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Low Income Housing, Redux

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Since this is a topic we are already discussing today, I think another post is not too much. The reality is that a broken housing market combined with record income inequality has created a situation that requires bold solutions. Gianpaolo Baiocchi and H. Jacob Carlson suggest a way forward:

We propose the creation of the Social Housing Development Authority, a federal agency that would purchase distressed real estate, ensure it is livable and environmentally sound, and finance its transfer to the so-called social housing sector, including tenant cooperatives, community land trusts, nonprofits or public housing.

When a property goes into distress, or when the owner starts missing payments, the S.H.D.A. would have the opportunity to purchase it at market rate. After acquiring the distressed property, the agency would work with contractors to ensure that current and future residents have dignified living conditions — distressed landlords often skimp on or refuse to make repairs.

The agency could also retrofit the housing to meet environmental standards. About 20 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions comes from our homes, so this would be a significant contribution.

Once the property is stable, the S.H.D.A. would transfer it to eligible entities, with the aim of creating permanently affordable housing for local tenants. A skilled staff with ties to the community would work with these entities to proactively and efficiently pursue distressed properties as candidates for transfer to social housing.

Similar nonspeculative, community-controlled housing models like community land trusts have a proven track record of providing long-term housing. On the whole, land trusts weathered the last housing crisis much better than the private market. The reason is simple: Communities look out for one another in both good times and bad. The success stories come from places as varied as Burlington, Vt.; Jackson, Miss.; and Washington. Many of these projectshave worked with previously derelict properties in cities like Boston and New York City.

Today there are grass-roots proposals for social housing from coast to coast. The S.H.D.A would help turn these proposals into projects.

I suppose one could nitpick some of this. But I can’t think of any serious critiques I would take seriously. Certainly seems an improvement on the disaster the poor face now.

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