Providing Shelter for Everyone

COVID-19 has exposed us to serious flaws in our society. Now we see how our lower paid but essential workers, health providers and front-line workforces, are in harm’s way, not to forget the working poor and homeless. We are experiencing the three E’s:

Epidemic, Economics, and Ethnicity. Providing housing for everyone is more than a social necessity but essential for our economy’s future.

The average American worker can’t afford a home in 70% of the Nation and must pay more than 30% of their income for basic housing. The need for providing adequate shelter for all becomes more than a question of community safety and security but an economic driving force as we climb out of this abyss.

This is not a crazy left-winged architect’s opinion, but an avid capitalist, a bank founder and director, arguing that making housing for all is more than a social benefit but could be a huge boost to our economy.

Americans have never considered housing a guaranteed right but only a privilege, enjoyed by those that can afford it. Creating a national policy to make this a shared responsibility could lift our economy to new heights while providing much-needed housing for all our inhabitants, regardless of wealth or mental capacity.

The greatest American mobilization of ingenuity, technology and innovation was our 20th century housing boom. The Post-World War ll housing construction exploded, building millions of new homes, apartments, condominiums, and created huge demands for cars, household goods, clothing and all things American. Neither our rapid WWll mobilization or Space Race matched that economic stimulus.

…. the greatest American mobilization of ingenuity, technology and innovation was our 20th century housing boom….

Today, housing has become a tool of the wealthy but also a means to minimize perceived undesirable growth. People fear “those kind of people”, so they become NIMBYs fighting anything different. As affordable housing moves further away from the jobs generated in expanding communities like Napa, bigger problems are created. Long commutes, pollution, and struggling schools rob us all.

When I was a young LA intern architect, firms I worked for churned out countless housing developments. While now called “Suburban Sprawl”, it was the catalyst of much of today’s American wealth.

A common complaint by local neighborhood residences is that affordable housing in their backyards lowers property values. It is quite the opposite. Properly built and stewarded by professionals, they provide community strength and much needed labor assistance.

Some years ago, while creating a small subdivision on Clay Street, across the street a nonprofit was processing Pecan Court affordable apartments. While the neighborhood fought it, I was the lone vocal supporter. Today, this complex like many others are neat, clean, and well taken care of providing workforce housing for our local businesses and construction.

Since there is no national housing policy, it’s left to each state and municipality to create strategies for higher densities that allow more housing in commercial, industrial and residential areas.

Alexander Hamilton said “prudent aids and encouragements on the part of government” are essential to enhance market forces. 01/Shoag_PB_web_20190129.pdf It’s time to look at our discriminatory housing policies just as we soul search for our imbedded racial bias.

Chris d. Craiker AIA/NCARB, is a Napa Architect with Craiker Architects & Planners. He has been designing sustainable building for more than 40 years.