Tag Archives: affordable housing

Inclusionary but Unaffordable “Affordable” Housing in London

if_you_dont_live_hereLondon     In the dark days of neo-liberalism when cities and states are embracing private developers to impact their profound public responsibilities to provide decent and adequate housing for families regardless of income the whole notion of so-called “affordable” housing seems to have been left in the rubbish at the construction site.  Where recently we thought perhaps the inclusionary zoning type standard for new developments in London requiring 20% of the units be “affordable” might be preferable to some similar initiatives in the United States, on closer inspection it’s a mirage.

Simply put the various borough councils in London have decoupled rent from income in this new doublespeak of “affordable” housing.  Twenty percent of the units must be classified as “affordable,” but that means the rent in those units is discounted so that tenants are only paying 80% of the market rate. In the overheated, gentrified housing market in London that means two things. One that your rent will keep rising, squeezing you out later, rather than soon, if you happened to be in such housing, and, second, that you’re a long way from poor and lower income when you qualified, since in some of these units you would have to be making big money to be able to afford the so-called “affordable” housing.

The Conservative government and its austerity program has put a gun to the council’s heads, but they have also in most cases swallowed the bullets like candy, and continue to sell off council or public housing willy-nilly in various schemes that deplete the housing stock and squeeze the lower income families to other boroughs and out of the city completely. The Guardian reports:


Last year, even the Conservative Westminster council warned London mayor Boris Johnson that plans to set new rent levels at up to 80% of market rent would require council tenants in a three-bedroom home in the borough to have an annual income of £109,000 in order to be considered affordable. The council estimated that half its social rented households receive an annual income of less than £12,000 a year.


In New York City, the easiest comparable big city to compare to London, inclusionary zoning is voluntary, though Mayor de Blasio is clear that he has his sights on changing that to mandatory, and the rents are targeted to family income, which is good, but there just aren’t enough of them. Hard to say that’s a whole lot better. The families that literally win the lottery and get to live with the rich are still few and far between. And, New York is still an exception since despite some progress in San Francisco, Santa Fe, and a couple of more, inclusionary zoning, pushed by housing advocates, has never been able to trump the dreams and dollars of developers in city halls across the country. That much seems true on both sides of the water. The other startling truth is the crisis in affordable housing and the needs of families for decent and affordable housing are simply not being heard or met.


Affordable Housing Push-out Problems in Vancouver, New York, and London

affordable-housing-crisisBristol     Reading the news is one thing but watching the steady stream of young people and many not so young at the Rock & Bowl hostel in central Bristol where we have been staying for the last several days underscores the affordable housing push-out.  New residents with jobs of all kinds are paying 10-15 pounds per day while they look for housing around Bristol, which is a long way from the executive city, mega-development high priced housing in other world cities, like Vancouver, New York, and London.

A recent piece in the New Yorker detailed the bizarre contradictions of housing prices in Vancouver.  A professor we know called Vancouver an “executive” city a dozen years ago, meaning only executives could afford to live there, and certainly almost all of ACORN’s members have been pushed out farther and farther to Burnaby, Surrey, and beyond.  The New Yorker story focused on the fact that the housing market has become almost a hedge for global capital, especially from China and other Asian countries, to invest in housing as a refuge investment, even while left unoccupied.

An London-based organizer sitting in on ACORN International’s meetings in Bristol told us at length of the difficulty of characterizing many boroughs in London since slums, council housing, and upscale housing and mansions were all crowding in on each other.  She also told us of whole blocks of fancy mansions which left whole blocks vacant year round, also as a sort of refuge home or at best occasional location, but with no people they are starving out small shopkeepers since despite the old adage of “location, location, location” assumed people actually lived in those locations.  She also told us of the difficulties of finding even starter houses, or “ladder” houses as she called them, for homeownership.  London banks even several years ago had been willing to make loans for “shared” housing, where two, three, or more unrelated individuals could pool their resources to qualify to buy a house, but those kinds of loans have largely disappeared.

As disturbing was reading in the Times about the policy dilemma created by the soaring cost of New York City housing even within the framework of existing inclusionary zoning regulations.  The program currently is voluntary meaning that developers can create 20% of the units at affordable rates in order to increase density by one-third.  The rents are so high that the subsidy in many cases might be as much as $90,000 per year.  Some developers not only walk away from creating affordable units because of the cost, but even some housing advocates are arguing that more affordable units might be created with a cash exchange rather than an apartment provision especially in Manhattan.  In places like Williamsburg in Brooklyn, plain vanilla apartment blocks with increased density in cheaper rental areas don’t have the amenities, but relatively speaking are holding rents down.  Mayor de Blasio has proposed moving exclusionary zoning to a mandatory program, but it could be that bartering for cash with the developers creates more housing, almost like the Mumbai program where developers have to build replacement units for those they tear down.

As much as we have to want our major cities to not simply be enclaves for the rich, I have to wonder about the lives of our moderate income families trying to make it as a small minority of the population in cities where not only the housing but everything else is tilted towards serving the rich. Even if they were fortunate enough to barely afford shelter, could they find any other provisions or services affordable where the urban 1% have now occupied?

We are in danger of having major cities converted to the equivalent of gated, island communities with moats made of insurmountable walls of money.