Blog 122c -Non-Causes of Poverty, Jobs, Welfare Responses


Blog #122c – Non-Causes of Poverty, Jobs, Welfare Responses

Why is there poverty in the United States today?[1] Most anti-poverty policies rely on one or more of four theories about the causes of poverty: the lack of jobs, the shiftlessness of the poor, the changing technological composition of production, or the scarcity of resources to provide for all. None of the four holds up.

We don’t have enough jobs. Not so. “Unless we create more jobs, there will be unemployed and thus poverty,” many believe. But unemployment is low, whatever the weaknesses of its measure, and most poor people are already employed. They already have “jobs,” or at least work, and very often hard work, often part- time, insecure, without benefits, almost always devalued. It is the substandard quality of the jobs we have that undergirds poverty.[2]  Killer jobs, not job killers, are the real problem.

And that so many jobs are substandard is not by accident. Simple economics dictates that employers will always push wages as low as they can: wages to workers are income to employees, but expenses for employers.  Matthew Desmond’s trenchant article[3] provides the figures, and lays out the consequences, in well reasoned and human terms. What’s needed are good jobs, paying living wages, secure over time, organized so as to be manageable along with meeting all the other obligations of complicated lives

They are poor because they are lazy. Not so. “They don’t want to work, or they drink, or are addicted, or mentally ill,” some argue. But, as noted above, most poor are in fact working, but at jobs with less than living wages or unsustainable working conditions Blaming the victims for their poverty will not work

Technological change requires workers with skills the poor don’t have. Yes but. A high school education may be increasingly needed to get a good job, but lack of a high school education is not voluntary for most without it. Getting a good education is not so simple for many, and especially for those that begin poor. Lack of good schools, of health care, of transportation, of housing, of physical security, of social encouragement, all play large roles. There is no evidence that, given the opportunity, poor people are not able to handle work that requires a post-high-school education. The poor may indeed have less education than those better off, but not because they are stupid.

Technological advances should in fact increasingly be able to provide enough for all, so that there would be no such thing as poverty, if they were appropriately socially organized.

There will always be winners and losers. The poor are simply the losers. No longer so. “The poor will always be with us is an old argument. It is increasingly wrong. Our societies are able to produce enough so that no one needs to live without adequate housing, food, clothing, rest, security, or the other things a decent standard of living in a technologically advanced society can produce. The statistics on inequality are clear. Even a modest redistribution from the top 1% would mean that all of the other 99% could live well above poverty levels.

 If none of these four explanations accounts for the widespread existence of poverty today, what does?

Two factors basically explain the existence of poverty today.

First, major real conflicts of material interest underlie poverty.  As pointed out above, simple economics dictates that for-profit businesses will always push wages as low as they can: wages to workers are income to workers, but expenses for for-profit businesses. Thus, poverty benefits powerful economic and political interests, powerful both in establishing economic relations, and in politically establishing governmental policies that further business interests opposing the steps necessary to eliminate poverty.  And,

Second, the necessity of dealing with immediate and critical human problems detracts from confronting these real conflicts, creating an incentive to downplay the existence of these conflicts politically as well as ideologically, even among well-meaning advocates of policies challenging the underlying causes of the conditions whose consequences they seek to ameliorate, so-called anti-poverty and social welfare programs.

So what is to be done to reduce and ultimately eliminate poverty from rich societies such as ours?

 Immediate actions. We have some limited but moderately effective social-mobility programs: minimum wage laws, restrictions on hours of labor and unhealthy working conditions, subsidized health care, unemployment benefits, public financing of elementary education. They need to be adequately and securely funded.[4] They should be championed, expanded, and stripped of any draconian and counterproductive work requirements. But more is needed.

Ultimate goals must be kept on the agenda as ultimately needed, goals such as a real right to housing, to free medical care, to free public education through college, an adequate income should be considered, and seen as obvious governmental functions, just as are police or fire services or streets and highways or sanitation or environmental controls or providing for holding democratic elections or public parks or clean water. So one might consider adopting as ultimate asocial goals for social action the elimination of poverty entirely and the provision of a right to a comfortable standard of living commensurate with what society is already in a position to provide, given a commitment to use it so that its wealth is distributed equitably among all individuals and groups in the society, commensurate with individual and group needs and desires. The even broader goal might be expressed as the just and democratic control of the economy as a whole and in its parts.

