Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Associated Press story on homelessness in Western U.S. cities

I noticed that DC is rebranding the smaller family homeless shelters it is creating as "short term family housing"I noticed that on the family homeless housing building being constructed in Ward 4 in DC, that the property is being promoted as "short term family housing."  This is part of the program to close the large homeless shelter in the long since closed DC General Hospital building, and shift people to smaller facilities spread out across the city.

Because I scan a lot of newspapers online, I am able to see trends that mostly aren't discernible within "local" newspapers because they are only covering matters within their geography. 

But from newspaper coverage and some observation, it's been clear to me for many years that homelessness in western cities like San Diego, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and San Francisco is much worse that what I seem to see in the east. 

Partly it's an issue of "the weather" allowing for more people to sleep outside for more months of the year.  But it's also because some of those cities are hyperstrong real estate markets, and the inventory of extremely low cost housing has disappeared.

Yes, it's an issue in DC too, but by comparison the problem pales.

I wrote about this a few months ago in response to an article in the Orange County Register, making the point that (1) there needs to be a lot more SRO housing and (2) a way to create social enterprise businesses that can provide "supported settings" for work opportunities.

-- "One of the "solutions" to the crisis of homelessness is a lot more SRO housing"
-- "One potential solution to the problem of "finding work" for homeless adults

This has been an issue in DC because of the program to decentralize family homeless shelter to smaller facilities across the city, as well as to bundle support programs more purposively within the program. See "Decentralizing homeless shelters in DC," 2016.

A worker clears out a homeless encampment near Seattle’s Ravenna Park neighborhood. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)


Reading the Associated Press article that was distributed last week, "Amid booming economy, homelessness soars on the US West Coast," I think that those two recommendations are on point.

The article doesn't really address substance abuse (in London, research finds that 44% of "rough sleepers" are alcoholics) or mental health issues among the homeless, instead it mostly focuses on the cost and availability of housing.

In this Sept. 25, 2017 photo, a worker sprays a bleach solution on a sidewalk in downtown San Diego as part of an effort to control a deadly hepatitis A outbreak. The increased number of hepatitis cases in the homeless population, and the geographic spread of the disease led California to declare a state of emergency in October. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

It makes sense that as extremely low cost housing options disappear in strongest real estate market cities, people living precarious lives already are pushed over the edge.

Ironically, around the same time this article was published, the Bisnow real estate news information service ran a story about a new "power nap store" called Recharj, where people can pay to sleep for 25 minutes ("Power nap retail concept expanding to second location"). From the article:
The studio offers single 25-minute power naps for $9 and unlimited monthly memberships for $79. Customers nap on a six-foot Yogibo, which it describes as "new age bean bag furniture," in private spaces with sound-absorbing drapes. The napping areas also include a full-body support pillow, a throw pillow, a blanket, an eye mask and ear plugs. For those seeking guided meditation, Recharj offers a series of classes for $18 each. The classes, with names such as "Sound Bath Immersion," "Gong Bath" and "De-stress," are also included in the monthly membership.
And there are related articles from places like Hong Kong ("Hong Kong rents leave some in coffin homes," AP) and London ("London housing crisis: £480 a month for a bed, in a shed" and "The great London property squeeze," Guardian) about lack of housing options leading people to rent spaces in "coffin hotels" etc.

Again, I think this coverage of affordable housing shortages in high cost markets illustrates the need for significantly more SRO type housing.

Not just microhousing for higher income segments such as WeLiving ("What Life Is Like Inside WeWork's Communal Housing Project," Bloomberg), shared apartments for $2,000+/room ("Inside Common's Newest Co-Living Space In Chinatown, On A Fast Track To Opening," Bisnow), microapartments ("Historic DC mansion gets luxury apartment makeover," WTOP; "Life in a 375-square-foot apartment," Washington Post; "NYC micro-apartments: Success of Kips Bay's tiny studios could to more, developer says," AM New York), etc.

