Banks Creating Housing Squeeze Even More than Gentrification

atlantic yards before construction

Atlantic yards before construction

New Orleans   It seems like it has taken forever, but the first units of affordable housing as part of the victorious, but controversial, agreement negotiated between ACORN and Forest City Ratner to be built as part of the Atlantic Yards project, are finally coming to fruition, better late than never, thanks to the 2007-8 housing financing meltdown.

DNA Info reported:

Applications are now open for the first units of affordable housing at the Atlantic Yards Pacific Park complex. The modular tower built by Forest City Ratner Companies is the first building in the 22-acre Pacific Park development (formerly Atlantic Yards to join the city-run affordable housing lottery. The Dean Street property will contain half market-rate apartments and half affordable housing; the tower has 363 units in total.

Rents … will range from $559 per month for a studio at the lowest income requirement bracket ($20,675 to $25,400 per year for one person) to $3,012 per month for a two-bedroom at the highest income bracket (between $104,915 and $144,960 per year, depending on household size), the lottery requirements said.

As the country-and-western song goes, “that’s something to be proud of…,” but the larger issue continues to be in New York and most other cities in the US and around the world how unaffordable housing is. Ironically, as much as the delay at Atlantic Yards had to do with the meltdown in bank lending because of the housing bubble, banks are still at the heart of unaffordability.It’s not /just /gentrification, in fact, the gentrifiers are as much an effect caused by banks as they are a trigger for rising prices.

Stuart Melvin, ACORN’s head organizer in the United Kingdom, shared a piece from the New Economics Foundation with me several months ago.They noted that:


In advanced economies, banks’ main activity is now domestic mortgage lending. A recent study of credit in 17 countries found that the share of mortgage loans in banks’ total lending portfolios has roughly doubled over the course of the past century –from about 30% in 1900 to about 60% today.


This is how banks are making money everywhere, rather than through direct lending to consumers or businesses, partially because the land is a solid asset serving as collateral, meaning they can foreclose.  Where the land is scarce as it is in New York, London, San Francisco, and, well, lots of big cities, this makes each parcel more valuable and the next thing you know on the rollup, houses are costing nine times average  annual income throughout England and twenty times annual income in southeast England for example and that’s true for many other cities as well.

All of which squeezes housing developers even more, especially if they are not heavily subsidized by the government, when it comes to providing decent and affordable housing. The same level of bank profits cannot be gained compared to mortgages, so prices balloon, and the available customers who can handle the weight become smaller, and richer, until the whole bubble bursts again.

We countered this in New York through land trusts or mutual housing arrangements, but that is only partially successful. The scale of the issue is too large. Other countries and communities have tried land banks or public corporations.Unless we change our public policy around housing though this is a problem accelerating once again until it crashes against the wall, and in the meantime, low and moderate income families find themselves left with fewer and fewer affordable opportunities for decent housing.


Tactics Are Working in Police Protests

"die-in"at a Missouri mall

“die-in”at a Missouri mall

New Orleans     Weeks and months are now passing by since the grand jury failed to indict in Ferguson, Missouri and the drumbeat of cities with police forces similarly culpable continued to pile on top of one another in a sick body count. Importantly, the protests also continue in no small way because organizers have found important tactical responses and symbols that using excellent organizing are imminently replicable throughout the United States and the world. The combination of such clarity and replicability has kept the anger in check, the dialogue intense, and the protests alive.

The New York message blazoned even on NBA players t-shirts, including those of megastar Lebron James, saying “I Can’t Breathe!” have huge power to communicate.  NFL and college football players that have run into the end zone and then held their hands up high in a memorial that has also been effective.

Nothing though has been more powerful or dramatic than the “lie-ins” where protestors have laid silently and “dead” in protests of these killings. Interestingly, this has been a tactic that works with small numbers. Certainly some of these die-ins have involved hundreds, but for the most part many are very dignified and effective protests in unlikely venues with numbers more often in the tens and twenties. The surprise that is confounding the press and attracting them like candy is that some of these protestors break the usual stereotypes and press pigeonholes because they are “suits,” lawyers and law students, doctors and med students, and people simply moved to act.

Until the recent crazed killing of two innocent policeman in New York City, the right had no response and were forced to focus on race and the law, appropriately. Now some of the Fox News types are trying to see if they can shift the blame from justice to provocation on the part of protestors and politicians like the progressive Mayor de Blasio of New York City who has argued for more accountability. More soberly I listened to a caller on Travis Smiley early in the morning saying he feared for his son of similar age and what might happen when they were now conditioned to fear those that they should see as protectors.

Disturbingly, the caller also felt the police over reaction dated to Obama’s election as President. There is conversation and a culture shift that has to happen in the United States about race now. The back patting of the elites on Obama’s election continues to mask deep issues that must be resolved.

The New York Times in a recent study found that reporting to the FBI on killings by police annually was wildly inaccurate and left unreported more than 500 such killings nationally by their count. Many no doubt were in the line of duty, but part of the problem is that the definition of duty and the training to fulfill those responsibilities is clearly out of whack. The notion of “appropriate” response seems missing, and the proportionality that the “broken windows,” “no crime is too small” strategy calls for between incident and reaction is more broken than any windows. There is no rationale for a death sentence for selling a “loosie” cigarette on the street for goodness sake. The small Covington, Louisiana police force in a suburb of New Orleans hit the streets in the holiday season to play “secret” Santa and give out $100 bills to random, passing motorists. It’s not a solution, but at least it’s an idea.

We need a lot more. The tactics are good, so the protests might continue long enough to force some real discussion, and maybe some realization that change has to finally come around police methods and tactics as they look at all who are different as “invisible assailants,” and even more importantly about race and what we all need to do to close the divide.