Category Archives: Alternative Housing Models

HOUSING JUSTICE IS CLIMATE JUSTICE

Is This What It Means To Be An American? If we acquiesce to a system that creates such glaring inequality, we are saying YES!

Instead we could pursue a Social Housing Development Authority at the federal level. I hope those maintaining HOUSING JUSTICE IS CLIMATE JUSTICE will embrace this concept and promote it with policymakers.

Is Freedom what we want?

On April 16, this sprawling homeless encampment at the edge of downtown Portland displayed a FREEDOM sign. Find it in the shade of the upper right corner.

Did Freedom go somewhere else?

By Jun 9 FREEDOM was gone! I’ve searched around in the rubble, but no trace of the sign. The very small tent that is partially hidden by two tarps is still there today.

Independence Day is usually a time when I see historical reviews examining where we’ve come from and analyzing where we may be going.  This July 4, 2021, I thought I would make my own attempt.  The scenes around me in downtown Portland, Oregon are of increasing sidewalk tents filled with humans that most of our business community wants to see swept away so that people with money will come back to downtown.. Some of them are willing to help build more shelters to get folks off the street. They hope to hide the glaring inequality our society has produced through it’s housing policy.

A few days ago, I was reminded of an underlying cause of this housing inequity situation by an ad in our statewide newspaper, The Oregonian.

Block 216 Fund II ad

This half-page ad in The Oregonian Jun 20 offering a tax break to the wealthy symbolizes a root cause of the housing crisis.

The ad invites readers to join Fund II for the 251 room Ritz-Carlton Hotel and the 132 luxury condominiums, along with 153,000 square feet of Class A office space. It’s a “Qualified Opportunity Zone Fund” –meaning that if you are wealthy enough, you can get a big tax break for such an investment. While downtown Portland’s designation as an “Opportunity Zone” was especially egregious when it was first declared, now, with all of its boarded up storefronts, such a designation for downtown would raise fewer eyebrows than it did when it first came out.  Regardless, there is no better symbol of what’s wrong with United States housing policy than this enormous tax break for the wealthy.

CALLING FOR HOUSING AND TAX POLICY CHANGE

Dorothy Brown is one of many writing about how housing policy fails Black families

Dorothy Brown author of THE WHITENESS OF WEALTH @DorothyABrown

There is now a chorus of authors, myself included, who are calling for a “Brave New US Housing Policy”—one that treats housing as a social good rather than an investment. We are critical of the way that US tax policy has been used to make housing into a commodity–leading to greater and greater financialization of what should be a social good..  One such author, tax professor, Dorothy A. Brown, testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on April 20, about how current tax policy greatly disadvantages Black families.

Her book, The Whiteness of Wealth gives several solutions that would lead to more equity in the housing system. Brown makes a case for a far more progressive tax policy. The change that she feels will work is to eliminate all existing deductions and exclusions, reduce or eliminate income taxes for those taxpayers who earn less than the living wage in their geographic area and, in fact, pay those earning less the difference. This solution would not only help many in the Black community, but many in what used to be the “middle class” all races.

More recently, through a post by the PLACE Initiative, I learned about Gianpaolo Baiocchi and H. Jacob Carlson, two activist academics who came together to publish Housing Is A Social Good. Baiocchi is from NYU and Carlson is from Brown University. Not only do they offer a critique of the Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan strategy in the housing arena, but they also offer a proactive solution.

Image from their Boston Review article

The American Jobs Plan mirrors past efforts at affordable housing that contributed to our problems and failed Black Americans. We need to take housing out of the private market. say the authors

AMERICAN JOBS PLAN OFFERS MORE OF THE SAME

The American Jobs Plan calls for a new “Neighborhood Homes Tax Credit to attract private investment in the development and rehabilitation of affordable homes for low- and moderate-income homebuyers and homeowners”–according to the Administration.

Baiocchi and Carlson point out that “… the bulk of the proposals in the American Jobs Plan … mostly mirror earlier policies to stimulate ownership and new construction of affordable housing through subsidies and tax-breaks for private developers.”

Like Dorothy A. Brown, they point out that “These mechanisms have not only contributed to our problems, but failed African Americans. For the last several decades in the United States, the highly regressive policy of tax breaks for mortgage interest, for example, has encouraged greater household indebtedness while deeply disadvantaging African Americans.”

