The shield and the sword: Two tools to address the housing crisis

April 9, 2019

Shareable - By Saki Bailey

My daughter's fifth grade teacher had a salary so disconnected from the reality of the San Francisco Bay Area housing market that it could barely cover her rent, much less provide her with the savings to one day live the dream of having a family and owning her own home. So in a pattern repeated by many others, she packed up and moved back to Michigan, where housing prices were much more affordable.

Teachers, nurses, city workers and care workers are just some of the important members of our communities being priced out and forced to leave high-cost urban areas throughout the United States for less expensive ones. Displacement is silently but increasingly becoming an epidemic of vast proportions. Residents in all income brackets, including those considered middle class, are currently faced with the choice between foregoing any opportunity for homeownership by staying in the Bay Area and leaving their families, communities, and jobs to seek more affordable home ownership opportunities elsewhere.

Two recent reports argue that we need strategies — I call them the shield and the sword —  that both protect current residents from displacement and build affordability and ownership opportunities into pricey cities. "The displacement and eviction epidemic requires immediate and short-term measures that stabilize communities and allow long term residents to remain," says a March report from Right to the City, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based nonprofit spearheading a "Homes for All" campaign.

The group's Communities over Commodities report outlines anti-displacement strategies ranging from rent control and tenant protections to programs that give low- and moderate-income tenants in certain buildings a purchasing advantage when those properties go on the market. Such programs are already in place in San Francisco and Berkeley, California, for example, through what are called small sites programs, while the District of Columbia offers similar advantages through a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act.

The crisis cannot be addressed merely by new construction nor in implementing anti-displacement measures alone, says Rooted in Home, a November 2018 report from nonprofits Urban Habitat and the East Bay Community Law Center exploring alternatives to market-based land and housing. The report's authors argued recently in a panel that "We can't build our way out" of the housing crisis. Instead, the report advocates for the permanent affordability and ownership opportunities created by such models as Community Land Trusts, Limited Equity Housing Cooperatives, and  Permanent Real Estate Cooperatives.

Continue reading...