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Thu Jan 2, 2014, 12:19 AM


Trickle-down Gentrification

Old, dense, transit-served cities like San Francisco and New York have excessive restrictions on new housing construction, making them increasingly inaccessible to all but the 1 percent. Newer, sprawling, car-centric cities like Dallas and Atlanta facilitate new development, helping to maintain lower housing costs. This is the argument advanced by economist Ed Glaeser in his much-cited 2011 book The Triumph of the City, a paean to creative-class urbanism...

There is some truth to these basic facts, but their interpretation has led to a pernicious claim about urban development: that the construction of any housing stock at all, even luxury condominiums, will relieve pressure on the housing market to an extent that will keep cities “affordable.” This reliance on a false cause and effect has become a common justification for urban gentrification. Once the new luxury condos are built, the argument goes, truly wealthy city-dwellers will move into them and leave open the market-rate apartments meant for good old middle-class families...

The fallacy of trickle-down gentrification also highlights the complications of the term “affordable,” used to describe housing priced below market rates. Affordable housing, often built by community development corporations like the one I work at, has largely supplanted government-funded public housing since the 1970s. Many units are paid for by Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), while some are covered by project-based Section 8 vouchers and other subsidies. But while public housing is home to people with incomes below 30 percent of the median, LIHTC units typically use 30 percent of median income as a floor. This means that while affordable housing is affordable to certain low- and moderate-income people, and plays an important role in allowing those people to remain in gentrifying cities, it is often unaffordable to the working poor.

Much has been written about the so-called failure of public housing in the United States, so I won’t take up the topic here, except to point out that a much-ignored cause of that failure was the inability of local authorities to actually maintain and repair their housing projects. While few would blame potholed roads on the drivers who use them, a great effort has been made to attribute the degeneration of public housing in the US to public housing residents themselves.

In other countries, however, public housing has been more successful. In the mid-1960s, the Swedish Social Democratic Party launched an ambitious plan to provide truly affordable housing and produce “good democratic citizens,” called the Million Programme. More than a million homes were built by the 1970s, and they now house approximately a quarter of the Swedish population. Though they have come under fire from liberal and conservative critics for their modernist superblock architecture, their peripheral locations, and their propensity to house newly-arrived immigrants, they have continued to provide quality housing for millions of low-income Swedes and to resist privatization...

Five thousand miles away in fiercely capitalist Hong Kong, nearly half of the population lives in government-subsidized housing...

Housing construction cannot be separated from the economic conditions that surround it — low-wage service jobs, stringent requirements on credit scores, and a pervasive opposition to rent control. Frederick Engels foresaw this problem in his essay on housing.

Whence then comes the housing shortage? It is a necessary product of the bourgeois social order; it cannot fail to be present in a society in which the great masses of the workers are exclusively dependent upon wages; in which the workers are crowded together … at a quicker rate than dwellings come into existence for them under existing conditions; in which, therefore, there must always be tenants even for the most infamous pigsties; and in which finally the house owner in his capacity as capitalist has not only the right, but, in view of the competition, to a certain extent also the duty of ruthlessly making as much out of his property in house rent as he possibly can.

In such a society the housing shortage is no accident; it is a necessary institution.


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Response to El_Johns (Original post)

Thu Jan 2, 2014, 01:53 AM

1. Agreed. And it why some of the working poor favor red states with lax zoning. I've seen some housing

that makes use of materials that people can make or create by hand, or build homes with alternative water, sewer, heating and electric means.

Those would not be allowed anywhere in my state where water rights and all property are restricted. Some poor folk see these as unnecessarily restrictive, even though some higher income people abuse the freedom and make pollution.

People will gravitate toward what they can afford and feel they have a chance to own and be free from being forced into unsanitary and unsafe housing. The collusion between municipalities and developers creating a tax base of houses unnecessarily large or out of the range of working folk to increase revenue is why some folks are voting against all taxes that make city life a positive and healthy one.

That is an interesting way of looking at things from your experience and the rest of the OP, but some want more.

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Response to freshwest (Reply #1)

Thu Jan 2, 2014, 04:45 AM

2. I think it's no coincidence that the boom in homelessness under Reagan coincided with the


defunding of public housing.

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Response to El_Johns (Reply #2)

Thu Jan 2, 2014, 02:56 PM

3. It's not a coincidence, it's an effect. Reaganeque greed respected no boundaries.

There were and have continued to be, groups who abuse the terminology of civil rights for the disabled in order to line their own pockets. Directly by the contracting of services in privatization schemes and indirectly by demonizing public health facilities and regulation.

This country has a long way to go, if it has the time, to address this wrong. We are still free to transform society to make things both inclusive and safe for all, but it takes a willingness to get involved and not throw one's hands up and walk away. When the latter is the case, jails and prisons take the place of services and educated healthcare.

In addition to closing down public based facilities, those who believed private interests or business did the work better, destroyed a valuable repository of knowledge and humane care by defunding and minimalizing those who had years of experience working with the various populations suffering mental disease, or even brain tumors or epilepsy that others saw a mental disorders.

It's part of the dumbing down and theft of America.

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