Category Archives: News articles

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.

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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.

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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 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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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.

What we’re reading: Number of People Displaced by Violence Highest in 20 Years, Agency Says

According to The New York Times, the number of people displaced from their homes by violence is the highest it’s been in 20 years. This is largely a result of the crisis in Syria, where close to 10,000 people are forced to leave their homes because of violence every day.

“….More than 33 million people were displaced within their countries as a result of conflict by the start of this year, said Jan Egeland, the head of the council and a former humanitarian affairs chief for the United Nations. The pace of displacement is accelerating, he added, with more than eight million people newly displaced in 2013, an increase of 1.6 million from the previous year. Nearly half of them were in Syria, which remains the biggest displacement crisis in the world.

More than three-quarters of those displaced in 2013 were in just five countries. Alongside Syria and Nigeria, these included Central African Republic; the Democratic Republic of Congo, where, after 15 years of various insurgencies, a million people were forced to flee violence last year; and Sudan, where close to half a million fled new waves of violence in a decade-old conflict…..”

Read the full article here.

What we’re reading: “Vision of the future or criminal eyesore: what should Rio do with its favelas?”

The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins wrote a very interesting piece this week on Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.

“…They have become intellectual works-in-progress to universities such as Pennsylvania, Columbia and the LSE. Pennsylvania even built its own campus “pop-up favela” for study purposes. A leading NGO champion, Theresa Williamson of Catalytic Communities, sees the favelas as the “ideal affordable housing stock”. Their buildings are mostly brick-built and sound, maximising every inch of space and fashioned to occupants’ needs. They are low-energy to a fault.

The challenge is somehow to upgrade them to meet even the minimal standards expected for modern urban living, without lurching into old-fashioned, state-sponsored clearance and renewal. It is the challenge of the “smart cities” movement. Rio’s authorities have long acknowledged the policy: Favela Bairro in the 1990s saw them as “civic assets” rather than “aberrations”.”

Read the whole article here.

How do you solve a problem like Korea’s dysfunctional housing market?

By: Derek Long, Senior Housing Adviser 

(Re-posted from The Guardian, one of the UK’s top national newspapers and the world’s third most-read newspaper website)

Imagine a world where a £100,000 deposit for a small flat is cheap; where having 60% of the value of your next home means you haven’t saved enough and you’re running short of time because your tenancy (yes, that the huge deposit was only key money) will be over in two years. Welcome to jeonse and the Korean housing market.

And it is a strange market to British eyes. Homeownership is not popular. Unlike booming Hong Kong or Singapore, home prices fell about 8% last year. Rather than buy a depreciating asset, the middle classes look to rent. The only problem is that the sums no longer add up for the majority of landlords either….

Read the rest of the article on The Guardian’s website or in PDF version.

South Korea