Everything exists in some kind of context, setting, or environment. Ecology is the study of the relationship between organisms and their environments. Part of any human being’s environment is a dwelling place or home. Human ecology, then, includes the issue of housing. The term “housing” often implies social problems that keep people from the kind of homes they need.
“Food, clothing and shelter,” are often considered the basic needs of human beings. They are also basic considerations in describing and measuring poverty. Immediate questions can be raised. What is the basis for considering these rights “basic” and “required”? Whose responsibility is it to provide these rights to every child and human being? Humanitarian relief efforts to devastated populations come with food/water, shelter if required in a particular climate, and clothing as such is needed.
Considering the healthy socialization of a child, must we expand these three basics? Are not medical attention and education also necessary for becoming a healthy, fulfilled human being—able to grow into a person who can support self and a family?
Here, housing will be considered in terms of the well-being of a community. Deteriorating accommodations, lack of water or waste management, old paint giving children lead poisoning and lessened brain functioning, not only handicap a child, but contribute to the rise of crime and dysfunction in a community.
Criminologists and a former NYC mayor raised “a broken window theory.” It maintains that the condition of housing, especially the neglect of repairs, and the overlooking of minor crimes in a given neighborhood give rise to deeper crime. That maintaining property and enforcing laws against minor offenses like public drinking and vandalism, will reduce serious crime and allow for positive community development. Some have objected to this theory because they see it as elitist and paternalistic.
This topic raises further questions. Can we provide very simple and small shelter for the homeless of our streets who will accept and maintain such a space? To what extent should government provide adequate housing for poor citizens? How can government and business or private initiatives such as housing trusts help solve housing crises? How can the poor begin to take ownership and responsibility for the condition and beauty of their neighborhood?
The housing topic here (CYS’ Infopedia) focuses particularly on urban housing related to poverty. Brooking Institute’s Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube in their book, Confronting Suburban Poverty (2013), note that poverty has been moving from inner cities to the suburbs: “Nearly 16.4 million poor people now reside in suburban communities, compared to 13.4 million poor people in big cities and 7.3 million people in rural areas” (Tracey Ross, 2013, June 5, “Addressing Urban Poverty in America Must Remain a Priority”).
Such an exodus from inner cities is spurred by urban gentrification. This suburban migration is more prevalent among the White and Latino populations than Black. And it is complicating housing dilemmas for both urban and suburban poor.
Housing mortgages for the poor have been manipulated to bring quick profits to realtors and economic disaster to those who have spent a lifetime climbing out of poverty. Ta-Nehesi Coates has dramatically detailed such schemes using the example of upwardly striving Black Chicagoans exploited and ruined by unscrupulous relaters and mortgagers (“The Case for Reparations”).
Affordable housing is admittedly a divisive issue. Law professor, Michael Lewyn, at Plantetizen blogs, “Affordable Housing Is Two Separate Issues” (2014, Jan. 18). First, he sees the issue of housing approached in two contrasting political ways:
Liberal: “We need more government spending to create affordable housing for the poor.”
Conservative: “If we just had less government intervention, our city would be affordable, just like Houston and dozens of other cities—and then we wouldn’t need government subsides.”
He goes on to describe fellow middle- and even upper-middle class New Yorkers forced to live outside the city “by skyrocketing rents.” He suggests what others are beginning to argue: “more private sector housing construction”—that regulations be decreased so more housing could increase supply and reduce prices.
Lewyn sees the housing crisis of the poor as a very different issue. The desperately poor and the homeless “need public housing or significant government subsidies” to provide them with adequate shelter.
In sum, the issue of “affordable housing” is two separate and very different problems—housing for the middle class and housing for the poor. It seems to me that remedies for one problem will not work for the other. (“Affordable Housing Is Two Separate Issues”)
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Have the scenes of homeless sleeping on the street or of a crowded shantytown in another country ever raised deep emotions in you? What brings you to this topic?
What is your reaction to this introductory or overview article on the issue of housing? What would you criticize, suggest or question?
Do you strongly believe in basic human rights for all human beings—especially infants, children and youth?
How can severe housing problems hinder other efforts of community development such as adequate medical services and education?
What more would you like to know and discuss about this issue? How much of that can be found in articles and resources to the right of this page?
How might you involve others in discussion of housing improvement and community development?
We believe that housing and home ownership are important aspects of community health and development.
To the detriment of our economy and democracy, we are moving toward greater and greater disparity financially, housing and community wise.
As with many other crucial social issues, collaboration among community institutions, churches and all religious bodies, academic and business institutions, along with government, is needed to deal with the social welfare of inner cities.
All societies need the important strengths, resources and contributions of the poor to maintain economic, social, and religious vitality.