Week 6 Readings: Banking On Vacancy

Part of the narrative presented in Picture The Homeless’ report defines and then partially quantifies the relationship between homelessness, vacant lots and housing creation; and offers recommendations on how to transform vacant lots in an equitable and inclusive way. The report also calls for government to record the number of vacant lots and advocates for accessible aggregate level data on vacancies in order to foster information sharing and advocacy. A visual representation in the form of mapping would serve this end well.

As the report points out, government policy incentivizes and protects real estate speculation and attempts to justify warehousing by stating “development in our city requires that some property be temporarily held off the market to assemble development opportunities”. While this may be true, there is clearly a lack of regulation and oversight with regard to this practice as “temporarily”, the report says, can be thirty years or more, allowing for few to benefit at the expense of many more.

The report states that regardless of market conditions, two constants remain: a steady increase in homelessness and the privatization of vacant property, be­cause housing is a commodity. Homelessness is increasing; 40,000 have entered homeless shelters last year. These figures do not account for street homeless, overcrowded housing, domestic violence shelter system.

Identifying vacant lots and visualizing their abundance in New York City is an important early step in the process of drawing attention to the problem, it’s correlation to homelessness, and highlighting the opportunity costs, both in financial and human terms, associated with these vacant lots and buildings. Mapping public –owned vacant lots and buildings, and then advocating that they be turned into public housing can serve to narrow the focus of community groups. If the information is attainable, mapping that visualizes the amount of time lots and buildings have been vacant or abandoned can also help to prioritize advocacy efforts to utilize these spaces to serve the community where they are.

Some things to think about: 

Since money is what, to a great extent, guides policy in regard to vacant lots and buildings, what sort of designs can produce an economically sustainable, socially inclusive, yet profitable model that utilizes mixed use, multifunctional design strategies?

Considering the barriers to creating change in and through policy, how can design compliment, change, and/or inspire policy reform and accountability? To begin with, how can research and design help communicate the need to address the housing crisis?

Policy created the housing crisis through dis-investment in low-income housing development, withdrawal of funds for rental subsidies and stagnant and declining wages. Can policy alone fix it?

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