Transformational Measures. But to achieve such goals, shorter-term steps also need to be pursued, measures that move in these directions but that do not promise more than are immediately political feasible yet can contribute to meeting long-term goals.. [5] We should not neglect the importance of the poverty fixes we already have. Safety-net programs that help families confront food insecurity, housing unaffordability and unemployment spells lift tens of millions of people above the poverty line each year. By itself, SNAP annually pulls over eight million people out of poverty. According to a 2015 study, without federal tax benefits and transfers, the number of Americans living in deep poverty (half below the poverty threshold) would jump from 5 percent to almost 19 percent.[6]

  1. Improving minimum wage laws. Moving towards the ultimate goal of stablishing a standard of living for all that guarantees not only the necessities of life but at a level consistent with a comfortable and secure standard of living and a level commensurate with the productive capacity of society, appropriately organized to fullfill social needs and enforced well enough to prevent destructive competition- among businesses based on how little they pay their workers.
  2. Strengthening workers’ rights, moving in the direction of fair wages for all, including strengthening requirements for fair labor standards in the work place. Encouraging self- organization workers and poor households along diverse lines needing publii representation..
  3. Expanding the public and non-profits sectors, in the direction of recognizing the benefits of using social contribution as the motivation of provision of goods and services, rather than profit to be made by furnishing them, e.g. in housing, health care, education, recreation, transportation, environmental amenities, creative arts.
  4. Terminating public expenditures whose motivation is economic development and growth for their own sake, and focusing them on their contribution to meeting social goals, including provision of socially desired levels of goods and services. Publicly subsidized job creation as part of and motivated by economic development interests will simply benefit employers unless coupled with living wage and decent working condition requirements. Adding a work requirement to the receipt of social benefits is likewise a painfully ironic was of reducing such benefits to their recipients in a system in which if they do not produce profits for an employer, over and above their wages they will not be hired.[7]
  5. Making the tax system strongly progressive, lower at the bottom, higher at the top, moving towards the broad reduction of inequality and targeting them to the encouragement of socially desirable activities.
  6. Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of imaginatively recasting budget priorities, specifically reducing the military budget, funding anew climate -change-centered civilian conservation corps, increasing foreign aid aimed at alleviating conditions that lead to emigration etc.
  7. Recasting the public thinking about the meaning and values of work, the causes of poverty, the values implicit in alternative approaches to inequality and injustice. [8]

In Matthew Desmond’s eloquent words, “We need a new language for talking about poverty. ‘Nobody who works should be poor,’ we say. That’s not good enough. Nobody in America should be poor, period.”  He’s right.[9]

[1] The official poverty rate is 12.7 percent, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 estimates. That year, an estimated 43.1 million Americans lived in poverty

 [3] Matthew Desmond, “Americans Want to Believe Jobs Are the Solution to Poverty. They’re Not,” concludes simply: “the able-bodied, poor and idle adult remains a rare creature “Why Work Doesn’t Work Any More,” The New York Times  Magazine, p. 36ff. Available at                             https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/magazine/americans-jobs-poverty-homeless.html

[4]

[5] For a further discussion of the concept of transformative measures, see pmarcuse .wordpress.com, blogs 81a-81e, 97, and 99, Towards Transformative Approaches to Unjust Inequality.

[6] Mathew Desmond, op. cit., p. 49.

[7] Mathew Desmond in a factual, tightly argued, and very persuasive article effectively demonstrates the futility of work requirements attached to the receipt of social benefits. Today, 41.7 million laborers — nearly a third of the American work force — earn less than $12 an hour. the New York Times Magazine of September 11, 2018,

[8] Matthew Desmond, op. cit., writes ”No single mother struggling to raise children on her own; no formerly incarcerated man who has served his time; no young heroin user struggling with addiction and pain; no retired bus driver whose pension was squandered; nobody. And if we respect hard work, then we should reward it, instead of deploying this value to shame the poor and justify our unconscionable and growing inequality.”  And Joanna Scuffs, in a rich and provocative article , writes of ”the slipperiness of the term ”work”, from work  as a daily grind into work as “life’s work “oeuvre, art,  the reason you’re here on earth.” The’Linguistic Chamelion” of Work,In These Times, April  2018, [[. 65ff.

[9] Op. cit., p. 9.

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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

 

Blog # 83 – Housing Approaches in New York City: 5 Points in a Long View.


