SHANE’S EXCELLENT NEW WORDS: These four real estate ideas to fix a broken housing system might be considered radical. To me, that’s a potent recommendation.


“The current U.S. housing system, rooted in the commodification of land and housing and speculation, is not our only option. There are alternatives, and these alternatives do work and are guided by a vision of housing as a human right and undergirded by principles including community control.”

A cherished conceptual descriptor, this “radical.”

[rad-i-kuh l]

1. of or going to the root or origin; fundamental: a radical difference.

2. thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms: a radical change in the policy of a company.

3.favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms: radical ideas; radical and anarchistic ideologues.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but if it needs fixing …

4 Radical Real Estate Ideas To Fix Our Broken Housing System, by Eillie Anzilotti (Fast Company)

In almost every community in the U.S., it’s clear that market-based housing is not affordable for the vast majority of people. Here are some radical alternative models that are–and that policymakers should consider as ways to make our cities and towns livable and equitable.

At the core of the American housing system of today is the fundamental belief that housing should be a vehicle for private wealth creation. Privately owned housing on the market makes up 96.3% of the total housing stock in the U.S. Home ownership, once one of the surest ways for a family to accumulate wealth, has declined across the country; rates dropped to 63.4% in 2016, their lowest since 1967. Big banks and mortgage companies attach stringent criteria and high interest rates to loans that often lock lower-income people out of buying a home.

So instead, they’re forced into the rental market. As wages have stagnated and property costs have continued to rise, an astonishing number of Americans struggle to afford monthly payments. Almost half of all renters spend more than 30% of their income on rent, which is the ratio the federal government deems affordable. One in four renters shell out half their income to hold onto a place to live. Homeowners aren’t any better off: Around 41% are struggling to make mortgage payments, and risking foreclosure as a result. Across market-based housing, people of color, gender nonconforming people, and those with a criminal record routinely face barriers to securing housing.

Scattered throughout this mess is the remaining 3.7% of the American housing stock. These homes fall under the category of “social housing” which includes government-owned housing, and nonprofit-financed, community-based models. Investment in the former has fallen precipitously; Chicago’s demolition of the Cabrini-Green Homes, completed in 2011, perhaps best encapsulates the nation’s move away from public housing and increasing dependence on the market to provide housing for low-income people. Permanently affordable, inclusive housing models like community land trusts (CLTs)–represent a tiny portion of the housing stock, but if it could go mainstream, they could give people the affordable options they need and the market can’t provide.

I’ve snipped a lot; following are the four concepts with only a brief summary retained.

In this model, member-residents jointly and democratically own and reside in their building, which they secure through a combination of collective purchasing and a low-interest mortgage, often with the assistance of a nonprofit.

If LECs manage buildings, who controls the land upon which they build? In places like Oakland, where exorbitant land costs have hampered affordable housing (developers feel pressured to charge enough to tenants to recuperate the costs of land), land management is a crucial part of the affordable housing picture that’s often left out. Community land trusts can work in tandem with long-term affordable housing structures like LECs to keep both land and units affordable.

While the U.S. has a handful of LECs and CLTs, the Tenement Syndicate model originated in Germany, and is confined to Europe. This model defines itself as a “solidarity network” and its key feature is a dual ownership model, in which member buildings are managed by two entities: the tenants organized by individual housing projects, and an overall syndicate, which provides organizational support and supervision, and is comprised of members of each house project as well as legal support and counsel, often provided by associated nonprofits. Tenants decide issues like setting the cost of rent and what building renovations are necessary, and the syndicate manages loans for projects, and advises the individual buildings within the network on operational matters.

Like tenement syndicates, mutual aid housing cooperatives (MHACs) are a foreign concept in the U.S., but quite popular in several countries in Latin America, where they were first established in the 1960s. What sets it apart from the previous three models is that the residents of a MAHC work together to both maintain and build their own housing.