SOCIAL HOUSING DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY

Published Nov 2020 by NYU Gallatin, this document is a manual for how the Social Housing Development Authority would work

I will get onboard Baiocchi and Carlson’s proposal for the creation of the Social Housing Development Authority, a federal agency that would purchase distressed real estate, ensure it is livable and environmentally sound, and finance its transfer to the  social housing sector, including tenant cooperatives, community land trusts, nonprofits or public housing. And I will encourage the PLACE Initiative and other groups that I’m involved with to get aboard too.

But, before I go into greater detail, one area where the authors and I differ–they write: Through its retrofitting efforts, the SHDA would also contribute to climate mitigation efforts.” They also mention in their Notes:  “Retrofitting affordable housing is seen by many analysts as an important pillar of the Green New Deal.” I don’t disagree with those statements, but, because I believe that housing justice is climate justice, I believe their proposal relates to mitigating climate change even more than they may recognize.

Baiocchi and Carlson et al describe the institutional design of the SHDA.                                      Part 1 describes the overarching mission and organizational structure of the SHDA. Within the mission we find:                                                                                                                                               • Reverse decades of neglect, predatory practices, and discriminatory policies by focusing efforts on historically marginalized communities.                                                                                        • Invest in green infrastructure and climate mitigation by assuring that transferred properties are retrofitted.

Part 2 elaborates on how the SHDA acquires distressed properties. “It would likely prioritize housing that is at risk of predatory activity, such as what policy makers sometimes denominate “naturally occurring affordable housing” in gentrifying areas, among others.”

Part 3 outlines what happens while the SHDA holds the assets, from servicing mortgages to maintaining and rehabbing distressed property.The maintenance function of the SHDA would be a significant stimulus into the local economy through maintenance and construction jobs.”

Part 4 lays out the asset disposition process. Preferred housing providers — community land trusts, housing cooperatives,  tenant groups, non-profit housing organizations, public housing authorities, and other government agencies — gain first priority to purchase the SHDA’s assets.

Part 5 discusses two pieces of companion policy that would enhance the ability of the SHDA to carry out its mission: the repeal of the Faircloth Amendment and the establishment of a national Tenant Opportunity to Purchase (TOPA) policy.

CONCLUSION

I suspect that TAX POLICY is not something to which most of us want to pay attention. For those of us who run a small business, we may think the IRS Schedule C seems quite arcane, but, after our taxes are filed we put it out of our mind. It is the wealthy who hire tax attorneys and accountants to find every possible deduction they can take and buy into systems like the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and Opportunity Zones Tax Credits who are the real beneficiaries. “These market-oriented programs are fundamentally costly to public coffers and, at their foundation, prioritize profit over public function”, write Baiocchi and Carlson.

With Senator Wyden (D-OR) the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, those of us in Oregon have a special responsibility to speak out against this long-entrenched, but highly inequitable system to say that our present  housing policy is NOT what we want as Americans . And Join me in calling for the Social Housing Development Authority proposed by the group from NYU Gallatin!

NOTES

My search for the root cause of the housing crisis in the US has been fueled by the writings of authors as divergent as Samuel Stein, Diana Lind,, Heather McGhee and Alan Durning in addition to those mentioned above. The books or articles by these authors all go into far more policy history than I covered above–as does the Boston Review piece linked in this post.

 

Brave New US Housing Policy PLACE Initiative Presentation

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Missing Middle Housing Since the 1700’s

May 22, 2018  I just returned from the 26th Annual Congress of the Congress for the New Urbanism in Savannah, GA where I took the opportunity to go on the “Missing Middle Housing: Found!” walking tour with Savannah architect, Eric Brown, his two young staff members and about two dozen Congress attendees.  It was revealing!

As a city that has preserved a great deal of its 285-year history in its buildings and neighborhood layout, Savannah (founded 1733) is an ideal place to understand how what we now call “Missing Middle Housing” was an integral part of the development of our towns and cities in this nation since the 1700s.  Duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes along with carriage houses and lane houses coexisted nicely beside single family homes and mansions.

Since the current top priority of the Portland Small Developer Alliance is to get fourplexes allowed as a use by right in all Portland neighborhoods, I will focus on fourplexes first.  I believe the images speak for themselves but do read the captions!

