Tenants' rights are top of mind in New York City right now in a big way. As affordable housing stock increases throughout the five boroughs, it seems as though the city government is taking a lead on ensuring the safety and financial wellbeing of local residents. Today in his sixth annual State of the City address, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order to establish the new Office of Tenant Protection, a group that would act as a liaison between different housing and building agencies in the city. It will launch at the end of this year and receive an operating budget of $450,000, according to The Real Deal. Once up and running, the office will review city data and tenant complaints in order to determine which landlords need more oversight. In some cases, the city will be able to assume control of buildings entirely. “When a landlord tries to push out a tenant by making their home unlivable, a team of inspectors and law enforcement will be on the ground to stop it in time,” said de Blasio in his address. “If fines and penalties don’t cut it, we will seize buildings and put them into the hands of a nonprofit that will treat tenants with the respect they deserve.” The plan is part of a set of initiatives the mayor is touting to make New York the #FairestBigCity in the nation. In recent years, the city has set up similar offices dedicated to helping tenants, such as the Office of Tenant Advocate, which came online in mid-2017 and is operated through the Department of Buildings. As New Yorkers experience serious disturbances or harassment from construction, they can call upon the OTA for assistance. The city's Department of Housing Preservation and Department now provides equal help through the new Tenant Anti-Harassment Unit. In addition to these new direct-help government groups, de Blasio announced in December a multi-billion plan to fix and preserve the struggling New York City Housing Authority, an agency that had a particularly bad year providing quality affordable housing for its low-income residents. Other steps outside the mayor’s office are being taken to crack down on private and public tenant protection. In November, the New York City Council began reviewing 18 big bills to halt abusive practices made by local landlords regarding bad buyouts, false documentation, and incorrect permit filing. Learn more about the individual bills here.
Posts tagged with "Affordable Housing":
Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU) is bringing over 2,000 units of affordable housing to the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, via a partnership with the Christian Cultural Center (CCC), an influential neighborhood church, and the Gotham Organization. The ten-acre development will be anchored by community services geared towards current residents in a neighborhood that's been in developers' crosshairs since a 2016 rezoning. Over the next decade-and-a-half, the team plans to deliver an "urban village" in the shadow of Starrett City, the country's largest federally-backed affordable housing complex. In addition to 2,100 apartments spread out over nine buildings, the new development will include performing arts center, medical services, a site for vocational training, retail space for local entrepreneurs, as well as athletic facilities and over two acres of public space. The plot, now used for parking on worship days, is owned by CCC. Groundbreaking is slated for sometime in the mid-2020s. "When we traditionally think about infrastructure, it’s transportation and utilities," said PAU Founder and Principal Vishaan Chakrabarti, in a press release. "Today, we know that for a community to succeed it needs access to a broader infrastructure of opportunity—open space, education, health care, child care, social opportunities, and culture. Each of these things is considered in the plan that we have prepared with Gotham to advance Rev. Bernard’s vision for a sustainable and equitable community." The reverend Chakrabarti references is Rev. A.R. Bernard, leader of CCC's 45,000-member congregation. Although his church and its future development sit about two miles south of the recently-rezoned area, the idea for the development came about as a way to protect the largely working-class community the church serves in the face of rampant developer-driven speculation in the neighborhood. East New York is second only to Long Island City, Queens, in the number of residential permit approvals last year, according to The New York Times. As local developers line up to build in East New York, it'll be a busy next decade for PAU, too. The New York firm was tapped to master plan Sunnyside Yards, the pasta tangle of rail lines in Queens that could be largely decked over for up to 24,000 apartments and companion facilities.
