Blog 66 Just Housing Draft


Blog #66 –Just Housing? –Public Housing’s Past, Present, and Potential Future

In three parts: First, an argument about public housing and the concept of justice , suggesting that public housing is part of a whole housing system, private and public, shaped both by forces internal to it and external pressures from other parts of the system, justice being thus far a minor criterion for it operations.
Second, a history of public housing’s roles in the past, suggesting it ranged from being a chain of oppression, to being a pacifier of social protest, to be a pawn of special interests, to being a beacon of hope for a more just world;
Third, some policy implications of the analysis, divided between immediate efforts to address internal weaknesses to broader transformative efforts to address its social role in society, to possibilities for system-changing efforts –from an oppressive chain to a beacon of hope.__

The paper derives from a presentation on The Future of Public Housing,” part of a series on “Housing for All,” at the University of British Columbia. My keynote was entitled: “Just Housing? ” with a question mark, and both its title and the tile of the series, gave rie to ambiguities that already open the door to my main points and led directly to my agent.

HOUSING FOR ALL: put public housing isn’t housing for all, and shouldn’t be; it’s for those who need it and don’t have it.. It must necessarily be at the expense of those who have more than they need. Not for all.—except in the longest view. Will be conflict: goal is not consensus, but justice

JUST HOUSING? Is housing just, and is it just housing that decide? Can you have jus t housing if it is embedded in an unjust society??

First, then, the argument:

1. Public housing is part of a much larger system of housing, production, distribution, management, financing, and regulation, and is subject to both internal and external constraints that any discussion of the future of public housing must consider both internal and external, not just the internal, in any discussion of the future;
2. Justice should be a major criterion in any such consideration. Public housing is important not judge as a means of providing shelter for the poor, but as a way of handling a major social institution and shaping fundamental social relationships among all sections of society. Justice requires not just alleviating poverty but reducing inequality, affecting what goes on at the top of the social and economic scale as well as what goes on at the bottom.
3. Therefore, conflict is to be expected, and consensus is not a feasible ultimate goal, in any measures dealing with public housing . Ad they will not only be conflicts about details and methods, will involve a wide array of vested interests outside of housing – both internal issues and external pressures, and will be fundamentally political more than technical.

To be clear, what we’re talking about: what’s unique about public housing? Two things:

1. It’s outside of the market, at least as to the fixing of rents, but
a. Construction still generally private, so developer lobbies, ca be public, WPA First Houses
b. Land purchased privately so costs market dependent. can be eminent domain, high tax
c. Management public, can be outsourced, to a non-profit, e.g. tenant corporation, which could be elected, or CLT model
d. Ownership public, so no profit motive, although efficiency concerns because tax supported, but not just subsidized non-profit, call that social housing. Non-profit involvement is also important, but is not the final solution; it remains with its priorities privately set, not democratically publicly established.
2. It’s based on social need, family size, income, health, existing housing. Has had other: wartime production workers, needed for displaced by urban renewal or public projects.

So certain conclusions flow from these essential characteristics of public housing —-

1. Its purpose is cannot be just housing as shelter, but just housing, housing that serves goals of social justice.
2. That means it can’t just deal with housing; it has to look at impact on jobs, discrimination, status, security culture, education
3. And Justice in housing involves looking at full range of housing system, rich as well as poor, gated communities as well as ghettos.
4. It further means it will always be conflictual: justice involves distributional issues, which means there will be winners and losers.
5. It will always involve relations of power; issues of planning, construction, design, programming, will be important , but not decisive.

Second, the history: If we look at its history, internationally, the results on the ground of these characteristics of public housing have varied:

1. Sometimes public housing has been among the losers: as a set of chains binding its resident to their prescribed place within the status quo, akin to a ghetto or a prison, functioning as an instrument of oppression; (Baltimore, sometimes New York City.)
Increasingly today, concentrations of crime, police surveillance, stigmatization indicator, a controlled slum
2. Sometimes as a pacifier, to prevent the very worst problems of homelessness and shelter, it could be worse remember, be quiet and seek small improvements
Bismarck, the New Deal
3. Almost always as a pawn, serving multiple interests , developers, land owners, , in fill, economic development , aesthetics, slum clearance, votes, ideology (government good, governments bad)
First Houses
4. But can be a threat to power also, because conjures up the image of what good housing can be, in a good society; it can be a beacon of hope and a spur to organized resistance, a radical utopia. In two ways:
a. As itself the basis for organization, a platform and site of action, a model community, a bubble utopia in practice. In day to day work. Or
(Vienna, The Bronx coops, Howard’s Garden Cities.)
b. As a model, an image of what a whole society might be organized to look like and provide, what the role of government should be. ideologically, theoretically: A beacon.
Utopian Communities, 60’s communes

With that history, what’s the future of public housing? How might its potential best be realized?
The answer, of course, is clear! What any economist will tell you:“ It Depends!” But on what? Well, on politics.

Not greater knowledge, better design, more sophisticated financing, more caring officials , better behaved applicants , fairer admissions or continued occupancy criteria – but, to put it plainly, on the distribution of power at the local and indeed higher levels of government and policy determination, on what politics in a democracy ought to be.

But, in today’s world, on who already has the power, already are the key actors: tax sensitive politicians, ideological politicians , developers, financiers up to hedge funds, private landlords, real estate agents/boards, employers, –and how others might be brought in as significant players, neighborhood merchants, ethnic groups , LGBT, residents, those in need of housing. On the ability to organize the politically unorganized and underrepresented..

Third, the Policy implications For the Future of Public Housing

A, Immediate policy implications.
1. Improvements possible. Knowledge, research, technical competence useful
• fair eviction proceedings,
• More efficient personal security, housing authority special police.
• better and more responsive management,
• Adequate funding for maintenance and repairs,
• Empowerment of residents and residents’ councils, for their knowledge, and support and pressure capabilities, to make actual policies bottom up.
• Hiring practices, including training of residents
• Provision of ancillary facilities and spaces for activities: health clinics, pre-school, recreation, meetings.

