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Does Affordable Housing Really Need to Be So Scarce in Most Big Cities?

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Why is it that a growing percentage (approaching 50%) of urban men today, ages 30-40, cannot afford to rent or buy a home that is as nice as the one in which they and their parents lived back in the 60s, 70s or 80s? Why is it that only a small and shrinking percentage of men in most cities can any longer afford to buy or rent a median-priced home there? The median income in San Francisco is . . less than half what's needed to buy a home there. Meanwhile, there are plenty of rundown buildings in, or very close to, such cities -- as well as a huge supply of currently idle workers (many of them long-term unemployed), who would love to repair and refurbish such buildings . . if it would eventually earn them a home of their own.

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Problem is, except for a very few, isolated exceptions, people who are desperate for a decently paid job currently have no opportunity to work, in some efficient, well organized and cooperative way, on the refurbishing of run-down apartment buildings and other multi-unit structures -- in return for which they would eventually be able to win ownership of one of the units in one of the buildings they help refurbish. Therefore, in light of the huge reduction of income most of these people have experienced since about 1975 (even as worker productivity and top 1-percenter-incomes soared), why aren't such opportunities made available to these people? And why isn't the creation of such a program, as would provide such opportunities, a national priority? (A record 92,898,000 Americans 16 years and older did not participate in the labor force last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Link)

How many duplexes, triplexes and stand-alone homes are being held off the market by the banks which, through the process of foreclosure, own them? (Why held off the market? It's to keep prices from falling as a result of the housing glut that would otherwise occur.)

Keep in mind that banks obtained these homes by foreclosing on the previous owners, often illegally. And yet, while banksters were bailed out with billions of our tax dollars, homeowners and workers got the shaft. So why shouldn't cities be granted the right to use the power of eminent domain to take these houses away from these banksters, compensating them by paying them something less than "fair market value" for such homes? (For more on this subject, go here and here.)

Millions of jobs could be created by way of government-sponsored programs that allowed the unemployed and underemployed to refurbish (after suitable periods of on-the-job learning and instruction) all rundown or abandoned housing that's owned by banks and slumlords.

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Even with nothing other than the installation of double-pane windows, panels of photovoltaic cells on the roof, and adequate insulation, we could provide jobs for millions of Americans, ages 16 and up, who now languish in poverty or near poverty, as a result of ever falling wages and the huge, upward transfer of income and wealth that has occurred over the past 40-50 years.

Plus, such programs would ultimately save many thousands of megawatts of electrical energy, and thereby greatly reduce the amount of coal that has to be burned in this country to generate electricity. Such saved electricity could, among other things, power many thousands more battery-powered cars, thus greatly reducing this nation's need for gasoline, diesel and oil.

More importantly however, the provision of millions of new employment opportunities like these could provide work for huge numbers of alienated young (often black) men who today turn to crime (selling drugs for instance) for lack of a decently compensated job. As a result, many of them spend much of their lives behind bars, at a cost of about $40K/yr to taxpayers. And, with well over 2 million Americans now behind bars, that adds up to more than $80 billion per year.

The U.S. incarceration rate is now about 240% higher than it was in 1980 (even though the crime rate has been falling the entire time). This means that a reduction by one-half in the incarceration rate, even if only among non-violent offenders, would lower correctional expenditures by at least $17 billion per year. So, what if we could instead spend that $17 billion on administering programs that would create millions of new jobs refurbishing and 'solarizing' run-down or abandoned housing? If such programs could halve the number of non-violent offenders in jail, we taxpayers would be money ahead.

Related fact: Free housing for the homeless is cheaper than only paying for the other kinds of maintenance and care they need.

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(So why not also let anyone, who needs a job, work on the creation of the affordable housing that they and others like them personally need?)

In 2005, Utah set out to fix a problem that's often thought of as unfixable: The state had almost 2000 chronically homeless people, most of whom had mental health or substance abuse issues, or both. At the time, the standard approach was to first try to make homeless people "housing ready": You had to get these people into shelters or halfway houses and then get them into treatment programs, and only when and if they made progress with such treatment could they get a chance at permanent housing.

Utah, however, tried a new strategy and a new program. It's called Housing First and it consists of just giving the homeless the homes they need. Amazingly, this approach, in the long run, turned out to be much less costly than the traditional method of dealing with and helping the homeless.

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Several years after receiving my M.A. in social science (interdisciplinary studies) I was an instructor at S.F. State University for a year, but then went back to designing automated machinery, and then tech writing, in Silicon Valley. I've (more...)
 

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