After eight years of negotiations, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the Central SoMa Plan on December 4, paving the way for a massive density increase, transportation improvements, and infrastructure investments in the heart of the city. The final plan for Central SoMa (South of Market), an area bounded by 6th Street to the west and 2nd Street to the east and Townsend Street to the south and Market Street to the North, ended up at over 1,600 pages (available here). The resultant “eco-district” is aiming to be socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable by 2040, in part by ensuring a diversity of businesses call the neighborhood home. Among the many changes, heights of 400-feet-tall are now on the table for certain developments. The plan allows for an additional 8,800 units of housing—33 percent of which must be affordable—as well as office space for up to 32,000 new jobs. $600 million will be allocated towards transportation infrastructure improvements, including mass transit options, sidewalks, and bike lanes. $64 million will go towards neighborhood schools to accommodate the influx of new residents, and an additional $185 million will go towards improving the area’s existing parks and public spaces, as well as the construction of new civic spaces. $100 million will go towards social programs and the upkeep of the neighborhood’s historic buildings. An unspecified amount of funding will be set aside for stormwater management and projects that will improve air quality, and the plan requires that Central SoMa transitions to non-greenhouse gas-based energy sources. Green roofs and walls will also be required. Hotels, retail, and entertainment options will be incentivized, and the plan looks to include light manufacturing in an Urban Mixed Use zone, which will create a buffer between the residential district and the Eastern Neighborhoods. Such an ambitious zoning update naturally met resistance. Before the December 4 vote, four lawsuits against the project had to first be dismissed by the Board of Supervisors. Community groups took the city to task over fears of gentrification and concerns over increased air pollution owing to the forecasted increases in traffic. A third group, the developer One Vassar LLC, filed a motion because they felt the plan wouldn’t increase housing enough in proportion to the amount of expected office space. Now that the Central SoMa plan has essentially been approved, height limits in the area will gradually rise over the next 22 years, first to 85 feet from the current 30, then to 130 feet, and finally 400 feet.
When it comes to housing reform, California’s new state legislators have hit the ground running. As the state’s new elected officials take office this week, a flurry of housing-related bills have been unveiled that, among other things, aim to further extend the state’s ability to set land use at the local level and streamline market-rate and affordable housing production. The efforts, geared toward developing a comprehensive solution for easing the state’s crushing housing affordability crisis, come after significant legislative gains—and a few stunning failures—made during last year’s session. With Democratic “supermajorities” in both the state assembly and state senate, and a campaign proposal to build 3.5 million new housing units by 2025 from now-governor Gavin Newsom, many are expecting significant legislative progress over the next few months. The stakes are particularly high for the state and its residents. California suffers from some of the highest rents in the country, a phenomenon that has fueled a homelessness crisis in the state. A 2017 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that over 134,000 Californians are experiencing homelessness, the highest unhoused population of any state in the country. Not only that, but the state’s cities also harbor extreme examples of wealth and racial segregation, phenomena that have had deeply negative outcomes for many racial-minority and working-class neighborhoods in terms of social equity, environmental justice, and other metrics. Because the overall residential capacities of California’s cities have been steadily eroded over time through “local control”–driven rezoning efforts and increased parking requirements, the geographic range of affordable and workforce housing is increasingly limited, as well. Further, large swaths of the state’s major cities are zoned exclusively for single-family housing, creating intense gentrification and displacement in the relatively fewer neighborhoods where multi-family housing is allowed while simultaneously pushing new development into “wildland-urban interface” areas most susceptible to fire damage. The result of these converging phenomena is that California is rapidly losing its working class population to other, more affordable states as poverty and sprawl in the state become more deeply entrenched. In recent years, as awareness and political will have begun to coalesce around the housing crisis, piecemeal initiatives have successfully begun to unfold. Below is a brief breakdown of a few of the major proposed housing bills unveiled Monday. A longer list can be accessed here. AB 10: A proposed bill to increase the state’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit by $500 million. AB 11: A proposed bill to reinstate California’s Redevelopment Agencies. Redevelopment Agencies existed in California prior to 2011 and worked across municipal lines to develop affordable housing and other projects throughout the state. The agencies were dissolved by then-Governor Jerry Brown in the aftermath of the Great Recession. AB 22: A proposed bill with potentially far-reaching ramifications that would ensure “every child has the right to safe and clean shelter and that no child should be without safe and clean shelter by 2025.” SB 18: State Senator Nancy Skinner has proposed a bill that would expand tenant protections while also establishing a statewide “Homelessness Prevention and Legal Aid Fund” to aid tenants against eviction and displacement. SB 50: California State Senator Scott Wiener has proposed a new version of last year’s highly controversial State Bill-827. The new measure builds on the previous attempt to lift height and density restrictions for sites located within 1/4- to 1/2-mile of rapid transit and includes advanced protections for existing tenant communities. Significantly, the bill would also induce up-zoning changes for wealthy neighborhoods that are located near job centers. It’s going to be a busy year.
Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs is continuing to refine its plans for Toronto’s waterfront Quayside neighborhood. The tech company released its first look at the mass timber development in August of this year and has now released a more in-depth breakdown of how its 12-acre site will be developed. The latest vision of Quayside comes in advance of a roundtable on December 8 with community members and elected officials, the second-to-last such meeting before the release of the master innovation and development plan in 2019. The new draft site plan, which Sidewalk Labs described as “more Jetsons, less Black Mirror,” has slashed the development’s height and set specific affordable housing and sustainability targets. Quayside, which will be 90 percent affordable in accordance with the area’s existing zoning, is leaning on mass timber for its mixed-use towers. The Vancouver-based Michael Green Architecture was tasked with creating a kit-of-parts that could work with buildings of every scale. Each building will be anchored by an open-air “stoa,” covered walkways supported by rows of V-shaped heavy timber columns. New York's Beyer Blinder Belle is responsible for the project's master planning. Development will now be clustered around 12 mixed-use mass timber towers, with the tallest topping out at 30 stories. The tallest building in the sensor-integrated smart neighborhood was originally supposed to reach 50 stories tall. Sidewalk Labs now expects approximately 5,000 residents to call Quayside home, and have earmarked 20 percent of the units as affordable, and another 20 percent as below-market rate. Fifty percent of the development’s housing will be rental units. On the transportation side, Quayside is positioning itself to connect with Toronto’s light rail network. The neighborhood is also looking into a “flexible street” system that can transition from supporting traditional cars to autonomous vehicles once the technology comes to fruition. Quayside is shooting to reduce emissions over a typical neighborhood by 75-85 percent through a combination of geothermal wells and solar panels. The timber used, all of it locally sourced in a boost to the Canadian lumber industry, will also produce less carbon dioxide emissions overall when compared to a typical concrete-and-steel building. As Engadget noted, Sidewalk Labs has been less-than-successful in its attempts to create a trust to oversee the massive amounts of data the neighborhood would collect on its residents. Last month, the project’s lead expert and consultant, Ann Cavoukian, quit over concerns that the trust would not be able to anonymize the information it was receiving. Following the final roundtables and the approval of a master plan in 2019, Sidewalk Labs expects construction of the project to last three to five years.
Not content with monopolizing the home sharing market, Airbnb will soon start designing their own houses. Yesterday, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia announced that the tech company would begin recruiting architects, engineers, industrial designers, roboticists, and more to join their housing prototype initiative Backyard. More than just a design exercise, Airbnb is looking to create sustainable, flexible units to infill a wide variety of unused spaces. Backyard is an initiative of Samara, the product development lab launched by Airbnb in 2016 to study design and urban planning issues (or, as they describe it, “exploring the future of human connection”). Although the company hasn’t released specifics as to the types of units that Backyard will be building, the scope will go beyond accessory dwelling units (ADUs), the typical micro-dwellings slotted into backyards or other under-utilized parcels. Gebbia has indicated that these homes will act as living labs that are able to change and adapt along with their inhabitants, breaking the typical cycle of consumption and disposal. The increased flexibility will also boost the Backyard units’ rental appeal, as they’ll likely be adaptable based on guests’ needs as well. Trying to design one home that can be used forever and changed to meet its users’ needs has been a hot topic lately—take for example the modular Open House revealed earlier this year. The U.S. is currently beginning construction on about 3,300 new homes a day, and with that number only expected to rise, the amount of waste generated is staggering. “We began with a simple question,” wrote Gebbia,“What does a home that is designed and built for sharing actually look and feel like? The answer is not simple at all. Other questions quickly emerged. Can a home respond to the needs of many inhabitants over a long period of time? Can it support and reflect the tremendous diversity of human experience? Can it keep up with the rate at which the world changes? Can we accomplish this without filling landfills with needless waste? It’s a tall order.” Backyard’s homes will likely be at least partially prefabricated and fully integrate smart-home technologies to help meet the company’s sustainability goals. No design details have leaked out yet, but Backyard is hoping to unveil its first wave of prototypes for testing in fall of 2019.
The Downtown Los Angeles-based LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, a cultural center located in L.A.'s El Pueblo Historical Monument, is pushing for a new Mexican food-themed museum to open in early 2019. The museum, dubbed La Plaza Cocina, is slated for the forthcoming LA Plaza Village, a new, mixed-use affordable housing development designed by Johnson Fain. The 355-unit complex has been under construction since 2016 and is nearing completion. Designed with landscape architects SWA, the development will bring 71 low-income units to the area, as well a variety of neighborhood-serving retail and cultural spaces, including La Plaza Cocina. The Los Angeles Times reported that the new 2,500-square-foot museum will focus on the history and evolution of Mexican food, with a particular emphasis on the development of Mexican-American cuisines in the Southern California region. It will also house a demonstration kitchen and host programs, events, and exhibitions associated with Mexican food and culture in L.A. L.A.’s Rodrigo Vargas Design is designing the interiors for LA Plaza Cocina. “Los Angeles is the Mexican food capital of the country, and it deserves a place that celebrates the history and culture that we have with Mexican food.” John Echeveste, CEO of LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, told The Los Angeles Times. “It’s important, not only to Latino families, but anyone who eats.” Echeveste described the museum as a “multipurpose space centered around Mexican cuisine in all of its ramifications." It will even feature a separate specialty store on site where visitors can buy spices, foods, and cultural media. According to the report, the museum will offer a slate of cooking and history classes taught by some of the region's best and most well-known Mexican chefs. In the future, it will provide cross-cultural programming with Mexican chefs via live broadcast in Mexico. The entire development is slated for an early 2019 opening.
