What we’re reading: “‘Poor Door’ in a New York Tower Opens a Fight Over Affordable Housing”

Where is the line between incentivizing private-sector development of affordable housing and subsidizing (or promoting) more discriminatory, exclusionary housing practices?  Like many big cities, New York is trying to find out. One of its most recent gray areas is 40 Riverside Boulevard, a 22-story mixed-income development in Manhattan that was built under an inclusionary zoning program and will include a separate entrance – a so-called ‘Poor Door’ – for the low-income or subsidized renters. Read more in the excerpts below or in the full article in the New York Times.

The so-called poor door has brought an outcry, with numerous officials now demanding an end to the strategy. But the question of how to best incorporate affordable units into projects built for the rich has become more relevant than ever as Mayor Bill de Blasio seeks the construction of 80,000 new affordable units over the next 10 years.

The answer is not a simple one. As public housing becomes a crumbling relic of another era, American cities have grown more reliant on the private sector to build housing for the poor and working class. Developers say they can maximize their revenues, and thus build more affordable units, by separating them from their luxury counterparts.

…….But Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said that separate front doors were not in keeping with the administration’s principles of equality, and that the city was working to change the rules to prohibit them. “Walking into a building should not be any different based on income status,” Ms. Glen said in an interview.

It’s a difficult issue that has divided even members of the affordable housing community. But what do you think? Should developers be able to use separate entrances for market-rate and subsidized apartments? If it is not okay to have separate entrances for apartments, is it okay if the market-rate units are condos? Read the full article on The New York Times website here and let us know what you think in the comments below!

South Korea: Finally shifting away from a centuries-old housing system

by Judy Park, Analyst

South Korea’s primary housing system, called jeonse (or “key money”), dates back to their Joseon Dynasty. That is, back when the denizens of this humble country looked like this:

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King Sejong is not amused.

Jeonse is one of only two systems of its kind in the world (the other being rahn in Iran), where renting out a modest two-bedroom unit entails the lump sum possession of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The process goes thus: tenants provide landlords with this hefty deposit to lease a unit for two years. The deposit is calculated as a certain percentage (typically 40-60% in Korea, 20% in Iran) of the value of the unit. The landlord can then invest these funds (e.g. in other properties, businesses, or at the bank) until the end of the two-year contract, when they must return the full sum to the tenant. The unit acts as collateral in the event that the landlord can’t or won’t pay it back. Estimates show that about a tenth don’t.

If interest rates are high, jeonse is good deal for landlords – it’s basically an interest-free loan. If they’ve got the cash, it’s a good deal for tenants – they can live in a unit rent-free and continue to save up money.

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An average, middle-class apartment in Seoul. Source: HanCinema

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An average, middle-class apartment in Seoul. Source: HanCinema

But getting the cash is no easy feat. The typical deposit is a casual $200,000, taking the average household five years and boatloads of fiscal restraint to save up. Despite this, it seems that much of the nation’s families are up for the challenge, as more than 60% of rental units are currently held under the jeonse system. Thus, jeonse units constitute the main source of affordable housing for low and middle income families in the country.

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Connecting the dots : Urban Resilience and Affordable housing

 By Eman Lasheen, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Affordable housing has always been looked upon as a supplementary service provided for a certain population. It is generally defined as housing that is appropriate for the needs of a range of very low to moderate income households and priced so that these households are also able to meet other basic living costs such as food, clothing, transport, medical care and education. As a rule of thumb, housing is usually considered affordable if it costs less than 30 percent of gross household income 1. The core value of investing in the provision of affordable housing is usually related to meeting a growing demand in the fastest, most efficient and inexpensive form, to alleviate socioeconomic burdens. Despite the importance of this highly materialistic perspective, it strikes me as quite lacking to account for higher, more complex interactions at the urban level, where positive impacts of affordability are manifested most profoundly. The connection between the availability of well designed affordable housing and the level of urban resilience is highlighted dramatically during times of crisis or unexpected change. The fact that people would find decent shelters during disasters or sudden shocks is not the only aspect of connection. It is the understanding of how urban communities are able to prioritize, plan and move forward that makes affordable housing a crucial aspect of urban resilience.

One major problem with resilience as an evolving field of research is the ambiguity around its components and intentions. Rooted in ecological sciences, the term has gained a lot of prominence within many other disciplines including engineering, social sciences and urbanism. It has been adapted within each of these disciplines to inform about a certain form of interaction. It remains however confusing to a great extent when it comes to urban sciences, where question such as : “resilience of what ? to what ” becomes a great source of trouble to practitioners and decision makers alike.

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What We’re Researching: the Instant City

By Joyce Lee, Harvard Graduate School of Design Community Service Fellow

For the past ten weeks, I had the good fortune of working with AHI as a summer fellow researching post-disaster, post-conflict settlements around the globe –or as we at AHI like to call it, instant cities. For the purposes of our research, we define instant cities as spaces that result from mass, rapid migration from disruptive circumstances. These spaces have a sizable population with food, shelter, water, and other living needs but limited or no supportive physical infrastructure. In turn, this situation creates many humanitarian, economic, operational, and environmental challenges. As an urban planning student with a background in architecture, this subject piques my interest because the confluence of these challenges unfolds at an accelerated rate. And I mean very accelerated. Think: building-and-providing-for-200,000-people-or the-equivalent-of-a-third-of-Boston-in-two-weeks-accelerated (which was the actual case for Zaatari, the Syrian refugee camp in Jordan).

