Blog #97 – After Exposing the Roots of Homelessness – What?,


 

After Exposing the Roots of Homelessness – What?

I am deeply impressed by the contributions to this volume[1] and the debates that have led up to it, and happy that my little essay more than 25 years ago fed into them.  But at the same time I am saddened by it is still timely.

It is now clear that we know enough about homelessness and its causes and effects to understand how abhorrent it is within an affluent society, and further that we know enough to be aware of what is needed to end it, what can and should be done. I write “’we’ know enough;” at  least no one seriously argues today that  homelessness is inevitable as a natural and healthy phenomenon needed to keep society going, to provide an incentive for those too lazy or too stupid to get to work and take care of themselves.

So why do we still have homelessness in countries like the United States today? On the very day I write this, in today’s New York Times[2] is a story headlined   “Long Nights with Little Sleep for Families Seeking Shelter; it gives the number of persons in shelters as 59,373, a record. This is on the front page one of the most widely read and respected newspapers in the country. It isn’t knowledge that is lacking that is preventing us from solving the problem . If there are still attempts to “neutralize” it, in the sense of the discussion here, it is not out of ignorance.

Why so little action, then? The picture that emerges from the articles in this book help us explain why. I think the argument can be summarized as follows.

To begin with, it costs money to remedy homelessness, and requires significant governmental regulation to solve it, and that in a variety of linked fields: housing production, management, location, urban planning and development, economic development, education, health care, criminal justice, media coverage, racial and ethnic discrimination, immigration – the detailed evidence is at hand. Admitting this means, at the very least, raising the money for the needed remedies, even just the shelter responses that are so obviously inadequate even in our greatest cities. That means taxation, and necessarily progressive taxation; when the 1% own more wealth than all the bottom 50% together, there are powerful class issues involved from the beginning. The results are apparent in the prevalence of the “lower taxes” slogan in current political campaigns. Claims for equity in taxation get neutralized too.

But look at the further implications of acting on what know about homelessness, pursing its implications in public policy formation. The money and resources that are needed to provide adequate housing for all must either come today – we live in a capitalist society – from the private profit-motivated sector, or from government. In the private sector that means raising wages and incomes substantially at the bottom and the middle; and in the government sector, raising taxes at the top. Clearly controversial. Power for either event does not lie with those pushing to solve homelessness.

But take critical analysis further. The reason redistribution of money and resources from the rich to the poorer is needed to provide decent housing for all is that housing is distributed through the market, based on ability to pay, i.e.based on wealth and incomes. That’s not inevitable, even within a capitalist system. Some housing could also be distributed by need, with public provision outside the market where the market will not provide it for lack of profit potential.  Public housing, housing subsidies, income subsidies, housing allowances, anti -speculation taxes, rent controls, community land trusts, inclusionary housing requirements, are all available tools. We know what can and should be done. Lack of knowledge or tools is not the problem; the problem is implementing our knowledge..

But taking an even further look at the implications of that conclusion: why does it only apply, mutatis mutandis, to homelessness issues – resources need to be redistributed, the role of the market constrained?? Indeed, could the conclusions really in any case only be limited to homelessness, or to housing policy generally, even if we wanted to narrow it that way? Wouldn’t  it, if we were being logical, apply to all of the linked areas mentioned above, from urban development to health care to racial discrimination, not only to poverty but to all issues of social justice and of equality?

And then it becomes hard not to examine the rationale for capitalism itself, and to ask whether or not alternatives ought to be considered. Admittedly socialism in its classic conceptualized form is hardly on the agenda, today, although Bernie Saunders may have made the word’s use a little more acceptable in polite society. If two key hallmarks of movement in that direction already accepted and in place, might be thought of, such as free public  education, public  police  and fire protection services, public roads and transportation, parks, for instance, might we not consider reexamining the appropriate  role the market vis-à-vis  democratic governmental provision and regulation in the housing sector? Couldn’t  we  use the levels of public funding and public regulation as  indications of where are compared to where we want to be on each, and keep their connection with broader economic, social, physical, and above all power, relationships very much on the table as well?

We are already, in the United States, at national, and at some state and local, into hard debates about the appropriate roles of the private sector and government, and inching towards a variety of compromises. Think of health care, going from subsidy and facilitation towards a public option, uncomfortably aware that other countries have much more satisfactory nation health systems. We have means-tested programs of public welfare assistance, some including direct public provision, others subsidizing private or providing direct cash allowances to be used in the market. Public health agencies deal with some health issues – the Zika virus is right now a clear public concern – but not o. We have unemployment benefits, economic development programs subsidizing private “jo creators,” but little direct public job creation. All of these programs deal with issues related to each of the others, but the campaigns for improvement in each are separate, and the political parties shy aware from any broad calls to link them in a reassessment of the roles of the involved private and public institutions and levels of government. Yet that is what all the widely available evidence point us to as needed.

Perhaps putting an analysis such as is provoked by the above summary under the rubric of a formal Right to Housing, such as is suggested in the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,[3] might likewise help us help us broaden and deepen the approach we take to the problem of homelessness, its causes and solutions. Putting the situation in the global context in the national discourse might by itself be illuminating.

What needs to be done, urgently today and gradually but ultimately tomorrow ,  is really pretty clear.[4] Perhaps Trump also understands the logic of this , and that explains why he so staunchly opposes dealing seriously with and really funding any social programs dealing with an issue such as homelessness in his budget – if you start helping one set of “losers,” you’re going to have to start helping all of them, and where would that  lead us….

[1] Marcuse, Peter. 1987. “Why Are They Homeless,” The Nation, April 4, vol. 244, No. 13. Reprinted in Eitzen, D. Stanley, ed., Social Problems, Allyn & Bacon, and in Kennedy, Williams, ed., Writing in the Disciplines, Prentice Hall.