Amazon’s confirmation earlier this month that it would be dropping one half of its future campus in Long Island City (LIC), Queens, immediately drew condemnation from state representatives and a group of New York City’s elected officials. As the furor grew over Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to rezone a portion of LIC for the tech giant’s campus, Cuomo released an op-ed today where he hit back at critics of the plan and touted the economic growth that Amazon would bring to New York. Housing affordability had been a point of contention among critics of the $3 billion in subsidies that Amazon will be receiving, and a new report from Politico shows that Amazon’s campus will preclude the creation of 1,500 affordable housing units. Amazon’s investment in the city won’t be insignificant. According to the Office of the Mayor, the online retail behemoth is expected to create 25,000 new jobs by 2029, going up to 40,000 in 2034. In 2019, Amazon will take half-a-million square feet of office space at One Court Square (the Citigroup Building) while their 4-million-square-foot headquarters on the LIC waterfront is under construction. Once work wraps up in 2029, Amazon is expecting to potentially add another 4 million square feet to their campus by 2034. The site of this future development? Anable Basin, an industrial enclave currently owned by the plastic company Plaxall. Plaxall had been gearing up to enact a WXY-master-planned redevelopment of their 15-acre site that would have created 5,000 new residential units, 1,250 of them affordable. Developer TF Cornerstone was also set to build their own 250 affordable apartments on an adjacent site owned by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), but that project has also been subsumed. An Amazon spokesperson has confirmed to Politico that the no housing will be built on their Queens campus. Long Island City is home to the Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in the Western Hemisphere, but the official line from the de Blasio administration is that the Amazon campus will only be a net positive for the area. A spokesperson for the NYCEDC told Politico that HQ2 will buoy the neighborhood economically, and Mayor de Blasio seemed to agree. “One of the biggest companies on earth next to the biggest public housing development in the United States—the synergy is going to be extraordinary,” said de Blasio.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a motion this week to study the feasibility of reusing the county’s abandoned General Hospital for affordable, low-income, and mixed-use housing. The motion was authored by Supervisor Hilda L. Solis as part an initiative that aims to establish a “Healthy Village” in and around the University of Southern California medical campus that surrounds the defunct hospital. The approved motion authorizes the County to lead a detailed feasibility study and to craft a strategic plan with relevant parties to bring the initiative to life. As the “birthplace of emergency medicine,” the Art Deco–style Los Angeles County General Hospital was considered a state-of-the-art institution at the time of its opening in 1933. The 800-bed teaching hospital played a vital role in the community and earned the affectionate nickname “Great Stone Mother,” an allusion to the building’s cascading concrete hospital wings. The New Deal–era structure was built amid the Great Depression and was designed by the Allied Architects’ Association of Los Angeles, a consortium of local architects that took on various municipal projects across the region. The hospital facility is also notable for its relationship to the Chicano Movement of the 1970s and to the community organizing that occurred in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s, according to the Los Angeles Conservancy. The exterior of the complex is also notable for its appearance in the opening credits of the television show General Hospital. The facility was replaced after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake following the passage of updated structural codes that were passed in response to the disaster. It was replaced by an HOK-designed facility that opened in 2008. The General Hospital is joined by Charity Hospital in New Orleans as one of two major abandoned Art Deco–style hospitals in the United States. In a press release, Supervisor Solis said, “We must be innovative and audacious if we want to end the homelessness crisis and simultaneously increase affordable housing in the region.” Solis added, “Today’s action to transform the abandoned General Hospital into a marquee facility will not only breathe new life into this historic building, but it will also help our most vulnerable residents regain control of their lives. When I look at this iconic structure, I see much more than an architectural gem: I envision a thriving community facility proactively helping people suffering from homelessness and other disadvantages get back on their feet.” According to the approved motion, the completed report and feasibility study will be due back to the Board of Supervisors by fall 2019.
