Tag Archives: housing

(274) Illegal apartments

800px-Bungalow_(PSF)A form of second class citizenship results from having a bad landlord.  It is remarkably stressful for working people when a property owner is outside the law regarding the state of repair, provision of heat in winter, increases in rent, fire and electrical safety, lighting, ventilaton, crowding, cleaning, and snow removal reasonably expected by a rent paying tenant.  Anecdotes about bad landlords and substandard/illegal apartments, particularly in the basements of houses designed for single family living, are never hard to come by.  Students, immigrants, low income workers, the mentally ill and retired persons often find themselves in substandard housing because they are economically vulnerable.  Exaggerated real estate values also compel property owners to consider shoddy installations of poor quality suites and basement apartments at least as much as simple greed does.

Even a casual use of Internet search terms such as “illegal apartments” followed by virtually any North American suburban place name yields a peek into a massive social change for the worse taking place in North America. This is true from Vancouver to Boston.  Such a change represents the mainstreaming of substandard housing and is another feature of poverty associated with traditional urban social difficulty now fully rooted in suburbia.

To wit: Brampton, Ontario, Canada.  In 1998 Brampton banned basement apartments.  They were cited as unsafe and not appropriate to the single-family ideal of a fast-growing, low-density suburb.  Basement apartments were said to be fire hazards that also bring an unwelcome increase in vehicle parking, create unplanned demand for schools, police, libraries, parks and garbage removal.  Extra basement-dwelling tenants are even cited for lowering water pressure at certain times of day!  There is truth in all these things but the story does not end there.  Brampton is now thought to have about thirty thousand illegal basement apartments.  Some houses have had such apartments for decades.

Brampton’s situation can hardly be unique.  Suburbs all over North America are being forced to adapt to change.  A basement apartment represents a cheap, unimaginative, fast, minimalist approach to keeping people housed.  The single-family home-based suburb is obsolete. Super-sized monster homes and rooming houses encroach on moderate homes and the result is uneasy.  Thing is, where is the alternative?  We have barely begun to conceive of what it might look like.

Brampton residents battle over basement suites-which are illegal, apparently
Toronto Life

Jan Wong: the simmering class war over basement apartments in Brampton
Toronto Life

Brampton, to the northwest of Toronto, has just over half a million people and is one of Canada’s fastest-growing communities.  In the early 1970s much of it was still agricultural land.  Older Queens, New York, home to more than two million, finds the issue of illegal apartments similarly tough.  To crack down on all the illegal housing in Queens would make life harder for many tenants who need cheap, basic places to live.  At the same time, the illegal units can be burdensome.  They represent unsafe conditions, can be crowded, their owners are not paying proper taxes, and tenants may be exploited.  What to do?

Housing: illegal conversions
Queens borough president official illegal conversion page

Fire Reveals Illegal Homes Hide in Plain Sight
NYT

How about the introduction of the rule of law to basement land and substandard landlords?  Respect for tenants is already enshrined in the law in Canada and the United States.  Slack standards and a lack of inspection endanger people.  We have the meltdown in the British and American banking systems to remind us that market-driven openness can be taken too far.  A tenant is not a colony to be exploited, they are in a buiness reationship with their landlord.  A little more balance at City Hall would help tenants get value for their money.

Landlords have rights and concerns yet many may be in a position to legalize and improve their suites with relative ease and at reasonable cost.  Others will need to be shut down, tossed in jail even.  The system must enforce existing, reasonable laws.  After that, a little imagination and a lot of investment, public and private, should be leveraged to support good housing alternatives.  Right now, it seems like North Americans can’t even imagine how to economically house themselves for a world of cultural changes, super storms, global warming, financial difficulty and energy scarcity.  This will change one way or another.

image: Scott Forseman via Wikimedia Commons

(262) Living in a van in Van

Well, this is certainly interesting …in a depressing-yet-designey kind of way.  A young man living in a Dodge van in Vancouver.  Turns out, he’s not alone.  Rents are too high, wages are too low.  See the link to Mathew Archer’s Tumblr for more on this reality.

Mobile Living: Vancouver Van Dwellers’ Nomadic Lives huffingtonpost.ca

See also: (103) A man’s home is his castle …and frequently also his shitbox

(241) London to 2016 [LSE brief]

This London School of Economics briefing paper looks ahead to 2016 and serious increases in the unaffordability of housing in both inner and outer London. Among the findings: “A majority of people in poverty in London now live in outer London. Ten years ago they were evenly split between inner and outer. In addition, across London, in-work poverty has risen over the last decade while out of work poverty has fallen. As a result, half of children in low-income households in London are in working families.”

Poverty and inequality in London: anticipating the effects of tax and benefit reforms .pdf file

(235) A hidden homelessness

We had hoped to provide links to more academic papers regarding suburban poverty and related topics by now.  These papers, and the journals and institutions that publish them can pose payment and access issues at times for general internet users.  These important documents, research efforts from academics who do the detailed, heavy lifting when it comes to understanding the world around us, will get more attention in future postings.

An example is the item linked below.  It approaches the under representation of visible minority newcomers in the shelter system in Canada.  It has been assumed that this reflects a strategy of residential crowding based on family and ethnic connections.
The paper is from Canadian Studies In Population 38, No. 1–2 (Spring/Summer 2011), pages 43–59.  The author, Micheal Haan of the University of Alberta, asks if this observation represents a “hidden homelessness.”

