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.
Last year a community in Toronto launched a rent strike and won! This initiative to ensure affordable housing (and not being verbally abused by landowners) worked for the involved residents; and similar actions are working in the USA too. Last week in California a ballot initiative for rent control failed, but champions of housing argue that the ballot was merely one idea of many to help people stay in homes (after all, it’s hard for a grassroots movement to fend off a multibillion dollar industry). Over at The Slot they’re running a piece on the history of rent strikes and how they can be effective even if they don’t win in the ballot box.
Altogether, the strike lasted six months, ending in August with an agreement from the landlord to drop all pending eviction cases. In the months since, tenants have continued to organize, including around Prop 10. “We were not comfortable because the conditions of the building are really bad,” Camero says. “We don’t get that much money every year in our jobs, and all the money we make is for the rent. So I wondered what we could do to push back against a bad owner. To keep things in control of the tenants.”
The Burlington strike was one of several launched in Los Angeles since 2016. Sometimes, as in Burlington, they allow tenants to stave off immediate rent hikes or maintain a version of the status quo. But in 2017, after tenants in Boyle Heights (a rapidly gentrifying, historically Latinx neighborhood) went on strike in response to a proposed 80 percent rent increase, they not only avoided eviction but also successfully negotiated collective bargaining rights with their landlord. The building was not rent controlled and the tenants had no clear legal protections; the victory was built on organizing alone.
The graph above shows that the introduction of low income housing into a neighbourhood does not negatively impact the value of other homes. Real estate agents perpetuate a myth that social (or public) housing destroys local housing prices. Clearly this myth is based on no reality.
If you’re a homeowner that dislikes people who earn less than you please stop fighting efforts to house others. Hopefully the linked research provides more evidence for people working to bring affordable housing to cities around the world.
In the nation’s 20 least affordable markets, our analysis of 3,083 low-income housing projects from 1996 to 2006 found no significant effect on home values located near a low-income housing project, with a few exceptions
There is no statistically significant difference in price per square foot when comparing properties near a low-income housing project and those farther away when examining projects across all 20 metros. Likewise, at the metro level, the majority of markets yield no significant difference in prices between the inner and outer ring after a project is completed. However, a few housing markets revealed significant differences in price per square foot near low-income housing projects after they were placed into service.
Singapore lacks land and this causes interesting land use problems. In the city state they ran into issues around housing their citizens ranging from land to cost. Instead of letting “market forces” dictate their housing plan (like in Toronto) the politicians of Singapore decided to act. They built housing and funded even more to ensure that in Singapore everyone will be able to afford a home.
Singapore had a severe housing shortage decades ago. But it developed one of the world’s best public housing programs, which has also allowed a huge number of its citizens to buy their own homes.
Popular building low density developments like then pictured above are really bad for the environment. To truly understand how disastrous low density housing is one needs to consider the physical space taken for one household, the need for a car for mobility, the building materials, and obviously the energy used to maintain the house.
The wastefulness of suburban living led to the Net Zero movement with set out to build living and work spaces that had didn’t negatively impact the environment. The first generation of those buildings have been around for years and we’ve learned a lot from them. The first generation might not have been perfect but they have set out a better way to build the future.
Also mentioned: One Brighton in the UK, built in 2009, was the first major development built using the One Planet Living framework. While the development reduced carbon emissions by 70 percent in comparison with the average neighborhood development, that’s not 100 percent. Still, homes there sell for a 10 percent premium over comparable real estate because of their inherent sustainability and resale value. There are also other benefits: residents who move there sell their cars as they can walk and bike everywhere. No cars means much less spent on transportation and fewer carbon emissions.
As for the future of net-zero communities, Downey sees developers now dictating hard energy performance requirements. For example, in a recent RFP for a new building, Hunter College put in a 100 kwh per square meter performance target.