Housing Approaches in New York City: 5 Points in a Long View:[1]

The five points, in brief:

  1. Democratic government has to be big government

Because of the size and hostility of big business

  1. Privacy has two meanings. One meaning is “personal,” private as opposed to “open.”

It should be respected both by government and business.

  1. The other meaning is “private” as opposed to “public.”

Private in that usage means profit-motivated on behalf of individual beneficiaries.

It should give way to the public   sector in housing policy.

  1. “Public –private partnerships” are a hoax.

They are a partnership like that between a gladiator and a tiger in a Roma circus,           or between a hungry lion and a lamb in the wild.

  1. The current housing system is deeply flawed.

It distributes housing based on wealth, not on need, and requires strategic  change, perhaps sectorally focused, but with a vision for the whole.

The five points, in detail:

  1. Democratic government has to be big government[2]

Because of the size and hostility of big business

In the election campaign, there’s a fear of saying that on both sides. Even Sanders seems to accept the idea that government sold be as limited as possible, only where necessary to remedy failures of the private sector.

But the economy is by nature private, private is more efficient, private is the default way of providing goods and services, socially necessary good and services and luxury goods and services.

In the case of housing, private means the real estate industry, the complex  of land and building  ownership; public means public housing, which can include housing owned publicly by decentralized in management to its occupants.

  1. Privacy has two meanings. One meaning is “personal,” private as opposed to open.

It should be respected both by government and by business.

Privacy is a requirement for human dignity and individual freedom: areas of life in which each individual may decide for him or herself what kind of life to lead, what kind of relationships to have, what kind of priorities to pursue.

In the case of housing, a person home, in that sense, is his or her castle, personal, inviolate, private in the sense that most people understand home ownership [3]. In multi-family housing, coops, etc., it means full resident participation and decision-making in building matters.

  1. The other meaning is “private” as opposed to “public.”

“Private” in that usage means profit-motivated on behalf of individual or  non-resident corporate beneficiaries.

In the case of housing, that means it should give way to the public sector in housing policy. If the goal of public policy in a democracy is the general welfare distributing essential goods and services should be on the basis of need, not on the basis of ability to pay.

There should be a right to housing, as a human right.

  1. “Public –private partnerships” are a hoax.

They are a partnership like one between a gladiator and a tiger in a circus, or between a gladiator and a tiger in a Roman circus, or between a hungry lion and a lamb in the wild.

In such a partnership, it is in the private interest to reduce the number and quality of any benefits to workers (to residents, in the case of housing) to the minimum, and increase the costs that government will pay to the maximum. The interest of government is to increase the benefits to the occupants to a reasonable maximum, and to do it by lowering the costs it must cover to provide profits to the private partner to the minimum.

It is a permanent conflict of interest between the partners, where most benefits to one is a cost to the other. (Pure efficiency savings are an exception but are rare; each side will be striving for efficiency in what it does regardless of partnership or not.)

Legally, in a partner, each partner is personally liable for all the debts of the partnership. Hardly the case with public-private “partnerships.” Public-private partnerships are functionally essentially a cowardly way of not raising taxes for a necessary and publicly desired approved purpose.

  1. The current housing system is deeply flawed.

It distributes housing based on wealth, not on need, and requires strategic change, perhaps sectorally focused, but with a vision for the whole.

The housing system as a whole is today distributed on the basis of wealth, not of need, based on its exchange value as a commodity, not as a use value and necessity of life. It benefits the rich much more than the poor, the 1% more than the 99%.

It requires  radical change, including change in the capitalist system of which it is apart,  but only incremental change is politically possible today politically in New York City or on the necessary national level; the power of the real estate industry and the profitability of land speculation are too great. Incremental change needs to be pursued, perhaps best on a sectoral level.[4]

Brad Lander’s efforts on the City Council of New York may be close to the outer limits of what is politically feasible today. Such change should be part of a broader vision of what is fundamentally necessary desired.

If this leads to a pretty basic criticism of the capitalist   system under which we are working today, so be it. Listen to the pronouncement of one hardly vulnerable to being accused of being a socialist. Might it, or an equivalent statement of a general principle, serve as the preamble to any serous proposals even for modest reform?

