Tag Archives: affordable housing

Is Affordable Housing Being Crucified by Inequality

IKEA home in Sweden

IKEA home in Sweden

New Orleans      Increasingly it seems that we are going to have to decouple the issue of home ownership and affordable housing at least in the traditional sense of small footprints in the dirt with picket fences around them.  Home ownership due to harder loan standards, tighter credit, and the Great Recession has now fallen to 63.9% at the end of 2014, lower than at any point in the last 20 years.  A recent survey found that nine of the top eleven metro areas now have a majority of renters compared to homeowners led by Miami, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Houston, Washington, Dallas, and Chicago.

The trend towards “executive” cities like Seattle, Vancouver, London, and many others where housing  costs are atmospheric has foreclosed any opportunity for regular working families to consider home ownership in the classic, outdated “American Dream” sense of the term, unless they are willing and able to purchase cooperative apartments or condominiums.  Even while moving that dream off the shelf, the affordable housing crisis remains unabated unless we embrace some change.

How about manufactured housing?  I’ve got to admit I like my time living in Airstreams, and I’ve become friendly towards trailers. The Economist had nice things to say about “system-built” housing recently which also caught my eye:

“…system-built housing does not have to be shoddy or impersonal. Huf Haus of Germany has been building high-end prefabricated housing since 1912.  Adatahaus, a British firm specializes in homes that can be reconfigured as a family’s needs change.  IKEA of Sweden sells flat-pack houses that can be customized.  Furthermore, big companies can help people to self-build a personalized home while enjoying economies of scale:  Cemex of Mexico provides self-builders with access to cheap fixtures and fittings, and cheap finance, as well as cement.”

Ok, maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but poking through Craigslist last night I saw a corrugated metal-sided and roofed structure on higher ground towards the Gulf of Mexico that looked beckoning.  Just saying.

Where would you site such housing?  Interestingly there is already a controversy breaking out in East New York on Mayor DeBlasio’s plan to protect affordable housing in that area, which many residents see as gentrification.  We’ve talked about the double-edged sword of “market rates” before, when the inequality of wages and wealth has perverted the market.  The deal that ACORN made in Brooklyn for over 2000 units of housing around the train tracks at Atlantic Yards has still not produced on that promise after more than a decade.

There’s vacant land though in many cities crying for company.  Turkey assembled 1600 square miles equal to 4% of the country’s urban area when  the national housing agency bought land from other state agencies.  China puts the hurt on developers sitting on property to force the issue by imposing a 20% tax on the value of land parcels left undeveloped for more than a year.

Meanwhile rent levels of 30% or more of income and mass numbers of roommates has become the norm in many cities.  One estimate has more than 20 million paying more than 30%.Looking at average rents in mid-south cities like Houston, New Orleans, Dallas, and Little Rock, we found the numbers on the average between $650 to $750 per month.  To make that nut an individual would need to make between $12 and $16 per hour if they were going to live by themselves.

Affordable housing is possible, but not without living wages and a strategy that values citizen wealth and family security as more important than a picket fence.

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Attacks on Fair Housing and Affordable Housing Demands

rallyNew Orleans    Talking on “Wade’s World” on KABF with George Washington University sociology professor and frequent author, Gregory Squires, about his recent piece in Social Policy on the impact of the Occupy movement, he underlined his concern that the “disparate impact” theory is under review in the term of the US Supreme Court and the threat that decision could hold for fair housing advocates.  It’s worth the worry.

As a Justice Department official noted several months ago, real estate agents, landlords, and others have cleaned up their act so that there is little of what she called “pants-down discrimination,” in what they say, but there is still plenty in what they do, and the “disparate impact” theory has been the prevailing tool to assure fair housing without discrimination.  If the impact is discriminatory, regardless of the intent, then it has to stop so that diverse populations do not face housing discrimination.  HUD according to all reports is hustling to enshrine one single standard for disparate impact in regulations in hopes that the Supreme Court will follow its usual tendency of allowing the government and its regulations to prevail in the separation of powers.  Given the recent tendency of the Court’s majority to bend over backwards in pretending that the days of discrimination are over, it’s a valid fear for housing advocates.  The Justices might be persuaded to temper there 1950’s “good times are back again” viewpoints in the wake of Ferguson and New York City protests and disturbances, but we certainly can’t count on it.

We also talked about the ongoing “push out” of low and moderate income families from executive cities because they can’t afford the housing.   Squires and the DC-based community organization, ONE, Organization of the North East, have been campaigning for equitable development and have a 2nd conference on the issue coming to Washington soon.  Coincidentally, I had just heard from a colleague studying at the Yale School of Architecture about an assignment they have to try to design 100,000 units of affordable housing in San Francisco.  It’s not academic when you read recently that experts are referring to the Tenderloin, the San Francisco district known largely for union local headquarters and derelicts over the years, as the last “working class neighborhood” in the city.

Ottawa ACORN was also in the news on the same kind of issue in Canada, where they are putting on pressure to win “inclusionary zoning” that would establish affordable housing as a mandatory requirement in any new housing development over a certain size.

Ottawa ACORN coordinator Curtis Bulatovich said they want inclusionary zoning and hope a private members bill, introduced in Queens Park by Etobicoke-Lakeshore Liberal MPP Peter Milczyn, is approved. It would give cities the power to mandate a certain percentage of total units as affordable housing in residential development of 20 or more units that require by-law amendments.  “We wouldn’t have as many “ghettos” in this city and cities across the province. It would be an affordable enough thing for developers to do and it would also show that they are giving back to their communities,” Bulatovich told CFRA News. He said the time to act is now.

“In a lot of areas, specifically Westboro, you have a lot of empty, beautiful newly built condominium (units) and I was thinking you could easily, easily have those to inclusionary zoning.”

He could have added “before it’s too late,” which increasingly seems to be the crisis we’re facing in a number of cities in the United States and in places like London and Paris around the globe.

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