America Needs Affordable Housing
It is often easy to castigate large cities or third world countries as failures in the field of affordable housing, yet the crisis, like an invisible cancer, manifests itself in many forms, plaguing both urban and suburban areas. Reformers have wrestled passionately with the issue for centuries, revealing the severity of the situation in an attempt for change, while politicians have only responded with band aid solutions. Unfortunately, the housing crisis easily fades from our memory, replaced by visions of homeless vets, or starving children. Metropolis magazine explains that “…though billions of dollars are spent each year on housing and development programs worldwide, ? At least 1 billion people lack adequate housing; some 100 million have none at all.? In an attempt to correct this worldwide dilemma, a United Nations conference, Habitat II, was held in Istanbul, Turkey in June of 1996. This conference was open not only to government leaders, but also to community organizers, non governmental organizations, architects and planners. “By the year 2000, half the world’s people will live in cities. By the year 2025, two thirds of the world population will be urban dwellers ? Globally, one million people move from the countryside to the city each week.? Martin Johnson, a community organizer and Princeton professor who attended Habitat II, definitively put into words the focus of the deliberations. Cities, which are currently plagued with several of the severe problems of dis-investment ?crime, violence, lack of jobs and inequality ?and more importantly, a lack of affordable and decent housing, quickly appeared in the forefront of the agenda.
The dis-investment is present in many large cities, but especially in the largest, New York City. Historically, New York has been in the limelight of urban development, sometimes as a leader in the field, but also as an immense failure.
The housing crisis in New York City disguises itself well, hiding in the back of commercial zones or illegal tenements. Jacob Riis, a reformer at the end of the last century, spoke through photographs of the City’s poorest neighborhoods to impress the issue upon the world. His book, How the Other Half Lives, was a cry to the public for affordable housing and livable conditions for the city’s poor. Ironically, as an October 1996 New York Times article points out, 100 years under the bridge has not created even a marginal move of progress. Contrary to the popular belief that hard work and fair play yield access to the “American Dream,?the Times article depicts the conditions of the working poor, the “all but homeless?class that exists day by day.
“The reality is that if you are poor in a fast, cold city like this, they don't care how you live so long as you are not out on the streets worrying people,? 83 year old Maria Pagan told The Times. Mrs. Pagan lived for a decade in a Bushwick building that was crumbling around her ?the...