[2] Nakita Stewart,“Long Nights with Little Sleep For Families Seeking Shelter,” The New York Times , August 29, 2016, p.1.

[3] The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, available at   http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html, and Edgar, Bill; Doherty, Joe; Meert, Henk (2002). Access to housing: homelessness and vulnerability in Europe. The Policy Press. p. 17. ISBN 978-1-86134-482-3.

[4] A further discussion of the cause and some alternate approaches to “the housing problem ” may be found in David Madden and Peter Marcuse, In Defense of Housing: the Politics of Crisis, 2016, Verso, London, , and in various  entries in my blog, Urbandpolitical, at pmarcuse.wordpress.com.

Peter Marcuse      July 20, 2018

 

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Blog #80 – Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning: the Good and the Bad


Mandatory Inclusionary Housing: MIH, the Good and the Bad

MIH is an approach to ameliorating housing problems, and it lays an important role in city planning and zoning. It generally permits denser and higher new private development in areas zoned for it, but it requires  developers to set aside a given percentage of the new units for housing affordable  by families of lower income, essentially paid for by the profits of the new market rate housing also allowed. It combines zoning and planning policy with housing policy; both aspects need to be considered in any careful evaluation.

The housing part: A housing system that does not provide adequate decent safe and sanitary housing for all citizens is wrong. It hurts the most vulnerable sections of our society; it is the exact opposite of what Rawls calls the second principle of Justice:[1] it discriminates against those already the least advantaged, those already suffering from hardships in employment, in education, in health care, in finance. And it inevitably overlaps with discrimination on racial and ethnic grounds.

The fact that the effect of discrimination is produced by the market is no excuse for allowing it.[2] Wealth is unequally divided in our society; there is no conceivable moral justification for some acquiring billions and others being homeless; we are rich enough to house everyone, in decent, safe, and sanitary units. Allowing billionaires to play a wildly disproportionate role in politics, and thus in government, in the social decisions that we make through government, permitting them to act in their own self-interest rather than letting government act on behalf of all of us and be guided by a decision-making process that is fully informed and democratic, makes the injustice of a profit-based market housing system even worse.

Mandatory inclusionary zoning can be an effective tool to deal with the injustices of such  a purely market-driven system of producing and allocating housing. I would commend the mayor and HPD for pursing it, and making it an important component of an overall approach to the problem of housing.

But MIH fails if it is distorted to serve as an excuse for segregation and functions by enabling displacement under cover of serving social justice. That’s not a criticism of MIH as such; it’s a criticism of it us without considering it role in the wider task of community–based planning and development. MIH plays this perverse role in two ways:

  1. Who is included in the inclusionary part? If it is a program that makes sure that those earning a million a year are include in every enclave of billionaires, that could be called “inclusionary” too, but not what this is intended to be about by its advocates, and I believe not what the Mayor or HPD intend either. The abstract debate about whether those targeted for inclusion are those at 30% of AMI, or 20%, or 10%, is not quibbling about numbers, it is of the heart of the matter. It calls for thoughtfulness, for a recognition of political realities, for some careful analysis of needs and resources, but it seems clear to me that, given where we are, the lower the income groups served and the higher the proportions required to be included, the better. The perfect may be pragmatically the enemy of the good in political negotiations, but the direction of good public policy must be to move as close to the perfect answer as we can get.
  1. Where and how MIH is used is the second major issue in the program — in addition to the issue of numeric income limits and proportions – and the two are linked. It is a program intended by is advocates to act against discrimination , to help those excluded from decent housing because of their incomes and their jobs, or the lack of jobs, or by their  race or ethnicity or sexual orientation or religions, from a decent housing in a decent environment, those discriminated against by the functioning of the housing market enforced throughout by government, through its courts and judicial system, its environmental regulations and their presence and absence, through  public investments or disinvestment in physical infrastructure  and social  MIH can promote segregation as well  as integration. The devil knows that too.

Segregation is a form of discrimination. It restricts opportunities, inhibits broad diversity and its benefits, defines the opportunities it provides for community solidarity negatively, by indicating what cannot be done, by whom, with whom, rather than enabling a broad social concept of community as embracing the broad range of the society. MIH, if it is not undertaken in a community -sensitive and spatially-planned way, opens the door to the G word, Gentrification. Gentrification, over-simplified, is the displacement of poorer households by better -off ones, worsening the housing of those at the bottom for those closer to the top. The unregulated market will allow  those with the wealth and political resources to take over desirable locations in our cities that have been historically occupied by working class and poor families and turn them into higher income enclaves from which the or  have been expelled. If a MIH proposal is part of a zoning scheme in which gentrification is rationalized by requiring a smattering of those in need of housing to benefit from the displacement of many of their brethren and sisters, it produces that kind of segregation. Rezoning a particular area to allow more housing to be built in such fashion that the net proportion of higher income households is significantly increased in the community displaces families both on the parcels on which it is built and those priced out of the community by the impact of increased land values resulting from the new construction for the richer will further, not reduce, segregation as the net result.

And MIH will have a natural tendency to produce that result if it is not carefully structured to avoid it. The income levels fixed, the proportions allowed, the resulting net totals, the neighborhood effects, the social guidance of the market setting of rents and, the planning social facilities and social investments, re all involved here. The impacts of specific provisions will vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, from community to community, and should be undertaken with the greatest of care and the maximum of community input and decision-making – Rawls’ goals of social justice must be kept  in mind.[1] Diversity, for instance , has specific benefits in itself , in permitting mixing, mutual enrichment, solidarity and mutual support ; but diversifying public housing by introducing higher income household at the expense of those intended to be serve by it, with the result of benefiting higher over low-income families, is not  a just objective of public policy . Likewise with the allocation of public subsidies, using housing vouchers, etc., to facilitate inclusionary occupancy only when it is to the ultimate benefit of its developers and those in less need, is unjust.