Fourplex Clapboard

This fourplex with 2-way shared stoops was built as worker housing. It fits in well with the mix of homes, including single family, on this well-landscaped street. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Fourplex next to Single Family

This is the same street as the previous photo. The grey/blue building in the background is also a fourplex–with each entry having its own stoop. It has Single Family homes on either side. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Four Row Houses w English Basements

This series of four row houses seemed common in the 1800s when these were built. They are each painted a separate color and at least one has a canopy over the stoop. Each have English Basements that are often rented out separately. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

While many of Savannah’s row houses from the 1800s came in sets of four, some are in sets of three–as illustrated below.  I’m calling this a triplex!

Triplex Row House

This series of three row houses, while part of one structure, are sold separately as fee simple–as are the fourplex row houses above. They may have been workers housing for the staff of the elegant Single Family home next to it on the left. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Three Floor w Flags

The realtor is advertising this structure as three floors–implying that each could be separate units. The bottom floor is used for a business (a day spa). And the flogs make it appear that there may be separate households sharing the other two floors. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Duplexes were somewhat common too. They came in a variety of forms.

Duplex with English Basements

These duplexes with English Basements are being sold by different realty companies. This corner lot structure first appeared to be one large single family home. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Duplex Mimic SF

Another duplex that first appears to be a single family home. Note the difference in setback from the structure on the left. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Double Row House with English Basements

This double row house has substantial English basements that are often separately occupied–offering rental income or business space for the owners. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Built for Bridget Carey

Some of the row houses had simple signs about original ownership. I was surprised about how many seemed to be built for women. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Built for MargaretDibble

I talked to the current occupants of this home, originally built for Margaret Dibble. The woman of the couple had served many years on the neighborhood association board and was excited that CNU was in town. Although the siding of this home is different, it shares a wall with the Bridget Carey house. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Although many of the English basements serve as ADUs, I found this one off a courtyard that appeared to be a shared space.

ADUs off Courtyard

There appear to be two apartments off of this enchanting shared courtyard. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Corner Single Family w Carriage House

This corner single family home has a carriage house in the rear–a lovely accessory dwelling unit or ADU. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Corner Carriage House

It appears that a second story was added over an original carriage house. Today, the upper story has a separate entrance, leaving one to believe that it holds two small apartments. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Apartment buildings were an occasional part of the scene too.

Small Apartment Building with retail

This small apartment building was the only place I saw off-street parking on my tour–and that was likely added afterwards as the building probably had neighboring structures that were torn down to make way for it. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

I saw a number of drivers parallel park on the street while I was taking these photographs.  They did not appear to have been circling to find a place as there were empty places on the street–even though I was photographing during “rush hour”.

I hope that the above images make a compelling case that fourplexes, triplexes, duplexes, ADUs and small apartment buildings can fit nicely into a neighborhood.  They were certainly part of our early historic heritage–a heritage that I hope we will learn from as we now make single family-only neighborhoods a part of our history–a part of our history that has proved unsustainable.  Let’s give our young people the opportunity to share our close-in walkable neighborhoods with housing prices that allow them to thrive.  Let’s give our small developers the opportunity to build in ways that make sense for our current desire for 20-minute neighborhoods. The survival of our planet may depend upon it!

FOR PSC COMMISSIONERS READING THIS POST

The following is an amendment proposed by Portland Small Developer Alliance that we would like you to sponsor:

PSC Proposed Amendment to RIP

Allow four housing units on all residentially-zoned lots, by right, if within walking distance along a continuous pedestrian network to transit. Four units is considered by the Federal Housing Administration for mortgage lending to be a “house.” It is common sense to synchronize our zoning regulations with existing federal policy and definition. Given the high cost of land and development in Portland, new single-family houses on full-size lots affordable to average residents cannot be built. Dividing up the costs of site acquisition, design, permitting costs, impact fees, construction, and lending by four units allows the resulting cost per new home constructed to be affordable to a middle-class Portland household. Unit counts have a tiny impact on the surrounding community compared to building scale; within the regulated size of new projects, we should allow more units. Allowing a fourth unit gives us the opportunity to make the units we build more affordable to more people while still maintaining the scale and character of the neighborhoods we all enjoy.

