Blog 67a -Fair Housing Act Opinion’s Troublesome Language a


The Fair Housing Act Opinion’s Troublesome Language

Unless noted, all italized quotes are from the Court’s opinion.

The Court’s Syllabus states:

“Remedial orders in disparate-impact cases should concentrate on the elimination of the offending practice, and courts should strive to design race-neutral remedies. Remedial orders that impose racial targets or quotas might raise difficult constitutional questions. From Court’s Syllabus

“Race-neutral remedies.” The language might be interpreted to mean remedies that resulting race–neutral, i.e. non-disparate, results. But that would be a stretch. For it is the remedy, not the result, that is to be race-neutral. And a racial target might be just the thing to achieve that result, but is clearly disapproved. As would, presumably, any action that sought affirmatively to balance racial discrimination by redressisng its results or addressing its causes.

“It would be paradoxical to construe the FHA to impose onerous costs on actors who encourage revitalizing dilapidated housing in our Nation’s cities merely because some other priority might seem preferable. Entrepreneurs must be given latitude to consider market factors. Zoning officials, moreover, must often make decisions based on a mix of factors, both objective (such as cost and traffic patterns) and, at least to some extent, subjective (such as preserving historic architecture). These factors contribute to a community’s quality of life”. From Court’s Syllabus

“Some other priority.” Should it not be held rather that “Avoiding racial discrimination” or “a disparate adverse racial impact” is not just “some other priority that might seem preferable.” Particularly when the Syllabus, the Opinion, and the citations from the employment discrimination cases, suggest that “a legitimate business purpose” (to make a profit?) or cost and traffic patterns,” or “a community’s quality of life” (maintaining it racial exclusiveness?) may excuse otherwise illegal disparate impact??

Disparate-impact liability mandates the “removal of artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers,” not the displacement of valid governmental policies.

“Arbitrary?” Policies addressing land use density through zoning regulations, or traffic control, or quality of life, are all valid governmental policies. So such policies are not arbitrary, and do not violate the Fair Housing Act even if they have adverse disparate results on minoritie?

“It would be paradoxical to construe the FHA to impose onerous costs on actors who encourage revitalizing dilapidated housing in our Nation’s cities merely because some other priority might seem preferable. Entrepreneurs must be given latitude to consider market factors. Zoning officials, moreover, must often make decisions based on a mix of factors, both objective (such as cost and traffic patterns) and, at least to some extent, subjective (such as preserving historic architecture). These factors contribute to a community’s quality of life”

No doubt many entrepreneurs are sorry that their policies create adverse impacts, but point to “market factors” that unfortunately influence their decisions: some white buyers prefer white neighborhoods , are afraid of “changing” neighborhoods, etc., can adduce evidence that those are the facts. That avoids the need to abide by the Fair Housing Act? And racial prejudice in a community is one of the “mix of factors” a zoning board should consider in its work?

…not all employment practices causing a disparate impact impose liability under §703(a)(2) [citing an employment discrimination case]. In this respect, the Court held that “business necessity” constitutes a defense to disparate-impact claims.”

“These cases [on employment discrimination] also teach that disparate-impact liability must be limited so employers and other regulated entities are able to make the practical business choices and profit-related decisions that sustain a vibrant and dynamic free-enterprise system…. And before rejecting a business justification—or, in the case of a governmental entity, an analogous public interest—a court must determine that a plaintiff has shown that there is “an available alternative . . . practice that has less disparate impact and serves the [entity’s] legitimate needs.”

So “practical business choices and profit-related decisions” unless a complaint can show that there is no other way a business might make the same profit without creating a disparate impact? Otherwise making a profit justifies discrimination?

The Fair Housing Act itself uses following language: “No one may take any of the following [discriminator] actions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap.”

How can a remedy then be fashioned for a violation if it has found an adverse impact based on race,if it does not examine the impact of the proposed remedy to see how it impacts groups, including those defined by defined by race, and mandate affirmative action, likewise based on race ?

[This in an expansion of Blog 67]

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Blog #67 – Fair Housing Act, Disparate Impacts, and the Supreme Court


Blog #67 – Fair Housing Act, Disparate Impact Claims, and the Supreme Court

Re: Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs et al. vs. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., et al.

Today’s Supreme Court win in a Texas Fair Housing case1 is a great win for measures aimed at contesting racial discrimination in housing, especially given the composition of the Supreme Court today.

But there’ are reasons not to get complacent about the meaning of the decision, in some of the specific language of the Court’s opinion.

Overt racial discrimination in public actions has long been condemned in the United States, and recent events in a staunchly southern state such as South Carolina in the aftermath of the recent murder of nine African-Americans during church services by a white racist suggest that at least the overt display of racially offensive beliefs and conduct meets widespread, if not unanimous, popular condemnation. But there is also substantial evidence of continuing discrimination based on race and ethnicity is many aspect of U.S. life, and very visible in patterns of inequality and racial segregation in housing and urban planning practices. The result is a pattern in which racist conduct is denied as being racist, is explained by many other considerations but not by prejudice, in which practices having a demonstrable discriminatory effect are justified by all manner of claims as to innocent intentions and legitimate non-racist goals. Housing discrimination in many communities are clear examples.

