Little To Ask: The Simple Pleasure of Affording To Return Home

An older woman, a dog on the chair beside her, sits on the front porch of a modest old house
Rose, Eliza; sitting on front porch photo by unknown is in the U.S. public domain
Eliza Rose sitting on the front porch in Murphy North Carolina, 1938

Two recent in-depth articles in Shelterforce provide a snapshot of an unexpected argument that has come up, thanks to gentrification.

Gentrification displaces long time inhabitants of a neighbourhood, particularly the people with the lowest incomes.

With pressure to ensure a mix of incomes in these newly-minted and largely upscale parts of a city, some affordable housing is finding its way into neighbourhood redevelopment projects.

The dilemma: who among the thousands of citizens with low incomes should be eligible for the new affordable housing, for example by qualifying to take part in a housing lottery?

Should any household with a low income be allowed to apply? Or, what about the minorities within that group? Or should eligibility be limited to those who lived there before?

Two groups are currently fighting toe to toe, each convinced that their prescription is the fairest solution to the problem. Unfortunately, the choice is ‘either-or’: there is no overlap. If one viewpoint wins, the other loses.

One Shelterforce article begins with the community preference experience of one fortunate person. Then it moves on to explore the opposite perspective, generally called fair housing. What do these two terms mean, exactly? Read more: Move To The Front Of The Line

The other Shelterforce article takes a strong advocacy position in favour of community preference over fair housing. It proposes tests to reinforce the validity of community preference. It also questions some of the evidence that substantiates the fair housing position. Read more: Criticisms About Community Preference Policies Are Misguided

Regardless of claims to support a knockout win among the competitors, from the sidelines it feels like a fairly evenly matched boxing match. Mind you, as Canadians viewing a rather uniquely American housing experience we have no cause to feel superior. After all, Canada’s record of supporting aboriginal housing has been, and continues to be, abysmal.

When it comes to the arguments between community preference and fair housing, a solution seems achievable if you toss out both arguments and go to the root of the problem — discrimination.

When it comes to America’s black minority, after a century and a half of blatant discrimination at all levels of American government as well as the business community, one word resonates in our minds here at affordablehousingaction.org.

Reparation.

A nation has systematically denied certain people a share of immense national wealth as well as a fair chance for decent housing. Suppose an individual, victim of a national conspiracy to impoverish, nonetheless manages to make something of what little they have: a sense of place — a sharing of community.

If those individuals wish for the opportunity to continue to live out their lives in that community, however much it may have changed — who in the name of basic humanity would deny them? Abstract arguments about generalized fairness do not belong here.