Does immigrant residential crowding reflect hidden homelessness?
via homelesshub.ca

photo: See Ming Lee via Wikimedia Commons

(223) Rethinking the corporate campus

Just as the smokestack and the skyscraper symbolized a particular kind of economic development so did the corporate campus.  These were all the rage for decades, groupings of commercial buildings deployed amid greenery and reached mainly by car.  The corporate campus was chosen by high technology industries in particular with the example of Microsoft in Redmond, Washington known internationally.  The corporate campus first took root near the larger, older centres and were eventually replicated all over North America.  They seem to have served their owners well enough in their day, allowing firms to secure, centralize and rationalize their operations on greenfield sites beyond busy and expensive cities.  They were seen as a way to control real estate and operational costs and as enhancers of corporate culture and performance.  Some were plunked down in urban areas, others are suburban with yet others built in the middle of nowhere.  Now the business campus has come in for a timely rethink.  The idea going forward seems to be not to fully segregate places of work from places of residence.  This reduces transportation costs and stress for workers which also goes a little lighter on the environment.  The result is healthier and easier for everyone.

Steps-from-work housing
NYT piece looking at planning efforts in Hartford, CT which add residential uses to a large corporate office corridor

Crain’s Special Report: Corporate campuses in twilight

photo: JonRidinger via Wikimedia Commons

(206) Nova Cidade de Kilamba

From its offices in Mississauga, suburban-poverty.com seeks both topic and audience as globally as possible.  Canada, the United States, Scandinavia, Germany, Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and China have made the (dis)honour roll over the past year-and-a-half.  Thanks to the BBC we can reach out to a reality in Angola.  Once a part of Portugal’s squalid empire the country of twenty million is an oil producer that remains very poor.  Courted of late by China, we see a familiar pattern of weirdness and stupidity in the making of place called Nova Cidade de Kilamba, some thirty kilometres outside Luanda, Angola’s capital.  How bizarre and unexpected, but given the reach of a globalized economy, perhaps not totally so.

Angola’s Chinese-built ghost town article plus video

image: SKopp via Wikimedia Commons

(174) Beijing

Suburban poverty is a genuinely global condition.  Even with a remarkably different set of economic circumstances and historical precedents — including sixty-plus years of communism/fascism — we find suburban poverty in the People’s Republic of China.  Vast amounts of it in fact.

Is This Beijing’s Suburban Future?  Atlantic

Poverty drives one million Beijing workers into undergound ‘mouse holes’
The National (Abu-Dhabi)

(166) Is it a design problem?

Meet St Barbara.  Until Rome demoted her a few years ago she was the patron saint of architecture …and also those who work with explosives.  Kind of an exciting job description.  We hope she’s looking out for us in these precarious times. Given the built environment and economic uncertainty many are stuck with we are gonna need all the wisdom with architecture and explosives we can get our hands on.

Who doesn’t idealize the artist, the architect, the engineer, the designer their ability to go from nothing to something, that is to create, to bring a thing into existence?  It makes sense then that in attempting to comprehened suburbia we turn to the creative class?  Almost since they were invented suburbia has provoked a diversity of critique and brought forth those with a desire in their hearts for something better.  Is it possible that even the growing social difficulty facing suburbia is a design problem?

Allison Arieff thinks so.  She has been professionally involved in design and architecture in America and last year gathered some of her thoughts in the opinion piece linked in this posting, making it dynamite to read.  Ms. Arieff sees people with very low expectations of houses.  People willing to accept boring, unimaginative, sometimes downright shoddy, drywall boxes cranked out and marketed by an innovation-resisting industry that produces something like half of all solid waste in the country.  Acording to Ms. Arieff the commercial building industry is capable of producing a better product than the residential construction industry.  This all seems like a disservice to American consumers and their communities.

Unfortunately the American suburban paradigm is not going to be changed any time soon because it will be too busy being dead.  A couple of postings back we learned that the number of unwanted monster homes in America is in the tens of millions.  Kinda tough to think the industry that produced that is going to set aside its hucksterism and conservatism for a design-ey new approach to everything.  Still, just as the dinosaurs were replaced so too will the homebuilders of America be replaced.  Ms Arieff provides a survey of several builders going in the right direction in terms of energy efficiency, construction methods and cultural value in homes.  Hers is a call for change and action, that of a new Saint Barbara?

Shifting the Suburban Paradigm NYT Opinionator

This article has nearly 170 comments at the time of this posting, including some very thoughtful ones.

(160) Too many monsters

It almost seems too easy to pick on the McMansion or Monster Home these days.  The bloated starter castles of credit- and bubble-driven pseudo prosperity indeed symbolize failure of the most brutal kind.  A recent study suggests that America has some forty million more of these homes than it actually needs.  Hard to imagine forty million of anything, let alone houses.  All that drywall, copper wire, wood, metal, plastic – the furnishings needed for them, the labour and energy put into them.  Talk about overshoot.
Big giant houses, no money down, to go with big giant SUVs and big giant plastic cups of endlessly refillable corn sugared soft drinks.  Did a bunch of seven-year-old boys design such a society?

Today’s monster home is likely to be tomorrow’s slum rental.

U.S. overbuilt in big houses, planners find: 40 million houses too many – one explanation for falling prices U-T San Diego

Photo: Merfam via Wikimedia Commons