2. Some tough policy issues, needing research and thought, as in conferences like this
• Based on need, or good tenancy record, or family record?
• Mixed, set aside units for higher, (part from raising funding): for interaction? But less for very poor?
• Hire tenants, but social problems, less competence.
• Is inclusionary zoning for private housing a good idea as an alternate? With public housing management?
• Coalition building: with whom? middle class? Developers?
• B. Radical transformative possibilities. Defined as:
• Recognize conflict, willing to fight, not convince for consensus
• Talk about justice, inequality at the top, not just poverty at the bottom.
• Open a vista of even more, face up to the realities of capitalism and its weaknesses.

C. Systemic changes:
Fund public housing adequately. Fund distributionally, tax the rich, profits.
Decommodify land, and housing (up to mid-level?)
Empower residents of public housing, perhaps C.L.T. model, with legal authority.
A right to housing, globally recognized. 

Conclusion.

Four take-aways:
1. Public housing is part of a system, both a system of providing hosusing an a system of social and economic relations in the society as a whole: both an internal and an eternal system
2. Justice should be a major criterion for a public housing system and not just at the bottom, not just the alleviation of poverty, but also at the top, the reduction of inequality. They are inter-related, and both are needed.
3. There for conflict is to be expected, and power will be involved, and not only more knowledge and technical competence is needed, but also political organizing and democratic involvement.
4. Public housing can be an instrument , a chain, of oppression, a pacifier of social resistance, a pawn for special interests, or a beacon pointing to just housing in a just society.

Everything need not be done at once; not a revolution, but transformatively towards social justice beyond housing,
Public housing is today a pawn in the hands of often conflicting but powerful groups in our society
But there are also movements to turn it instead into a beacon exposing injustice and pointing the way to better
a future for public housing worth fighting for, well within public housing’s dna:
Public housing as a beacon illuminating the possibilities of a just society, not a pacifier, not a pawn in power plays.
And at all costs not a stick to beat the poor.

The motto might be: break the stick, discard the pacifier, capture the pawn, relight the beacon!

If you believe all that, , better gird your loins for the battles that are surely ahead, and I suspect better started in many places already . Indeed, under way from the beginning of public housing’s history.

But it’s a battle worth waging.

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Blog # 65 – The Scammification of Good Ideas


Progressive Planning and the Scammification of Good Intentions:
13 endangered ideas in urban affairs

“Watch what you say,” and particularly how you say it, if you want to make sure your meaning is clear. The language of urban planning and policy is full of treacherous terms, terms that are sometimes deliberately used to suggest a meaning the opposite of what their speakers actually intend — in short, language scams. A language scam is one that uses a term, a goal, a proposal, generally given a favorable democratic and social-justice- oriented term to cover over or even to justify actions that in reality produce injustice and reinforce existing inequalities of wealth and power. In other words, to turn a good idea into a scam.
Listed below are some language scams in current use, often innocently, sometimes not. They include:
1. Affordable
2. Diversity
3. Exclusion/Inclusion
4. Discriminnation
5. Community Control
6. Participation
7. Participatory Budgeting
8. Infrastructure
9. Investment
10. Community Economic Development
11. Density
12. Community Land Trusts
13. Ethics

1. “Affordable.” Mayor de Blasio’s current housing proposal is intended to provide housing for low and moderate income households unable to afford market rate housing because of limited means. As used in his proposals for inclusionary housing, a certain percentage (more on this below) of new market-rate housing should be subjected to a requirement of setting aside for “affordable” units. But to count as affordable a household earning up to 130% of the area median income in New York City is. That means folks earning up to $$110,000 a year are considered low and moderate. That means able to pay up to $2,700 a month in rent. That is virtually identical with what the market would produce without the inclusionary requirement, In other words, it purports to help people needing help, but does so at trivial cost to the developers of market rate and luxury housing. That use of “affordable” is a scam. If the intent is to help those really needing he help, it might be better called “housing for low and lower income households ,”often taken to mean below 30% for the former, below 60% for the later, and based at local, not metropolitan, income levels.

2. “Diversity.” Most people would consider diversity to be a good thing in housing: having people of different races, religions, genders, family composition, living together. Indeed, even Federal legislation, in the use, establishes “protected classes” against whom discrimination in housing is prohibited. The intent is presumably to expand the range of opportunities for those with limited options because they are the subjects of actual or potential discrimination. But taken literally , it can either mean the greater inclusion of, say, African-Americans or Hispanics or immigrants in conventional private housing of the better off, or the entry of the better off within the dominant groups into the housing of those protected groups: specifically, gentrification to provide “diversity” by displacing them in favor of the richer. Ringing poorer folk into richer neighborhoods is good diversity; bringing richer folk into poorer neighborhoods, without more, is bad diversity. And that “more” means making their accommodation feasible and productive for the newcomers, promoting interaction. (See Exclusion/Inclusion” below).

3. “Exclusion/Inclusion.” Exclusionary practices are almost universally condemned, at least in theory. Opening up all-white suburbs to black occupancy has long been a goal of progressive planning. Its purpose is seen as expanding he opportunities of those opportunities otherwise limited. But affirmative policies to expand such opportunities produces opposition from those ending with reduced opportunities by being placed lower on the waiting list for a given unit. The goal is fairer inclusion of those otherwise denied opportunities. That’s simply the nature of the beast: for every inclusion of one there is necessarily some impact on the possibility of including another. Where the possibilities are limited, an exclusion of another. The point is whom the particular policy helps and whom it hurts; does it promote fairness or reinforce injustice. A policy that limits the displacement associated with gentrification to some extent excludes some who would like to gentrify.
Further, “Inclusion” can simply mean the being together in some larger scale of housing, say a building or a neighborhood, at the same time, often judged simply by a count of how many of this kind are in that unit of measurement compared to how many of the others, i.e. is it 10% to 90% white or 30% black to 70% white. But simple occupancy statistics do not reflect the success or failure of the effort to produce inclusion. Indeed some who would otherwise not such good housing do get something better than they would otherwise have. But that result by itself might be even better obtained, and at less cost, elsewhere, without being “included.” Quantitative inclusion, inclusion measured simply by the count and location of households is not desired result of inclusion—integration, contact, communication, mutual learning and mutual respect, enrichment of experience, greater knowledge of the world, is what is wanted. Perhaps “interactive inclusion” and “oppressive exclusion” would be more useful formulations.
4. “Discrimination.” Chief Justice Roberts of the United States Supreme Court has said, in condemning affirmative action to overcome discrimination based on race: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” meaning stop taking race into account in considering any actions. Catchy the statement may be, but it’s obvious nonsense. How can you tell if someone or some policies discriminates on the basis of race if you don’t look at the race of those affected? If taking race into account to end discriminating on the basis of race, so be it: it’s using attention to race to prevent discrimination, not to practice it. If in individual cases the facts also operate to deprive a member of a discriminating group, from benefiting from membership in that group , whether that result is intended or not, is consistent with most concepts of justice, and is an inevitable result of the existence of discrimination in the society at large