As the architecture industry’s chief lobbying organization, it’s the American Institute of Architects’ job to get the issues architects care about up to Capitol Hill. It hasn’t always made decisions that resonate with everyone on both sides of the aisle, such as its pledge to work with President Trump, and it's been accused of being too slow to respond to obvious problems instigated by the government, like the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent new rule on asbestos. But it has continued to battle in the political arena on behalf of architects across the country and revise its plans based on its constituents' goals. This year, as part of 2018 AIA President Carl Elefante’s vision, the AIA is urging architects to exercise their role as architect-activists and “take a seat at the table” in order to guide leadership at the local, state, and federal government levels on the future of American cities. Following last week’s midterm elections, the AIA held a “Post-Election Debrief” to outline six key issues it’s set to focus on as the new United States Congress takes shape. Affordable Housing It’s no secret that many cities across the country are experiencing an affordable housing crisis. From Naples to New York, Los Angeles to Salt Lake City, it’s harder than ever to find reasonable rent and mortgages for the nation's low-income families. The AIA wants to expand the current Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) and push for a similar program catered to middle-income households. Proposed by Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the Middle-Income Housing Tax Credit would allow participating states the chance to receive federal tax credits based on population with 60 percent of units saved within a rental property for residents earning up to the median area income. Some see this motion as an unnecessary waste of federal resources, as it takes away from the poorest of the poor, and argue that changing exclusionary zoning laws would have essentially the same impact. Sustainability Numerous American cities have committed to reducing energy consumption by 2030 in an effort to comply with the 2016 Paris Agreement to combat climate change. New York’s own grand goal is to cut 80 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To do so, the city must focus on retrofitting its existing buildings with energy efficient materials. The AIA says it will continue to back legislation that helps developers do this, though right now, it’s a very costly task. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1), which passed last December, does a lot to incentivize property improvements for individual-income business owners. However, it raises the after-tax cost of retrofitting a building for energy improvements. To combat this, the AIA believes such investment should be credited as a “qualified improvement property,” so more property owners will be interested in greening their standing structures. Resilience Natural disasters are wreaking havoc on coastal American cities and beyond. Each hurricane, wildfire, and tornado season brings more devastation than the year before. While architects can’t control Mother Nature, they can support in-need communities in numerous ways once disaster strikes. The AIA seeks to expand its Safety Assessment Program (SAP) in order to train more architects with the skills necessary to analyze buildings post-hurricane, windstorm, or flood. Additionally, Congress passed the Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA) last month which gives states more room to manage post-disaster rebuilding efforts, as well as greater investment in preventing serious damage from occurring in the first place. Through a new National Public Infrastructure Pre-Disaster Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, communities can plan and build resiliency projects with fair federal funding. School Safety Mass shootings are a nationwide epidemic. Architects may not have much jurisdiction over the design and security of nightclubs, open concert venues, or religious institutions, but they can impart their expertise into the future of educational architecture. This August, the AIA launched its school safety initiative, calling for schools to receive more federal funding and grants for architectural and design services. The AIA also wants the government to help create a new public resource full of best practices and design guidelines for architects to use in order to mitigate violence in schools through well-thought design. AIA representatives have spoken out on this matter already at the White House and in front of the U.S. Department of Education as well as Homeland Security. The new Sandy Hook Elementary School designed by Svigals + Partners opened this fall and has been lauded as a prime example of the kind of “open architecture” now needed for 21st-century schools. The AIA plans to introduce legislation on safe school design to the new Congress in the coming year. Architecture Firms A section of the federal tax code forces a high tax on any foreign entity investing in a U.S. commercial real estate property if they supply up to a certain percentage of funds. This law, called the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA), was enacted in 1980 and partially repealed by Congress in 2015. The AIA believes it still stops new projects and jobs from reaching architecture firms by discouraging investment in local communities. The AIA is urging Congressional leaders to sign as cosponsor of the Invest in America Act, which would fully repeal FIRPTA and potentially bring 147,000 to 284,000 new jobs to the U.S. economy while providing hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in infrastructure, affordable housing, and more. Student Loan Debt In 2013, the AIA and the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) introduced the bipartisan National Design Services Act to help emerging architectural professionals with student loan assistance in exchange for community service. According to the bill, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would either reimburse students on their tuition who worked in underprivileged areas on public projects or provide grants for internships at community design centers. The bill was reintroduced to Congress in 2015 but has sat stagnant since. The AIA is asking architects to write into their local Congressperson to educate them on the initiative and call attention to how the student debt problem affects rising architects. To learn more about these issues and contact your local Congressperson, visit the AIA’s Architect Action Center.
