On Wed, 16 Feb 2000 10:55:34 -0800, Michele Gale-Sinex wrote:
>f you want to do a deal with housing developers, of course you want to start with the most devalued land, and in a privatized value system, that's generally common assets. Never mind addressing the root causes of housing shortage. Including an unexamined belief in a growth-based model of progress that calls anything other than greed and gentrification "an unrealistic world" and projects onto the community gardeners' this ravenous, rapacious, imperialistic view.
How ironic that the same groups and individuals who some years ago
criticised the better-off for leaving the cities in the first place are
now criticising their return (as "gentrification") and characterising /
condemning it as greed.
Let's talk about root causes, indeed. Such as a system of rent control
that persisted so long there was virtually no incentive for anyone to
build rental units because it became impossible to make a profit at it.
If one's world view is such that profit is EVIL, then such controls
perhaps make sense, but nobody should be surprised at the natural
consequence of such a policy --- a shortage of rentals at almost any
price. Hold the price of corn at $1.75 for the next 30 years and see
how many people are still planting it.
If you want a developer to build housing, (s)he has to make a profit.
If sudden removal of rent controls is not a viable option because it
would lead to rapid rise in rents (in the face of the very shortage of
rental units caused by the controls in the first place), one of the few
options is to build in some profit at the front end ... ie give the
developer a sweetheart deal on land that the city owns. Of course some
would say that the city should build the housing on a non-profit basis,
which is somewhat akin to having the USDA grow food at a loss on public
lands in order to keep food cheap.
When governments have enough sense to stay out the marketplace, then
somebody in the system is generally capable of figuring out how to make
a profit providing goods and services to the less-well-off. Wal-Mart
and their suppliers are a good example of this. When they (governments)
don't stay out you ultimately end up with a goat-rodeo like the
community gardens debacle in New York.
Politically charged (perhaps even stupid) as it was to tear up a
garden, we should remember that Guiliani's "heartlessness" was also
blamed for the homeless, and he was criticised for not doing anything
to encourage the construction of more affordable rental units. Now he's
criticised for using some of the few options available for actually
trying to address a real problem of long standing and not of his
All in all, it's a classic example of what happens when people do not
recognise that cause and effect are almost always separated from each
other in time and in space. As we focus on sustainable agriculture
questions, we would do well to remember this New York housing example
because it typifies the sort of dynamic complexity with which we will
have to learn to work.
Sadly, in such cases it is altogether too easy to retrench in
finger-pointing and scapegoating, which really doesn't move us very far
towards a productive and lasting solution.
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