5. “Community Control.” The principle of community control” is widely , and properly, considered a core principle of progressive planning It has been developed as a form of planning, community-based planning,” and is logically being pushed as a reaction to police oppression in minority communities in the form of community control of the police. There is no doubt of the intent here, but its application in practice is potentially treacherous. Giving racist and exclusionary communities control of planning promotes oppressive exclusion; giving a white racist community control of police in its community would promote, not restrain, oppressive policing. Calling what is desired “equitable community control,” or “community control in disempowered communities” might be an alternative. In the 60’s, “people’s control” might have worked, or “populist community control.” The important point is that there needs to be equity-oriented discrimination either in what communities are given enhanced control or in centrally established and binding standards for what action at the community level are permitted and which are not, coupled with requirements of participation (see below) and transparency and democratic representation in the involved communities, would be part of a progressives interpretation of community control.

6. “Participation.” Participation is a core concept in democratic governance, a front burner issue since at least Paul Davidoff and the early 1960’s. But what participation accomplishes depends very much on who is participating, for what, and with what effect. The implicit assumption is that many even in presumably democratic societies are in fact excluded from participating, and if the excluded were allowed in, the results would be better and more equitable. But the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Communities United case allowing unlimited money contributions political issues can also be termed, as indeed it as by the Court, a move to expand the rights of participation, by the poor very rich who shouldn’t be prevented from participating to the full extent of their ability. But their fuller participation in fact reduces the meaning of the participation of the large majority of the non-rich. The slogan of “participation” is intended to bring those non-rich more fully into the political process. In that use, it is and should be a politically loaded term, and speaking of “democratic participation,” with the adjective emphasized, is perhaps a better language to convey its progressive meaning.

7. “Participatory Budgeting.” Participatory budgeting is a front-burner demand in a growing number of communities, and is aimed at allowing expanded democratic participation into a part of government that has decisive impact on what government does but is usually substantially removed from detailed influence by the many affected by it. In New York City each City Council member is entitled to direct the expenditure of a limited amount of of the city’s budget to purposes of his or her choice, with almost unlimited discretion as to how this is done. Co-ordinated organizing efforts succeeded in involving hundreds of residents in community meetings where real alternatives were discussed and real decisions made. In the larger order of things, the results were very small, yet they were positive examples of how democracy is supposed to work. But it took major efforts to achieve those results, and if they end up giving the illusion that democracy has triumphed and control over the city’s budget has shifted, the result can be less, rather than more vigorous, participation where it counts more. Again, speaking always of democratic participatory budgeting, and constantly pressing for its expansion to a larger and larger scope, can help preserve the good intentions of the movement.

8. “Infrastructure.” Investment in infrastructure is often put forward as an unquestionable good: it promotes economic development, provides jobs, should protect the environment, is non-political. But in fact it is very political; it promotes certain types of economic development, does nothing for others – helps real estate development, by-passes issues of education or criminal justice, by-passes and excludes other needs. It is community economic development, but for some communities much more than for others.

9. “Investment.” As with infrastructure, investment is generally considered in principle a good thing, and non-political, but, as with infrastructure , both public and private investment have very clear distributional results, helping some, often at the expense of others , as when investment in automation brings lay-offs and unemployment. Without equity-oriented cost-benefit analysis, socially-oriented investment cannot be differentiated from mere profit-enhancing investment, and the difference can be great.

10. “Community Economic Development.” Without clear definitions as to what is meant – generally, development assistance to those with restricted opportunities living in poor communities, the phrase can equally well be used to justify development activities that simply increase the value of real estate in a community, result in gentrification and displacement of resident,, profits for a few (bringing up average incomes, but not medians – watch out! – and is much more and very differently desirable in some communities than in others. Equitable community economic development might clarify the intent.

11. “Density.” In New York City, at least “density” is a term very much in vogue. Increased density is presented as a good planning response to desirable population growth, and indeed it can serve that purpose. But increasing density can also mean encouraging high-rise luxury condominiums and towers for the financial industry, on the one hand, and over-crowding in squalid housing for many others. Mumbai, in India, for instance, is a graphic example of producing both at once. In New York City, the support of the Real Estate Board for proposals to encourage density suggests who the expected beneficiaries are likely to be. Discussing “density” without discussing its racial and class implications , produced a very one-sided content for the term

12. “Community Land Trusts.” Community land trusts provide a legal form of land ownership that removes the ownership of land from the speculative market and provides residents opportunities for reduced housing costs and increased input into the management of their housing and strengthened integration with their communities through a democratic composition of their trustee boards to include neighbors as well as residents, with very desirable results. But they do not provide a solution to the big problems confronting a growing segment of the entire population, which have to do with unaffordable costs, many of which are incurred in a private market system in which the ownership of land itself is only one component of the profit potential the housing system opens up, in which the costs of financing, for instance, lay an ever increasing role. And community land trusts can be, and were often historically, used to exclude, by giving existing occupants control over in-movers, as well as to broaden democratic. If community land trusts are seen as the solution to the problems of housing the majority face, they can be diversionary rather than exemplary . They are one good alternative form of tenure within the larger housing system, but not a remedy for all its ills. They require different considerations for different types of communities, which may run from inclusionary to exclusionary, poor to rich, integrated to homogeneous. And their relationship to economic development poses other challenges; for instance, for manufacturing areas, what does “community” mean? Community land trusts are a tool, not themselves a goal, unless they are first steps in a campaign to decommodify land as such.

