In Montreal, Carla White re-writes the David-and-Goliath script

Carla White outside her apartment building

“And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. And he had a helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of brass. And he had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a target of brass between his shoulders. And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam; and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron: and one bearing a shield went before him.”  King James Bible

 According to contemporary scholars, it was not David who killed the “champion” Goliath but rather Elhanan, son of Jair. Later, the story was revised by “supporters of the Davidic dynasty.” But what really matters, to these scholars, is the detailed representation of Goliath’s armor. In Montreal right now, a single tenant, Carla White, is resisting attempts by a major developer, Mondev, and she, like David or Elhanan, is undeterred by flashy armor and massive size. By accurately assessing the housing situation and her own position, Carla White has held up a luxury condo development for three years. Here’s her story.

After a series of eviction, Carla White finally found a place she could afford. That was ten years ago. The apartment is one room, has no working stove, and mostly filled with a bed and a small desk, and loads of plants. But, and importantly, Carla White pays $400, Canadian, a month. By law, the rent can’t be raised, and so Carla White has a secure and stable place, however diminutive, in which to live. Or she had one, until Mondev showed up, a few years ago. Mondev wants to demolish the building and build 176 luxury condos. They made offers to other tenants, who accepted. Others simply moved. But Carla White looked at the new skyscrapers in her neighborhood, looked at the apartment listings as well, and asked, “I look out there and say, where am I going now?” Rather than succumb to the inevitability of nowhere-to-go, Carla White stood her ground and entered into negotiations.

According to Mondev, they have made offers, which they describe as more than generous, for the past three years. The last offer was $20,000, Canadian. Mondev is portraying this as a more than reasonable offer, one that would ensure housing for Carla White for some time to come. Carla White responded, “How far will $20,000 go (at) $1,600 a month? I will be evicted within a year. I will be out on the roads.” Carla White’s attorney, Manuel Johnson, added: “She’s not trying to save the building. She knows it needs to be renovated. She just wants somewhere safe and affordable to live …. Whatever reasonable settlement Ms White needs for housing stability in no way will endanger the financial viability of their project. They don’t have any cash-flow problems, they’re going to be making millions of dollars on this development.” In other words, their armor is coated with mail.

Canada is in the throes of an affordable housing crisis, as it is in the midst of an eviction boom. British Columbia leads the race to the bottom, while Quebec, led by Montreal, has seen an explosion of `renovictions’. In the United States, starting in the late 1940s, blight and `urban renewal’ became the excuse to displace entire working-class communities of color. Contemporary Canada’s equivalent to `blight’ is `renovation’. Across Canada, tenants are forming tenant unions and engaging in rent strikes. As corporate landlords consume increasing portions of urban residential space and push for higher and higher rent increases, the number of rent strikes are expected to rise. From organized collective action to organized individual actions, everyone is asking the question Carla White is asking, “I look out there and say, where am I going now?”

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: CTV Montreal News / La Presse Canadienne / Christinne Muschi)

On Tuesday, across the United States, voters turned out to support affordable housing!

On Wednesday, a day after the mid-term elections, Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, went to Twitter to announce, “Voters turned out to support affordable housing yesterday! @NLIHC is tracking nearly 100 affordable housing ballot measures advanced by our state and local partners – here’s what we know so far.” While some were fixated on the supposed, and dreaded, red wave or tsunami or tide or whatever it was, which happily never materialized, across the country, activists and organizers worked night and day to address the affordable housing crisis ravaging the country. Here’s what we know so far. First, most of the ballot initiatives supporting funding for affordable housing passed. Second, and equally important, many of them passed by large margins. For example, 70% of voters in Kansas City, Missouri; Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio approved initiatives for more, lots more, affordable housing. Want to watch a wave? Watch housing ballot initiatives across the country.

Let’s start on the West Coast and move eastward. California had 52 local ballot initiatives on housing. In the Bay Area, Berkeley authorized 3000 units of affordable housing. Oakland authorized 13,000 units and also expanded and extended eviction protections. Richmond passed a rent cap of 3% annually. That’s only in the Bay Area. In Los Angeles, voters weighed in on Measure ULA, United to House LA, which would raise taxes on home sales over $5 million. According to ACLU attorney Kath Rogers, “This city ballot initiative is a once-in-a-generation chance to end housing insecurity in Los Angeles. It will help keep people in their homes and support low-income seniors and disabled neighbors. Importantly, this measure will build the homes we need to reduce houselessness.” This initiative came from community-based organizations coming together to articulate their solutions and their visions for the future. The same is happening across the country. At last count, it looked like Measure ULA would pass and handily.

Voters in Flagstaff, Arizona, passed Proposition 442, which raises $20 million for affordable housing, by redeveloping city- and privately owned housing into affordable rental units.  Proposition 442 garnered over 60% of the votes.

Voters in Austin strongly backed a $350 million bond to be used for affordable housing acquisition, repair and rental programs.

In Missouri, Kansas City voters overwhelmingly approved $50 million for affordable housing: “According to the city, the $50 million will be Kansas City’s largest investment in affordable housing ever made.”

In Ohio, Columbia voters approved, again overwhelmingly, $200 for affordable housing: affordable rental construction; affordable home ownership; affordable housing preservation; homeless services.

In Florida, Palm Beach County voters approved a $200 million bond for affordable “workforce” units. In Orange County, Florida, 59% of the voters approved a rent control measure.

In North Carolina, 74% of Charlotte voters approved a $50 million bond for affordable housing. In Buncombe County, 62% of the voters approved a $40 million bond for affordable housing.

In Maryland, 82% of those who voted in Baltimore approved a $14 million bond for affordable housing.

Over the next few days, more results will come in, but the picture is already clear. From “overwhelming” to “strongly backing” to vote tallies showing 60 to 80% approval, the demand to provide adequate, decent affordable housing constitutes the wave. Yes, the country is divided, inequality continues to grow and intensify, `partisanship’ is expressed in both strident tones and acts of violence. But across the country, large majorities of people decided the time is now, housing is a right, make it happen. Housing is a human right. Support for adequate, decent, affordable housing is support for our basic, collective humanity. Join the overwhelming wave, vote for, work for affordable housing now.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Martha Rosler, Housing Is a Human Right / e-flux)

From Grenfell Tower to Philadelphia and New York to … the fire next time

In 2017, 72 people died and 70 others were injured in the Grenfell Tower fire.  Afterward the British government extended benefits to the injured and displaced, terminated the management company’s contract, and began addressing similar flammable cladding hazards at other buildings. The British government’s response to Grenfell may not have been enough, but it was at least something.  And it should have been a wakeup call to the United States, which has neglected its crumbling public housing infrastructure for decades. Estimates of the cost to fix up our existing public housing stock now exceed $70 billion after prolonged disinvestment.  Much of the needed funds would have been included in the Build Back Better Act that Senator Manchin torpedoed just before the holidays. Now we have seen two fires in HUD-subsidized properties within a week.  12 perished in the Philadelphia fire and 19 died in the fire in the Bronx, in New York City.

Mass-casualty are extreme examples but substandard housing kills constantly.  Often it’s the child electrocuted by bare wires or the elderly person whose lungs can’t handle the mold or the fall from the porch that finally gives way. This is to say nothing of the untold numbers of non-fatal, yet serious injuries that unsafe housing causes.

The dangerous condition of much U.S. housing stock in the 1920s and 1930s was a major catalyst for the original development of public housing.  Now we are seeing it again – dangerous housing for lower-income households, whether publicly-owned or private.

If some good came come out of these fires, perhaps we will finally see the much-needed investments in public housing capital improvements that we have needed since the 1980s.  And perhaps building inspectors will start taking their duties more seriously. But if we do nothing, then the next fire is on you, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

 

(By Eric Dunn) (Eric Dunn is Litigation Director at National Housing Law Project. He writes here in his own capacity)

(Infographic Credit: National Low Income Housing Coalition)

When it comes to affordable housing, Alexandria continues its race to the bottom


Since 2000, the very small city of Alexandria, Virginia, outside of Washington, DC, has “lost” 12,000 affordable apartments, most of whose residents were African American, Latino, and then African immigrants. In the past, the alibi was “development.” In the most recent episode, that of Ramsey Homes, it’s “heritage”. Either way, the result is the same.

Ramsey Homes is 74 years old and in terrible shape. It was originally built for African American defense workers, and so was always “very Spartan”. It has no air conditioning, inadequate heating and electricity, deteriorating plumbing, and the list goes on.

The residents want and deserve better. Many want to tear down the buildings and start anew, with promises that they will be among the new. They know the history of `urban renewal’ in Alexandria, and they know it hasn’t included them. But they believed that if they could make their case, this time the City would act differently.

It didn’t. Along with much bungling among city agencies responsible for housing, the City Council couldn’t move forward because some of its members listened to a call for `historic preservation.’

Charkenia Walker, a resident of Ramsey Homes, has tried to get the City Council and other city agencies to understand the situation: “It’s hard to believe the historic significance and relevance outweighs the standard of living in 2015. I just want neighbors to understand the construction of new units will benefit us as a whole. There are working-class citizens who cannot afford to live in the neighborhood in which they have grown, me included … The units are old. Think of an aging person. When you get old, you don’t walk as good as you used to, you don’t climb stairs as good as you used to, your mechanisms begin to change. The same thing is happening inside of these units, they are falling apart.”

Ramsey Homes is the architecture of affordable housing in Alexandria: disregarded by public officials and public policy for decades, crumbling, and toxic. The residents have struggled to secure decent housing, here and now, here where they live and have roots and commitments, and now. The residence may be Spartan, but the neighborhood is home.

Once again, the City has failed them, and this failure is nothing new. It’s systemic, longstanding and part of the plan. It’s time, it’s way past time, to reverse the past two decades of loss and violence.

 

(Photo Credit: Alexandria Times)