Category Archives: Current events

What we’re reading: Rebuilding Gaza

Addressing ecosystemic housing challenges and gaps – which all cities and countries face – is difficult when the housing units themselves are destroyed. What we’re reading this week – a recent report from the global humanitarian response coordinator Shelter Cluster on the situation in Gaza – reminds us of the tragedy of both natural and, in this case, man-made disasters that cause people to lose their homes.

Although the cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has been in effect for nearly a month now, the region is just now taking definitive steps toward rebuilding Gaza after the most recent conflict. According to Shelter Cluster’s recent report (available for download as a pdf here), 17,000 housing units were destroyed in the most recent conflict between Israel and Palestine. This is on top of 5,000 housing units still in need of repair from prior conflicts, as well as a general shortage of about 75,000 units. These numbers include residential buildings only, without taking into account the schools, power plants, and other public infrastructure damaged during “Operation Protective Edge,” Israel’s latest military operation in Gaza.

Much of this housing shortage can be attributed to restrictions on importation of cement, aggregate, steel, and other building materials into Gaza. Past use of these materials to construct the tunnels between Israel and Gaza has made the Israeli government reluctant to allow further importation, so oversight of the use of these materials has been a major point in the recent negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

palestinian rubble

A Palestinian woman in the rubble of her home, destroyed in the conflict this summer. Credit Said Khatib/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, New York Times.

Despite Shelter Cluster’s grim prediction that it will take 20 years to rebuild Gaza after this most recent conflict, journalists report that talks between Israeli and Palestinian authorities about rebuilding have been positive. Last week, the UN revealed the details of a temporary deal regarding construction struck late on September 16. As the New York Times reported:

“…Robert H. Serry, the special envoy for the Middle East peace process, told the Council that he hoped the deal would lead to a broader agreement on opening border crossings to Gaza and on ending severe restrictions on imports to the Palestinian territory, where the economy was stagnating before the 50-day war this summer.

The Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, will have “a lead role in the reconstruction effort,” while United Nations monitors will ensure that reconstruction materials are not “diverted from their entirely civilian purpose,” Mr. Serry said.

…“Arriving at this agreement has not been without its challenges,” Mr. Serry said, according to a prepared statement. “We consider this temporary mechanism, which must get up and running without delay, as an important step toward the objective of lifting all remaining closures, and a signal of hope to the people of Gaza.”

Unfortunately, housing is just one of the issues Palestinians will face as they seek to rebuild Gaza. A recent World Bank report details several obstacles, including restriction of movement, economic recession, and an energy crisis, which will have to be dealt with before Palestine is able to build a resilient economy.

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!

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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