MIH may be put forward as a painless no-displacement approach to rezoning empty or grossly technically underutilized land. But again it may be helping solve a housing problem at the cost of increasing segregation and in determining desired zoning and planning goals. The issue is not direct displacement, but secondary displacement: preventing families from moving into an area where they might otherwise find affordable housing and integrated housing by an upzoning that increases housing, specifically land, prices beyond their reach. That process is called secondary displacement, and advances segregation as much, if less visibly than, direct displacement.  Using MIH as part of an upzoning is better than having the upzoning without the MIH, but that’s hardly the only alternative. Good planning would evaluate a range of possibilities. One very promising approach, for instance, is the use of community land trusts or mutual housing associations as owners or decision-making entities of development, making the process of planning and implementation really democratic down to the neighborhood level. Further, the alternatives for any major proposal should be considered in the context of planning for the future of the city as a whole, where future commercial development might best be concentrated — or dispersed – whether the plan promotes or helps overcome the sharp divisions of the city with its internal boundaries of race, income, ethnicity, social status, gender.

In summary: Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, in the context of community-based planning, strengthening inclusionary communities democratically designed by and for those that government justly should serve, has great potential. But it must be carefully designed, both in its own details, incomes to be served, proportions to be reached, and in its broader context, the communities to be served, the planning into which it must be integrated. Depending on its design, it can go badly awry, or be a real instrument for progress in the social good.

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The big picture:

In the best case scenario, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing can be a way of redistributing the benefits of the city’s growth  and sky-rocketing land values, which the city as a whole has created, not the individual land owners benefiting from it, , and letting the city’s people and their communities capture some of that increase in value. It does so in a way clearly meeting the very definition of justice, helping those least advantaged and reducing the advantages of their richer cousins.  Communities, and particularly those most need, can capture some of that socially created increases in land values through MIH. It redistributes from the more fully advantaged to the less advantaged, the very definition of justice. In less advantaged communities, MIH can make sure, given adequate, meaningful community control, that benefits and costs are fairly distributed. In more advantages communities. Think how different today’s suburbs or exclusionary enclaves would look if mandatory inclusionary zoning had been in effect when they were developed!

Or

In the worst case scenario , mandatory inclusionary housing  can be a way of enriching developers and land owners by opening new opportunities for profit for them by building  market rate high rise highly profitable developments in upzoned “undervalued” neighborhoods, at the expense of displacement of families in need of housing , what’s called gentrification. Displacement follows, not only on the site of the new development, but secondary displacement also follows, where land in the newly developed parcels increases development prices in the surrounding neighborhood, putting some of it also out of reach both of its existing residents and of those under normal circumstances likely to move in but unable to at the new higher prices.  And the masters of the new developments can get away with it politically by raising the image of dong good through provision of a limited number of housing units to poorer people, some of whom might actually b those they themselves just displace,. or who might be useful for the rich to have nearby as nannies and cooks and chauffeurs and butlers. In both cases, there is a danger that, at the scale of the city, segregation may increase and, for lack of a comprehensive city-wide planning approach, the desired balance among uses, residential, commercial, manufacturing, public facilities, will be lost.

Even seemingly technical issues, like what % of Area Median Income defines households in need of “affordable“ housing, or what proportion on MIH units in a given development should  be market rate and what affordable, or seemingly procedural planning issues such as the strength of city-wide comprehensive planning and its relationship to community-based plans, and in what communities with what standards, can make the difference between the best case and the  worst case scenarios .

 

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[1] that inequalities in society work to the benefit of the least advantaged

[2] In fair housing law, it is not only acts of intentional discrimination that are banned, but also those having the adverse effect of discrimination.

#68 – Evaluation of Fair Housing: HUD AFFHR and Supreme Court Decision


#68 – Fair Housing: Evaluation of Recent Developments.

[The 5 blogs in this set take up the Supreme Court’s decision in Texas vs. Inclusive Communities and HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Regulation (AFFHR) (Blogs #68 and #69), posting today) and the broader questions they raise about some elusive general principles dealing with the meaning of social change and the efforts to accomplish it(Blogs #70, 71, 72) posting in the next few days..

This Blog #68 – Evaluation of Recent Developments, examines the reception the Court’s decision and the AFFHR have received and their respective roles in dealing with housing discrimination.

Blog #69 – Fair Housing: Limitations of Supreme Court decision and AFFHR, takes up the limited scope of the AFFHR, the weaknesses in the Court’s decision and the problems of implementation for both.

Then:

Blog #70 – The Causes of Discrimination, opens an analysis of the current causes of discrimination, and the attribution of causes to the legacy of slavery and to present actors—the thoughtless, the perpetrators, the collaborators, and the victims, the structural context in which they operate.

Blog #71 – Fair Housing – Remedies and Solutions, then proposes some immediate remedies and some principles for real solutions.

Blog #72 – Social Change: Some Elusive Principles for Societal Change, goes beyond Fair Housing to take up some elusive issues raised by the preceding four blogs.]

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#68 – Fair Housing: Evaluation of Recent Developments.

There is an element of unrestrained welcome in the responses to two recent major Federal actions on fair housing, one the Supreme Court’s Decision in Texas vs. Integrated Community Policies, the other is the Regulation Concerning Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.   The New York Times, for instance, editorially says “The new rule …provides a clear, forceful definition of the law… which means replacing segregated Living patterns with truly integrated and balanced living patters.”[1] The National Resources Defense Council Staff blog speaks of it as an historic and overdue final rule. [2]

The reaction on the other side has been more than just the opposite: The conservative National Review, for instance, went so far as to call the new Regulation “easily one of President Obama’s most radical initiatives.” [3] And “AFFH could spell the end of the local democracy that Alexis de Tocqueville rightly saw as the foundation of America’s liberty and distinctiveness.[4]

But both reactions are overdone. And this aspect, fulsome praise of the AFFH, can seriously detract from efforts to remedy the very serious problems of discrimination that we still face in this country.
Seen in perspective, the advance since Ferguson, Charlestown,, the flag lowering and the AFFH Regulation is limited,[5] and in the AFFH case has within it possible seeds of serious steps backwards in the route to full justice for minorities (an increasingly dubious term) and for racial justice (likewise a term still to be used with caution (African-American justice doesn’t quite cut it either).