13. “Ethics.” No one would argue that ethical behavior is undesirable, or that corruption is a good way of doing things. But ethics is the term for a course of individual conduct, not the characteristic of a system a social order, an institutional arrangement, a distributional goal. In planning, the requirement that planners act ethically has been interpreted by its professional association in its Code of Ethics, thus far at least, as imposing enforceable obligations of transparency, allegiance to client’ interests and avoidance of conflicts of interest, technical competence, honesty in representations made to others. Ethics, as thus viewed, does not address issues of social justice, equity in results, desirable distributional impacts of planning decisions; those are at best considered in the Code as aspirations of the profession, their consideration not enforceable mandates. Without considering justice at least one substantive and enforceable criterion goal of all professional activity, speaking of ethics of planning addresses only issues of how things are done, not what is done, and misrepresents the standards by which good planning should be judged.

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So all of the above terms are, as generally understood, rife with the values of social justice, equality, and democracy, but all are in danger of scammification, or perversion to achieve the opposite of what most take to be their intent .If progressive planning, is to Expose, Propose, and Politicize, the necessity to expose the ambiguity of such terms becomes a critical starting point—not to accept them as having an obvious and universally understood meaning, but rather to dig into them see what their real content is. Without clarifying their meaning when they are used they become hollow words, hollow concepts, and the danger of Scammification is great.

Progressive planning means practical radical planning that goes to the roots of problems as well as ameliorating their immediate undesired aspects. Therefore exposing what these terms, this language, actually means in any given situation, their potentials and their darker side, is an important and indeed unavoidable constant task for progressive planners. And it is not always an easy thing to do; the line between a well-intended but inadequately thought-through use of these terms and a scam is a sometimes a hard line to draw, but it has to be done.

Good planning, in our time, is still a very vulnerable baby, and its surroundings are full of hot air and very hot water. Scamification can scald it. Progressive planning can help protect it.

Posted in Affordable, Housing, Inequality, Loaded Language | Tagged | Leave a comment

Blog #64 – Alas Poor Hamlet – a review


Alas Poor Hamlet…
All great art is susceptible to many interpretations. That’s certainly true of Hamlet. But a recent staging in New York City 1. goes rather far to undermine Shakespeare‘s own reading of the story and presentation of it in the play he actually wrote. In Shakespeare’s presentation, Hamlet is a deeply thoughtful individual, thoughtful perhaps to the point where action is paralyzed, but thoughtful about some of life’s great and real questions. Whether and if so then how, to avenge his father’s murder is the embodiment of his deepest philosophical and emotional concerns, and produces some of the most eloquent poetical language dealing with philosophical problems in the English language.
Let me call the New York presentation “Hamlet as Neurotic.” The fulcrum of the imaginative re-interpretation, perhaps unintended, comes from a simple change in the play: delete the ghost scene, in which Hamlet addresses his father’s ghost and is told that his death was murder and his uncle the murderer. Absent that knowledge, the motivation for Hamlet’s conduct becomes his mother’s too rapid remarriage after Hamlet’s father’s death. Hamlet, unaware of the murder and its perpetrator, simply cannot deal with his mother’s conduct. Oedipus would understand; Freud could deal with it in one or two standard sessions on the couch. But Hamlet can’t get over it. He bemoans at childish length his mother’s unseemly speedy remarriage. Symbolically, an otherwise utterly irrelevant wedding cake, is never touched or even noticed by anyone in the cast, but hovers center rear stage throughout, presumably in the subconscious of the characters and the audience.
Pushing the reinterpretation – rewriting is perhaps the better word – Hamlet’s neurosis is acted out in modern dress. The men wear sports jackets, Hamlet is sloppily dressed, virtually in a t-shirt for much of the time, although always incongruously addressed as “My Lord” even by his closest friend, Horatio. The incongruity between the acting and the words, between the performance and the implications of the text, are constant. Hamlet is a balding teenager, petulant, verbose, undisciplined, impulsive simply unable to deal with his reactions to his parents’ behavior , shocked at his imaginings of their sexual behavior.
The setting is completely re-interpreted as well – not Elsinore Castle, but apparently a table in a white-cloth restaurant– in which the actors come and go quite unconcerned with where they are. Chairs are placed around the table, which is present throughout the play, and used primarily for the actors to lean on perhaps when their lines get to heavy for them to bear otherwise. On the other hand, the player’s great Hecuba speech is delivered by the player king sitting down on one of the chairs; when Hamlet later hectors the players on how to act, they all have to stand up.
Indeed, Hamlet is changed in the presentation from a sweet prince, and a deeply self-contemplative one, to a thoughtless balding young man displaying for all to see a neurotic relationship to his parents, spouting words at the top of his voice at a rapid pace without pause for breath, let alone thought, with a sense of humor up to making snide jokes showing off his wit but hardly with the corrosive impact revealing actualities below the surface, as the text would allow.
It just doesn’t work. One would expect Freud, not Fortinbras, to come in at the end to explain why those five corpses are lying there, and then clean the mess up. Shakespeare was dealing with great issues, public and private, of morality, religion, philosophy ambition, self-awareness, power. Modernizing the play to refocus its central issue from the relationship between thought and action to a focus on troubles with personal relationships within a family strips the play of its major, and still current, meaning. Reading the text after seeing the play shows how great the loss is.

The reference is to the Classic Stage Company’s May 2015 production, directed by Austin Pendleton, in which Peter Sarsgaard plays the title role. The Review by Charles Isherwood in the New York Times, April 15, 2015: ‘Hamlet’ as an After-Party That Got Out of Hand,” makes some of the same points made here.
The production is very competently handled, the imagination and willingness to try something clearly risky are commendable, and the Classic Stage is a real contribution to the New York theater scene. In this case (rare, for the company) the risk resulted in a loss. You can’t win them all.
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1. The reference is to the Classic Stage Company’s May 2015 production, directed by Austin Pendleton, in which Peter Sarsgaard plays the title role. The Review by Charles Isherwood in the New York Times, April 15, 2015: ‘Hamlet’ as an After-Party That Got Out of Hand,” makes some of the same points made here.
The production is very competently handled, the imagination and willingness to try something clearly risky are commendable, and the Classic Stage is a real contribution to the New York theater scene. In this case (rare, for the company) the risk resulted in a loss. You can’t win them all.

Posted in Abundance, Culture, Shakespeare | 3 Comments

Blog #63 – “Slums:” Nature, Causes, Research, Policy Implications.