“”the machinery of the current globalized economy [constitutes] …a system of commercial relations and ownership which is structurally perverse. [where] the limited interests of businesses [and] a questionable economic mindset [take precedence,] an instrumental logic that holds the maximization of profits as its only objective….the principle of the maximization of profits…. reflects a misunderstanding of the concept of the economy.” It results from a “global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effect on human dignity and the natural environment. [5]

—————————

 

[1] Expanded from and influenced by a panel discussion on “privatize!” atthe exhibit If You Can’t Afford to Live Here, Mo-o-ve!, in New York City on June  23, 2016.

[2] An expansion of this point will be found at pmarcuse.wordpress.com, Blog #84: Big Business Requires Big Government, Contra Republicans and..

[3] For a discussion of legal aspects, see Peter Marcuse, “Homeownership for Low Income Families,” Land Economics, May 1972.

[4] Blog #60, Towards a Housing Strategy for New York, at pmarcuse.wordpress.com, although from 2014, might also be of interest.

[5] Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis, May 24, 2015.

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.

*****

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.

Blog #53 – Density, Inclusionary Zoning, Housing Planning: Cautions on de Blasio’s Plan


Density, Inclusionary Zoning, Housing Planning: Some Cautions on  the           de Blasio Plan.

Mayor de Blasio’s Housing Plan is a far better plan than anything we’ve had since LaGuardia, and worthy of full support. But there are four large issues that need to be addressed, some in its principles, some in implementation: Density, Growth, Equity, and Comprehensiveness.

Density leads to gentrification and displacement, if not controlled [1]. There is a natural tendency look to the market to determine where increased density will work, to support increased density by zoning decisions, infrastructure investment location, tax policies, eased building height and FAR requirements, support for mega-projects, where the market indicates there is effective demand. That means, specifically, where there is the proverbial rent gap: where increased real estate values, particularly land values, suggest higher profits are to be gained by improvements, whether modernization and upscaling or higher and more dense new construction. Permitting such “improvements” thus is synonymous with increasing the prices of housing, not only in the locations made more dense, but in their surroundings. That in turn means one of the principal causes of gentrification and displacement is is advanced by public policy.

But there are good ways and bad ways of increasing density, if the purpose is to address housing needs in an equitable fashion.

Bad:

  • Permitting demolition of low-rise low-rent housing in favor of denser more expensive housing.
  • Permitting new housing in public housing sites for occupancy at market rates, where low-rent, i.e. subsidized housing could be built. Increasing density in already gentrifying neighborhoods.
  • Permitting densification without neighborhood rent regulations, fair and strictly enforced.
  • Permitting open and undeveloped space to be built on without regard to existing neighborhood use and needs.
  • Disregarding unbiased neighborhood opposition and community-based planning goals.
  • Increasing congestion and pollution without adequate transportation provision.
  • Providing bonuses permitting development beyond existing planning limitations

Good:

  • Increasing density by requiring that partially-occupied and vacant properties being held off market for speculative purposes be made available for occupancy, at affordable rents.
  • Improving public housing.
  • Increasing the supply of subsidized housing.
  • Controlling against the displacement effects of gentrification by rent regulation strictly enforced.
  • Make every program increasing density subject to open Community Board review, with over-riding of its vote only by a super-majority of Planning commission and City Council.
  • Investing in remediation of brownfield sites while preserving compatible industrial or commercial uses providing benefits equitably distributed.
  • Complying with community and city-wide planning standards regarding contextual development, light and air standards, accessibility provision and congestion avoidance.

Inclusionary housing can lead to neighborhoods further functionally segregated by race and income, if not controlled, and can be an inefficient use of governmental subsidies if provided. Inclusionary housing only works where the market is strong enough so that a developer or landlord can make a profit from market prices high enough to cover the provision of below-market rate units. Thus, it will only work in higher income neighborhoods, predictably more non-Hispanic white than the in the city as a whole. That effect will be particularly strong the lower the income of the target population to be benefited, in the development, because it will require a greater cross-subsidy, hence higher market rate units, hence even more likely non-Hispanic white. . And if it is limited to already higher income neighborhoods, it is likely to increase the concentration of significantly segregated residences in the city if it provides bonuses for buildings which result in a net increase of the proportion of high-income uses in the larger community. A very delicate balancing is required, with opposing dangers.