Habitat for Humanity recently announced that an upcoming 23-acre affordable housing development in East Naples, Florida, will be built with a concrete border wall. According to NBC2 News, residents within the nearby communities have called for a physical barrier separating the already-existing neighborhoods from the new property. The proposed development, Regal Acres II, is slated for construction within a secluded area off Greenway Road in East Naples, near the East Tamiami Trail. This particular plot of land is surrounded by lakes, preserves, and other green space. It’s parent site, Regal Acres, was built from 2010 to 2015 and is located next door. When the nonprofit housing group called for an area rezoning earlier this summer, locals started complaining that once complete, there’d be too much affordable housing in the area. Some said such projects aren’t evenly distributed across the county, while others said additional housing would ramp up traffic congestion and hinder commute times. Not only that, but per the Naples Daily News, local residents don’t want to see cars parked on lawns, a complaint inspired by past frustrations at the first Regal Acres neighborhood. Nearby homeowners also worry the new development, and its residents, will infringe on their privacy. Nick Kouloheras, president of Habitat for Humanity of Collier County, told NBC2 that throughout the community input process, several other concessions were made to please nearby residents and gain approval for the project, but finding a solution to the rising concerns over superfluous low-cost housing was the most difficult. Habitat negotiated the construction of an 8-foot-tall solid wall on the north and south ends of the property connected by a chain-link fence. The Collier County City Commission made a unanimous decision in late October to approve the rezoning and the build-out of Regal Acres II. According to Kouloheras, the addition of the perimeter barrier not only blocks future low-income families from easily connecting with other neighbors, it also bumps up the overall price of the project. “These concessions that we made are to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Kouloheras told NBC2. “There are some families we will not be able to help because of those concessions.” Naples has been long-known as one of the most affluent cities in South Florida. But the reality is that 40 percent of Collier County residents can’t afford to live there; the cost of buying and maintaining a home is too high, especially with the threat of destruction due to hurricanes. The community is on the brink of an affordable housing crisis, and city officials are seeking ways to fix the problem such as increasing density or offering housing incentive programs. For 40 years, Habitat for Humanity of Collier County has been building such solutions. They’ve completed over 1,700 homes in Naples and the adjacent Immokalee community since their inception in 1978. Regal Acres II, expected to begin construction in the summer of 2021, is one of 15 affordable neighborhoods that they’ve built, renovated, or planned over the years. Many of those have been heavily contested by the public.
A growing housing affordability crisis in cities across the country is spurring new community-based movements that work to protect the rights of tenants. A janitor named Socrates Guzman, with the help of the Boston-based grassroots organization City Life, successfully fought a major rent increase. He is now a local community organizer, committed to improving rent control laws in favor of existing leaseholders. Araceli Barrer, a housekeeper, worked with Colorado Homes for All to fight her own eviction and won. She is now trying to push a bill in the state legislature to allow tenants to withhold rent under certain conditions. In Chicago, the Autonomous Tenants Union defends and enforces the right to dignified housing through a group of core volunteers. They seek to "end all evictions" and fight for "community control of housing through the building of popular power.” In Los Angeles, tenant advocates forced a housing initiative to be placed on the November ballot that would allow for the expansion of current rent control laws. Others are not so patient. In one Central Los Angeles neighborhood, two hundred families in three separate buildings banded together and refused to pay rent until their demands are met. They decried stiff rent increases while they continued to live in the poorly maintained buildings. The Los Angeles Tenants Union, composed of volunteer organizers and a legal entity known as the Eviction Defense Network, assists the residents in their fight to win concessions from the landlord. In Colorado, the state legislature has even considered formalizing the rent strike process. Rent strikes, however, have had mixed results. In 2016, tenants in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles lost a court battle after a lengthy strike that resulted in mass evictions and redevelopment of the area. It’s also not easy to find new housing with an eviction on your record and petty landlords often make life painful by turning off the hot water and electricity. Developers argue that limiting the ability of landlords to charge market rents only leads to less housing being built and furthering the housing crisis. Some cities like San Fransisco, Los Angeles, and New York are providing free legal representation for tenants facing eviction. Cities have found that it is cheaper to offer free legal fees to tenants than to provide additional shelters for the newly homeless.