Posted on October 18, 2011 by Pat Hartman
In our society, housing is a problem so impossible that people with multiple university degrees have spent entire careers concentrating on one little corner of the problem. And, apparently, haven’t gotten very far. Part of the problem is always the current structure and personnel of the government, whether local, state, or federal.
There are answers to the housing dilemma. And there are local, state, and federal laws. And there is a very small area of overlap, where some of the answers that have been found are congruent with what’s allowed by the law.
Year after year, brilliant young architecture students win awards for designing livable spaces that can be mass-produced, or made from recycled materials or repurposed buildings, or made cheaply from indigenous materials. Plenty of good solutions have been found that could increase both temporary and permanent housing. Where are they? Lost in a maze of zoning laws, code requirements, and other rules that exist all too often to prop up the privileged status of some group or profession, having nothing at all to do with real human needs.
Trailers have always been a cheap housing alternative. Now, in cities where mobile home parks were formerly tolerated, local real estate interests, neighborhood associations, and callous politicians band together to get rid of them. In many places, even house-like doublewide trailers that are anchored down and landscaped are shunned by neighbors.
There are all kinds of solutions. This six-minute video shows a 78-square-foot apartment created by a Manhattan architect who is very happy in it. Sure, there’s a shared bathroom, but many people get along fine sharing bathrooms, including college students and soldiers. A shared bathroom is better than no bathroom at all. An old factory could be retrofitted with hundreds of mini-apartments like this one.
Here is the kind of headline we see all too often lately: “Recession Takes Severe Toll on Low-Income Renters,” a story in which Tony Pugh traces the recent history of housing in America:
Very-low-income renters who don’t receive government housing assistance are considered to have ‘worst-case housing needs’ if they live in poor conditions or their rent consumes more than half their incomes. All family types, all racial and ethnic groups and all regions of the country saw an increase in these distressed renters…
In many areas, government programs are a joke, with waiting lists so long the children grow up before housing becomes available. Incredible amounts of money are spent providing the band-aid of temporary shelter. Emergency and short-term shelter is necessary, of course, but somehow nothing gets done toward providing any lasting alleviation of homelessness. For example,
Massachusetts spends tens of millions of dollars for this yet the long-term result is hundreds of families are still without permanent homes.
The problems of housing are endless, and the whole mortgage mess is almost beyond human comprehension. One of the interesting tales in Looking Up at the Bottom Line, by the way, is of Richard R. Troxell’s days as “self-appointed Mortgage Foreclosure Preventionist.” His activist organization actually convinced a sheriff to initiate a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures in the county. (Apparently this set a good precedent, as the same thing also happened more recently in Chicago.) This is the kind of law enforcement we need more of.
For Richard, his knowledge and experience led to a job, and to his moving west, of which he says,
The town of Austin, Texas had already had a boom in the mid 1980s involving questionable savings and loan lending practices, which had ended in a debacle. The banks had been left holding thousands of foreclosed upon houses and empty buildings across the southwest in its wake. Homelessness had already come to Austin.
In the Homeless Protected Class Resolution (HPCR), Richard takes note of the fact that the U.S. government has adopted the United Nations’ Habitat Agenda, whose aims include:
… protection against discrimination, legal security of tenure and equal access to land including women and the poor; effective protection from illegal forced evictions, taking human rights into consideration, bearing in mind that homeless people should not be penalized for their status…
Signatories to the Habitat Agenda agreed to adopt policies making housing more habitable, affordable, and accessible, even to those who are “unable to secure adequate housing through their own means.”
Here in America, there is a nationwide shortage of affordable housing, and it’s one of the major areas needing change. Massive change. The Homeless Protected Class Resolution can’t make anybody go out and fill the landscape with affordable housing for everyone. But it can go some way toward dealing with the consequences of the fact that everyone does not have affordable housing.
Learn more about the HPCR today, subscribe to the newsletter, and sign the petition.
Source: “Manhattan shoebox apartment: a 78-square-foot mini studio,” YouTube.com
Source: “Recession Takes Severe Toll on Low-Income Renters,” McClatchyDC.com, 02/01/11
Source: “Millions Spent On Motels For Mass. Homeless,” TheBostonChannel.com
Image by Glamour Schatz (Angel Schatz), used under its Creative Commons license.