The Supreme Court’s decision opens the possibility of serious on-going usage of apparently innocent non-discriminatory purposes for actions having a discriminatory, or “racially disparate”, impact. It may open the door to extensive controversy and perhaps litigation aeound what legitimate public concerns may justify actions even if they do have a discriminatory impact.

To be specific:

The Court’s Syllabus states:

“Re¬medial orders in disparate-impact cases should concentrate on the elimination of the offending practice, and courts should strive to design race-neutral remedies. Remedial orders that impose racial tar-gets or quotas might raise difficult constitutional questions. “

In Kennedy’s opinion, citing the employment discrimination cases:

“…not all employment practices causing a disparate impact impose liability under §703(a)(2). In this respect, the Court held that “business necessity” constitutes a defense to disparate-impact claims.”
Further, “These cases also teach that disparate-impact liability must be limited so employers and other regulated entities are able to make the practical business choices and profit-related decisions that sustain a vibrant and dynamic free-enterprise system…. And before rejecting a business justification—or, in the case of a governmental entity, an analogous public interest—a court must deter¬mine that a plaintiff has shown that there is “an available alternative . . . practice that has less disparate impact and serves the [entity’s] legitimate needs.”

And later:

“disparate-impact liability has always been properly limited in key respects that avoid the serious constitutional questions that might arise under the FHA, for instance, if such liability were imposed based solely on a showing of a statistical disparity. Disparate-impact liability man¬dates the “removal of artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers,” not the displacement of valid governmental policies. Griggs, supra, at 431. The FHA is not an in¬strument to force housing authorities to reorder their priorities. Rather, the FHA aims to ensure that those priorities can be achieved without arbitrarily creating discriminatory effects or perpetuating segregation.”

“It would be paradoxical to construe the FHA to impose onerous costs on actors who encourage revitalizing dilapi¬dated housing in our Nation’s cities merely because some other priority might seem preferable. Entrepreneurs must be given latitude to consider market factors. Zoning officials, moreover, must often make decisions based on a mix of factors, both objective (such as cost and traffic patterns) and, at least to some extent, subjective (such as preserving historic architecture). These factors contribute to a community’s quality of life and are legitimate concerns for housing authorities. The FHA does not decree a particular vision of urban development; and it does not put housing authorities and private developers in a double bind of liability, subject to suit whether they choose to rejuvenate a city core or to promote new low-income housing in sub¬urban communities. As HUD itself acknowledged in its re¬cent rulemaking, disparate-impact liability “does not mandate that affordable housing be located in neighbor-hoods with any particular characteristic.” 78 Fed. Reg. 11476. “

Terms such as “race –neutral remedies,” or “a mix of factors contribut[ing] to a community’s quality of life,” and “legitimate needs” that may outweigh disparate impacts, or prohibiting taking a community’s “particular characteristics” into account in locating housing, may well lead to delegitimize such frequent progressive goals of public planning and zoning actions as achieving diversity, promoting equality, distributing based on need, all of which to be meaningful must clearly take racial and ethnic characteristics into account in formulating policies.

This is all language, depending on how it is interpreted in the future, that may turn disparate impact cases into long-drawn-out technical planning debates about what “a community’s quality of life” is, or whether economic development is an appropriate public purpose and how it might be achieved, etc. It would be ironic if the law were to be interpreted to hold that racial discrimination in housing is bad unless it “serves a legitimate business purpose,” as the bald language often cited in employment discrimination cases reads. And it would be upsetting indeed if the cautious language of the decision limiting disparate impact claims to those challenging practices that have a “disproportionately adverse effect on minorities” were broadly interpreted to strike down the disparate positive impact that plaintiffs often in fact seek in remedies, a disparate impact that favors racial minorities but adversely affects other minorities, e.g. small property owners, or, for that matter, the wealthy.

The affirmative actions required of governments to implement the Fair Housing Act within their jurisdictions is not touched on in the Court’s decision. The explicit holding that race may not be part of any remedial order, after a finding of adverse impact in violation of the Act, is a potential crippling threat to efforts at affirmative action to overcome findings of racial disparities. If evidence of a disparate impact of a governmental action is a valid reason to invoke the Fair Housing Act, why is it not appropriate to impose a statistical measure – an affirmative remedy taking race into account, a “racial quota”? – as part of the remedy?

The Court holds that “the FHA does not decree a particular vision of urban development.” But many of its proponents certainly thought it did: a vision of an urban development that is socially, economically, and physically just, in which racial minorities will be full and equal citizens entitled to share in all the benefits of urban life, without discrimination. Such a vision implies affirmative action, as well as the absence of negative, by government. It would be a shame if this decision buried that vision.

Lawyers, planners, and advocates for diversity and racial justice should remain on guard. Blog #67a spells out the difficlties with these quotes

More positively, perhaps this otherwise welcome decision can be seen as a step forward in crafting stronger positive role for the federal government in the area of housing and urban development. The logic of the decision, although limited by foreboding language by this Court, suggest there is much that could be done at the federal level to in fact develop a broad vision of a desirable urban policy in the cities of the nation. It would be a vision hardly to be expected of this Court or of this Congress, but perhaps could be thought for what a progressive urban platform might be for 2016 and the longer-range future.

[A slightly expanded discussion of the language is at Blog #67a]

Peter Marcuse

1. Available at: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/13-1371_m64o.pdf

Posted in Discrimination, Fair Housing Act, Housing, Loaded Language, Social Justice, Watch Your Language! | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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