Affordable housing, the politics of place

Affordable housing, the politics of place

The United States’ paradigm for housing needs to be dismantled and rebuilt with justice in mind. What is happening currently in regards to housing is criminal.  

Over half a million people in the United States are homeless, and 10 to 15 percent nationally are housing insecure. For instance, in California and New York, 20 percent of people are housing insecure

Housing is a right. We cannot have a society where people are shelterless. 

What we have now masqueraded as affordable housing is not affordable housing. It is a give away for the wealthy.

Post Civil Rights Movement, the beginning of the dismantling of public housing

After the Civil Rights Movement’s gains, the implementation of plans to break the social contract began via the Southern Strategy. Part of the Southern Strategy was the adaptation of the key previous Lost Cause ideas. One was “states’ rights” also known as “small government.” Under the Lost Cause Confederates in the early part of the 20th century small government’s intent was to keep the U.S. government out the South’s business, so they could continue practicing Jim Crow, wrongfully imprisoning & lynching Black people, and paying minimal taxes while making massive amounts of money. In the late 20th century under the Southern Strategy, while the objectives of small government remained the same it obtained a more palatable cover story —cutting government programs to reduce taxes, adding paper work to mandatory funded program to reduce taxes, and creating the nonprofit industrial complex to break the social contract and reduce taxes.

One of the first steps in breaking the social contract was to begin the dismantling of traditional public housing managed and created by the U.S. government. The idea was to create private and public partnerships funded by a government program called Section 8. 

There are several kinds of Section 8. The one developers are involved in is called New Construction and Substantial Rehabilitation, which allows developers to get tax incentives to build “affordable” housing for the voucher program. The voucher program helps a person designated as low income to apply for private accommodation, e.g., single-family or apartment, that accepts vouchers through the Section 8 program.

The voucher programs have waiting lists that are from two years to often half a decade long.

New Construction and Substantial Rehabilitation Section 8 was created with the idea to alleviate these long waits, it did not.

1980s the calm before the storm of inaffordability

In the 1980s, the federal government began to transition most public housing buildings to the modern public-private subsidized loan building via New Construction and Substantial Rehabilitation.

Instead of housing for the working class and poor, we got a giveaway for the wealthy. The wealthy developers pretend to build “affordable housing” that has minimal requirements to stay affordable.

But the developers typically do not price their “affordable housing” equitably.

The countywide area median income decides affordable housing rates. People must meet minimum income thresholds to qualify for units at three levels: extremely low-income, very low-income, and low-income.

In many African American and Latino communities, residents don’t make enough to make the cut off to get in. 

How can that be?

What is affordable housing?

The federal government chooses affordability through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD goes by the metro region, not the neighborhood, hence the name area median income 

“Each year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calculates the median income for every metropolitan region in the country. HUD focuses on the region — rather than just the city — because families searching for housing are likely to look beyond the city itself to find a place to live.”

The Area Median Income (AMI), explained. Brian McCabe (Contributor) September 1, 2. (2016, September 01). Retrieved September 05, 2020, from Greater Greater Washington

For example, in Los Angeles, the predominantly Black and working and artist class Leimert Park is in the same region as the white and upper-middle-class and wealthy Santa Monica. 

In the New York Metro area, predominantly Black and Latino, most economically oppressed and working-class Newark is in the same region as the predominantly white, mostly middle, and upper-middle-class Montclair.

Steps to creating universal affordable housing

To rebuild our social contract concerning housing take the following steps:

The first step is HUD should use Neighborhood Median Income, not area, specifically in historically redlined areas. 

This measure would be a temporary bandaid, to stop people from being pushed out of their communities immediately. 

Reform affordable housing policies

The second step must be to halt the selling and the move to transition management to private developers of all federally-owned public housing. For example, areas like East New York had great representation to stop New Construction and Substantial Rehabilitation through Section 8, but most recently, the management of a NYCHA public housing building in the community was given to LM Development Partners. According to Greenwich Times, LM Development partners have played a significant role in the displacement of economically oppressed Black and Latinx residents. The State of New York and the City destroyed all the work of local East New York politicians. That should not have happened. 

Dismantle and reimagine housing for everyone

The third step would be to change the paradigm for housing from a market to a public good. For example universal NOT means-tested public good, using the following models:

Community land trustsCommunity land trusts (CLTs) are nonprofit organizations governed by a board of CLT residents, community residents and public representatives that provide lasting community assets and shared equity homeownership opportunities for families and communities.

Cooperatives: A housing cooperative is formed when people join on a democratic basis to own or control the housing and/or related community facilities in which they live, typically people don’t own, but they have access and control.

Mutual housing associations: Mutual housing associations develop affordable housing and keep it affordable for residents over the long term. 

Most of the references to the above models discuss low income and/or affordable housing. We already see what the wealthy do with language and definitions. We don’t have to allow that type of flexibility for people who want to monetize these ideas. These models could all easily be universal and provide everyone in the United States the security of shelter. 

Teka Lo, Public Intellectuals

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