 

Blog #63 – “Slums:” Nature, Causes, Research, Policy Implications.

Thoughts on Slums – a critical discussion.

If one defines slums simply as aggregations of inadequate housing – stripping the extensive other definitions and uses of the term to categorize variously their residents, the image of such areas in the poplar press and sometimes in more formal intellectual circles, a particular form of social co-habitation, a spatial cesspool of poor morals and criminal instincts [i] — they can be understood as the spatial reflection of an extreme of exploitation and neglect within a profit-driven capitalist economy, a generalized spatial aspect of the early relegation of working-class residences clustered and stuck behind the major streets and residential areas of the new industrial towns of England in the 19th century.

The logic is straight-forward. Businesses, employers, make profits by paying their workers as little as possible, and keeping for themselves as much as they can of the profits made from the sale of what their workers have produced, mixed with their own capital, itself the product of such labor. How high those profits are is of course in part determined by how much those workers get paid, and that will in turn depend in part on how much they need to survive. If their cost of housing goes up, it will increase their pressure for higher wages, at the cost of their employers’ profits. Hence employers have an interest in holding down the cost of housing for their workers, and having minimal housing, below socially desirable and economically feasible standards available for them, is an advantage. Thus the existence of minimal housing, inadequate but minimally livable, i.e. slums, serves the interest of employers.[ii]

But those slums have contradictory consequences. On the hand, for those not relegated to living in them, their function to house low-paid or unemployed workers is a useful one, benefiting businesses directly, arguable benefiting all indirectly – it’s “good for the economy, promotes businesses and their job creation.” On the other hand, it concentrates groups of individuals who have reason to be discontented, who may cause trouble, possibly collectively, possibly on the model of the working-class fauburgs of the 19th century in France which became hot-beds of proletarian agitation and organization, perhaps breeding crime, disease, immorality, as in the thinking and action of early housing reformers in Europe and the United States.[iii] The availability and expansion of such housing areas for the influx of rural residents new to the urban fold accentuated these dangers. And the closeness of such inadequate housing to the housing of more upstanding citizens caused direct pressure to limit their extent and wall them off from their surroundings. So slums were useful for those in power, but had drawbacks for social peace.

Further, such slums caused a specifically spatial problem, newly developing after the initial phase of industrialization. Early factories were located near the centers of towns and cities, where the newly needed large numbers of industrial workers could be housed with ready access to the jobs for which they were needed. Their betters could find housing a little further removed from them and the environmental impact of the industries at the center

But by the early 20th century many factories, growing in size, needed could use location at the fringe of towns, and new modes of transportation were developed that permitted longer journeys to work to be feasible at reasonable cost. The growing need for housing close to their work and business interests by for the rapidly growing number of owners, investors, engineers, lawyers, technical personnel of all sorts at the same time increased the desirability of locations near the centers of cities dramatically. Central cities grew as the location of cultural facilities, entertainment options, restaurants, and all the attributes that have come to be associated with urbanity. With this turn-about, the problem became how to remove the low-paid and unemployed from such desirable central areas?

The answer lay in a multiple set of approaches. [iv] On the one hand, slum clearance in its classic form, what at that time was known and legislated as urban redevelopment, which included simply physical clearance of the in-city areas occupied by “slums,” making those areas available for higher and better uses. That handled the spatial problem. But the social problem of displacement resulting from the displacement of the affected slum-residents needed a further approach, one that was met (in small part) by the provision of early public housing, in the United States in the constellation of New Deal programs dealing directly with the housing of low-paid and unemployed workers in the public sector and secondarily providing a floor under wages of employed workers enabling them to find other housing in the private market outside the newly desired central locations. Today, gentrification is perhaps a softer and slower way by which such desirable in-city locations are recaptured for the use of those better off, having the same effect as earlier slum clearance but with a less obvious direct involvement of the state, whose early clearance schemes had produced the radical implications and public expenses of those of New Deal social programs.

Another approach to dealing with the problems created by the slums was “slum upgrading ,” dealing with those problems where they existed, in situ. It seemed uncontroversial, where their location was not a spatial problem for their betters. Improving the quality of slum housing where it was would help assuage the discontent and unrest occasioned by its obvious disadvantages, reduce the dangers of crime and illness and epidemic that affected not only their residents but others nearby in contact with them. Those improvements could consist of largely of the results of efforts of the slum residents themselves,[v] perhaps supplesmented by not too expensive infrastructure provision, sewage, electric lines, street paving, electrification, and such like. Such improvements did, however, involve government expenditures, expenditures that depended on the state and had to be finance somehow, presumably by higher taxes on those with the ability to pay them, rather than by the poorer residents of the slums themselves.

That regrettable necessity of higher taxes is addressed to some extent by attention increasingly paid to “resident participation,” the manner in which slum improvements are planned and provided. If made wisely and at minimum cost, slum improvements could maximize the satisfaction they provide and reduce the discontent and “anti-social behavior” of slum residents. Participation of the beneficiaries of the proposed improvements in their planning has often been a way to provide such a feeling of satisfaction and even contentment, in practice if not in stated intent, particularly in more newly developing countries Participation, grass-roots democracy, of course is a desirable good in itself for most people and for most communities including slum communities. By giving slum residents the feeling that they themselves controlled the direction of public investment in their communities, by involving them in the details of various projects and proposals, even those going beyond infrastructure , e.g. public education, health care, sports, entertainment, slum residents efforts were focused internally, on their existing units, communities, spaces. All parties were helped by the approach: slum residents not only had improvements, they also benefited because they themselves were involved in the planning and thereby they gained in feeling respected, treated with dignity, enjoying the benefits of citizenship in a democracy.

But citizenship with a limit. For the participation itself had limits. For slums are not sui generis, and cannot by improved only from within, with only their own resources. They are not brought about by the actions of their residents, but by the actions of others in the larger economy and the larger political structure, actions that produce their effective exclusion from areas of alternative better but not affordable housing, actions that keep their level of income below that enabling then to improve their own living and housing   conditions. To affect the causes of slums, slum residents would have to be effective participants in the operations of the economy as a whole, in the running of cities as a whole, in the political structure of decision-making in government a whole. But participation in slum improvement projects is almost always limited to the slum itself.

