- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Verso (Aug. 16 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781784783549
- ISBN-13: 978-1784783549
- ASIN: 1784783544
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 21.1 cm
- Shipping Weight: 318 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #101,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
In Defense of Housing: The Politics of Crisis Paperback – Aug 16 2016
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—Charles Mudede, The Stranger
“An accessible, jargon-free account of how housing works under capitalism and a clarion call for how we can—and must—change it.”
“A critical analysis of the nature of the housing crisis within a political economy perspective. The authors highlight a conflict between housing as home and as real estate for profit making and focus upon processes of commodification of housing, power and exploitation, and inequality and injustice in contemporary capitalist society … A significant contribution to urban planning, sociology, and public policy.”
—D.A. Chekki, Choice
“In Defense of Housing clearly lays out the systemic nature of the housing crisis and seamlessly breaks down complicated economic concepts. Madden and Marcuse gently disabuse readers of illusions that the end of the housing crisis is just a policy tweak away.”
—James Tracy, Rooflines
“A timely and exceptional book with enormous significance to housing movements everywhere … By providing even the most experienced housing scholars with a clear conceptual and analytic apparatus that moves beyond a rights-based approach to housing, it can be used as a tool for activisms, for legal claims, for political and policy discussions and in scholarly debates and classrooms.”
—Melissa Fernández Arrigoitia, City Journal
About the Author
Peter Marcuse is Emeritus Professor of Urban Planning at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. He has written extensively in English as well as German, in the US, the UK and various other European countries. His work has also appeared in newspaper and magazines such as the Nation, New York Newsday, Monthly Review, Shelterforce and many others.
David Madden is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and the Cities Programme at the London School of Economics. He has published academic articles in some of the leading urban studies journals, and is Editor at the journal CITY. He has also published reviews and commentary in outlets including the LSE Review of Books, Washington Post and the Guardian.
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What are the problems? Page 2 -- "According to the standard measures of affordability, there is no US state where a full time minimum wage worker can afford to rent or own a one-bedroom dwelling." Pg 3 -- "The homeless population across the globe may be anywhere between 100 million and one billion people." Pg 4 "there is a conflict between housing as lived, social space and housing as an instrument for profit-making." The authors then trace historical trends in regulation of real estate and in tenant activism.
I find the historial trends less interesting than the author's ideas about what the problem is and where we might go from here.
Among the author's potential solutions, pg 83 and pg 207, the authors propose that laws should be formed which give tenants more rights, or even which prohibit evictions, allow subletting, and add protections for families and the elderly. Here is where I'd like to point out some problems in the author's thinking, and some reasons why such "solutions" could be quite harmful to some of the people that the authors would like to protect.
First, these suggested solutions, (as many proposed housing solutions do) overly simplify the situation as one with vulnerable tenants on one side, and large-scale greedy landlords (corporations owning many properties) on the other side. What the authors fail to account for are the small-time landlords, and the owner-occupant landlords,who only own one or two properties. Whereas it can make a lot of sense to give a tenant more rights and protections in a situation where that tenant is renting a unit in a large apartment building owned by a huge wealthy real estate corporation, it actually could be very harmful to give a tenant more rights and protections when they are renting in a building owned by a small landlord and owner-occupant of that same building -- say, an owner of a duplex who lives in one unit and rents out the other unit. When you give a tenant in an owner-occupied building more rights, and protections from eviction, you are inadvertently creating a very oppressive situation for the owner-occupant of that building who may be enduring bullying and harassment from his tenant, and whose own secure housing is threatened by an emotionally disturbing situation with the tenant. Or, you may be putting that owner-occupant's ownership of the building in jeopardy by creating more obstacles/expense to her eviction of a nonpaying tenant. The point being -- to try to create protections for all tenants in every rental situation, can create the very kinds of housing crises and stresses for small owner-occupants, as the authors claim they are motivated to alleviate. It seems to me that it's very important, when creating housing policy, to create legislation that distinguishes between the large real estate companies that often own hundreds of buildings in a given city, versus the small time owner-occupants who not have means,and for whom a costly eviction proceeding could pose a grave danger to their financial security and even to their ability to keep their property. Many property owners involved in expensive eviction/legal proceedings with tenants, have ended up losing their property as a result of their lack of means. Housing regulations and legal systems rarely take this problem into account -- for instance, it's typical for cities to have many agencies offering free legal aid to tenants, but none offering free legal aid to low-income property owners.
A second problem with some of the proposed solutions for housing problems: while it may sound virtuous to protect families and elderly tenants with increased tenant protections, it must be recognized that any group which is given greater tenant protections, automatically becomes a group that property owners are less interested in renting to. Given a choice between renting to 2 people, one of whom will get greater tenant protections, the landlord will choose the tenant with fewer protections or rights. This is just common sense. Landlords are not in the charity business. In my area, elderly tenants are given greater protections -- in one city in my region, landlords cannot evict anyone over age 65 except for nonpayment of rent. This is true even if they want to move into their own property themselves and live in it. In other words, the elderly tenant has MORE RIGHTs to the property than the landowner themselves. This is a very badly thought out way to try to protect someone -- to give them such titanium level protection, that this protection becomes severely oppressive to someone else -- eg the homeowner who wants to move into her own house, and is unable to do so because there's an elderly person in it. Again, these laws are very poorly designed because those crafting them have completely failed to consider the situation of the small property owner.