Further, the higher the effective subsidy needed, the higher the rents/prices of the market rate units needed to make inclusion profitable. If owners are permitted to select the tenants providing meting inclusionary requirements, they will discriminate in favor of the highest permitted income and the most “responsible” (“acceptable” ) tenants, creaming among applicants by considerations other than the need for housing. With the large majority of residents of an inclusionary development paying market plus rents, their demands on neighborhood facilities and services will be very different from those of the residents of the below-market rate units, to the latters’ disadvantage. Identifying the below-market rate units as such permits a likely stigmatization and pressure to separate out their residents. The worst case scenario might be the equivalent of servant’s quarters in a private residence.

But there are good ways and bad ways of designing and implementing inclusionary zoning, if the purpose is to address housing needs in an equitable fashion.

Bad:

  • Permit the market to determine where inclusionary housing will be provided.
  • Implement it particularly in transitional neighborhoods where the probability and disadvantages of gentrification are greatest.[2]
  • Let owners determine selection of residents for below-market-rate units.
  • Permit external identification of affordable units, or their isolation.
  • Ignore neighborhood impacts of construction, and neighborhood needs for facilities and services.
  • Make inclusionary development financially profitable by allocating public subsidies , including tax and other benefits, to support their rentals, effectively reducing the pressure on market-rate rentals and reducing cross-subsidy effect.
  • Provide as bonuses deviation from neighborhood planning and construction standards and limitations, e.g. height limits, zoning restrictions.
  • Permit obligation to provide below-market rate units to expire.

Good:

  • Make inclusionary housing mandatory, and target city programs of support in such a way that they draw on the developer’s profits over subsidies to support them.
  • Require a high enough number of below-market-rate units in any building to permit the provision of neighborhood facilities and services for the needs of all residents.
  • Permit city control of tenant selection for below-market units, perhaps using Housing Authority waiting lists and criteria.
  • Hold to planning-established limits on height, set-backs, etc. avoiding the granting of zoning and building exceptions’ or bonuses for inclusionary developments.
  • Provide for major participation in design and implementation of proposed beneficiaries in need of affordable housing.
  • Make every program subject to open Community Board review, with over-riding of its vote only by a super-majority of Planning commission and City Council.

Conclusion: Inclusionary housing can be an excellent program, but requires caution in its application. The devil is in the details. On-going effective participation of intended beneficiaries in need of housing is key in design and implementation.

A good Housing Plan requires long-term considerations beyond its immediate measures.Desirable provisions of a housing plan for New York City might include a city-wide housing plan developed as part of the city’s comprehensive planning process, that would deal with goals and standards for decisions on the location of housing and population distribution and density. Such a plan should deal explicitly with issues of segregation and equity among income groups and by race, color, ethnicity, age and gender. Zoning should be an important part of the implementation of such a plan, and specifically should include consideration of income-targeting land use allocation, as in providing income targets in the definitions of residential zones.

It should be comprehensive, and consider issues such as: zoning regulations facilitating for low income housing; Rent regulations. Tax action policies, taxing profits fairly, holding down depreciation deductions to match reality, surtaxes on flipping housing units, taxing quick turnover sales as ordinary income, making real estate taxes progressive, conforming to binding 197-a comunity plans, calling for equity impact statements on planning decisions, adopting clear city equity standards.Make a housing plan part of the city’s planning process, including goals for an agreed-upon equitable distributing of locations for housing development.[3] Adopt anti speculative warehousing legislation to deal with the full use of vacant units. Give due weight to the need for open space and active public political uses as well as recreational and passive. Integrate with regional considerations.

A general concern with the plan may arise from the process envisaged to put it into effect. The de Blasio Plan states:

“the City will conduct the analyses required for development of a mandatory inclusionary zoning program that satisfies sound land-use planning and legal principles, then will engage a broad group of housing stakeholders to solicit their input into the modifications and expansions of the Inclusionary Housing Program, and will work with stakeholders moving forward to ensure that the program functions smoothly to support development while also meeting the needs of communities” p. 31.

But if all “stakeholders,” regardless of their position, resources, and needs are treated as equals, equity is ill served, and inequalities are as likely to reinforced as reduced. A more robust arrangement for public participation is required, in which community and grass-roots active participation is supported.

