Solve the Global Housing Crisis by Recognizing Buyers

the suburbs

The cost of housing has skyrocketed since the banker-caused 2008 financial crisis and there are no signs of prices stabilizing. In Toronto we’ve seen the price of housing rise faster than wages and the same can be said for nearly every major city on the planet. A key reason this is happening stems from using housing as a commodity for money laundering. Yes, that’s right the cost of your house is higher because governments are letting criminals artificially inflate the market.

In the states, like elsewhere, housing can be bought by secretive numbered companies (which don’t disclose who owns what). So the American Treasury ran a very simple pilot project to stop money laundering through real estate by looking into these secretive buyers. They made insurance companies find out who actually owned companies that were buying luxury real estate in a few cities.

It also seems to have had an effect on the market. Since the scheme started, there has been an almost 70% drop in companies buying real estate with just cash, according to an academic paper published last year. Those figures suggest that “anonymity plays a significant role” in people using secretive shell companies to buy property, and money-laundering was a “likely cause” for wanting that secrecy, Ville Rantala, a finance professor at Miami Business School and co-author of the paper, told Quartz after the paper’s publication last summer.

This is more than just a moral issue—it has national security implications. Rantala pointed to Russians hit by sanctions after the Kremlin’s efforts to sway the 2016 presidential election. “If there are these kinds of loopholes, it’s hard to know whether people targeted by sanctions may be able to make purchases in the US—so there’s really cause to be concerned about anonymous buyers,” he said.

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Christiana Figueres: The Climate Risk Reward Ratio has Changed

The architect of the Paris Agreement, Christiana Figueres, is optimistic about the future of the planet and she sees the technology sector key in moving our economy to a carbon neutral system. She sees the exponential growth in the technology sector and argues that we need that sector’s help to manage “exponential growth in sustainable solutions”. Indeed, she claimed that “the tech sector is the portal to solving climate change” at a press conference at Collision Conference.

I doubt any parent alive today wants to be blamed for the environmental problems their children will face. – Figueres

Technology

We can’t have technology growing for growth’s sake. -Figueres

As she sees it, we are in a race between two exponential curves: sustainable tech growth and climate change. Her hope is that the tech sector can help move the economy away from fossil fuels. We need to decarbonize the economy as fast as possible.

Companies are starting to note that our climate crisis greatly endangers their future business plans.

Transportation

We are killing 7 million people per year because of air pollution that is entirely avoidable if we move to electric mobility. -Figueres

The economy is slowly moving away from fossil fuels, but this needs to happen faster. The risks are too great to continue our slow progress. She even notes that all the major automakers are moving to all electric – even Harley Davidson.

Cities need to regulate the types of cars and busses allowed in their borders so citizens are dangerously exposed to pollution. We have the knowledge, we just need the policies.

Housing

More corporations understanding that its in their own interest to decarbonize. -Figueres

We need purposeful growth and millennials get that, and that’s true when it comes to housing. Figueres envisions a short term goal of retrofitting existing buildings. She wonders why aren’t people retrofitting their buildings since insulation of homes is important to reducing energy combustion.

Figueres calls for policy makers to demand that new buildings power themselves and contribute to a healthier city. Again, we have the technology, we have the knowledge, we just need the policies.

The UN Cares About Your Local Housing Crisis

Without a doubt a global housing crisis is hurting all of us. In the majority world basic housing needs aren’t being met while in the richer minority world owning a home is out of reach for the average person. These issues might seem worlds apart but that’s not how the United Nations approaches it.

Leilani Farha, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, is leading the charge against profit hungry landlords and arguing for shelter for everyone. She’s featured in the documentary Push (video above) and since the filming she’s still going strong holding evil corporations to account.

“Their business model, of which Blackstone is a frontrunner, is becoming the industry standard. Properties that are deemed ‘undervalued’, which generally means affordable to those living there, are being purchased en masse, renovated, and then offered at a higher rental rate, pricing tenants out of their own homes and communities. Landlords have become faceless corporations wreaking havoc with tenants’ right to security and contributing to the global housing crisis.” 

The experts said they had heard countless stories of tenants’ whose buildings had been bought by private equity firms and whose rents had skyrocketed almost immediately afterward, sometimes by 30 or even 50 percent, making it impossible for them to remain.

Read more.

Watch Push at Hot Docs.

Thanks to Delaney!

Berlin’s Housing Crisis Solution is to Buy Houses

Montreal
Not Berlin, but a good city nonetheless.

If you’re like me and was born in the 80s then you’ve lived through a time in which housing policies have been gutted and basically no new public housing has been built. That’s at least 30 years of neglect by politicians and society to literally build for the future; and the future is here. The people of Berlin got tired of a lack of action and have seized the moment to fight back against predatory landowners to ensure that the next generation won’t suffer through such rent-seeking behaviour. Berlin has decided to buy housing (which was organically public housing and privatized in the 90s/00s) to ensure that the people of Berlin aren’t getting ripped off by speculators and greed.

Remarkably, the city’s government has agreed. This month, Berlin’s senate said it would step in and buy three buildings, amounting to 316 apartments. Meanwhile, the local borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg would buy a fourth building containing 80 apartments, meaning the majority of flats for sale will be converted to public ownership.

The authorities could do this through an existing law that allows them a right of first refusal over buildings for sale in areas that are undergoing steep rent rises. The law hasn’t yet been applied on this scale, and even though the city and borough will ultimately recoup the costs from rent, the buyout will require an investment of up to €100 million.

That’s already a major investment—but why stop there? The overwhelming majority of units that Deutsche Wohnen owns today in Berlin used to be public housing, and were sold off by the state over the past few decades. As galloping rents make daily life increasingly difficult, many Berliners are starting to regret such a shift. Sure enough, Berlin Mayor Michael Müller promised last month to buy back 50,000 of Deutsche Wohnen’s units for the city, along lines not yet fully clarified. Renters’ associations want to extend this proposal to all landlords with more than 3,000 apartments in the city, a wish that led to their referendum plan.

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Harvard Built a Zero Emissions Home

Buildings use a lot of energy for heating and cooling throughout the year, homes are no exception. Harvard decided to build a zero emission “home” to test solutions that can be used in new buildings or retrofitted into existing structures. The design is smart in the sense it uses passive heat exchange and lighting while also using high tech sensors to monitor the home and adjust internal systems.

Rather than existing as a “sealed box,” HouseZero is designed to interact with the seasons and environment, sometimes rapidly adjusting itself to achieve comfort for its occupants without using powered HVAC systems.

For example, the home uses a “window actuation system” that relies upon software and room sensors to automatically open and shut windows as the outside temperature changes, intelligently moving air around the home to make it cooler or warmer (through cross ventilation and convection). This process is also driven by a “solar vent” in the basement.

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