I grew up in a union family and both of my grandfathers went on to work blue-collar union jobs when they came home from World War II. They started their families during “the good old days” – the years after World War II when the US built a huge middle class that the majority of Americans were part of. If you were not an aristocrat graced with old family money, you worked with your hands in a factory or a field before the Great Depression hit in late 1929. Unable to find work during the depression, my nineteen-year-old grandfather enlisted in the military in 1938 and served for four years in the Phillippines. He came home in 1942 and got a job working as a mechanic for International Harvester, later joining the civilian effort as a mechanic at Camp Kilmer. He owned a simple house where he and my grandmother raised four children. He only had an eighth grade education. My Pop-pop arrived in the US at the age of four from Kingston, Jamaica aboard the ship Abangarez. He was drafted and was awarded a Silver Star at The Battle of Anzio in 1944. He returned home and got a job at the Bristol Myers Squibb factory, raising three children with my grandmother in the simple row homes near the factory. Both of my grandfathers were union members – a Teamster and a Machinist. Continue reading “The greatest generation loved affirmative action”
I’m writing this as a distraction from checking in on the election results. It’s mostly directed at educated white liberals who insist on seeing this close election as evidence that 50% of the population are racists. I am arguing for greater compassion and empathy, and meeting people where they are at cuz calling someone a racist on the internet doesn’t actually have a material effect in the world, but shaming and ostracizing a person we decide is racist does. Racial and economic justice are not incompatible – they are inseparable! And unless our imagination stops at inclusion – a few more scholarships, a handful more vouchers – we need to talk more effectively about class and listen more effectively to the ways class is experienced at the intersection of all our identities – no matter who wins this election. I’m not interested in proving a theory, but I welcome thoughtful questions, comments, and discussion. Continue reading “Shame and the liberals”
Thailand had a very different strategy from the US for managing Covid-19, as well as a spectacularly different outcome. I lived in Northern Thailand from mid-March of this year until late-September, watching the country of my birth and the home of my closest connections mortally fumble as life in my adopted country started to get back to normal. I want the American reader to observe how Thailand responded to Covid-19 and what it was like to live through such measures – not to critique the Trump Administration so much as to dispense with the fiction that hundreds of thousands of deaths were inevitable no matter who was leading the country. Indeed, Thailand is a “democratic dictatorship” with its own dubiously-elected conservative strongman at the helm, but even he yielded to the scientists and public health officers when it came to managing a pandemic. Did these strict – yet ultimately triumphant – measures hurt the Thai economy? Absolutely. But in the context of a *global* pandemic, there isn’t an economy that remains unimpacted. Now a third wave of Covid washes over the US, provoking a discordant patchwork of just-in-time lockdown measures that can only slow the bleeding while delivering blow after blow to the economy, from the micro to the macro. What would it have been like if the US had a plan before Covid even reached our doorstep? If the border-neutral fields of epidemiology and public health had not been drawn into the morass of partisan politics – both through funding cuts and a cynical rejection of science’s apparent “liberal bias”? If we all decided to take this one for the team back in March – knowing that some would have to make greater sacrifices, but that no person would be forced onto the street by eviction or foreclosure or medical bills. What would it have been like if American culture valued all human lives, and not just the unborn or those considered to be economically productive? We cannot know for sure, but it is my hope that by looking at Thailand’s response in parallel to the US response, the reader will be able to think critically about these questions. Continue reading “What it feels like to flatten the curve”
I started the Facebook page Housing Justice Headlines in early 2019 as a way to aggregate and share all of the articles I was reading related to the housing crisis. As a public page, anyone can see what I post, so I expected to eventually get some angry comments about Sharia Law or building walls. I was not surprised then, when I got into a heated discussion with a commenter over a rather boring Newsweek article about AOC’s connecting student debt and low wages to young people’s inability to buy homes. The exchange was silly because most people accept that low wages and lots of debt are in fact barriers to buying a home. But one thing this person wrote really struck me – “It’s not a crisis, it’s an opportunity.” I couldn’t grasp it at first. “How could anyone regard displacement, eviction, and skyrocketing rents as anything other than a crisis with devastating effects on actual humans, families, and communities?” Corporations certainly make those kind of emotion-free calculations all the time, but how could some regular working guy with a cowboy hat celebrate his neighbor’s loss as his own gain? I eventually came across two items that helped me make sense of that comment. Continue reading ““It’s Not a Crisis, It’s an Opportunity””
I taught an undergraduate class on the housing crisis for the Fall 2018 semester that met weekly for 2.5 hours. I wanted to spark debate and discussion about segregation, redlining, gentrification, the failure of public housing in the US, etc., but I quickly realized that the readings I had assigned were too dense for a student lacking a background in social science, rendering in-class discussions lifeless right out of the gate. I started researching films to show in class that would reinforce what I thought were some of the most important concepts, as well as drive home the human element of the housing crisis (in particular for the students who had never experienced housing insecurity). We watched several films throughout the semester and they were great tools to help students talk about various facets of the housing crisis in their own words, as well as to interrogate some of their own internalized biases around housing, poverty, and race. Most of these films can be streamed for free, via Kanopy (login using your local public library card), PBS, Vimeo, or YouTube. Do you have a film related to housing justice to suggest? Add it in the comments and include a link if you can. Continue reading “10 Films to Help You Wrap Your Head Around the Housing Crisis”
This is the last part of my thesis I’m posting here: the introduction. My purpose is to share some of the thinkers that inspire me as I continue to think and learn about alternatives to the capitalist real estate market. It doesn’t get very deep; I’m not a great theoretician or jargon generator so it’s pretty short compared to the other parts of my thesis. You can find the first two parts here: A BRIEF-ISH HISTORY OF HOUSING POLICY IN THE UNITED STATES and SOCIAL HOUSING IN VIENNA: LESSONS FOR PHILADELPHIA?