Note that the Kips Bay project referenced in the AM New York article includes affordable units. From the article:
Billed as an experiment, the city relaxed its rules on minimum apartment-size at Carmel Place to see if micro-apartments could help house the growing singles population and drive down rents. Above nearly 5,000 square feet of donated city land, Monadnock Development constructed 55 micro-units, including eight set aside for homeless veterans and 14 affordable units renting for between $949 and $1,490 a month.
Still expensive for people living on the edge, but it adds more options. (Although I argue for more SRO housing that is even cheaper to rent, because it's "cheaper" to have people housed than to deal with the social and economic costs of homelessness for the people stuck in that situation and for the cities and counties that have to deal with it.

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8 Comments:

At 9:21 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Also an interesting read:

https://www.citylab.com/life/2017/11/the-morality-of-the-city/545708/


No question that the new media push is to tie asset price inflation to the question of homeless.

Might very well be the case in London, SF and Seattle.

Not sure it the case in Chicago or Baltimore.

SRO housing would help, as would shorter lease terms.

Of course the government funding for these programs don't want to touch that. And SRO have bad reputations for a reason in terms of social deviance.

The new DC family shelters are all basically being built as SRO -- bunk beds shared bathrooms no food prep.

DC has admitted the the majority of people going into DC General are kids of other homeless families -- that is again lack of a any social network or structure.











 
At 9:33 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I wrote something last week that distinguished between hyperstrong (but I didn't use that term), strong, and weak real estate markets.

I'm going to try to use that typology/naming going forward.

My sense is what's going on with homelessness is the same everywhere in terms of precariousness, family dynamics (e.g., your example, etc.), social networks.

I remember the original findings in the 1980s (my then wife was a social services advocate and big on that issue among others) was that most homelessness was extremely short term, less than a few days, because people hated it so much they did everything in their power to avoid it/shelters.

Probably by now, the population has increased, the social supports have decreased, the number of well paying low education jobs has decreased, the dispersal of employment locations and the distance to such jobs is transit inefficient, etc., probably things are worse.

It's just that it's easier to deal when the price of housing is lower.

That's probably why it's "less pronounced" in terms of visibility in lower cost housing markets.

And places like San Diego and Orange County have very little in the way of SRO housing and likely a gargantuan demand for it.

 
At 5:34 PM, Anonymous h st ll said...

There is also the issue of overbuilding new affordable housing IE the first building they are building in LA with the money for the new homeless housing is a complete waste. They are tearing down 39 SRO unit building to rebuild a (presumably larger units) 40 unit building! Will never make any progress at this rate

https://urbanize.la/post/rendering-revealed-dtla-affordable-housing

 
At 11:22 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

that seems like a waste of resources, especially in terms of sustainability.

why not just build a new building with that number of units?

2. any way you are willing to weigh in on a piece I've been working on wrt transit network improvement opportunities vis a vis the Olympics?

 
At 11:18 PM, Anonymous h st ll said...

yeah i would love to

 
At 8:19 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

does that f**ly email work? I sent an email to that address awhile ago about this and didn't get a response. Otherwise, please send me an email.

I will have to polish what I have. It's only about 40%.

THANKS!

 
At 4:03 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The thing is I lack the fine grained knowledge about opportunities to make better connections, extensions for connections, etc.

e.g., see this piece about "missed connections" in the Bay area.

http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/california-forum/article169255632.html

It happens I've been following the SMART line because I had applied for a job there (unfortunately, I wasn't feeling it the day applications were due... complicated by a crappy software system that makes it hard to show off your best qualities).

I had been meaning to write about the "missed connection" there between the ferry and the station, I didn't know about the missing link between the train station and the Santa Rosa airport.

The rail line "should take responsibility" for ensuring sound ground transportation connections at those locations.

etc.

but the piece has stuff about HSR, Tijuana-San Diego, Metrolink-Coaster integration, some rail, biking--using the Olympics to set a goal of 10% to 15% of trips by bike, maybe doing a transit branding integration in LA County for bus, maybe my I-5, I-405 underground rail idea (except for those pesky earthquakes but then there is Japan...).

 
At 5:23 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I guess I don't remember an article 3 years ago in the Post about conversion of SRO housing in Chicago:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/11/12/what-happens-when-housing-for-the-poor-is-remodeled-for-millennials

 

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