Rental Housing Displacements Soar in Urban Areas: WaPo article raises questions
by architek, Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 02:06:03 PM EDT
Yesterday, the Washington Post ran an article "The Profit in Decay"
about how many landlords in Washinton DC are getting around laws restricting condominium conversions and rent increases by refusing to maintain buildings, and using intimidation tactics to drive tenants out, leaving many buildings first partially occupied, and eventually vacant.
When they finally succeed in driving their tenants away, emptying the buildings of tenants, they can convert the buildings to condominiums, often making huge profits.
Obviously, this makes many people homeless and further reduces the rapidly declining amount of affordable housing in cities.
The law says that if they want to convert a building to condos, they must pay relocation assistance, but despite these restrictions on condo conversions and rent stabilization laws - if they succeed in driving tenants out, they do not need to pay relocation assistance to anyone. City governments are overloaded with other problems and rarely stand in the way.
Many tenants tough it out for months or years, often without heat or hot water, because there is often nowhere else they can even remotely afford in the area.
This problem is not unique to Washington DC, its happening everywhere and middle and low income urban dwellers are being targeted for these removals. Neighborhoods are rapidy changing, as their community members are forced to leave, and cities are losing their diverse character.
Often the people who move in to these buildings have no idea that the previous tenants were in essence, 'economically cleansed' in this way.
Studies have shown that many displaced poor people have nowhere to go. Many older or disabled people, many who had been living on fixed incomes end up in homeless shelters or die.
Often, its not clear what happens to them, people often drop off the map of housing policy researchers.
Many urban apartment dwellers do not own cars, so many housing options that might be available to others in outlying areas do not work for them. Many urban dwellers don't even have drivers licenses, a burden to simply moving to suburban areas that are often many miles away, in order to keep jobs in the city.
As gas prices rise, the cost of urban housing, close to jobs, is going up rapidly. The numbers of people who are displaced also seems to be increasing.
It seems to me that the specifics of how and if they plan to handle this new aspect of the affordable housing crisis is a very important question that we need to have the Presidential candidates answer.
Because our ignoring these displacements is having the unintentional consequence of changing the makeup of cities in the same way that natural disasters do, although not as rapidly.
Democratic districts are the most effected.
These displacements effect not just the poor. Most of the people who are being displaced are middle income.
Often their jobs depend on their being able to live in a city, near their job.
If they lose their homes, they often cannot keep jobs that they may have worked for many years in, losing pensions. Commutes, often on public transportation can end up being very long and there is a limit to how far someone can travel each day on public transportation because the sudden change - a formerly reliable worker suddenly may have many inevitable missed connections.
This can result in dismissal and sudden poverty. Also, children who were previously well tended by parents will often find themselves alone for long hours as a parent commutes long distances.
These dislacements are effecting hundreds of thousands of Americans all around the nation.
What will the candidates do to stop the destruction of affordable housing for urban dwellers and evade laws restricting condominium conversions and predatory rent increases?
What will they do to stop slumlords from reducing or eliminating essential services like heating and hot water? To stop harassment of law abiding tenants to get them to move?