This week, the Zoon Garden blog is joined by Marc Linn, the Co-Founder of the Affordable Housing Tips platform. Linn hosts the Affordable Housing Tips talk show on radio station KZZH, 96.7 FM in Humboldt County California, and he has an extensive background in conflict resolution, a theme which is deeply relevant amidst Zoon Garden’s aim to decrease polarization through compassionate connection. A self-proclaimed radical, Linn considers himself “a fierce foe of the unnecessary conflict in our world.”
On Tuesday, Linn and I had a chat about the intersections between polarization and affordable housing. “Affordable housing” itself can be a slippery concept – so Linn began by explaining both the personal and institutional elements at play.
“When cities and states get involved and they build projects, they want it to be ‘affordable,’” says Linn. “They have all kinds of formulas. I think the standard one is no more than 30% of your after-tax income, and then they factor in things like how much you have left over for food and how many kids you have and so on. But that’s macro. That’s general. To me, the question is, is that housing affordable for me?”
Personal factors play a distinct role in home affordability – but alarmingly, they are also used to control who has access to housing in the United States.
“Single family zoning and redlining are both ways that the power structure of the predominant group has managed to define the preferred mode of housing,” says Linn. “The ‘ideal’ housing format was decided some time ago as a single family home: one family, one house on presumably a good size lot, two children, a white picket fence, and maybe a dog. The trouble is, rather than just decide that, okay, this is how some of us prefer to live and others can live how they want, the predominant groups have passed zoning laws which have prevented housing that doesn't fit the single family description.”
These zoning laws have prevented the construction of higher density, and therefore more affordable, housing. “The desirable parts of the area would be restricted from any kind of housing, other than single family,” says Linn. This, coupled with the financial discrimination faced by black Americans, institutionalized barriers for minority access to affordable housing.
These institutionalized barriers are not often considered in hegemonic discussions of impoverished Americans. Consider the blame culture surrounding the homeless – rather than recognize the deep-set economic and governmental factors that led to this poverty, upper-class Americans’ attention is instead directed to issues of drug use and alcoholism, factors which, as noted by various affordable housing experts, are often the result of homelessness rather than the cause.
The issue of homelessness shot into American consciousness largely following the shut-down of residential hotels during the Progressive Era. This shut-down of residential hotels removed the “bottom rung on the housing ladder,” and forced many low-income Americans onto the streets. This displacement was framed as a downtown “clean up” and driven by upper-class businessmen and religious activists who felt the residential hotels allowed for “immoral” lifestyles. According to Paul Groth, historian and author of Living Downtown, the perception of “immoral lifestyles” has its “historical roots in generations of middle and upper-class complaints about urban density, mixture, and diversity—key aspects of hotel living” (1994).
Linn feels that the social and economic factors surrounding affordable housing has a common denominator: greed. “At root, it seems like there have always been people that just aren't content with a reasonable lifestyle,” says Linn. “They want more, and then when they get more, they want more still.”
Linn attributes this particular type of greed to an imbalance between material and emotional needs.
“Yeah, we have material needs,” he says. “But I think we need peace of mind and some self respect as well. And when those are not in balance, people try to fill the gap by going overboard with the material needs. That leads to doing whatever it takes to get a bigger house – and the way you get a bigger house is by passing legislation that prevents others from having any house at all.”