To begin with, the existence of a serious problem is indisputable. About 25% of African—Americans live in poor census tracts (where more than 30% have incomes under the poverty level), only about 16% of white households do. A non-poor African-American is more likely to live in a poverty census tract than a poor white household. For the first time in 2014 non-white students are a majority of students in public schools in the United States, and “black students are just as segregated today as they were in the late 1960s, when serious enforcement of desegregation plans first began.”[6] Infant mortality rates are almost two and a half times higher for African-Americans in the U.S than they are for whites, and not just because of poverty in the southern states. In Massachusetts, the rate of infant deaths per thousand for white is the lowest the country, 3.8 per 1,000, but for African-Americans it is 9.2 per thousand, almost 3 times higher. [7]

But there are several limitations to the progress represented by these most recent two actions, the Supreme Court decision and the HUD regulation.

The two events, a Supreme Court decision in a Texas case, and the issuance of a Final Rule by HUD dealing with Affirmative Action to Further Fair Housing, are closely linked, and treated essentially as one in much of the discussion, and in the blogs that follow. Taken together, they have impact in two ways: first on the on-the-ground ability to enforce the established negative goals of the Fair Housing Act, specifically the prevention and remediation of discriminatory acts in housing, acts defined in general terms unchanged since its adoption in 1968, and second, on the impact of such positive provision of housing as there now is on racial patterns of segregation, thus provoking re-examination of the goals of that law, and the public policies relating to race and space of which it is a part.

The first of these impacts, on the negative prevention of acts of discrimination by others, e.g. realtors may not show some houses just to whites, not to blacks. The second is providing that the government does not itself discriminate in such positive provision of housing as it undertakes, e.g. it may not locate subsidized affordable housing only in areas segregated by race. The language of “affirmative” action could be more broadly interpreted to require government to in fact provide housing, in a manner aimed at integration, but neither the Supreme Court decision nor the AFFH program confront that possibility. There is a brief interchange in the Federal Register[8] on the final rule that goes as follows:

Commenters stated that even if the [zoning] ordinance does not violate the nondiscrimination provisions of the Fair Housing Act the jurisdiction may need to adopt an inclusionary zoning ordinance because such a policy would be the most effective means of addressing the identified contributing factors under the circumstances…

HUD Response: The proposed rule provided that program participants would take meaningful actions to further the goals identified in an AFH conducted in accordance with the requirements of this rule and would take no action materially inconsistent with their obligation to affirmatively further fair

They would “take meaningful actions” and “take no actions.” Prohibiting exclusionary zoning is “a meaningful action,” but it falls short of being “the most effective means,” which might be mandating[9] inclusionary zoning. Zoning is never elsewhere mentioned by HUD. There is little in the history of HUD’s use of the Act to suggest it holds to such a broader use of “affirmative.” So there is really nothing new in either the Supreme Court’s decision or HUD’s AFFH rule to suggest that HUD would go beyond “take no actions” to enforce anything as meaningful” as inclusionary zoning.[10]

So the real contribution of the AFFH is its facilitation of the application of the disparate impact standard that the Supreme Court’s decision has legitimized.

The contribution that the decision and the rule make in fact lies in the implementation of the negative prohibitions of the Fair Housing Act, not expanding the meaning of “affirmative.” On the negative side the issue has been what proof is necessary to invoke the Act’s prohibition of housing discrimination. The Act has two definitions of prohibited conduct: acts of “intentional” discrimination, and acts having an “adverse disparate effect” on minorities.

That proof on an “intent” to discriminate” is hard to come by. That is universally recognized, including by the courts, but defendants charged with violation of the FHA have long stoutly maintained it is necessary under the law. The Supreme Court has now validated the use of the disparate impact standard instead, and HUD, through the AFFH Rule, had made it easier for local governments to come up with evidence that there has in fact been an adverse disparate impact.

On the reach of affirmative action neither the Supreme Court’s opinion nor HUD’s AFFH rule provide anything that is really new. What they do do is raise in the minds of many what the ultimate goal of broad and effective affirmative action should be, and specifically what the desirable nature of integration of minorities is and how it is best accomplished. The blogs that follow argue that both the Court’s opinion and the impact of the AFFH will make resolving that issue even harder.

And both the Court’s holding and the AFFH rule have severe limits. Blog #69 now turns to a detailed examination of the specific weaknesses in the Court’s decision and the AFFHR. Blog #70 explores the causes of those weaknesses, suggested to lie in their avoidance of the underlying causes of discrimination in housing and planning.

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[1] It goes on: “[the Regulation means] transforming racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty into areas of opportunity and fostering and maintaining compliance with civil rights and fair housing laws. ”The End of Federally Financed Ghettos,” The New York Times, July 12, 2015, p. Sunday Review, p. 10.

[2] Deron Lovaas’s Blog. “Taking the First Big Step Toward Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” Posted July 8, 2015. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a historic and overdue final rule requiring its grantees to leap forward by “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing.” http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/dlovaas/taking_the_first_big_step forward.htm. l Natural Defense Council Staff Blog.