A comprehensive look at the extent of the long-term over-all need for better affordable housing will show that the de Blasio plan is only one step, although an important one, in meeting the full need.[4] The private profit-driven market should be brought in to contribute. But to rely on public-private partnerships to solve the problem is ultimately a refusal to recognize that it will not do so, and cannot be expected to do so. Ultimately public provision is an inescapable necessity. The private housing sector should contribute to the necessary resources, by tools like mandatory inclusionary zoning, and certainly by progressive taxation, but the responsibility to pursue equity in housing is a public, not a private, responsibility.

Growth is not per se desirable. There is an underlying assumption running through the plan that considers growth to be a value for itself, development to be per se a good thing, even though it is often qualified as having “serving community needs” or “serve low and moderate income households.” It is an assumption that deserves examination. New York City today is a city where “growth” is largely led by its financial sector, whose prosperity becomes a threshold factor in the establishment of priorities.

Growth, generally, is desirable that reduces inequality.[5] Is growth desired if it increases inequality? Or increases segregation? Both short and long term factors come into play, and perhaps complex economic analyses, but should equity not be of fundamentally importance, rather than growth for its own sake?

Framing an equitable plan for housing is a complex process. De Blasio’s plan is a major step forward. But there is more to be done.

[1] For a look a the historical treatment of density in New York City’s development, see Marcuse, Peter. 1993. “Density and Social Justice: Is There a Relationship? A Historical Examination” Columbia Documents of Architecture and Theory (D), vol. Three, pp. 50‑87.

[2] De Blasio’s plan speaks of focus on transitional neighborhoods, p.8 but it also calls for it “in all medium and high density districts where rezonings provide an opportunity for significantly more housing.” P.30

[3] The plan speaks encouragingly of following policies “that [satisfy] sound land-use planning and legal “Principles; p. 31. They need to explicitly deal with issues of equity and segregation. ”

[4] The data in the Plan itself support this conclusion, as well as the detailed figures from the Housing and Vacancy Survey and studies of the Furman Center and a number of other sources.

[5] Reducing inequality is well known as a key de Blasio concern, and that is reflected frequently in the plan, e.g. p. 26, but requires concretization in application.

Blog #50 – Inclusionary Zoning: Good and Bad


Blog #50 – Inclusionary Zoning: Do’s and Do-not’s. —

[Slightly revised version incorporated in Blog #53, Density, Inclusionary Zoning, Housing Planning: Cautions on de Blasio’s Plan]

Inclusionary housing can lead to neighborhoods further functionally segregated by race and income, if not controlled, and can be an inefficient use of governmental subsidies if provided.Inclusionary housing only works where the market is strong enough so that a developer or landlord can make a profit from market prices high enough to cover the provision of below-market rate units. Thus, it will only work in higher income neighborhoods, predictably more non-Hispanic white than the in the city as a whole. That effect will be particularly strong the lower the income of the target population to be benefited, in the development. And if it is limited to already higher income neighborhoods, it is likely to increase the concentration of significantly segregated residences in the city if it provides bonuses for buildings which , net, increase the proportion of high-income uses in a community. A very delicate balancing is required, with opposing dangers.

Further, the higher the effective subsidy needed, the higher the rents/prices of the market rate units needed to make inclusion profitable. If owners are permitted to select tenants providing inclusionary benefits, they will discriminate in favor of the highest permitted income and the most “responsible” (“acceptable” ) tenants, creaming among applicants by considerations other than the need for housing. With the large majority of residents of an inclusionary development paying market plus rents, their demands on neighborhood facilities and services will be very different from those of the residents of the below-market rate units, to the latters’ disadvantage. Identifying the below-market rate units as such permits a likely stigmatization and pressure to separate out their residents. The worst case scenario might be the equivalent of servant’s quarters in a private residence.

But there are good ways and bad ways of designing and implementing inclusionary zoning, if the purpose is to address housing needs in an equitable fashion.

Bad:

  • Permit the market to determine where inclusionary housing will be provided.
  • Implement it particularly in transitional neighborhoods where the probability and disadvantages of gentrification are greatest.[1]
  • Let owners determine selection of residents for below-market-rate units.
  • Permit external identification of affordable units, or their isolation.
  • Ignore neighborhood impacts of construction, and neighborhood needs for facilities and services.
  • Make inclusionary development financially profitable by allocating public subsidies , including tax and other benefits, to support their rentals, effectively reducing the pressure on market-rate rentals and reducing cross-subsidy effect.
  • Provide as bonuses deviation from neighborhood planning and construction standards and limitations, e.g. height limits, zoning restrictions.
  • Permit obligation to provide below-market rate units to expire.

