Housing Equity: Solutions We Can Live With

“Land monopoly is not the only monopoly which exists, but it is by far the greatest of monopolies — it is a permanent monopoly, and it is the mother of all other forms of monopoly.”

— Winston Churchill, 1909

A home is more than just a dwelling. It’s the security a family feels having a roof over their heads that can’t be taken away. It’s the collective memories of a family gathering place. It can also be the equity that provides generational wealth.

But increasingly, in the US, owning a home is available only to the upper third of our citizens. Renting is being pushed as the go-to housing preference, even though it offers no equity and often little protections. What housing is available for the poor is in terrible condition. And after years of pandemic economic losses, families are finding themselves on the edge of foreclosure and homelessness is climbing.

House flippers, gentrification, profiteering off the poor, regulations that prevent new housing going up, and disappearing rights are all part of the problem. What are the solutions?

We found out in our most recent Zoom of Our Own Conversation—and heard from a national expert on housing inequity, solutions like Community Land Trusts, and how one county in New Jersey eradicated homelessness. We engaged in a compelling and honest dialogue about how to fix the problem of inequitable housing in America.

ABOUT THE PANELISTS

Dev Goetschius is the founding executive director of Housing Land Trust of Sonoma County, an organization that has been in partnership with cities to produce and preserve permanently affordable, owner-occupied homes. She has over 30 years of experience in management, strategic planning, program design and fundraising for nonprofit organizations and is a partner at Burlington Associates in Community Development, the national consulting firm specializing in the development and evaluation of affordable housing policies and community land trust programs; co-founder of the CA CLT Network and the Bay Are Community Land Trust Consortium; founding board member and past president of the National Community Land Trust Network; and a founding member on the Board of Directors at Generation Housing and at the Center for Community Land Trust Innovation.

Julia Orlando, CRC, Ed.M, MA, DRCC, is the Director of the Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center. The mission of this nationally recognized and award winning Center is to end homelessness in Bergen County. Julia has over 30 years of clinical and managerial experience developing and providing social services to individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, and others experiencing chronic homelessness, prisoner reentry or involved in jail diversion programs. She is an advisor to the NJ Coalition to End Homelessness, an adjunct professor at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, and has provided consultation and training for a wide variety of non-profit organizations privately through Julia Orlando Consulting.

Rasheedah Phillips leads PolicyLink’s national advocacy to support the growing tenants’ rights, housing, and land use movements in partnership with grassroots partners, movement leaders, industry, and government leaders — and has led various housing policy campaigns that resulted in significant legislative changes, including a right to counsel for tenants in Philadelphia, and the Renter’s Access Act, one of the strongest laws in the nation to address blanket ban eviction polices having a disparate impact on renters of color. Rasheedah is the recipient of the 2017 National Housing Law Project Housing Justice Award, the 2017 City & State Pennsylvania 40 Under 40 Rising Star Award, the 2018 Temple University Black Law Student Association Alumni Award, and more.

Marybeth Gardam, Chair of the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom’s Women, Money & Democracy committee and an AEOO Advisory Board member, will moderate the conversation.

DEFINITIONS

Property and Real Estate: In the thirteenth century, the word property, meaning “ownership,” came into common use and began to include real estate. Importantly, “real” in this usage doesn’t mean the opposite of fiction. It literally means royal. States and nations both began as royal lands of the king. Any estate or property ownership depended upon your relationship to royalty. Here in the US, state laws vary, but generally real estate rules are closely enforced because land is limited and taxed.

Real Estate Speculators: In current usage, speculators are “sophisticated” investors or traders, who purchase land and buildings for brief periods of time to sell at a profit. Their rapid trading can drive up unsustainable prices, 2008’s crash the latest example. Importantly, a “speculator” was originally the name for slave traders, who purchased human beings when prices were low, and then sold them at a profit.

Asset Bubbles: A bubble occurs when the price of an asset, whether stocks, bonds, real estate, or commodities, rises quickly without underlying justification, such as equal demand. History is full of bubble examples that regularly occur, from Tulipmania in 1600 Holland to 2008’s Housing Mortgage Crash.

Gentrification: Originally referring to a person becoming more “respectable,” today it refers to neighborhood renovations made by an influx of middle-class or wealthy people purchasing property in a poor neighborhood, raising property values and taxes while displacing original, poorer residents.

Affordability: According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, A full-time worker needs to earn an hourly wage of $24.90 on average to afford a modest, two-bedroom rental home in the U.S. This Housing Wage for a two-bedroom home is $17.65 higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, and $6.12 higher than the national average hourly wage of $18.78 earned by renters.

Community Land Trusts: Organizations authorized by property owners to take over legal ownership and stewardship can create affordable homeownership and rental units for affordability over the long term. Conservation land trusts manage developed and undeveloped land, historical sites, and public recreational areas for future generations.

Equity: Home equity is the current market value of your home, minus what you owe. Any gain comes from paying down the principal balance on your loan and an increase in market value over time.

BY THE NUMBERS

Click here to see the statistics from PolicyLink on the Status of Women in Housing.

BOOKS

Golden Gates: The Housing Crisis and a Reckoning for the American Dream. Conor Dougherty. Penguin Books, 2020. Affordable homes used to be a hallmark of American prosperity; today its costs reveal growing inequality and an economy gone wrong. The adage that California is a glimpse of the nation’s future has become a cautionary tale. Makes housing’s complexity a readable story, the reason for its many awards!

Housing for Humans: A Book to Imagine, Create and Design a New Housing Model in America. Ileana Schinder. Panoma Press, 2021. An experienced architect, this author proposes new housing designs for modern families that won’t exclude the poor, elderly or disabled.

Land-Value Taxation: The Equitable and Efficient Source of Public Finance. ed, Kenneth C. Wenzer. Routledge, 2015. This collection of essays distinguishes two types of property tax, that on land, promoted by English labor economist Henry George, and the other tax most common in the US on improvements, or housing and development.

On Common Ground: International Perspectives on the Community Land Trust. eds., John Emmeus Davis, Line Algoed, Maria E. Hernandez-Torrales. Terra Nostra Press, 2020.

ARTICLES

“No one on minimum wage can afford rent anywhere in the US.” And that’s full-time minimum wage workers, who are mostly limited to part-time work! (The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2021 study, Out of Reach, included an interactive national map that shows what income is needed to rent a two-bedroom apartment.) Plus: Housing Speculators Could Bring on Another Financial Crash.

Domestic Violence is the #1 cause of homelessness.

Houses owned by people of color are too often given lower appreciation estimates than those owned by whites. A HUD special task force has provided a PAVE Action Plan, explained here, to address the inequity. ProPublica is also investigating “We Buy Houses” practices that some call “equity theft.”

Axios reported on how Big Investors Are Hogging American Homes. Vox wrote on how A change to America’s tax code could fix the housing crisis. PolicyLink explored Rent Debt In America, and why Stabilizing Renters Is Key To Equitable Recovery.

VIDEOS

Moms 4 Housing Documentary: Houseless moms occupy an empty house purchased by Wedgewood, LLC, one of the nation’s largest real estate speculators — revealing the corporate wheels of gentrification. An inspiring investigation of racism and capitalism shaping our history.

The House We Live In: This 6 min. video focuses on the generational wealth denied people of color because the GI Bill benefits did not extend to non-white returning war veterans.

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An Economy of Our Own Alliance

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