Tag Archives: housing

The Good and Bad of Declining Home Ownership

New Orleans       Home ownership rates are declining globally for the first time in one-hundred years, while tenancy is rising.  I have mixed feelings about these trends.

On the one hand, I hope that greater numbers of tenants equals more power in the bargains with landlords, and look to Germany and the rent freezes in Berlin with particular interest.  The optimist says that more tenants means that there will be accelerated construction of decent and affordable units providing better units.  Sadly, I see no sign of that in either Canada, the United States, Ireland, or the United Kingdom.  Construction seems geared to higher income tenancy and condominium purchases, not something that benefits low-and-moderate income tenants and their families caught in the cost squeeze of higher rents.  The Economist touted co-living spaces as an alternative for such families, even as they celebrate the decline in homeownership, but too much of co-living sounds like the familiar marketing strategy for singles-only apartment complexes, except that co-living lacks the swimming pool and your own kitchen.  The price might be right, but I’m not feeling the love.  In the small sample of our 30s-aged organizing staff in England, two have moved to buy a home when they thought they had the chance, and their relationships were stable.

On the other hand, as I worry about the decades long emphasis that ACORN made for families to achieve ownership and the rightness of our emphasis from cooperative spaces in New York City to single-family homes in Phoenix and Houston, I worry that I don’t see any other asset class that allows long-term, multi-generational security and citizen wealth that could serve as a replacement for ownership strategies.  Rent-controlled apartments in New York City offer some of that, but that’s the exception not the rule.  I joked last year with a talented former organizer who bolted our staff in Philadelphia decades earlier when a rent-controlled unit came available in the building where he was raised in NYC, but I understood fully.

Depressingly, I recently finished reading Saving America’s Cities, the story of urban renewal chief Ed Logue in New Haven, Boston, and the Bronx in the heyday of government and foundation financing for housing and development projects for low-and-moderate income communities.  In that brief window of the 60s and 70s before Republican block grants and CDBG funds, housing was built, but at a price.  The author Lisbeth Cohen notes that HUD insisted that buildings be segregated by income.  Logue and his team, despite their personal progressivism, populated their projects at 70% white to 30% minority, worshiping on the alter of stability for these rental developments.  Redlining was curtailed in homebuying but slips into publicly supported housing developments.

You have to have a horse to beat a horse, and as much as we push and demand for more and better rental units, we have to have something that provides potential security for families to compete against the goal, and increasingly the dream, of home ownership.  As the news again heralds more Trump efforts to reduce what’s left of the safety-net, it seems we are forcing people to believe in a broken-down nag, when we need a thoroughbred to win the race.

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Cranes Soaring to Escape London

New Orleans  One thing that intrigued me in both England and Ireland over the last two weeks was the amount of construction in every city I visited.   These were not little small-time projects, but giant cranes building skyscrapers in most of the cities.

Manchester was out of control.  On the tram in Manchester going to the office, I looked out and could see seven or eight cranes in the distance with existing towers already in place way outside of the city center.  I asked the organizers what’s up, and they pointed behind me to the other side of the tram car, and there were another three or four right there as well.  Going into Leeds train station I counted eight cranes on the horizon of this smaller city.  Walking along my accustomed route to Bristol’s Temple Mead station in the last half kilometer, I was walking between multistory buildings going up with new construction on both sides of the street.  Sheffield almost the same thing.  Then again in Dublin, the members said there were building all over the city center.

I kept asking, “What’s happening?”  Are there new jobs or corporate relocations driving this?  The answers varied, but no one really knew.  In some places, Dublin and Sheffield particularly the fingers pointed towards construction of student housing where developers build privately for universities and cop an extra 25% on the rents to the desperate students.  In other cities, as we scratched our heads, there were no clear answers.  Land was cheaper, we speculated in the north, but that doesn’t factor enough for developers to risk millions and millions.  Most of the construction was high-end rentals or condos it seemed. The only real answer seemed to be that either there already is a mass exodus from the exorbitant cost of housing in London that is driving people elsewhere to have an opportunity to ever buy or even to rent something or that developers realize that London has become so crazy that the hordes are bound to be coming.  Either this is the biggest favor that London has inadvertently done some of the other cities or there is a huge bubble in high-end and quasi-commercial buildings.

One thing is clear from everyone.  Almost none of this is about building social housing or affordable housing so that existing residents in these cities can find decent housing.  In Dublin for example, organizers were telling me that many people are decamping from there to Glasgow because the cost of housing is cheaper there.

None of this seems sustainable or sound policy about how to grow and who to serve in growing, which seems to make a crash unavoidable.

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Please enjoy Grace Potter – Back To Me [Feat. Lucius]

Thanks to WAMF.

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