Finally, giving tenants more protections, even in situations where they live in large buildings owned by large real estate corporations, is not always a great idea. Consider how, when the law protects one very bad tenant, it inadvertently could create great stress for many good tenants in that building. For instance --- there was a situation in my area, where a landlord made a mistake and rented to a unstable man who abused drugs. That man proceeded to tear apart his apartment, demolishing the plumbing and electrical system. He created floods that impacted other residents. His dog peed all over the unit and threatened others in the building. The man stole from other tenants, harassed them and screamed in the middle of the night. But thanks to strong tenant protections, the landlord had a very hard time getting him out, in spite of all this egregious behavior. It took about 8 months to get him evicted, during which time he completely destroyed the apartment (it had to be torn down to the 2 by 4 walls and reconstructed) and other tenants went through hell with his violent behavior. In this case what was needed was FEWER tenant protections, not more, so that the landlord could have evicted him much, much more quickly and minimized the damage he was able to do, as well as protected the other tenants in the building.
Hence, due to the complexity in the results of "tenant protections", I believe that it's actually not useful, and can be quite harmful, to seek greater tenant protections as a means of achieving more secure housing. Instead of that, I believe it would be useful to find ways of obtaining more affordable, lower-cost housing (the authors fail to suggest ways that building codes and government regulations could be changed/reduced such that housing could be constructed more affordably) , eliminating/reducing property taxes so that homeowners would not have to pay and pay and pay for their housing indefinitely after its purchase (thus making home ownership more affordable), doing as is suggested on pg 202 and prohibiting nonresident investment in housing, imposing greater taxes on properties when the properties are not owner-occupied, even imposing greater taxes on properties when the owner owns more than 10 or 100 properties. Developing new regulations on home loans so that it's easier for people to buy through tenants-in-common arrangements and buy property in groups.
Those writing about housing costs have pointed out that a very large portion of the cost of constructing new housing, is owing to government regulations -- requirements for soil analysis, permits, development fees, etc can add 25% to the cost of a housing project. The authors write about "the myth of the meddling government" but fail to account for the fact that government fees add so much to the cost of housing, and that the government has the power to reduce or eliminate these fees. So if governments are serious about making housing more affordable, they should do that.
As well, I think it would be useful to see this housing issue through the lens that is increasingly relevant in so many areas of society -- that of distinguishing between the ultrawealthy elites, the 1%, and those of middling means or the poor, the 99%. More and more of the problems we see in many areas of society can be traced to the problem of the "trickle up" or the phenomenon of the rich stealing from the poor. Smalltime property owners are not of this 1% ultrawealthy class, and the simplistic distinction "property owner vs tenant" fails to grasp this, as as a result introduces much harm to small property owners by lumping them in with the multi-millionaires and billionaires.
Another argument of the authors Madden and Marcuse is that the government’s regulation and backing of mortgages may be part of the problem. Bank racism and redlining have persisted for years, even after civil rights legislation, even in federally-guaranteed loans. They pushed Chicago’s black residents further and further south, kept them from getting loans to fix the houses in their neighborhoods, and left perfectly good houses to rot for lack of repair funds. The result was Chicago’s violent, decrepit, drug-infested housing projects.
In the chapter Oppression and Liberation in Housing the authors show us how urban renewal can be used to control the populace. They start with Baron Haussman, who rebuilt Paris by tearing down whole blocks and replaced narrow, medieval streets with boulevards, plazas, and stricter building codes. They also show how, after years of rebellions, the government wanted the streets to be designed so they couldn’t be barricaded. However, I don’t see this as a bad thing, because the anti-barricading plan also made it easier for firefighters to get close to the building. As for urban renewal elsewhere, like New York City, it can keep business in the community. Lincoln Center is one example; it was built on the site of a crumbling neighborhood, full of buildings that were emptying rapidly. The project came just in time, replacing a fire-trap neighborhood with a useful, attractive concert venue. If the city had waited ten years, the financial crisis would’ve prevented it from being built.
One of my problems with this book is that gerrymandering, redlining, and blockbusting are discussed in vague terms or are left out. This is a major problem in housing, because a massive housing project, like the Robert Taylor houses in Chicago, can jam the votes of the poor into one district. It was a problem not only in Chicago but also in Northern Ireland, South Boston, Paris, and Israel. The authors don’t give much attention to success stories, like the Mitchell-Lama program in New York City, or homesteading.
The origin of the housing projects may have been to provide good housing and prevent crime, but it had adverse effects. It kept Catholic in Belfast from having any voting power, kept Chicago’s black population out of the way, and kept low-class Irish in the lousy parts of Boston. Today it keeps Africans in Paris’ least desired areas, keeps Ethiopian and Yemeni Israelis in out-of-the-way places, and things in Chicago haven’t changed.
Perhaps it had a lot to do with the Fabian Society’s idea of housing? It’s possible that the wealthy elite, no matter how liberal they were, didn’t want the poor to enter their territory? Conservative elements desired the same thing, but didn’t want the serving classes to live so far away that they couldn’t get to work. Building contractors could smell opportunity; they’d build the projects with the cheapest materials they could, and turn huge profits. Politicians on both sides saw the chance to create jobs and get in good graces with construction unions. They all patted each other on the back, and the projects were born.
They would soon fall apart, and the governments that built them had no interest in maintaining them.