Shelter Shorts, The Week in Community Development—Feb. 8

Hurricane Maria's toll on the mental health of those who moved, a forever home for artists in New York City, Greenwich CT is stressed out, Love a vacant lot, A federal watchdog shouldn't watch itself, Social isolation remedies, more.

'Westside Fireworks in Chicago,' by Tony Webster via flickr, CC BY 2.0.



‘Westside Fireworks in Chicago,’ by Tony Webster via flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Quote of the Week: It feels like I’m at a firefighters conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water. Just stop talking about philanthropy and start talking about taxes. We’ve got to be talking about taxes. That’s it. Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit in my opinion.”— Rutger Bergman, historian and author of Utopia for Realists, speaking at Davos.

A recent MIT study published in the Urban Affairs Review journal found that upzoning in several Chicago neighborhoods did indeed have an effect on housing prices, but not in the way the “pro-density” crowd might hope. Freemark, a PhD student at MIT’s urban planning school, found that in neighborhoods that had received a double dose of upzoning, in 2013 and 2015, not only did supply not change significantly, but housing prices rose. While we can be sure that upzoning’s effects will manifest in different ways in different places, it is ever useful to have more data to compare (and data that will add to the conversation, one of which Shelterforce has moderated and will be publishing soon) as cities adopt density policies and enough time passes for results to be weighed.

The Opportunity Agenda, a group that focuses on messaging strategies for social justice campaigns, has released an interesting report on the roles of high-profile cultural influencers, like Colin Kaepernick. The report includes suggestions for people working directly with those influencers as well just those trying to get the most out of their platforms. So now we just need the celebrity who wants to take on equitable development or affordable housing…

Since conditions inside the Metropolitan Detention Complex—without heat and electricity during a particularly cold weather snap in New York—made news, a tour of the federal prison by a federal judge revealed inhumane conditions that went beyond power. City officials, families of those imprisoned (many, in this facility, are awaiting trial, and are thus presumed innocent), and the general public voiced outrage, all of which prompted the justice department to announce that it would appoint an internal watchdog to conduct an investigation into the days-long power outage as well as other ongoing conditions. This article from The Intercept attempts to make the case for why the federal government investigating itself is a bad idea.

Microcredit doesn’t necessarily do a great job of lifting the world’s poor out of poverty, a round of studies have identified. However, it has made significant improvement in the lives of the poor, helping families “deal with emergencies, make critical purchases that they couldn’t otherwise afford, and put food on the table in times of scarcity.” Those results are not quite as flashy as raising people out of poverty, but still incredibly worthwhile.

People in Greenwich, Connecticut, one of the wealthiest cities of its size in the country, are having feels about how much development is changing their town, and how the state’s affordable housing fair share law sometimes keeps them from saying no to development. While there are certainly arguments about how the law could have been better written, hand-wringing, even somewhat sympathetic hand-wringing like thisalways seems to leave out one very crucial point—if, starting at the time the law was passed, the town had gone out of its way to get to the required 10 percent of affordable housing in locations and styles everyone was happy with—the state wouldn’t be intervening now.

Researchers have found that the mental health of Puerto Ricans who moved to Central Florida after Hurricane Maria is notably worse than those who either stayed on the island or moved to South Florida. This makes some sense–those who left probably suffered more damage to their homes and livelihoods than those who stayed. Displacement is always hard, but culturally, South Florida may be an easier place for Spanish-speaking folks to move. Participants cited difficulty finding housing and discrimination as some of their major challenges in Central Florida. A news report noted that the researchers hoped their results would lead to more mental health funding. We’re all for more mental health funding, but it sure seems like the results point first to a need for more affordable housing, bilingual services, and welcoming attitudes.

In 2017, The RWJF issued a call for grant proposals on tackling social isolation, a pervasive issue that can affect people at all stages of life and for many different reasons, and received hundreds of applications. They’ve since compiled a list from their grantees of examples of ways they are tackling the challenge, and they vary from creating a peer network of and for Latino LGBTQ youth, and improving social connections for individuals returning to society after incarceration. 

Designers, Make It Work: New York City has a lot of narrowly shaped lots, some of which have sat undeveloped for years because no one wants to build on them. Since developers have shied away from the properties, city officials are hoping architects can solve their design challenges. The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development will host a design competition for ideas on how to create affordable housing on 23 irregular lots. Can’t wait to see what the architects come up with.

Love is in the Air: It’s the fifth anniversary of the #LoveThatLot campaign where people post photos of revitalization projects in their communities. So whether it’s a lot that has been turned into a garden, or an abandoned building that has been renovated and brought back into use, share what’s been done in your neighborhood (and recognize the people who helped turn things around!) And while we’re talking about revitalization and vacancy, if you haven’t checked out our last issue on Vacancy, here it is. Stories include how an activation project on a small vacant lot can be an opportunity for neighbors to work together, how a citywide cleanup program can be an opportunity to improve health, and much more.

What we’re reading: this beautifully told (and photographed) story about the original artist residents who live in Westbeth, New York City’s first artist residence; and because they haven’t had to leave, have turned the building into a naturally occurring retirement community (NORC).

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