Housing stability and a good life

#housingsecurity #activism #stablecommunity #YIMBY

An article I just read in NY Times — “Imagine a renters utopia; It might look like Vienna” — is fascinating. See link below for whole article; I have included some quotes here.

One very interesting aspect of public housing in Vienna is that anyone can live there even if their income becomes quite high after they move in. This has the effect of avoiding concentrations of poverty. It also maintains a wider base of support for public housing.

By the way, the studio apartments they show in the article are gorgeous and I would totally live there. (And I really love the apartment building shown in the photo that I screenshot below.)

As someone who lived as a renter at apartments, duplexes, trailer park, etc., for almost all of her adult life before coming into sudden money which I used to purchase a home five years ago, I am very often keenly aware of the trade-off of owning a free-standing house. It affords stability (not just for me but for my two housemates), and at the same time, ownership ties up a lot of one’s time and energy.

Puts me in mind of that quote from the 1950s regarding Levittown etc., to the effect that “If a man has his own house and yard he won’t have time to think about being a communist blah blah blah.”

The public housing the way they’ve done it in Vienna creates a huge amount of stability for renters and this has a very positive impact on their well-being, including their occupational freedom. Not just a benefit to individuals; society benefits as a whole when people can become doctors, artists, or whatever their calling is, instead of just having to take whatever job just to pay the bills.

“Soaring real estate markets have created a worldwide housing crisis. What can we learn from a city that has largely avoided it?”

Many quotable quotes in this nice lengthy article; here are a few that particularly struck me:

  • ” … This constituency of middle-class homeowners is what the Dartmouth emeritus economist William A. Fischel calls “homevoters”: a coalition of Americans who — consciously or not — vote to protect the value of their property. They tend to oppose local development and favor exclusionary zoning — which ensures maximum appreciation and prevents their tax dollars from extending to poorer neighborhoods. This tendency, alongside stagnant wages, has transformed the nation’s housing stock into an ever-scarcer and ever-more-expensive class of speculative asset.”
  • “When Karl-Marx-Hof opened, it housed 5,000 people in 1,400 apartments. These apartments were coveted. “It had two central laundries, two communal bathing facilities with tubs and showers, a dental clinic, maternity clinic, a health-insurance office, library, youth hostel, post office, and a pharmacy and 25 other commercial premises, including a restaurant and the offices and showroom of the BEST, the city-run furnishing and interior-design advice center,” Blau writes.”
  • “Today limited-profit housing accounts for half the city’s social housing. Limited-profit housing associations are restricted to charging rents that reflect costs. Investors — banks, insurance funds — may buy shares of the limited-profit housing associations, generally to help fund initial construction. They are paid a low rate of annual interest on their shares. Any profits beyond that must be reinvested in the construction of new social housing. “It creates a revolving flow of financing for social housing,” said Justin Kadi, a professor in planning and housing at the University of Cambridge. Vienna’s main outlay toward housing is now providing low-cost financing for construction — and the government gets that money back.”
  • “The spiral of overvaluation in housing, which makes the housing-haves rich and the have-nots desperately poor, has brought us to a point where only something radical can solve it. The problem with housing in the United States is that it has been locked in as a means of building wealth, and building wealth is irreconcilable with affordability.”
  • “…I asked him, as I asked every Viennese tenant of social housing, what he did with all the money he saved thanks to his cheap rent. ‘I haven’t invested a single penny in the stock market,’ he told me. ‘I would consider it an enormous waste of time to sit in front of my computer and study what the stock market is doing. I prefer to use my time writing, editing an online newspaper supporting interesting initiatives and having fun. … If people don’t have to struggle all day long to survive — if your life is made safe, at least in social conditions — you can use your energy for much more important things.'”

NY Times
Imagine a renters utopia
It might look like Vienna