The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Tag Archives: This American Life

The “Ten Commandments” of Affordable Housing

Yesterday, on a long drive back to New York City from Upstate New York, I was listening to reruns of “This American Life” and happened to catch an episode called “The Ten Commandments.” In the prologue, host Ira Glass reads from some of the sillier iterations of this ancient and holy code of conduct: The Ten Commandments of Tractor Safety, the Ten Commandments of Paris Dining, the Ten Commandments of Math Teachers and, so on. He goes on to say:

I think there’s so many different versions of The Ten Commandments because ten commandments are such a perfect way to get across an idea. There’s ten of them, so it’s enough that you feel like you’re getting a comprehensive view. And yet at the same time, there’s just ten, right? Ten– manageable, not too overwhelming. Sure, I could do ten. Ten, sure.

I scoured the internet and couldn’t find a “Ten Commandments of Affordable Housing.” I found a “Ten Commandments of Land Use Planning” and “Ten Commandments of Infill Development,” both of which include provisions for affordable housing. There is even an entire book for sale on Amazon.com for $15.95 called “The Ten Commandments of a Local Government Employee.” I didn’t find anything dedicated specifically to what we fight for alongside tenants day in and day out.  So, in a somewhat silly blog post for a Tuesday morning, here are ten guidelines, simple ones, that we feel anyone who works in affordable housing anywhere should be mindful of.

  1. Thou shall honor the Housing Maintenance Code.
  2. Tenants art customers and the customer is always right.
  3. Repairs shall be thorough, not patchwork, and one shalt never, ever,ever paint over mold.
  4. Tenants shall work together and demand that their needs are met. Organize!
  5. Tenants shall live free from harassment from birds, beasts, or landlords.
  6. Thou shall not steal; Landlords shall not taketh rent without services!
  7. Buyers of distressed properties shall be approved by tenants and also by government agencies to ensure that they have the correct qualifications  (for qualifications, see “The 10 Commandments of Being a Landlord”)
  8. Banks shall maintain careful oversight over all backed assets and each and every building in their portfolios shall be in top repair.
  9. Landlords and banks shall practice responsible underwriting that reflects real rents and a comprehensive repair scope.
  10. There shall be ample affordable housing for all of eternity so that no one will go homeless.  Housing is a human right!

Some commandments are directed towards landlords, some are to bankers, and some to tenants. They may be somewhat specific to New York City, but the idea is clear: Good affordable housing emerges when landlords, lenders, tenants and government agencies work together. Though somewhat tongue-in-cheek, hopefully these “commandments” can be a guideline for that much needed collaboration!

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