Social Housing: A 2018 DC Mayoral Candidate's Ticket to Victory (Or 45's Ticket to Re-Selection)

On May 12th, 2018 Ryan Cooper of the People's Policy Project (founded in 2017) addressed the DC Grassroots Planning Coalition which also has been meeting since 2017 to develop a broad public response to the city government's "master plan for finalizing it's 20-year-and-counting effort toward gentrifying those who make less than $60K annually out of the city" -- an effort known simply as the "Comprehensive Plan" but for which many advocates and activists have alternative names such as the "Comprehensive Scam" or the "Incomprehensible Plan". Mr. Cooper spoke about "SOCIAL HOUSING": an international phrase used to describe various forms of government-controlled or -subsidized housing (Public Housing in the U.S., Council Housing in the U.K., etc.). He made what were, to myself anyway, convincing arguments for why a form of social housing that differs starkly from this country's Public Housing model can work well and address our affordable housing crisis (which, by November 2020, could conceivably eliminate all housing that is affordable to those making $40K or less and who can therefore afford to pay about $1,000/month).

It's likely that, if a president who loves to take credit for positive trends that he didn't create were to survive through 2020, he'd be given credit for totally eliminating housing that can be afforded by those making between the national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour (with which no one can afford housing anywhere in the country) and $20 per hour. Should there be a Blue Tsunami in November of 2018 and the resulting 116th Congress (2019-2021) be able to stave off the Third World War which 45 seems to want to commence, then voters lavishing credit upon him for a "Greater Depression" might send him the way of Herbert Hoover in 1932 -- or better yet, Florida Governor Lawton Chiles a month after his 1998 loss to "JEB" Bush.

The phrase "Social Housing" is likely to scare those still caught in the fiercely strong grip of McCarthyism and to grab the interest of free thinkers who understand that, as a colleague on mine in London named Glyn Robbins said, "America is a capitalist beast with a Socialist heart". (I'm clearly in the latter group.) The creation of social housing would show that "America has heart", create housing which is affordable to people of all economic strata and quell a general malaise like the New Deal did in the 1930's. The specific brand of social housing (whose definition is still quite generic) that is being promoted by Ryan Cooper is one that involves mixed income housing that is owned and operated by the government (federal, state or local). He highlighted the fact that SH wouldn't be stigmatized as "pockets of poverty" or"'concentrated poverty"; because, as Mr. Robbins explained to me concerning Council Housing, this housing would be available for people of all incomes to rent from the government. Mr. Robbins also told me that, right after World War 2, a third of all UK housing was Council Housing which kept prices down in private-sector rentals; whereas, Council Housing now comprises less than 10% of the rental market and private-sector rents have skyrocketed as a result. That said, social housing offers a way for government to ensure that everyone has a dwelling that all but the elderly and disabled (who should be otherwise assisted) can afford out of pocket.

Adopting this housing model would also afford the next mayor of the District of Columbia (2019-2023) a way to show that the local government's chief executive is smarter than 45 (a relatively low bar, I admit) and that DC is ready to become state #51 (before Puerto Rico which might then complete the joker-less deck if it were to become state #52). In short, an American McCarthyist fearing a mayoral candidate whose platform includes social housing is tantamount to a deathly ill hospital patient fearing the needle containing their life-saving medicine. This is especially true in DC where the average rent is just over $2,000 per month, requiring that a person make at least $72K or $36 per hour in order for their rent not to exceed one-third of their income.
Let's send this blog post widely and often between now and the November 6th general election. Were DC mayoral candidate Ernest Johnson to make this solution to housing unaffordability a centerpiece of his platform from now until the capital's June 19th Democratic Primary, he might knock gentrifying incumbent Mayor Muriel Bowser out in the first of two rounds. Were he to subscribe to the McCarthyists who actually vote, he'd make it imperative for yet another "EJ" to enter the race and knock her out in round two. That should be fun.

It can be argued that social housing should be implemented by local governments only and that the federal government shouldn't ever federalize such programs like they did with social programs during the implementation of the New Deal. The most obvious reason is that a federalized social housing initiative would unite the Tea Party and other right-wing factions against the Left and lead to fierce political fights -- both in Congress and in broad society. Worse yet, it could be perceived by the "wrongful right" to be the victorious flag-raising of the Left or a symbolic "act of war" that results in a very real civil war -- the moment for which the NRA was created and for which those who stockpile guns have been waiting. (Strangely enough, a second American civil war might be what the rest of the world needs in order to divert our military resources away from the festering third world war.)

Another notable reason for never federalizing social housing is that, 50 years after federalizing state and local social programs, the feds began to dismantle them piecemeal. Whereas DC Mayor Muriel Bowser was influenced by local developers and others in the business community to complete the plan of gentrification (but needs a second term that I hope she never gets in order to finish the job), it seems that 45 is being influenced to finish the dismantling of federalized social programs -- a dismantling that began in earnest under Reagan. When a sizeable portion of each race in America needed social supports, Congress was quite willing to assist them by running a deficit (which only the federal government may do, all state and local governments being required to have balanced budgets). Reagan and others used the "fiscal responsibility" narrative to make the case for why such programs had to have their funding decreased. That narrative is turned on its head by the 115th Congress' adoption of a new tax plan that increases the deficit by decreasing taxes on the wealthy. While a Left-wing progressive president and/or congress creating social housing can work well, a series of right-wing Republican administrations/congresses can and will eventually misuse it or tear it down altogether. Making and keeping social housing as local initiatives all but eliminates the possibility that such a catastrophe will recur -- though it slows the rate at which America might develop social housing. This slow rate can actually be turned into a positive for mayoral candidates all over the U.S. insomuch as making and eventually keeping campaign promises to develop social housing will win votes by addressing one of the most pressing issues of our time (once the electorate has been taught about how this can work for them).

Social housing is mixed-income housing whose cost of operation is covered entirely by rents, with the government as the landlord.

Mr. Cooper mentioned the fact that Public Housing is often poorly maintained because:

1 -- All tenants are poor.

2 -- Government subsidies are needed in order to make repairs.
3 -- These governments sometimes cut taxes on the wealthy and/or corporations.
4 -- Then these governments supposedly don't have enough money to repair PH.
5 -- Thus, government becomes a slumlord.

NOTE: Residents of DC don't have a state government; but, we DO have a local government that has cut taxes on the wealthy and the business community. Items 3 thru 5 affect us immensely -- giving us a double whammy.

He went on to explain that the "government slumlord problem" wouldn't exist with social housing, due to maintenance costs being covered by the rents.

As he explained the way that this mixed income development would work (with one-third of the units being priced for each of three government-determined income brackets), I conjured up the following explanation in order to give a bit more context to his explanation:

A development is planned and will have 1,500 units -- 500 each for low-, middle- and high income people. DC Government reviews bids from developers until they find a developer who can build at an average of $200K per unit (which is 80% of the DC average) or $300M total. After signing a 20-year mortgage at 5% interest, the total annual mortgage is $30M or $2.5M per month which is arrived at by using this payment model:

A -- 500 units at $1,000 per month or $500K
B -- 500 units at $1,500 per month or $750K
C -- 500 units at $2,500 per month or $1.25M.

That back-of-the-envelope model barely covers the mortgage. With some tweaking: 400 units at $1,000 and 600 units at $1,500, you end up with an additional $50,000 which allows for a 2% overhead. Finding a developer who can build at a lower cost, spreading the mortgage over a longer period or having the government start its own development corporation are all ideas that could lower the monthly rent. This offers us a template that we can use to begin the conversation.



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