Community Land Trusts Gaining Ground Fast

Tony Pickett speaking on Community Land Trusts as a tool against displacement at Oregon Metro on March 17, 2017

Tony Pickett speaking on Community Land Trusts as a tool against displacement at Oregon Metro on March 17, 2017

The Community Land Trust (CLT) concept is gaining ground FAST, not only in North America, but around the world says developer Tony Pickett: Advancing ‘in-placement’: Four housing and development lessons from Denver and Atlanta by Tony Pickett. To prevent gentrification and to develop permanent housing affordability, Pickett is working to develop the Community Land Trust concept in both Atlanta and Denver.

This slide from his March 17, 2017 slide show in Portland briefly explains the CLT concept: Typical CLT Model explained

After his presentation at Oregon Metro, Pickett met with a few Transit Oriented Development (TOD) managers and public officials from around the Portland metro region. Says Pickett: “Control of TOD land for shared-equity housing can accomplish the critical linkage of low-cost public transit access and affordable high-quality housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income families.”  One might hope that the wheels are in place for shared equity housing, both rental and for sale, at every existing and future MAX station around the region. But it will take more than this one time, singular effort by Metro. We need to put pressure  on elected officials in the Portland region to adopt the CLT model with Transit-Oriented Development that Pickett promotes .

In both Atlanta and Denver, land-banked properties at transit stations and future stations are developed under the CLT model—not just housing, but community centers and small business space–even a charter school. Portland metropolitan agencies such as Metro and Trimet have done some of this land banking in our region, but their model has often been to sell off the land to a private developer who meets their guidelines. Those of us from the Portland region need to be more active in insisting our public agencies support the CLT model.

The reason I’m excited about CLTs is well-expressed by Gabriel Metcalf, author of Democratic by Design: Community land trusts represent the nascent form of an alternative system of land ownership. In that sense, they illustrate the broader strategy of alternative institutions as a way to make change: create the alternative, and then try to grow it, with the goal of displacing the mainstream set of institutions over time.[1]  CLTs are a new model of land tenure that could ultimately replace our current housing system.

Thankfully, a number of cities around the globe —not just Denver and Atlanta–are seeing the CLT as a solution to gentrification and skyrocketing costs. Even Vancouver, BC, a city that Portland sometimes likes to emulate, is adopting the concept. According to A Speculation-Free Zone in The Globe and Mail[2]:

Vancouver Land Trust Foundation Project under construction

 A growing number of people in British Columbia are viewing this fledgling organization, and community land trusts in general, as the way to provide an important new option in the escalating struggle over housing. . . . Advocates talk passionately about how land trusts help remove property from the speculative land market and preserve it forever.

Vancouver Community Land Trust Foundation is vying to become the largest Community Land Trust in North America. Burlington, VT now has that honor!  Again, from The Globe and Mail:  But, in the Vancouver version, people are also attracted by the other power of land trusts – their ability to harness the energy of hundreds of isolated non-profit housing societies and co-ops, combining their land equity and their clout to be able to finance new development.  We also need to exert pressure on the Portland area’s various Community Development Corporations (CDCs) and other non-profit housing builders to join under a Community Land Trust umbrella–either under our existing CLT, Proud Ground–or an umbrella organization that we create.  

In New York City the New York City Community Land Initiative (https://nyccli.org) is an alliance of over two dozen organizations, academics, affordable-housing developers and community activists who educate the public about community land trusts and advocate for their inclusion in city policy.  (Which organization or academic in the Portland region will help put together a similar coalition to take on the work mentioned above?)

NYCCLI was successful in getting Mayor DeBlasio and the NYC Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) to release a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) from groups interested in forming community land trusts using city-owned property.

In a press release, HPD writes: “The CLT’s land ownership, paired with a governance structure that reflects the interests of CLT affordable housing residents and the broader community, can offer a unique housing model that empowers residents and neighborhoods. . . The release goes on to say that it is evaluating making city-owned properties in East Harlem, the South Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens available for development and operation by one or more CLTs.

NYCCLI lauds HPD saying it has “taken a big step by recognizing the potential of CLTs to advance a truly progressive housing policy.” There was no word on the HPD or NYCCLI sites about whether any decision has been made.

Tony Pickett, for his part, could hardly be busier, with invitations from around the globe to help form CLT’s. He shows the growth of the movement in the US alone in this slide:

Unfortunately, the graph stops at 2010.  Fortunately, the trajectory since then has been even more geometric.