A final word on the direction of research on slums. As a result of many noteworthy sociologically-oriented studies of slums, and the visible actions of slum residents themselves, it has become very clear that slums are not simply areas of poverty, disorganization, lack of competence, lack of ”social capital.” Rather, they harbor extremely resourceful – by necessity! — Individuals and households, with tight-knit social ties and manifold skills and complex understanding, all well worthy of respect and attention in the outside world. And such studies are important to highlight the necessity and fruitfulness of involving slum residents themselves in the planning of their own futures.

But they are situated on a slippery slope, one which characterizes a good bit of research on slums.[vi] They focus exclusively, if positively, on the slums themselves, their existing characteristics and histories and internal organization and impacts on their residents. Important as they are, they neglect confrontation with the wider social and economic and political forces that in fact produce slums as their necessary by-product: the low wages, the gated communities, the inequalities, the ethnic and religious and gender and national discrimination, the profit-motivated structure of most urban planning, the injustices of tax policies, the environmental degradation, the distorted enjoyment of locational spatial advantages, basically the relations of power, are also all necessary parts of the picture. Gayatri Spivak writes of “rearranging desires” of slum residents as a step in improving their lot, the approach, to be , must be applied to the desires of those creating the slums as well as—even more than—those confined to them, otherwise it slips dangerously close to a blaming the victim view. Solutions, remedies that divert attention from dealing with issues power can end up accelerating the slide down the slope of accepting things as they are instead of changing them.

Of course, dealing with the immediate issues slum residents face cannot wait till these bigger outside issues are dealt with; immediate needs must be raised and dealt with as a first priority, not be replaced by consideration of long-term causes. But the long-term causes of slums need to be kept constantly in mind, and addressed as directly and explicitly and energetically as the political and economic and social situation allows. Generally, paying attention only to the problems of the 99%, without looking at the actions of the 1%, is self-defeating. And expecting consensus without conflict is a deceptive hope.

 

Comments welcome.

[i] An intelligent discussion of these various usages, and their social and political function, was the topic of a useful conference at the GSAPP, Columbia University, April 9, 2015. I owe much of the thinking in this blog to conversations with David Madden, both at is conference and outside it. If his talk at the conference becomes available, it should be read in conjunction with these thoughts.

[ii] The roots of this vastly over-simplified formulation will easily be recognized in three classic volumes of a well-known nineteenth-century economist and his colleague.

[iii] Jacob Rhys in the United States, Bismarck in Germany, early Council housing in England , are all exampled; David Madden’s contribution at the above-cited conference, contained exemplary quotes .

[iv]   For a good review, see Deepika Andavarapu, David J. Edelman. Evolution of Slum Redevelopment Policy, in Current Urban Studies 2013. Vol.1, No.4, 185-192.

[v] John F. C. Turner’s focus on self-help was the theoretical basis for much of this approach. Herando de Soto’s faith in the ability of residents, once given ownership rights, to handle up-grading is a much touted model today.

[vi] I initially made this argument in a slightly tongue-in-cheek review of “Scholarship and Burning Issues,” a review of Poverty Amid Affluence by Oscar Ornati, in The New Republic, August 13, 1966, pp. 23-24.

Peter Marcuse                pmarcuse.wordpress.com

Posted in 1%, Gentrfication, Housing, Inequality, Planning | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Blog #62 -Depoliticizing urban discourse


A new Article of mine that may be of interest has just appeared:

Depoliticizing urban discourse: How “we” write.


Highlights

•The language of urban scholarship often suppresses critical questions and unwittingly reproduces urban power.
•This tendency is evident in the language of urban crisis and crises.
•Reinterrogating the language of urban policy analysis is an urgent priority.

Abstract

The language in which policy discussions take place can have a real impact on the policies that result, a subliminal impact that resides in what the words imply. What is a “crisis” and what “normality” is to be restored, who is the “we” that is often called on to act, who or what is “a city,” what are the goals of “resiliency, are questions obscured by the very fact that their meaning is so often taken for granted. This paper argues that many words become one-dimensional in their frequent usage, suppressing alternate meanings and implicitly endorsing the status quo. Interrogating the language used in policy analysis should be a high priority in effective and socially aware public policy research.

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The article ws published in a journal called  Cities (2015), pp. 152-15, and according to the publisher the full text is available at:

http://authors.elsevier.com/a/1QlXay5jOIm7D

with free access valid for 50 days, until May 14, 2015. No sign up or registration is needed – just click and read!

Peter Marcuse
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Blog #61 – The Naturalization of Gentrification and Markets


Naturalizing Gentrification and Markets[1]

Naturalizing “gentrification,” using the word as if it describes an active “it,” speaking of it as a natural process, conceals its actual causes : a process by which particular live persons and groups act in particular ways in particular settings in ways that benefit themselves and harm others. Making it seem a natural process is a politically loaded formulation. In the same way, naturalizing “the market,” considering it the natural arrangement for live people to deal with each other in regard to goods and services, is politically loaded. It creates, in discussions of public policy, an initial assumption that this particular arrangement exists autonomously and prior to human action but its “natural” result, and thus any changes in it have the burden of proving their necessity as an “unnatural” act. In both cases, The language makes gentrification and markets organic entities , having lives of their own and specific behaviors, “naturally, ” thus concealing the political fact that they are man-made processes by which certain people act in certain ways in relationships, often unequal, with some other people’

The political questions of who is doing what to whom and how in the particular way they are acting thus is in effect linguistically suppressed by the naturalization.

Consider two formulations:

“The data on Williamsburg reveals the onward march of gentrification in the neighborhood.”

With the formulation:

“The data on Williamsburg reveals the onward march of gentrifiers in the neighborhood.”

In the one case, gentrification is a living thing, marching ahead on its own, and people must struggle against “it,” if they want change. In the other case, gentrification is the action of certain people, who must be struggled against if the process is to be changed.

Or compare the formulations:

“Public policy must take into account the natural functioning of the market”

With the formulation

“Public policy must rewrite the laws controlling the functioning of the market.”