[3] It goes on: “AFFH gives the federal government a lever to re-engineer nearly every American neighborhood — imposing a preferred racial and ethnic composition, densifying housing, transportation, and business development in suburb and city alike, and weakening or casting aside the authority of local governments over core responsibilities, from zoning to transportation to education. Not only the policy but the political implications are immense — at the presidential, congressional, state, and local levels.” National Review, July 8, 2015. Available at http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/420896/massive-government-overreach-obamas-affh-rule-out-stanley-kurtz.

[4] Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/420896/massive-government-overreach-obamas-affh-rule-out-stanley-kurtz

[5] On the present state of racism, see my Blog #   , Racism After Ferguson – A Turning Point? at pmarcuse.wordpress.com.

[6] Reed Jordan, “America’s public schools remain highly segregated.” Urban Wire, http://www.urban.org/urban-wire/americas-public-schools-remain-highly-segregated August 24, 2014.

[7] Kaiser Family Foundation, Infant Mortality Rate (Deaths per 1,000 Live Births) by Race/Ethnicity, available at              http://kff.org/other/state-indicator/infant-mortality-rate-by-race-ethnicity/

[9] Zoning is indeed typically a local government activity over which the Federal government has no general jurisdiction, but the final rule is clear that the basis of the Final Rule is HUD’s threat to withhold funding, a threat generally considered adequate to achieve compliance with HUD’s requirements. HUD could if it would.

[10] A Westchester case is a notable exception, and in fact was settled including an agreement that the County provide 450 units of new affordable housing within five years o when the suit was first brought, and its implementation has been tied up in litigation over almost 5 years and the results to date have been not been large, and whether it could have been mandated by HUD under the FHA was never tested in court. See http://homes.westchestergov.com/housingsettlement and http://www.propublica.org/article/westchester-county-could-lose-millions-for-fair-housing-failures.

Blog #69 now turns to a detailed examination of the specific weaknesses in the Court’s decision and the AFFHR

Blog #54 – Community Land Trusts as Transformative Housing Reforms


Community Land Trusts as Transformative Housing Reforms

That New York City has a housing problem is rather well known. The devil here is indeed in the big picture as well as in the details. 47% of the city’s low-income renters[1] pay more than half of their incomes to obtain housing. Imagine what paying half your income just for housing means for the ordinary person, let alone one with limited income. 24% live in overcrowded quarters, more than 1.5 persons per room in the standard definition. Neighborhoods are clustered by race, ethnicity, income, household composition –what impolite critics call segregated, one of the most segregated (84.3 on the widely used dissimilarity index, where 100is completely segregated. Only Gary, Detroit, and Milwaukee, of the 314 other metropolitan area in the United States, are more segregated.[2] 224,000 units were in physically poor conditions. 164,000 units were vacant but not available for sale or rent, according even to the official figures.[3]There were 15,993 mortgage foreclosures in the city in 2013;

Bloomberg News[1] headlined the fact:

FORECLOSURES SURGING IN NEW YORK-NEW JERSEY MARKET.

Community Land Trusts may have a significant effect on New York City’s housing crisis, may affect struggling and even prospering neighborhoods, may achieve significant savings in the city’s budget for housing while increasing the afford housing supply for families in trouble. But their long term impact may go further, and be a transformative new way of looking at the housing market and its limits, and model the way it can best function to serve the needs of all the city’s resident.

 

The federal government has, in its fashion, responded to such problems; New York City has the highest number of public housing unit, owned and managed, and maintained (in niggardly fashion) by the New York City Housing Authority itself. New York State has, if reluctantly, permitted the city to establish limits on the rents that can be charged for a declining portion of the city’s large renal stock. Mayor Bloomberg responded by pushing for extensive new construction of units, with a minor allocation to those most in need. Mayor de Blasio has put forward an extensive and expensive new housing plan that envisages 200,000 new units, and more, in the next 10 years.

 

But of course, when we say “New York City has a housing problem,” hat does not mean everyone in the city has a problem. The New York Real Estate Board holds that the real estate market has rebounded from the bursting of bubble that the industry, with the active encouragement of the financial sector, itself produced so recently. Rents going up are good news for landlords, if bad for tenants.[5] Mortgage foreclosures by banks and other financial institutions provide opportunities for big operators to buy up homes at a bargain, throwing home owners willy-nilly onto the rental market, shattering hopes of accumulating wealth by investing in “asset building” in a housing market sure only to go up, not down. At the same time, a Rent Stabilization Board makes sure rent regulation won’t prevent landlords from covering the costs when they go, protecting the profits from their investments, regardless of whether that means their tenants chances of meeting their basic needs are widely jeopardized. Talk of inequality!

 

A tiny new non-profit, called NYCCLI, somewhat incongruously pronounceable as “nicely,” the New York City Community Land Initiative,has just been incorporated in New York. What does it hope to offer to deal with this situation? Quite a bit, it turns out. NYCCLI’s formal incorporation papers describe it purpose as “advocating for community land trusts.”

 

And what is a community land trust? A community land trust is a trust that typically owns land, on which the housing unit or units are leased, for 99 years, to a limited equity co-op which provides homes for households, typically lower to moderate income, who occupy the buildings as members of such a co-op and have all the rights a home owners would have except for the right to sell the unit at a profit. Their sales price is set by a formula approved by the trust, typically permitting recovering the purchase price plus improvements plus some cost-of-living adjustment, but excluding the value of the land, which of course remains with the trust. The trust that owns the land also sets some basic rules for its use, basically to ensure that the housing on it will be permanently available to household who need it at the most affordable rents possible. The board that runs the trust is typically composed 1/3 each of residents of it housing, residents of its neighborhood, and supporters, who may come from government, advocacy groups, or technical experts who may be helpful to the trust. [6]

 

What good are community land trusts? They have four major advantages:

 

First, they make possible the creation of affordable housing on a permanent basis, especially for lower income households. CLTs make a key trade-off: they give up the possibility of speculating on an abnormal increase in the dollar value of the home in return for the security of knowing there is no threat of loss if housing prices go down and no danger of eviction if the cost of occupancy become unaffordable because of job loss or ill health or other circumstances beyond a household’s ability to control. And unlike almost all currently existing affordable housing programs, if a community land trust receives public subsidy, its benefits remain permanently available to their targeted low/moderate income recipients, and do not expire after a fixed time period of 20 or 30 or 40 years, and costs for such future residents have been permanently fixed to exclude any increases in the speculative value of the unit.