I presume many relief practitioners are drawn to this field of work because of, among many other reasons, the tabula rasa condition of new camps, I certainly was. But in reality, there is no blank slate. Resource-scare site conditions, clashing neighboring host communities, and unclear land titles are all already present at the start of the camp. Yet, many of the camps reviewed this summer do not publicly document these issues unless they become problematic. Are there ways that host countries could be more proactive instead of reactive in this field? Are there possible economic synergies that could take place to make the camp residents and host communities feel more productive? Should states bordering contentious territories prepare refugee contingency plans in advance? This research raised a lot of questions and we started to identify gaps in our knowledge of instant cities. Thus far, our findings are still preliminary, but it is clear that this subject is understudied.

Jalozai Refugee camp in Pakistan

Aerial of Jalozai Refugee Camp in Pakistan. What happens when the camp “closes” and all the aid agencies leave?

Azraq is among the first refugee camps to include a grocery store. Aid agencies hope that this would foster a sense of normalcy.

Azraq, a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, is among the first refugee camps to provide a supermarket for its residents  instead of cooked meals. Aid agencies hope that this would foster a sense of normalcy and dignity.

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What we’re reading: Refugee Cities

By Anya Brickman Raredon, Global Associate

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published a front-page article by Michael Kimmelman about the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, naming it as a “Do-It-Yourself City”.  Here at AHI, we’ve spent part of the spring and summer speaking at conferences and raising a related set of questions to humanitarians and global housing finance experts:

What is the nature of long-term humanitarian settlements? Can we continue to see refugee camps as “camps” or are they actually “instant cities”?

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Four years after the earthquake this IDP camp is now a thriving community. Port-au-Prince, Haiti 2014. Photos by author.

UNHCR recently reported that the number of refugees wordwide exceeds 50 million.  This number is only likely to increase as cities and countries face increasing instability and environmental risk, making the question of where refugees live and what the conditions of those places are an ever more pressing question.  Furthermore, when entire cities are displaced, the demographics of refugee populations cut across economic lines, and new 2013-11-08 15.05.39settlements (camps) include tradesmen, entrepreneurs, educators, and a whole range of professionals – challenging our preconceptions of camps filled with the poor, unskilled, and helpless.
Individuals, even when displaced from their homes, will shape the spaces in which they live – whether that be through planting vegetables in pots by their door, hooking up their tent to electricity, or working with their neighbors to pave the road and reduce dust.

As the NYT article points out in the case of Zaatari, “There is even a travel agency that will provide pick-up service at the airport, and pizza delivery, with an address system for refugees that camp officials are scrambling to copy.”

This sure sounds like the beginning of a city to me.  So how do we shift humanitarian thinking, actions, and systems to acknowledge this reality and redirect the expenditures of supporting these settlements into investments in long-term development which can benefit both the current refugee families and the surrounding host communities? How do we shift the paradigm from seeing refugees as ‘beneficiaries’, and instead view them as proactive and able to contribute to the environments in which they live?

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Guest Post: Painting Slums

The following guest post by Noll Tufani, the Haiti Country Director for Build Change, opens our minds to how we can share our experiences working in housing and informal settlement upgrading with both intellect and creativity.

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Cerfs Volants

As a humanitarian professional implicated in slum-upgrading projects, I’ve come to realize that slums are key revelators of the challenges facing modern cities, of the broader development challenges facing entire countries or regions, and of a universal condition that humanity has been facing through the ages.

The economic, social, political, environmental and ethical implications of our times can all be found in the slums.

I realized that slums had rubbed-off on me when I began to feel this urge to draw and paint them. At first representing the slum itself was important to me, but then I started to give-in to an even stronger urge to render the slum as relative as it is to the very slum dwellers and as inconspicuous as it is to the ruling classes. The best way to do this was to merge three concepts:

  • The slums are everywhere: whatever the product one consumes, someone from a slum somewhere has had something to do with that product. And this is also true for the products we discard as trash. Whatever the location in the world, there is a slum of sorts, hidden from the mainstream, but very much intertwined with it. Whether a Brazilian favela or a squatted run-down building in the heart of Paris, ignoring the existence of slums is simply failing to fully understand the world we live in.
  • Slums are not slums in the eyes of their residents: slum-dwellers project their life-aspirations and their moments of joy beyond the contingency of the slum. They are able to create this reality that renders the hardship of the slum relative and as a result, they transform the slums into welcoming and heartwarming places from which they project themselves into their dreams and life-plans.
  • Slums evoke hardship and suffering: although slum-dwellers project their life-aspirations beyond the slum, they are very much aware of the daily hardship of living in the slum. From lack of comfort, to exposition to crime, disease and natural disasters, slum-dwellers wish they were living elsewhere, and non-slum-dwellers wish the slum were not there!
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Bidonvuille en bordure de mer

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Loiseau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What we’re reading: A ‘nationwide gentrification effect’ is segregating us by education

On Friday, The Washington Post highlighted the views of Standford economist Rebecca Diamond, who believes that gentrification is no longer a problem for individual neighborhoods, but for cities as a whole.

As the returns to education have increased, according to Stanford economist Rebecca Diamond, the geographic segregation of the most educated workers has, too — and not by neighborhood, but by entire city.

This effectively means that college graduates in America aren’t simply gaining access to higher wages. They’re gaining access to high-cost cities like New York or San Francisco that offer so much more than good jobs: more restaurants, better schools, less crime, even cleaner air.

…Sure, the San Francisco tech worker has to spend a larger share of his income on rent than a low-skilled worker in Oklahoma City. But all of the added amenities of living in San Francisco outweigh that higher cost.

Read the full article here.