Why bother to report yet again about riding people who are homeless out of town on a rail? After all, somewhere at this very moment an official is probably approving transportation for a person who is homeless to . . . anywhere but here.

A faint interest in North America to the particular article linked below might have to do with using a train ticket, rather than a bus ticket, to dump an individual homeless problem in some other back yard.

In North America, passenger travel by train has become a scarce, expensive, nostalgic ‘bucket list’ adventure, rather than a low cost means of community eviction.1

So what is the point of this post? Simply to note that a country’s care of their unfortunate homeless citizens is completely inadequate when it is left to local governments determined to manage their spending by sending the problem elsewhere.

Within a nation, homelessness should, and indeed does, have no boundaries — no linkage to local government attitudes, wealth, or lack of it. COVID-19 has shown that a national government can rapidly ensure action on what, left to the devices of local governments, becomes a never-ending effort to pass the buck.

Admittedly, over a short period of time, the UK government’s unprecedented order2 to move its entire homeless population to housing is 10% short of ‘entire.’3 Still, COVID-19 and the UK’s temporary solution shows a way to end homelessness, one that is most profoundly not demonstrated by this story in the Barking and Dagenham Post: Homeless Families Given Train Fare To Move Out Of Borough

Rent Strike ‘Cause We Gotta: Is It Just Lipstick On A Pig?

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Rent Strike - 20200324 photo by Andre Carrotflower is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
An early call for a rent strike in Buffalo, New York.

April 1 arrived with a whimper from renters. Across the U.S., COVID-19 related circumstances meant that at least 30% of renters could not pay rent1.

May 1 saw an entirely different complexion painted onto a similar circumstance. Rent Strikes were claimed to be happening across the country.

But many actual renters, whether labeled as strikers or not, simply couldn’t pay the rent. Read more in Fast Company: See Where The Nearly 200,000 Rent Strikes Are Happening In The U.S

Meantime, small landlords are standing up to be counted. Many of them are just a few missed rent receipts away from losing their rental buildings to the lenders who are financing them. Read more in The Guardian: Landlords On The Pandemic: ‘Everyone Has An Impression Of Us As Rich And Greedy’

The above article records either a simple statement of reality or a veiled threat — take your choice — by suggesting that vindictive landlords might somehow take action against ‘strikers’ as opposed to ‘non-payers.’ Whatever it is, it signals a continuing divide between two groups — renters and landlords — who are quite obviously trapped in the same boat until federal, state, or local legislatures take some action.2

It is encouraging to see that in at least some jurisdictions, landlords and tenants have actually recognized their mutual interest and banded together to lobby for action that will satisfy the needs of both groups.3

At the date of this post, statistics are still a-gathering to define the size and scope of May’s national rental non-payment, whether as a result of a rent strike, or a simple ‘can’t pay.’ But an article exploring how events are playing out in New York City suggests that the actual ‘rent strike’ seemed much smaller than activists had hoped for. Read more in BISNOW: May New York Rent Strike Made Noise But Fell Far Short Of Participation Goal

 

Learning From The Past: Historic Housing Design For Health And Safety

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Fountain 2 photo by Mark Kent is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Can society progress from: "come out of the fountain with your hands up" to: "please wash your hands in this fountain"?

From the trivial to the profound, from in-house to community-wide, here’s a small collection of historical building and community design features from the past that might inform housing and neighbourhood design to provide more safety for its residents. Read more in The Conversation: Architecture: Four Ideas From History That Offer Healthier Design

Strange COVID-19 Bedfellows Press For Social Housing

Frame 6.jpg photo by njcull is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Public housing flats, Lyneham, Australian Capital Territory

Who wants to build social housing? Not the housing industry. They’ve been quite upfront and vocal over the past few years about the housing they would prefer to build — luxury housing. (That might be truly luxurious housing, or the highly profitable luxury-looking housing, a.k.a McMansions.)

But the industry has been quite frank about needing a solid bribe to build so-called ‘affordable’ housing. As for public housing, don’t even mention it.

That was before COVID-19.

Government investment and the construction of social housing was an important engine that provided precious employment and helped power nations out of the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

Suddenly, housing industries looking to climb back towards profitability are taking a long hard look at the potential of social housing construction as an important stepping stone.

And that’s leading to some important though unlikely alliances of industry, charity, local government and housing activists. Here’s an Australian initiative to build what everyone agrees is much-needed. Read more in the Sydney Morning Herald: Private-Sector, Charities Push For Social Housing-Led Economic Recovery

COVID-19 Exposes Glaring Weakness of PPP Housing Supplements

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Flemish beauty photo by John and Melanie (Illingworth) Kotsopoulos is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Canalside in Ghent, Flanders, Belgium. COVID-19 is undermining the joys of Flemish housing for social housing tenants and landlords in public/private partnerships.

A great leap of faith permitted ‘small-government’ politics to largely abandon responsibility for social housing. Supposedly, one way or another, private enterprise can do things more economically and efficiently and cheaply than clunky old big government.

There have been a number of different ways of creating incentives for the private sector to engage with the public sector to produce low income housing. These are collectively referred to as Public Private Partnerships (PPP).

One form of PPP involves the use of housing allowances (such as the U.S.’s ‘Section 8’ Housing Choice vouchers). These government funded rent supplements make unaffordable rents in the free market somewhat more affordable.

Some landlords and tenants participating in housing allowance arrangements have found themselves left in the lurch by COVID-19. Many Section 8 tenants at least temporarily cannot pay their share of the rent, due to job loss or other COVID-19 impacts. Many, if not most, of their landlords have economic problems of their own, such as mortgage payments that depend on prompt payments of rent in full.

In this form of PPP, it would seem governments have successfully dodged responsibilities toward tenants.

So far, there is little reporting of governments moving to support voucher programs, beyond general eviction bans for all landlords. These bans also lack any semblance of enforcement or compliance.1

In Belgium, private market landlords and their social tenants have come to the conclusion that their economic interests are essentially the same: both groups want desperately to avoid eviction. They’ve joined forces to pressure the Belgian government to take action on behalf of both groups. Read more in the Brussels Times: Coronavirus: Flemish Tenants And Landlords Jointly Ask For Rent Allowances

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