 

 

Second, community land trusts build communities and stabilize neighborhoods. They provide for deeply democratic management of their housing. By having not only residents but also neighbors and supporters from the wider community on their boards, they can provide diversity, establish priorities for expenditures, achieve efficiencies of scale, and put the strength of the trust behind individual members falling on hard times

 

Third, community land trusts represent a whole new approach to the principles governing the way housing is distributed, occupied, and used in a democratic society, limiting the intensity of the inequality induced by a private market which sees housing as a commodity to be bought and sold for its exchange value, for the profit it may produce, instead of for the needs it may satisfy, its social use value. NYCCLI’s approach can help change housing from a symbol and magnifier of inequality to address at least in part one of inequality’s main causes.

 

But fourth, and in the long run perhaps most important, they can be transformative.

 

Community land trusts challenge the arrangements of a housing market used to the pleasures and pains of speculating on housing value, which is, economically, fundamentally speculating on the value of a given location, and instead see housing as a necessity of a decent life and a supportive environment for all. And they provide the same opportunity for “wealth creation” or “asset building” as does buying a house with a mortgage and paying off the mortgage: put the equivalent of what is put into paying off the mortgage principal and interest on the land into a savings account or other good investment, and you have the accumulation with perhaps even less risk. Putting this together, they can move from seeing housing as a commodity, valued for its exchange value, the profit it can produce, and see it rather as a necessity of life, even perhaps up to a certain configuration as a public good.

 

The different tenures of housing and the legal and financial relationships householders have to the housing they occupy have major implications for the way people live. Community land trusts can provide a form of home ownership for a resident that combines the privacy and security and insulation of the American Dreams’ single family suburban house with the solidarity and support and social richness of the ideal urban life-style. Immediately, to reach the lowest income groups, they will need some public support for acquisition or basic running costs, and they richly deserve such support.[7] In the long run, transformatively, they can benefit not only their residents but the neighborhoods and the housing system

 

[1] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-26/foreclosures-climaxing-in-new-york-new-jersey-market-mortgages.html

[2] Censusscope, available at http://www.censusscope.org/us/rank_dissimilarity_white_black.html

[3] The Census Bureau’s Housing and Vacancy Survey for 2011,. The count by Picture the Homeless suggests a significantly higher figure.

[4] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-26/foreclosures-climaxing-in-new-york-new-jersey-market-mortgages.html

[5] The Real Estate Board summarizes:

“,,,notable gains this quarter, as compared to the second quarter of 2013, included: the 19-percent-increase in the average sales price for all homes in Brooklyn to $715,000; the 15-percent-boost in coop sales in Queens; and the 13-percent-increase in the average sales price for a coop in New York City to $768,000. The residential market in Manhattan also remained strong with the average sales price for all homes increasing by six percent to $1,491,000 year-over-year” http://www.rebny.com/content/rebny/en/newsroom/press-releases/2014/REBNY_2014_2Q_Report_Improving_Economy_Drives_Residential_Sales.html

[6] Detailed information is available from the national Community Trust Network, whose website, at http://cltnetwork.org/, contans extensive references to further materials, as do NYCCLI’s own educational materials.

[7] And remember the enormous subsidy that inures disproportionately to higher income households from the mortgage interest deduction in our income tax system.

Blog #38 – Community Land Trusts: Empty, Moderate, and Full-bodied.


Community Land Trusts – Empty, Moderate, or Full-bodied?

Community land trusts,[1] as a legal form of ownership of land, can come in three different forms: empty – available to any group for any purpose; moderate – to deal with serious but limited problems for a limited group, or full-bodied – handling both immediate problems but with a broad social justice perspective pushing transformative content and actions.

The differences are significant. Community land trusts can simply be an expanded form of co-operative ownership used by those protecting an already strong position in the housing market, insulating its members from outside influences by exclusion. The legal form of land trust is available to all, and ”community” can be interpreted restrictively by the well-to-do as easily as broadly by less well-off users. Thus, community land trusts as an empty form.

At the other extreme on a scale of social justice, community land trusts have the potential to play a transformative role in our housing systems, favoring lower-income households and all those ill served by existing markets, including poor households, the homeless, African-Americans and ethnic minorities, many women, households diverse by gender relations, age, and background.  -justice focused community land trusts can whittle away at the dominance of the private market as a method of allocating housing. Community land trusts can be models of democratic governance, both internally and at a larger scale of governance. And they can help in the political processes by which public resources are allocated to establish and implement a meaningful right to housing for all. Thus, necessarily, full=bodied community land trusts .

Community land trusts may also be transformative in a quite different context: achieving effective grass-roots democracy. If extended, community land trusts may be seen as a form of neighborhood self-government, in fact controlling land uses and what goes with them in an unquestionably powerful manner, viz. having legal title to the land. But such a potential for community land trusts is not at this point seriously in the picture. The tie-in with other social movements pressing for democratization of land use controls and the planning function of government should not be ignored, however.

In between these two extremes lie a wide variety of variations in form and content. The exclusionary use of community land trusts would presumably be rejected by most. There is a danger of co-optation by interests posing community land trusts  as an alternative to public housing or rent regulation or subsidies or favorable tax treatment for those in need. Presumably, also, a formal commitment to principles of social justice and serving those in need would be part of any mainstream moderate position. But how sharply to focus their immediate goals, how widely or narrowly to devote their energies, how to use limited resources, with whom to ally and who to confront in adversarial fashion, how far and in what manner to be politically engaged, are all matters in which strategy as well as principle. Compromises will be inevitable. Thus, moderate community land trusts.