In both cases, naturalizing the terms “gentrification” and “market, ” makes the question aacieving a desirableimprovement in what nature has provided, rather than the much more controversial question of the relations of power that have ennabled partilar patterns of social behavior that are lumped together in those terms. The language is not neutral and its use is insidious; it conceals issues of power and conflicts of interest in its very opening unspoken assumptions. Flesh and blood people, not lawsof nature, or indeed natural laws of economics, are what cause the problem. SSocial arrangements, not nature, must be canged to address them.

The examples of loaded naturalizing language to reinforce the status quo, proteting the existing distribution of wealth and power, are numerous. And they are often used in this way unintentionally, because often even advocates of change are caught in the conventional usage.

“That’s just the way the system works.”

But why does it work that way? Perhaps big fish eat little fish naturally, but the powerful displace the powerless deliberately, consciously creating the systems that serve them best. Certainly one might argue that greed, selfishness, heedlessness of other, the drive to accumulate and ever accumulate more, are “natural” parts of human nature, but there is as certainly much contradictory evidence positing that solidarity, love kindness, are equally “natural” instincts. But that is not the point here The point is that the triumph of greed over love is not something dictated by nature, but something subject to conscious human control,[2] and calling greed “natural” functions to justify it and perpetuate its results.

Detroit must compete in order to survive.”

Is “Detroit” a natural organism that compete with other natural organism s to live or die? Is “Detroit” the legal jurisdiction, Detroit, which, if “it acts is really the political governing bodies of the jurisdiction? Isit the metropolitan region? If so, it is internally sharply split and can’t really act as one. Is it “the” people” of Detroit? But they are hardly one entity, but many multitudes. Conjuring up “Detroit” as a single natural entity, however defined, an entity that can act, is an obfuscation that conceals the complex interplay of separate conflicting and combining interests and actors, and politically just serves to becloud conflict and reinforce the existing distribution of power.

“Cities evolve. They change and grow and shrink, and the economics and demographics of neighborhoods shift. This is healthy and normal.”

Evolving of course is better than remaining static, and of course it’s a natural process. It explains way they change, and replaces interest group conflicts, power struggles, public policies, resolutions in the market, leadership, social movements, from propulsive roles in bring about change or blocking it. It ignores political decisions, and thus downplays and discourages active political engagement by others than those already holding power and steering the “evolution.”

And sometimes the process of naturalization sweeps through an entire construct:

“Urban gentrification is a natural force underpinning the evolution of cities. Gentrification is not just natural, but also healthy for cities. It’s a reflection of their ability to adapt, a facet of their resilience.”[3]

Naturalization of social reality gone wild, ending with making resilience, he ability to overcome change and return to the status quo after inevitable challenges, is as politically loaded a term as you can get.

Thus naturalization distorts and biases discussion of urban issues. It conceals conflicts and contradictions, by-passes issues of power, justify the existing as naturally created, exonerates human beings from moral responsibility for the injustices and pains suffered by other human beings in the places where they live and work. It should be carefully avoided when urban questions are considered.[4]

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[1] This article owes a large debt to Tom Slater’s excellent discussion, in “There Is Nothing Natural About Gentrification,”
New Left Project, November 24, 2014, available at http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/there_is_nothing_natural_about_gentrification

[2] And arguably even historically socially created and unnatural; see the forceful arguments in Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents and Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization

[3] Assembled from Philip Ball, “Gentrification is a Natural Evolution,” subtitled, “By regarding cities as natural organisms, we can see what drives gentrification” The Guardian, in turn based on an article by Sergio Porta entitled ‘The Form of Gentrification’, in Physics and Society all as quoted in the Slater article, cited above.

[4] (I am tempted to comment that in the United States we seem to accept naturalization of urban processes much more readily than we accept naturalization of urban immigrants, but will restrain the impulse.)

Posted in Gentrfication, Housing, Inequality, Loaded Language, Planning | 4 Comments

Blog #60 Toward a Housing Strategy for New York 1


Notes Towards a Housing Strategy for New York City

That there Is a housing crisis in New York City for the majority of its residents, and particularly severe for lower income and “discriminated-against minority groups,” hardly requires further documentation.[1] And there is an emerging consensus amongst housing advocacy groups and community-based and progressive political groups that strong measures, from administrative changes to even radical legislation, are needed to remedy the situation. It may be useful to try to put together what a comprehensive agenda for legal, political, and administrative change might look like, on whose substance common agreement might be developed. And the language with which we discuss urban issues needs to be looked at carefully, for the implicit bias much of it contains.

A. sets forth the premises of the strategy.
B. lists some of the concrete programs that might be foregrounded as demands.
C. lists some of the words that are often mischievously used in housing discussions.

A. The strategy accepts the following premises:

1. That there is indeed a crisis in housing, that it inequitably negatively affects particularly low-income and discriminated-against minority groups and inequitably favors higher income groups and profit-motivated suppliers of housing in the housing industry.
2. That the market, given the gross and inequitable inequalities of income reflects these inequalities, and cannot be expected to be a tool to end this crisis; its natural tendency is indeed to exacerbate it, and it requires radical control from government to act otherwise.
3. That community-based decision-making, accepting broadly-defined principles of justice, non-discrimination, and participation, is an essential element in developing a housing system that is equitable and free of crisis.
4. That, while some reforms may meet general approval and be win-win measures, any serious attempt to resolve the housing crisis will involve sharp conflicts of real interests, both material and ideological, and full consensus of serious reform is not to be expect. Rather, conflicts, in which grass-roots organizations and social movements need to play a critical role, are inevitable, and must be anticipated and planned for.
5. That the very words used in debates about housing policy can operate to vitiate meaningful research and be used as tools to influence the outcomes of conflicts over policy.

