July 31, 2008

"It is in the shelter of each other that the people live"

We, the people

The subject of affordable housing is one that has been discussed, debated, and questioned over the past month here on Beyond Bread. We’ve heard from the experts, the people it effects most, and the people like me who are simply trying to parse through all the facets of this complex issue. When all things are considered, frankly, there seems to be no resolution on the subject. But that won’t stop me from trying to create one for you.

The question of what should be done about affordable housing must be split into at least two parts: the role of the government and the role of the people. The majority of the affordable housing criticism falls to the government, and this is not without equity. When you look at public housing waitlists, housing spending cutbacks, and rebuilt housing structures that contain less affordable housing than its predecessors, how can you not clamor for governmental change? The burden must fall on both the federal and local governments to ameliorate the situation, but it’s still unclear how to accomplish this in concordance with Bentham’s principle (of the greatest good for the greatest number). We’ve already discussed some of the new affordable housing initiatives we’re seeing (the New Communities Initiative at the greatest length), and it is yet to be seen how these will pan out. However, the inadequacies of such programs have been pointed out, and as time advances, their promise seems to dwindle.

Thus we must work on our own to alleviate the social problems that obstruct affordable housing access. We can’t necessarily depend on a long-term economic solution to affordable housing when all signs point to an economic crisis. While there’s an economic problem of affordable housing, there’s a social one that must be countered as well. The latter is our responsibility. We must work together to oppose the social divisiveness that gives rise to housing discourse problems, NIMBYism, and other affordable housing hindrances. How can we do this? Well one social theorist wrote almost two hundred years ago that we can only build compassion for our fellow man through our interactions with them. Whether this means showing up at affordable housing rallies, volunteering for a nonprofit to help build affordable houses, or simply talking to your neighbor that your landlord always complains about because he doesn’t get his rent in on time, we must nurture the roots that hold us together in this world.

The New Communities Initiative is an example of a really good idea being implemented by the wrong people. The government is trying to build links between people of various income levels by building mixed income communities. While this is a commendable idea for getting around the social problem of affordable housing, I think that we have to take the first steps to fix that problem. As a people, we aren’t fulfilling our social responsibilities to our fellow citizens; the government is attempting to compensate for our inadequacies, but I don’t think it’s really in their jurisdiction. While we can hope that mixed-income initiatives like New Communities Initiative will stimulate the necessary linkages between people of varying income levels, ultimately, we the people will have to come together to fix the social problem of affordable housing.


Matt Siemer said...

I gotta say, Zain, this is your best post. Nicely done, sir!

Zain Gowani said...

Thanks! Life is all about continual progress right? The best comes last -- sad.