The Week in Community Development—March 8

News from—and affecting—the community development world. This week: Criminalizing homelessness, Self-driving cars further inequality?, New ideas for public housing, Commercial CLTs, more.

foreclosed home
Photo by David Shankbone via flickr, CC BY 2.0

Fact of the week:

African-American homeownership rates dropped to 43 percent in 2017, “virtually erasing all of the gains made since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968.” — “The ‘Heartbreaking’ Decrease in Black Homeownership,” Washington Post (See also: “Is the Housing Market the Answer to the Racial Wealth Gap?”)

Rising costs displace small businesses as well as residents—and the loss of familiar, affordable, and culturally specific small businesses often causes a feeling of dislocation even for residents who are able to stay in an appreciating neighborhood. Using the power of community land trusts to remove buildings from the speculative market has been discussed and dabbled in for a while, but they haven’t taken off to the extent we might have expected. There is renewed interest as more markets heat up, however, and City of Lakes Community Land Trust in Minneapolis is launching a pilot commercial CLT, gathering a community advisory committee to shepherd it on its way. We look forward to what they create and what they learn from it!

On the flip side of some cities’ increased funding for and innovative approaches to the homeless crisis are frightening examples of how their criminalization of homelessness is being formalized. With homeless populations so large in places like San Francisco, where people live on the streets in very close proximity to wealthy homeowners, the article cites examples of how homeowners and business owners are putting pressure on local authorities to remove these visual reminders of the crisisand local government is responding in some cases by detaining homeless people in facilities against their will.

Cross-subsidizing public housing in areas of rising value by mixing in market-rate units is a relatively common idea. However, as architecture critic Michael Kimmelman notes, writing for The New York Times, it’s all in how you do it. Kimmelman thinks London is doing it quite well, with a good mix of community engagement, sensitive design, and careful process that isn’t displacing anyone. Now, Kimmelman is contrasting this with a recent proposal to have private developers stick luxury towers on the lawns of NYCHA developments, which provoked outrage. He seems unaware of the many public housing redevelopment projects in this country that, while not perfect, incorporate many more of the things he likes about the London development. Nonetheless, it’s always useful to look afield for new ideas and models (and a culture that doesn’t stigmatize living in social housing so badly doesn’t hurt either), and the London developments are definitely worth a look.

Right-to-lease: Landlords in Glendale, California, will have to offer tenants an additional one-year lease instead of defaulting to one that is month-to-month thanks to a new ordinance city officials passed in February. The ordinance also stipulates that landlords must pay for tenants’ relocation costs if they plan to raise rents by more than 7 percent. We think this sounds great, but surprisingly, some tenants aren’t too happy with the new bill.

Self-driving cars have had bad PR, and it seems to only be getting worse. First we read that these vehicles could actually worsen inequality because of their potential to increase traffic congestion, benefit the wealthy, and take away opportunities from low-income folks. Then we read that according to a new study, self-driving technology had difficulty detecting dark-skinned pedestrians. We wish we were kidding.

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