Shelterforce: “Housing for People, Not for Profit”

At The Surreal Estate, we envision a better affordable housing policy that embodies an end to speculation. We hope to achieve it through encouraging tenants to unify and stake themselves in the future of their buildings. We have many allies in this fight, and Shelterforce: The Journal of Affordable Housing, has documented it well. In a recent article,  “Housing for People, Not for Profit”, Anita Sinha and Rachel Laforest imagine an approach to housing policy that differs substantially from policy today. In the excerpt below,  they write:

Affordable housing policy should be grounded in the following principles:

  • Suitable housing requires a suitable urban society, including physical and social environments designed to support the full development of each person’s individual and social human potential. Housing cannot be disconnected from the social context of the neighborhood and the city.
  • The profit motive should be evicted from housing. Housing should be valued as a place to live, not for the potential profit it can create.
  • Public investment is central to the provision of suitable housing for all. The role of the market should be limited to permitting those able to do so to provide their own housing, and only to the extent that such provision does not restrict the ability of all people to be housed.
  • The ownership and management of housing should be non-bureaucratic and support the individual freedom of all occupants to shape their own accommodations and immediate environment. Non-speculative ownership of housing is one means to that end, as is democratically-run public housing and other non-speculative forms of rental.

Predatory Equity is the quintessential example of “profit over people“. It is a phenomenon which encourages speculation and prevents investment in permanent affordable housing. By over-leveraging affordable housing through the false projection of higher rents and absurdly low maintenance estimates, it leads to displacement in communities, tenant harassment, and a lack of repairs which are severe enough to cause health and safety concerns in already marginalized communities.

As we continue the every-day fight to bring housing policy into this vision, it has become more and more apparent that we will only be successful if we strongly encourage bank regulators to step up and start actively regulating banks like New York Community Bank and Signature Bank, among others.(Sidenote:  Signature is now holding the debt on many of New York Community Bank’s most distressed portfolios. In taking over these distressed assets, Signature Bank has generally increased the level of debt.) 

Our success at convincing banks to stop lending to slumlords and speculating on multi-family housing has been limited. Consequently, we now must target the Federal Reserve and the FDIC and force them to impose penalties on banks who continue to generate exorbitant profits while communities suffer.

“Housing for People, Not for Profit” is our consistent cry here and it should be heard louder and clearer, by all of us together. It’s time to move from imagining a different future to fighting for it, with the energy and excitement that comes from knowing that we needed better regulation yesterday.

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