Wednesday, May 09, 2018

On affordable housing

Yesterday turned out to be a day for me to think about housing. As most observers and all residents of the Bay Area know, we've got too much money, primarily from the tech economy, chasing too little housing. This is an atractive place to live if you've got money and folks just keep on coming. The consequence is that many (even most) low- and many middle-income people are under threat of being forced out of their homes and will not be able to find affordable alternatives.

Three vignettes from my day:

Subsidized housing: I spent the morning with a disabled friend who is one of the lucky ones. For two decades, she's lived in a rent-subsidized apartment in a building managed by a non-profit. Because she'd been hospitalized last year, the non-profit had never completed the HUD paper work that certifies her eligibility for 2017 or for this year. It's absence was a crisis. She's healthier now, so we sat with a social worker while she slogged through it. Beyond establishing that she still can't work and lives on Social Security, the paper work consisted of a reams of forms to sign asserting she'd been told she had various rights that she most likely would never dare assert. She was in a cooperative frame of mind -- and has no choice -- so she signed and helped the agency clean up its work product. The social worker wanted to help my friend, but she too lives within a paper maze with an eye over her shoulder toward an unsympathetic housing bureaucracy in Washington. Nobody gets to keep their dignity -- but my friend still has her apartment!

Cities and contemporary urbanism: The environmental/sustainability writer whose work I most appreciate is David Roberts at Vox. I spent part of the afternoon reading and pondering three articles he's recently written from interviews with urbanist Brent Toderian who led city planning for Vancouver, BC (a very pleasant city from what I've seen of it). If you care about how we can have more sustainable, livable cities, you might like these articles: I can't say that I'm completely convinced by "new urbanism"; the lived reality of a changing city feels messier and far less just than planners seem willing to contemplate. But thinking is happening here.

Upzoning and equity: An organization that calls itself YAH! (Yes to Affordable Housing -- they are going to have to work on that name unless they have a hell of a marketing budget) sponsored a panel of progressive housing policy wonks in the evening. YAH! -- and its panelists -- think better city and regional policies really can improve equitable provision of home places for individuals and communities. YAH!'s statement of organizational aspirations is impressive. They've come up with a list I can live with.

Video of event is here.

Nothing is going to happen without citizen pressure; the power of rapacious wealth drives cities in less humane directions. But you start by getting some people up to speed, thinking, and talking about solutions -- enough little meetings can have big impacts. If people who care about affordable housing organize ... who knows. There's the energy of necessity in this movement.

1 comment:

Rain Trueax said...

I think the reason Tucson has affordable housing is how much building they are doing. I hate that as one who loves desert and open areas but short of government telling someone that the home they bought and hoped to use an an investment cannot do it, i think more housing is the way you keep the values down. SF has a hard situation as it is limited for areas other than going up. Corvallis up in Oregon is kind of suffering some of that with public lands around the city and limiting where they can build. That's true in many cities in Arizona too. It is tough though when people end up being pushed out of an area where they have loved living and some of that is taxes that have nothing to do with income but only value of a home you may not want to sell.

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