Category Archives: Climate Justice

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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Slow Street to Downtown Greenway

June 11, 2020, first given as oral testimony May 28, 2020

This blog calls for equity for the low-income people on the front lines of air pollution in downtown Portland. It was written as a testimony for a May 28 hearing on the re-adoption of Portland’s Central City 2035 Plan,

Honorable Mayor and Commissioners:

I’m Mary Vogel, a climate resiliency/climate justice consultant based in downtown’s West End who has been involved in Central City 2035 since its inception. So much air-time was given to neighbors who wanted height limits in the West End to be limited to 100 feet, that those of us from SW 12th Avenue didn’t get sufficient consideration of our health, safety, air quality and other resiliency concerns.

Frontline for Worst Air Quality

Residents in the low-income buildings (both subsidized and market rate)  that populate much of SW 12th   Ave. are downtown’s buffer to the worst of the air and noise pollution from I-405. And that’s some of the worst in the nation—see Figure 1.

This Toxicity Index Covers airborne cancer risk, respiratory hazards and lead exposure. Adjacent Census Tracts have same rating. Source USEPA EJ Screen and Upstream Research.

 

Urban Greenway

So, I am asking you to consider a new design for SW 12th Ave from SW Montgomery to West Burnside—one that better fits the original proposal from Portland Bureau of Transportation. That proposal was to make SW 12th the Urban Greenway my neighbors and I deserve to better protect our health!

I was puzzled about what happened to that Urban Greenway–until investigative journalists Jonathan Maus of Bike Portland and Sarah Mirk of Portland Mercury explained how West End business owners and Portland Business Alliance got the project nixed.

  • Checking in on the SW 12th Avenue project  Maus explains how a letter from these scions of the Portland business community with property in the West End wrote a letter demanding a study:
      • John Underhill – Jake’s Restaurant
      • Jordan Menashe – Menashe Properties
      • Greg Goodman – City Center Parking
      • Christopher Robbins – McMenamin’s
      • Steve Roselli – Harsch Investment
      • Brian Wilson – Kalberer Companies
      • Don Singer – Singer Properties
      • Mark Edlen – Gerding Edlen
      • Alix Nathan – Mark Spencer Hotel Block
  • Businesses Protest Planned Downtown Bike Lane  “At the heart of this issue is how businesses view bikes in the central city” writes Mirk.

Both of these articles focus mostly on the bike lane, rather than the Greenway. But the Greenway would address the needs of a far broader spectrum of people. It would also contribute far more to livability and urban biodiversity.

Re-Design for Climate Justice

I want you to consider adding to CC2035’s Transportation System Plan–and to subsequent street plans–an improved version of this crude version I did on Streetmix.

The three motor vehicle travel lanes would be necked down to a single “Sharrow” for motorized and non-motorized vehicles.  I keep parking lanes on both sides of the street  to help the churches and businesses losing parking when the surface parking lots that dominate the street are re-developed. Planting strips are my stand in for stormwater planter basins that will filter stormwater using native plants. Some, but not all, parklets could be “Street Seats” (a PBOT program) for restaurants. In any case, they would only take up part of each block. The rest of the space would be devoted to stormwater planters, bike corrals, and bike or scooter share facilities. New buildings would vary in height up to 15 stories+. Where a curb cut for a loading dock or garage or underground utilities take up a tree space, green walls will be required up the first 10 stories of the building. All of this would contribute to renewed health–for residents, for businesses and for the environment.

My plan assumes that you will keep the ecoroof requirement in CC 2035 that I myself and others worked so hard to get into that policy. One of my advocacy groups put out a distress call that you may be planning to eliminate it.

In the name of climate justice and equity, I’m asking you to put the SW 12th Avenue Urban Greenway back into CC 2035. Please bring it back to protect those of us on the frontline of pollution. THANK YOU!

Slow Street/Safe Street

We realize full design and implementation may take awhile.  So, please make SW 12th a Slow Street/Safe Street by necking it down to one lane throughout its length–along the lines of the image above. One lane has been done many times in the past six years for two-block segments due to construction. There has been little to no impact on motor vehicle traffic.  A SLOW STREET now will make a great Tactical Urbanism approach to ultimately achieving the URBAN GREENWAY that SW 12th Avenue residents deserve.

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Mary Vogel, CNU-A/PlanGreen consults on climate resiliency and climate justice and is co-founder of Portland, OR Small Developer Alliance, a group related to CNU and the Incremental Development Alliance. She welcomes your response to this blog.