Where in this spectrum of possible community land trusts  a given effort stands seems to me to depend on three factors.

  1. How seriously is “community” taken? Community land trusts can be simply a legal form of holding title, used for tax and financing purposes, but in daily use essentially a management company, negotiating with utilities, contractors, maintenance staff, etc. Or it can be seen as a part of an effort for form and maintain a communal level of social interaction, involving not only collective democratic decision-making but a sharing of activities, of information, of social responsibilities, of political involvement. It can affirmatively work on positive relationships with its outside neighboring community, having not only neighborhood representatives on it boards but helping integrate its residents in its community, more widely defined, sharing facilities, activities, information, as circumstances suggest. Likewise, it can affirmatively look to achieve and make use of a diversity of residents, including both levels of recognition and of assimilation comfortable to each.
  2. How, and how clearly, is the constituency of the community land trust understood? A community land trust has control over who its members are, can have processes similar to those of cooperatives in interviewing potential new members. But there are general principles that must be established, and they will influence not only who is in the community land trust but what its relations with its outside community and government will be. Specifically, income levels and household composition can be defined as criteria.
  3.  If the principles of social justice are followed, it also becomes more likely that the community land trust will operate as a full-bodied trust.
  4. How does the community land trust see its political role? Every community land trust except an exclusionary one of the well-to-do faces the reality that many to whom it would like to be open cannot afford even the non-profit real costs of decent housing. The need may go from an immediate need for help even with basic costs or special needs to an on-going concern about rising costs or changed incomes limiting what a household can afford.  That inevitably means a concern with governmental subsidies, levels of taxation, utility costs, building codes, public services, public facilities. But the problems community land trusts  face are shared by a large part of the population as a whole. If the community land trust sees itself as part of a broader movement to achieve social justice in the provision of housing, perhaps as part of a broad right to housing movement, it will be more and more a full-bodied community land trust both in its inception and its ongoing daily activities.

A note on the ideological and economic aspects of community land trusts:

The idea of community land trusts resonates with an old theme in economics: that of land as a common natural resource, one not the product of human efforts, and therefore not to be appropriated by individuals for their private use, but to be shared among all. Community land trusts can be seen as an implementation of that view, at least on a small scale: no individual has the legal right to dispose of his or her interest in a community land trust for personal gain. Yet, theoretically, the ability to sell an interest in a building built on land in a community land trust at a price for that building fixed in a private market will take into account that that interest is made more attractive by its ground lease. Thus a likely profit can in fact ensue to the seller of a community land trust unit, amounting to an ability to make a private profit from a natural resource,. The market value of a building or unit in a community land trust building is technically the price of a commodity.. The land itself may be decommodified, but the right to use it is valuable, and could be realized by a sale of what is on the land and benefits a private owner from its common ownership. The land is decommodified, but not necessarily the building on it, to which the value of participation in the community land trust accrues.

What makes the typical community land trust radical is not the separation of land from building and its character as natural resource, but rather the restrictions that the classic community land trust, moderate to full-bodied, imposes on those leasing the right to occupy from the trust. Those restrictions typically regulate the price at which a housing unit in a community land trust can be sold. In these community land trusts , the leases to occupant members either prohibits the occupant from selling the unit except at a price established by the board of the trust, or gives the trust itself the right to buy at a fixed and limited price if the unit is put up for sale. . In this way community land trusts operate as would a limited equity co-op; the separation out of land ownership is simply another way of controlling collectively the price of units in it, as well usually as the characteristics of new buyer occupants. It is the restrictions in the permitted sales of units in a community land trust which make it an ideologically radical idea, and the terms of that restriction set the extent of the radicalism. If limited to an original price, originally set not aiming at a profit, and usually increasing only to the extent of the occupants own investment of money or labor in the unit, that makes it radical, for it effectively takes the unit out of the housing market and eliminates its use as a provider of private profit. A resident of a classic community land trust has virtually all the rights of a home owner, except the right to sell at a profit.  It turns housing into a set of use values, rather than of exchange values.[2]

Community land trusts may also be transformative in a quite different context: achieving effective grass-roots democracy. If extended, community land trusts may be seen as a form of neighborhood self-government, in fact controlling land uses and what goes with them in an unquestionably powerful manner, viz.having legal title to the land. But such a potential for community land trusts is not at this point seriously in the picture. The tie-in with other social movements pressing for democratization of land use controls and the planning function of government should not be ignored, however.

All this has two implications. One is that such a community land trust cannot be seen as a “creator of wealth.” The opportunity to benefit from a speculative increase in the value of land is denied the owner. That may make a community land trust less attractive to some, but may be welcomed by others, and should in any event be clear in the use of the community land trust form of ownership. The other implication is the need for thoughtful consideration of how permitted sale prices are established. While the principle of non-speculation is clear, its definition is not quite. Specifically: typically, the seller is allowed to recover his or her purchase price plus investments. But usually that purchase price is adjusted by some formulae, such as changes in the cost of living, benchmarked to some measure of the rate of inflation, at least on the up side. That means it has some characteristics of an investment that does have market advantages: it is protected from erosion by inflation. It has the additional market advantage, the more full-bodied the community land trust is, of having collective backing against personal misfortune; foreclosure is technically impossible and eviction for non-payment of rent is handled more humanely than it is in the market, again to varying degrees. That benefit is of course realized to some extent in directly market terms when it comes to financing; a bank is likely to recognize the stability provided by the collective responsibilities and spread out risk inherent in the community land trust form as opposed to conventional single-family home ownership.