Good:

  • Make inclusionary housing mandatory, and target city programs of support in such a way that they draw on the developer’s profits over subsidies to support them.
  • Require a high enough number of below-market-rate units in any building to permit the provision of neighborhood facilities and services for the needs of all residents.
  • Permit city control of tenant selection for below-market units, perhaps using Housing Authority waiting lists and criteria.
  • Hold to planning-established limits on height, set-backs, etc. avoiding the granting of zoning and building exceptions’ or bonuses for inclusionary developments.
  • Provide for major participation in design and implementation of proposed beneficiaries in need of affordable housing

Conclusion: Inclusionary housing can be an excellent program, but requires caution in its application. The devil is in the details. On-going effective participation of intended beneficiaries in need of housing is key in design and implementation.

[1] De Blasio’s plan speaks of focus on transitional neighborhoods, p.8 but it also calls for it “in all medium and high density districts where rezonings provide an opportunity for significantly more housing.” P.30

Blog #46 – The Ethics of Gentrification, Social and Personal


The Ethics of Gentrification, Social and Personal

Gentrification is an ethical problem. At the societal level, it is a problem of social justice.

At that level, some quite clear guidelines for an ethical approach can be developed. At the individual level, however, there may be more complicated answers, more dependent on individual circumstances

 The following discussion takes it that the undesirable consequences of the displacement caused by gentrification are by now well established, [1] and the issue is how to address such displacement to obtain a more social and ethically just result. A number of approaches are outlined.in the first section. The second section deals, less satisfactorily, with the issue of individual ethics, with only one firm conclusion.

The Transformative Ethical Societal Measures:

 The general principles should be clear by now:

 

I) Where there are vacancies, provide for some limited middle income in-movers into workng class neighborhoods, in numbers and under conditions acceptable to existing residents, conditions established through democratic controls. Those numbers and conditions should include measures to prevent speculation in increased housing values both by limited equity and income controlled occupancy, as with community land trusts or mutual housing associations, or by local BID-like residential stabilization district tax and planning programs. In New York City empowering existing but democratically selected community boards in threatened districts to determine the limits of such development, as through effective more than advisory ULURP proceedings, would make a major difference. Encouraging rising incomes of existing residents through general economic policies and community economic development is a longer-time but more fundamental solution. .

 II) Require that all new construction be of mixed income housing, in sensitively planned developments with publicly established and legally controlled balanced price and occupancy limits, as part of a broad program for adequate housing supply across incomes.

 III) Strictly limit the ability of upper-income households to make or keep neighborhoods exclusionary. Prohibit such actions by development controls on occupancy through zoning, confiscatory taxation of speculative real estate land transaction and profits therefrom, rent controls throughout the system, high progressive property value taxes with revenues partly dedicated to subsidizing the provision of housing under 1) and 2)

IV ) Reexamine and adapt all existing governmental programs and controls, at local, state, and national levels, to take into account these principles[2]

 And one could list the specific guidelines that would go in the right direction:

 1. First principle. No Displacement. Period. No evictions. No one moves unless they agree they’re better off after, and want to.
2. Any replacement housing must protect social ties.
3. Where displacement is not an issue, including economic displacement, etc., the first priority is looking at area needs of all  those potential in-movers in need of housing, and providing for them first, based on need, not on income.
4. For any action whatsoever, community control is key, and not for every community, but for those serving residents based on need — i.e. limited community control where it’s a high income exclusionary community, according to general principles for community goals, outlawing exclusion.
5. Heavy anti-speculation taxes, virtually eliminating profit for increases land values.
6. Widespread use of alternate tenure forms taking housing out of the market, e.g. community land trusts, mutual housing associations, public land banks, public financing and resales controls.
7. Extensive public or community investment in shared facilities: kitchens, libraries, recreation and sorts, education, security, all under community control (but #4).
8. Willingness to use militant tactics and strategies to achieve just ends.           9. More research, not simply descriptive of extent of gentrification and its causes, but also on what has or could work to deal with displacement. on what has worked.
10. Public education advancing critical understanding, demolishing established ideological shibboleths such as balance as a goal in the allocation of public resources (high-income folks’ needs don’t deserve “balancing” against low-income folks needs).