Realizing a Right to Housing in Philadelphia: Towards a Cohesive Strategy
This paper is an intervention into the market-based housing policy status quo in the United States, and the city I call home, Philadelphia. It is also an intervention into the single-issue activism and advocacy that dominates in social movement circles that deal with housing issues. I will argue that current housing policy in the United States is layered upon generations of racialized public policy that has always centered market ideology at the expense of human flourishing, and therefore an ameliorative approach that seeks to tweak current policy will not be able to adequately address either the structural racism built into the US housing market or the gross distributional inequities the market produces. Instead, I will build the case for a transformative approach that not only critiques the status quo, but parts ways with it to create a realm of struggle for an ideological and instrumental right to housing. Continue reading “Imagining Housing Justice Under Late Capitalism”
This fall I am teaching a 2-credit undergraduate elective in the Geography and Urban Studies department at Temple University about the housing crisis. The class meets weekly for 2.5 hours and is primarily reading and discussion-based. I’m sharing the syllabus below.
This course will look at the roots and drivers of the contemporary housing crisis as it plays out across the urban landscape using a Right to Housing framework. Affordability, segregation and discrimination, homelessness, eviction, homeownership and mortgages, and gentrification/redevelopment will be the main issues around which this course is structured. Students will engage these topics through assigned readings and media presentations, seeking out relevant local news sources, and discussing these topics and sources in class. For the final assignment, students will choose a topic related to the housing crisis and develop a project of their choosing around it.
- Students will have a historical and geographical understanding of the processes segregation and discrimination, homelessness, eviction, homeownership and mortgages, gentrification, and redevelopment.
- Students will understand how these processes are connected and be able to use a Right to Housing framework to describe the processes and think critically about possible solutions.
- Students will understand how these processes interact in the city of Philadelphia in particular.
I traveled to Vienna in July/August 2017 to get a feel for the city and see for myself what Vienna’s social housing looks like on the ground, as well as to learn from the perspective of people living there. Photos from that trip are interspersed throughout this post to give context and help the reader better imagine social housing. There’s also a great exhibit up at the Center for Architecture in NYC through May 19, 2018 called “Social Housing – New European Projects” that I highly recommend for anyone looking for more inspiration and to get an idea about the kinds of problems (poverty, social isolation, aging, etc.) that these social housing projects (in conjunction with social programs) have set out to address. Lastly, as I finished my thesis (of which this post is a part), Dr. Peter Dreier from Occidental College in Los Angeles published a great article called “Why America Needs More Social Housing” in American Prospect. Definitely worth a read for even more of the Vienna social housing context and ideas for why social housing (suited to the geography and social history of a particular city of course) would go a long way towards addressing the housing crisis in a transformative way.
As geographers we are always reminded that our maps are inherently distorted in some way, whether it’s in shape, distance, or size. Mapmakers have the power to decide what gets included and what gets left out order to tell the most compelling and useful story. Tracking the history of housing policy has been the same for me. I tried to keep focused on housing while providing enough context so the reader could connect the dots. My account below is limited and flawed, but constantly growing the more I read and experience. Any constructive comments, book/author suggestions, or refutations of something I got completely wrong are appreciated. I hope my attempt to bring light to some of the existing literature on housing policy inspires you to further explore this history and question some of the truths you hold to be self-evident. Thanks for reading!
I designed this map to be a poster-sized map that people in Philly could hang it on their wall and feel both inspired and called to action. Not only does it give people a sense geographically of where their various voting districts are, it also gives them relevant contact information so that they can put pressure on their elected officials when the moment calls for it. At the same time, the map calls attention to some of Philadelphia’s social movement assets, and marks locations that I see as spaces of hope in Philadelphia: worker cooperatives, independent book stores, and congregations affiliated with The New Sanctuary Movement and POWER (both of which I have been personally involved with). The Kickstarter did not pan out in the end, but I was able to raise more than $3,000 primarily from my own network of colleagues, friends, academics, and activists in a short period of time.