So “decommodification”  is not complete, but is certainly ideologically challenged by the use of the community land trust form, and its extent will vary with the details of the trust instrument and the leases given pursuant to it.

And if the above economic analysis is right, it provides some solace for potential participants in a community land trust that, while they may not accumulate speculatively-driven wealth by participation, they do achieve definite economic advantages in terms of security, both of occupancy and of return of original investment.

My own take, again if the above analysis is correct, on implications for community land trust practitioners:

Be clear who your constituency is. (Point 1 above.)

  1. Stress the “community” in community land trusts when presenting them. (Point 2
  2. Be clear and up front where you stand on the importance of social justice in the spectrum between moderate and full-bodied community land trust.  (point 3)
  3. Be politically active in coalition formation with other social justice oriented organizations and actors, and join with them both in obtaining the necessary support and subsidies for community land trusts  and in supporting other housing rights organizations program proposals for governmental action in the housing field, particularly on financing and rent regulation and affirmative non-discrimination. (Point 4.)
  4. Be up front about community land trusts’ impacts on wealth accumulation (minimal) and its other economic advantages: security of tenure and investment.  (Note on ideological and economic aspects.)

pmarcuse.WordPress.com  Blog#38.

[1] A community land trust is a legal form in which the ownership of land is held in the form of a trust and separated from the ownership of any structures that may be on it, which are privately (often in the form of a co-op or mutual housing association) built, occupied, and managed, subject to the term of a land lease from the trust. The trust is typically controlled by a board in which the actual users of the buildings on it are the primary members, together usually with representatives of the neighboring community and/or relevant government representatives. The leaseold interest with the users of the building have can be sold  subject to the provisions of the lease from the trust, which typically limits its resale price and must approve the buyer. An excellent fact sheet,  which also contains further useful links,.is at http://picturethehomeless.org/publications.html,,

[2] The myth that home ownership per se is a reliable way to accumulate needs to be dispelled. Home owners accumulate wealth only through two aspects of home ownership: one is savings, the other is speculation. The savings are essentially the forced setting aside of money to pay off a loan, the mortgage. Alternate investments of savings might do even better, and be subject to less risk. The other source of additional wealth creation from home ownership lies in the possibility of capturing the increase in the value of the house, which is fundamentally of the location on it is built, for the physical building itself depreciates. Again, that’s a speculative investment, and not always a safe one, as today’s economy shows. And see the historical experience recounted in Sclar, Elliott, Matthew Edel. and Daniel Luria. 1984. Shaky Palaces: Home ownership and Social Mobility in Boston’s Suburbanization.  New York Columbia University Press 1984.

Blog # 22 Vacant Housing and Sandy


Vacant Housing and Sandy: a Proposal

It is an abomination to have people desperately in need of housing, both emergency after Sandy and long-term, at the same time that there is a stock of vacant, good quality, accessible housing being held off the market because its owner believes that the market will improve and he/she/it will make more money by waiting to make it available.

The City’s official Housing and Vacancy Survey , undertaken by the Bureau of the Census, lists 68,031, rental units vacant and available, and 31,000vacant units available for sale. Picture the Homeless’s count of vacant buildings in 1/3 of the city calculated that 3,551 vacant buildings in could house 71,707 people.2

At the same time, somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 families are in need of shelter because of Sandy, according to the Mayor.3 Public housing residents were particularly hard hit.4

Proposal: A city ordinance that would require any person or firm controlling the occupancy of a housing unit that has been held vacant for more than 6 months to file a report with the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development providing the address of the unit, its condition, the length of the vacancy, and the reason for the vacancy. If the Mayor declares a Housing Emergency based on a finding of substantial displacement caused by conditions affecting the housing stock, HPD would be directed to examine all vacancy filings and would be authorized to take control of, commandeer, any unit it finds for the purpose of providing emergency shelter to a household in need thereof because of the emergency, and facilitate its use for the purpose of providing emergency shelter.5

Since the use of such a unit does not cause any loss of income to its owner, being vacant when put to such emergency use, the owner would only be compensated for it use after the end of the emergency and after the displacee has found other adequate accommodations, and any additional costs to the landlord would be shared between the city and the displace, based on ability to pay.

Such an ordinance might also have the desirable side effect of discouraging the warehousing of vacant units awaiting a more profit-producing market, when there is general housing need and restricted housing availability.

The ordinance might also be framed to make mortgage foreclosed properties, if REO and held vacant by the mortgage-holder, subject to commandeering for emergency housing. This might again have the side effect of making mortgagees less prone to foreclose.

1. “In 2011, the number of vacant available rental units was 68,000, while the number of
vacant units available for sale was 31,000. At the same time, the number of vacant
units not available for sale or rent was 164,000 in 2011, the highest since 1965, when
the first HVS was conducted (Table 1).” Selected Initial Findings of the 2011 New York City
Housing and Vacancy Survey, Prepared by Dr. Moon Wha Lee
Assistant Commissioner for Housing Policy Analysis and Statistical Research
New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development
February 9, 2012, available at http://www.nyc.gov/html/hpd/downloads/pdf/HPD-2011-HVS-Selected-Findings-Tables.pdf
2. Banking on Vacancy: Homelessness and Real Estate Speculation. A Report by Picture the Homeless, p. 19. See also: Community Voices Heard, A Count of Vacant Condos in Select New York City Neighborhood, Right to the City Alliance, 2010.
3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-20199672
4. http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/nycha-tenants-struggle-survive-heat-water-post-sandy-article-1.1196965 Community
6. HPD would further be authorized to investigate the circumstances of any vacancy called to its attention as potentially available for purposes of the law, including information from groups such as Picture the Homeless, Community Voices Heard, public housing or other tenant organizations, and if it find that they should have been listed and are shown to be appropriate for purposes of the law, to also take control of them for those purposes.