If you are really interested but need more inspiration to take action, think about going to Intersections 2017, the national Community Land Trust conference in Oakland, CA this year: https://groundedsolutionsnetwork.swoogo.com/Intersections2017  Intersections 2017 in Oakland

 

[1]http://www.rooflines.org/4392/interview_with_gabriel_metcalf_author_of_democratic_by_design/

[2] A Speculation-Free Zone http://www.theglobeandmail.com/real-estate/vancouver/how-community-land-trusts-could-help-build-affordable-vancouverhousing/article34026679/

Whole New System of Land Tenure Needed

Mary Vogel/PlanGreen Testimony to Portland City Council on Relocation Assistance  Proposal – Feb. 2, 2017  

To even begin to solve the housing crisis, a whole new system of land tenure is needed.  Relocation assistance for involuntary displacements of tenants seems like a fine and just idea–until you hear the landlords side and their schemes for getting around your proposed ordinance.

I didn’t come prepared to testify today, because under the current system of housing, both sides have compelling arguments. As long as we continue to pursue a housing system that sees housing as a commodity to be bought and sold for a profit, as long as we see it as a builder of individual wealth through the accrual of speculative value, there will be such dilemmas. These are dilemmas that cannot be resolved under the present system.

Champlain Housing Trust in Burlington, VT is the largest CLT in North America. Logo compliments of CHT.

However, there is a whole new system of land tenure that has been around for over 50 years and built a tremendous body of law and custom as well as homes on the ground. That system provides security, equity and legacy to the resident, but the greatest part of the increase in value accrues to the entire community through the Community Land Trust. I wish I had some easy solutions for getting to there from here. I’m afraid that my best idea didn’t get traction and fizzled at the end of the primaries. That idea was to get Bernie Sanders, who played an important role in founding Champlain Housing Trust in Burlington, VT —now the largest Community Land Trust in the nation—to talk about this new model of land tenure to his young followers during his campaign. (See Housing Affordability – Put a Bern on It.) He could have opened so many eyes to a different system and created tremendous demand for it.

We could have built on that demand to pull Portland Community Land Trust (now Proud Ground) out of its role of needing to chase after attention amongst all the various non-profits pursuing affordable housing dollars. We could have expanded its mission from a provider of home ownership opportunities for a tiny percentage of working class people to a central role in our strategy to address housing affordability with a whole new system of land tenure.

Proud Ground CLT office on Interstate Ave. in Portland

The arrow points to the Proud Ground office in the Patton Park Apt. Building on Interstate Ave. Image compliments of Proud Ground. Unfortunately, the building itself is not part of the CLT.

At this point, in an overheated market, I’m not sure how we get there from here. But WE CAN FIGURE IT OUT COLLECTIVELY.  Each of you on the City Council commands far greater media and public attention than I do. If each Council Member learned all you can about the CLT model—perhaps sending one of your number to Burlington, Vt.  to visit Champlain Housing Trust as well as the CLT experts at Burlington Associates—meanwhile each of you study their web sites and start talking and talking about the need for this new model, .

In closing, I want to quote a Jan 17 post from Bob Morris, a friend on Facebook:  What a great time to be alive and an American! There are as many opportunities now to take an active part in making our country better and living up to our highest ideals as at any time in my life. Who will be our new Freedom Riders, lunch counter sitters, voter registrars, river keepers, forest conservators, wild animal protectors, peace spreaders, truth speakers. I can’t wait to meet them. What will you do?  I will add to Bob’s list Community Land Trust builders. . .

Feb 19, 2017 Addendum to the above testimony:  

I was delighted to find out yesterday that Vancouver, BC has been working on a plan to do what I am calling for–on the scale I am suggesting.   A Speculation-Free Zone, an article in The Globe and Mail describes the efforts of the Vancouver Community Land Trust Foundation to become an alternative to the speculative model of housing.  Their vision is to become the largest CLT in North America.

NYC Opens Door Wide to Community Land Trusts in Next City also shows the momentum of the CLT model as cities seek to find systemic solutions to their housing crisis as it is finally becoming obvious the patchwork solutions are not working.

In the late 70s/early 80s, I worked for the Institute for Community Economics, the pre-imenent group building the CLT movement in the US for several decades. I am available to consult on this model through my business, PlanGreen–if there is interest.