B. In outline, then, the measures that together might implement a serous strategy [3] addressing the housing crisis might include [2]:

2. Adopting public policies that predictably serve to reduce discrimination, reinforce equity, and help end the housing crisis, including :

a. Ending upmarket rezoning, which produces displacement, discriminates against the interests of those most in need of housing, and produces exclusionary communities.
b. Participatory budgeting, allocating significant sums for housing programs expanding options for affordable housing.[4]
c. Reinterpreting ULURP to required 4/5 majority of City Planning Commission and city Council votes to override a CB vote, thus reversing an opinion of the Planning commission’s counsel that the Charter Revision creating the Community Boards did not give their votes any legal force or effect. [5]
d. Revising City procedures for the handling of properties whose future use is within its power to influence, to give priority to uses expanding housing opportunities for lower-income households and development, to promote ownership and/or management by non-profits in the form of non-profit coops or condos or community land trusts or mutual housing associations community-based non-profit non-governmental organizations.
e. Amending the real estate tax system to serve social policy purposes as well as raise revenue, by increasing taxes for underused and speculatively-held vacant properties, imposing a speculation tax on the profit from rapid turnover of properties acquired for resale.
f. Requiring a registry of residential properties (lots, buildings, units) held vacant for over 3 months and imposing significant fees for late registration or failure to register, steeply increase with time, and authorizing filing of a lien.
g. Rent control, with limits pegged at the lower of tenant affordability and landlord break-even in the aggregate. Eliminating vacancy decontrol.
h. Public housing support and new construction, with continuing occupancy at proportionately increased rent if income increases over limits for entry.
i. Minimum wage and pro-labor organizing measures, with the understanding that they ameliorate the housing crisis, but do not establish an equitable housing system, and are ineffective unless coupled with rent and price controls. (Likewise, health insurance, unemployment compensation, and parallel measures).

C. In research and advocacy, avoiding language that cloaks serious issues or act as euphemisms for actions that would be recognized as undesirable if properly named.[6] Such terms, which often reflect implicit but heavily
Ideologically biased concepts, include:

a. Density, when put forward as if increasing density is per se a suitable goal for a housing policy, or as a simple way to produce affordable housing
b. Affordable housing, when used without recognizing that the definition of what is affordable must take into account that the need for housing becomes greater as incomes decline.
c. Market, when only the private profit-driven market in meant, rather than a system of shaping the distribution of goods and serves, and of public policies, to reflect varying individual and social preferences.
d. Up-zoning, rather than upmarket zoning
e. Wealth creation, if seen as a goal of housing policy for home owners, treating housing, not as a necessity of life valued for its use, but rather as a commodity invested in for it the profit to be derived from it
f. Government intervention, if suggesting there is a “natural” private housing system not fully dependent from the outset on governmental action.
g. Diversity, if used to encourage introduction of higher income or higher status households into lower income communities or communities of color.
h. Color blindness, if used to preclude examination of patterns that my reflect discrimination on the basis of color.
i. Environmentally Sustainable, when excluding the consideration of the social environment.
j. Displacement, when limited to the immediate eviction of households, excluding 1) precautionary or “voluntary” displacement undertaken ahead of but because of the immanence of rising unaffordable rents/costs or foreclosure actions, excluding 2) secondary displacement resulting from price changes in areas outside the immediate area of a given change but required because of it, and excluding 3) excluding prospective displacement, the prevention of households moving into -moving into a neighborhood desired by and otherwise affordable for them because of rising prices. [7]
k. Gentrification, when used as synonymous with neighborhood improvement, rather than its accurate definition as in-movement of higher income households into a neighborhood displacing lower-income households.
l. Integration, desegregation, mixed income, when used to support-movement of a white non-Hispanic population into a community displacing lower income and/or minority households. [8]
m. Growth, when used as a self-evident goal of public policy per se, neglecting what is to be grown and for whom, the relation between the various forms and directions of growth and social justice .
n. Competitiveness, when used as a desirable goal of city policy per se, neglecting questions of the net social desirability of aiding the competitive position of a given city against other cities in terms of the impact on social justice and the differential impact of economic competiveness on different economic and ethnic and racial goops.
o. City, as in ”the city,” when used to suggest that the city is an organic entity in which a benefit to any one part is a benefit to all, avoiding acknowledgement of the multiple conflicting interests in the city and the recognition that benefits for some, most frequently the upper income and elite, is likely to be at the expense of others, most likely the poor and minorities, e.g. wage levels.
p. Filtering, the assumption, contrary to fact, that benefits at the top of the income social, ethnic and racial ladder will filter down and benefit those below as well. As their higher-income residents move in, the tendency is rather to displace than to benefit lower-income ones. [9]
q. Transformative, unless used to separate radical from reformist proposals or policies. [10]

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1. See, for instance, the several excellent studies of the Furman Center for Real Estate at New York University, the trenchant studies of many
3.For the distinctions between reformist and transformative proposals, see pmarcuse.wordpress.com, “Blog #30 – Transformative Proposals in Nine Areas”
4. See Marcuse, Peter. 2014. “Participatory Budgeting–Expansion.” In City Limits web site, http://www.citylimits.org/conversations/262/participatory-budgeting-what-s-the-potential.
5. A vote of the City Council, or even a new Charter Revision may be necessary for this purpose, and might expand the Board’s access to information and revise Board procedures improving the availability of technical assistance outside of city government if needed.
6. Marcuse, Peter, 2006. Expert Report, In Mhany Management Inc., And New York Communities For Change Vs. Incorporated Village Of Garden City and Garden City Board Of Trustees, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York Case 2:05-cv-02301-ADS-WDW Document 413 Filed 12/06/13 Page 1 of 65 PageID #: 10601, cited at page 41.
7.For a fuller discussion, see Marcuse, Peter, “Gentrification, Abandonment, and Displacement: Connections, Causes, and Policy Responses in New York City,” Journal of Urban and Contemporary Law, Vol. 28, 1985, reprinted in revised form as “Abandonment, Gentrification and Displacement: The Linkages in Nw York City” in Neil Smith and Peter Williams, eds., Gentrification of the City, Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1986, pp. 153-177, and in Loretta Lees, Tom Slater, and Elvin Wyly, eds. The Gentrification Reader, 2010, London, Routledge, pp. 333-348.
8.As a sample of the mischievous use of the term: a chair of the New York City Planning commission argued: “gentrification is merely a pejorative term for necessary growth.. “ “Improvement of neighborhoods – some people call it gentrification – provides more jobs, provides housing, much of it affordable, and private investment, which is tax revenue for the city,” she said.
9. Leo Goldberg’s draft for his research spells this out.
10. See pmarcuse.wordpress.com, Blog #11, Reforms, Radical Reforms, and Transformative Claims.

Posted in Gentrfication, Growth, Housing, Loaded Language, New York City, Participatory Budgeting, Planning, Politics, Right to the City | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments