The Affordable Housing Reader
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The Affordable Housing Reader

Rosie Tighe, Elizabeth Mueller

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eBook - ePub

The Affordable Housing Reader

Rosie Tighe, Elizabeth Mueller

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About This Book

The Affordable Housing Reader brings together classic works and contemporary writing on the themes and debates that have animated the field of affordable housing policy as well as the challenges in achieving the goals of policy on the ground. The Reader – aimed at professors, students, and researchers–provides an overview of the literature on housing policy and planning that is both comprehensive and interdisciplinary. It is particularly suited for graduate and undergraduate courses on housing policy offered to students of public policy and city planning.

The Reader is structured around the key debates in affordable housing, ranging from the conflicting motivations for housing policy, through analysis of the causes of and solutions to housing problems, to concerns about gentrification and housing and race. Each debate is contextualized in an introductory essay by the editors, andillustrated with a range of texts and articles.

Elizabeth Mueller and Rosie Tighe have brought together for the first time into a single volume the best and most influential writings on housing and its importance for planners and policy-makers.

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Conflicting motivations for housing policy in the U.S.

Plate 1 Ceru family, 143 Thompson St.(Lewis Hine, photographer).
Historically, housing policy in the United States has pursued a variety of policy goals that reach well beyond the bounds of shelter. While housing policy can be viewed as social policy, its primary function was seldom the alleviation of poverty. U.S. housing policy has weathered a particularly disjointed history, throughout which concerns about class and race, as well as opportunity and responsibility, have been constant.
The first efforts to regulate housing focused on housing conditions, relying on the rationale that the poor constituted both threats to public health and to economic development. Public attention to the abysmal conditions in which immigrants lived in the large industrial cities of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were brought to light through investigative reports, pioneering social surveys and public exhibits. Booth’s seminal social survey of London, conducted the 1890s and published after the turn of the century, made the connection between working poverty and housing conditions and was influential in subsequent public discussions of housing and planning policy in Britain. In the U.S., the housing exhibit organized by New York’s Committee on the Congestion of the Population, following upon the report of the Tenement House Commission in 1894, similarly galvanized public attention and spurred debate.
Arguably the most influential piece to emerge during this period was Jacob Riis’ seminal work, How the Other Half Lives. The book brought to light the conditions so common in the immigrant centers of America, using striking photographs and strong rhetoric to describe the lives of the poor in America’s most prominent cities. However, while conditions in American cities were arguably worse than in Britain, public response favored regulation rather than public provision of adequate housing. As a result, subsequent housing reforms were not focused on aiding the poor and immigrant populations, but to protecting mainstream America from health hazards and threats to property values emanating from the slums. Tensions between serving the needs of poor and creating conditions conducive to private investment remain a central theme in housing policy.
The tensions between the social and economic functions of housing and the constituencies behind each are presented in stark relief in the Urban Renewal policies of the mid-twentieth century. Von Hoffman brings the conflicting roles of housing to life in his description of the adoption of urban renewal policy, highlighting in particular the tensions between social aspects of housing – its role as shelter, the foundation for family life, and for family economic security and neighborhood and community revitalization – and its place in the national economy. He focuses on the influential role of the real estate industry in shaping the federal urban renewal program. For both city planning and housing policy, the fallout from urban renewal would be long-lasting. Urban revitalization programs across the country resulted in wholesale displacement of poor and minority communities, while providing considerable opportunity and incentive for private investment and profit in city centers.
The backlash against Urban Renewal caused profound changes in city planning practice and resulted in a short-lived period during the 1960s of direct federal support for community-based housing development. Activists such as Herbert Gans and Jane Jacobs challenged the notion that “blighted” neighborhoods were the lifeless, economically depressed communities depicted by city planners and developers. In the immediate aftermath of the program, a blue-ribbon committee of business leaders was formed to revisit the issue of housing the nation’s poor. The Kaiser Committee’s recommendations helped produce a string of innovative programs including Model Cities and others. These programs attempted to respond to the perceived exclusion of residents of “blighted” communities from public discussion of local housing policy priorities while continuing to rely on existing subsidy programs and private participation in the development and management of subsidized housing.
However, the innovation of the 1960s was short-lived. Federally sponsored public housing was aging poorly and took on a reputation for crime, dependence, and corruption. Following the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe in 1972, the Nixon administration placed a moratorium on the production of government-subsidized public housing. An entirely new approach to federal housing policy was instituted, shifting from direct provision to individualized assistance in the form of certificates and vouchers for use in the private housing market. This new approach gave local jurisdictions greater discretion over programs, within the parameters set by federal agencies.
With the passage of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, a new approach to funding was adopted. The specific categorical grant programs that comprised 1960s War on Poverty housing and community development programming were eliminated in favor of the more comprehensive Community Development Block Grant program. These changes were followed by an ideological shift in views regarding the size of government and government role in housing production in the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan. Federal housing policy began to evolve into the system of public regulation and financing of primarily private production and lending that exists today.
In this context, those advocating a greater role for government in responding to the housing needs of low-income people face a particular challenge. One response has been largely to understand why past housing policy has gone so terribly wrong. In “Housing Policy and the Myth of the Benevolent State,” Peter Marcuse provocatively argues against the idea that federal housing policy has ever acted primarily to provide decent housing for the poor. Indeed, he states that, “an historical analysis of government actions and inactions affecting housing reveals no such housing policy or any common thrust toward one.” According to Marcuse, the U.S. government’s position on housing has been embodied in a set of policies that were internally contradictory and even self-defeating, lacking in focus, philosophy, clarity of goals, and priorities. As a result, “Any claim to benevolent intervention in the housing situation to bring about more rationally organized and improved housing for the poor is now abandoned altogether.”
In the absence of strong, coherent, federal housing policy, the responsibility for financing, producing and managing affordable housing has fallen to the private sector. In his keynote address at the City Futures conference in 2004, former Cleveland planning director Norman Krumholz describes the process through which the private sector has become the dominant force in the housing sector, while the public sector has been relegated to a supporting role – providing incentives, regulations and financing for the production of affordable housing by the private sector. As Krumholz concludes, “None of this should be surprising; affordable housing policy in the U.S. is driven by interest-group politics, popular prejudices and the business considerations that dominate our political system.”
Another response has been to focus on reinvigorating the rationale for housing as an area of social policy. Bratt, Hartman, and Stone present a normative vision for a “right to housing” that responds to the stark inequality present in American cities and towns today and to the role of public policy in its creation and perpetuation. Their ambitious goal is to “change the prevailing mind-set and stimulating innovative, aggressive and far-reaching responses to our persistent housing problems.”
While subsequent sections in this reader will present particular aspects of housing policy and contemporary debates, the origins of housing policy in conflicting concerns regarding social conditions and economic development, and the failure of key shifts in policy to produce marked improvement in outcomes for those most in need of housing remind us of the importance of forging a clear sense of purpose as a foundation for policy. The original challenge presented by Riis and others at the turn of the twentieth century remains with us: how can we adequately house the poor? The central tension in forging policy responses remains as well: how can we reconcile the social and economic roles of housing? How can we respond without violating tenuous shared values regarding who is deserving of assistance and a role for private producers in the production of affordable housing?


Chapter 1: Riis, Jacob. (1890). How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Chapter 2: von Hoffman, Alexander. (2008). “The lost history of urban renewal.” Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability, 1(3): 281–301.
Chapter 3: President’s Committee on Urban Housing. (1968). A Decent Home. Committee report. Chair: Edgar Kaiser. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
Chapter 4: Marcuse, Peter. (1978). “Housing policy and the myth of the benevolent state.” Social Policy and Administration, 8(4): 21–26.
Chapter 5: Krumholz, N. (2004). The Reluctant Hand: Privatization of Public Housing in the US. Chicago, IL: City Futures.
Chapter 6: Bratt, R. G., M. E. Stone, and C. Hartman. (2009). “Why a right to housing is needed and makes sense: Editors’ introduction. ” A Right to Housing: Foundation for a New Social Agenda. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.


Bauman, J. F., R. Biles and K. M. Szylvian (2000). From Tenements to the Taylor homes: In Search of an Urban Housing Policy in Twentieth-Century America. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Bratt, R. G., C. W. Hartman and A. Meyerson (1986). Critical Perspectives on Housing. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Burchell, R. and D. Listoken (1995). “Influences on United States housing policy.” Housing Policy Debate, 6(3): 559–617.
Colton, K. (2003). Housing in the Twenty-First Century: Achieving Common Ground. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
DiPasquale, D. and L. C. Keyes (eds.). (1990). Building Foundations: Housing and Federal Policy. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Friedman, L. M. (1978). Government and Slum Housing: A Century of Frustration, Manchester, NH: Ayer Publishing.
Gans, Herbert. (1962). The Urban Villagers. New York: The Free Press.
Hayes, Allen R. (1996). The Federal Government and Urban Housing. 2nd edition. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Jacobs, J. (1961). The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House. Katz, Michael B. (1996). In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America. New York: Basic Books.
Piven, Frances Fox, and Richard Cloward. (1971). Regulating the Poor. 2nd edition. New York: Vintage Books.
Shlay, Anne B. (1995). “Housing in the broader context of the United States.” Housing Policy Debate, 6(3): 695–720.
Vale, Lawrence. (2000). From the Puritans to the Projects: Public Housing and Public Neighbors. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. von Hoffman, A. (2000). “A study in contradictions: The origins and legacy of the Housing Act of 1949.” Housing Policy Debate, 11(2): 299–326.



From How the Other Half Lives

Jacob Riis


THE first tenement New York knew bore the mark of Cain from its birth, though a generation passed before the writing was deciphered. It was the “rear house,” infamous ever after in our city’s history. There had been tenant-houses before, but they were not built for the purpose. Nothing would probably have shocked their original owners more than the idea of their harboring a promiscuous crowd; for they were the decorous homes of the old Knickerbockers, the proud aristocracy of Manhattan in the early days.
It was the stir and bustle of trade, together with the tremendous immigration that followed upon the war of 1812 that dislodged them. In thirty-five years the city of less than a hundred thousand came to harbor half a million souls, for whom homes had to be found. Within the memory of men not yet in their prime, Washington had moved from his house on Cherry Hill as too far out of town to be easily reached. Now the old residents followed his example; but they moved in a different direction and for a different reason. Their comfortable dwellings in the once fashionable streets along the East River front fell into the hands of realestate agents and boarding-house keepers; and here, says the report to the Legislature of 1857, when the evils engendered had excited just alarm,
in its beginning, the tenant-house became a real blessing to that class of industrious poor whose small earnings limited their expenses, and whose employment in workshops, stores, or about the warehouses and thoroughfares, render a near residence of much importance.
Not for long, however.
As business increased, and the city grew with rapid strides, the necessities of the poor became the opportunity of their wealthier neighbors, and the stamp was set upon the old houses, suddenly become valuable, which the best thought and effort of a later age have vainly struggled to efface. Their
large rooms were partitioned into several smaller ones, without regard to light or ventilation, the rate of rent being lower in proportion to space or height from the street; and they soon became filled from cellar to garret with a class of tenantry living from hand to mouth, loose in morals, improvident in habits, degraded, and squalid as beggary itself.
It was thus the dark bedroom, prolific of untold depravities, came into the world. It was destined to survive the old houses. In their new role, says the old report, eloquent in its indignant denunciation of “evils more destructive than wars,”
they were not intended to last. Rents were fixed high enough to cover damage and abuse from this class, from whom nothing was expected, and the most was made of them while they lasted. Neatness, order, cleanliness, were never dreamed of in connection with the tenant-house system, as it spread its localities from year to year; while reckless slovenliness, discontent, privation, and ignorance were left to work out their invariable results, until the entire premises reached the level of tenant-house dilapidation, containing, but sheltering not, the miserable hordes that crowded beneath mouldering, water-rotted roofs or burrowed among the rats of clammy cellars.
Yet so illogical is human greed that, at a later day, when called to account,
the proprietors frequently urged the filthy habits of the tenants as an excuse for the condition of their property, utterly losing sight of the fact that it was the tolerance of those habits which was the real evil, and that for this they themselves were alone responsible.
Still the pressure of the crowds did not abate, and in the old garden where the stolid Dutch burgher grew his tulips or early cabbages a rear house was built, generally of wood, two stories high at first. Presently it was carried up another story, and another. Where two families had lived ten moved in. The front house followed suit, if the brick walls were strong enough. The question was not always asked, judging from complaints made by a contemporary witness, that the old buildings were “often carried up to a great height without regard to the strength of the foundation walls.” It was rent the owner was after; nothing was said in the contract about either the safety or the comfort of the tenants. The garden gate no longer swung on its rusty hinges. The shell-paved walk had become an alley; what the rear house had left of the garden, a “court.” Plenty such are yet to be found in the Fourth Ward, with here and there one of the original rear tenements.
Worse was to follow. It was
soon perceived by estate owners and agents of property that a greater percentage of profits could be realized by the conversion of houses and blocks into barracks, and dividing their space into smaller proportions capable of containing human life within four walls. … Blocks were rented of real estate owners, or “purchased on time,” or taken in charge at a percentage, and held for under-letting.
With the appearance of the middleman, wholly irresponsible, and utterly reckless and unrestrained, began the era of tenement building which turned out such blocks as Gotham Court, where, in one cholera epidemic that scarcely touched the clean wards, the tenants died at the rate of one hundred and ninety-five to the thousand of population; which forced the general mortality of the city up from 1 in 41.83 in 1815, to 1 in 27.33 in 1855, a year of unusual freedom from epidemic disease, and which wrung from the early organizers of the Health Department this wail: “There are numerous examples of tenement-houses in which are lodged several hundred people that have a prorata allotment of ground area scarcely equal to two square yards upon the city lot, courtyards and all included.” The tenement-house population had swelled to half a million souls by that time, and on the East Side, in what is still the most densely populated district in all the world, China not excluded, it was packed at the rate of 290,000 to the square mile, a state of affairs wholly unexampled. The utmost cupidity of other lands and other days had never contrived to herd much more than half that number within the same space. The greatest crowding of Old London was at the rate of 175,816. Swine roamed the streets and gutters as their principal scavengers. The death of a child in a tenement was registered at the Bureau of Vital Statistics as “plain...

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