 Such answers are not likely to be easily or fully implemented in any private market economy in the near future. But the effort to adopt them can be transformative. Efforts to implement them can help move the decision-making as to residential patterns from the market, which reflects the inequalities and injustices of the capitalist system, to the public sector, where the terrain for decision-making is substantially more democratic (even if with severe limits) than in the market.

 The Individual Ethical Measures:

 “Gentrifier? Who, Me?” is the aptly named sensitive recent article by John Joe Schlichtman And Jason Patch,[3] and poses the individual ethical question clearly. If displacement from gentrification is wrong – the issue of social ethics – then are gentrifiers who displace ethically wrong in the individual actions in moving in where they’re not wanted? But gentrifiers are people too, with their own needs and facing their own constraints. Studies from the very beginning have shown that they are often people just like those that study them and what they do – just like us. Damaris Rose found that to be true at the very beginning of research on the subject. So did Neil Smith, writing on gentrifiers as pioneers. And so did Lance Freeman, implicitly. But what makes these decent people displace other people with lower incomes in a worse position to find decent housing than they? Not their moral turpitude, but, at least, in many cases, their lack of available alternatives affordable to them.

 If the world of residential real estate most gentrifiers would look at is divided among working class/lower income neighborhoods, middle income largely suburban neighborhoods, and rich exclusionary neighborhoods, and if decent gentrifiers like us don’t want to live in suburbs for a variety of good reasons, where can they go? Either up or down. They can’t go up to pricey neighborhoods, often gated, racially exclusive. Expand their own neighborhoods? They are too limited, and either subject to too strong upward price pressures from upscale conversion, or too run down physically, to provide long-term answers.. So: move down, price-wise, to working class neighborhoods in tolerable condition and still marginally reasonably priced, displacing those already there, whose housing needs are even more constricted than theirs? A set of Hobson’s choices, for socially concerned gentrifiers.

 Schlichtman and Patch point out that some young urban researchers are reluctant to engage with questions of gentrification out of embarrassment that they are themselves gentrifiers, and thus in no position to criticize gentrification while at the same time takng advantage of it. . It is an honorable dilemma. A young researcher able to pay more for a given apartment than another with a slightly lower income may find that other justly aggrieved, but his or her refusal therefore to bid on the apartment will not help produce a more just distribution of apartments – unless it is part of a social action, e.g. for boycotting a landlord, or adopting rent controls, or endorsing or opposing a given zoning change. . Individual young researchers live in a market economy, and should conscientiously examine how their individual decisions as to where to live can best contribute to a socially just distribution of apartments, what alternatives they have, at what cost. If university-controlled space available only to university affiliates is available to them, and reasonably equivalent to gentrifying space, they should take the university unit. But they may well find that the contribution they make by refusing to contribute to gentrification by their choice of an apartment is less than the contribution they can make to limiting gentrification by their political activity, their solidarity with neighborhood movements to limit gentrification, the use they make of their research skills, including their findings from their own personal experience.

 The ethical obligation of young researchers studying gentrification does impose  other ethical obligations on them that indeed require careful attention, and whose pursuit will contribute more to curing the ills of gentrification than their choice of where to live. That is the obligation to draw conclusions from their own research, and as they learn more of the injustice that gentrification causes, to become actively engaged in the fight against it, to use their research skills to spread recognition of those injustices, to help formulate and implement the kinds of measures suggested under Transformative Ethical Societal Measures above. That’s the hard-core ethical course confronting them.

Peter Marcuse

 [1] Serious scholarly consideration largely took off from Fried, Marc. 1963. “Grieving for a Lost Home: Psychological costs of Relocation,” in Leonard J. Duhl, The Urban Condition: People and Policy in the Metropolis, New York: Basic Books, Chapter 12, pp. 151‑171; recent empirical work is well rerpesented by Fullilove, Mindy Thompson, M.D. Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It.. One World/Ballantine Books, June 2004, and the work collected in The Gentrification Reader eds. Loretta Lees, Tom Slater, and Elvyn Wyle, Routledge, Milton Park, UK, 2010.

[2] For discussion of some possibilities at the local level in New York City, see Marcuse, P. (1985b) ‘To control gentrification: anti-displacement zoning and planning for stable residential districts’, Review of Law and Social Chang, 13, pp.931-945.

[3] Schlichtman, J. J. and Patch, J. (2013),” Gentrifier? Who, Me? Interrogating the Gentrifier in the Mirror.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.