As city budgets tightened post-2008, some governments turned to privatization to construct affordable housing.
But there are other policy options for cities to ensure affordable housing for its residents, say researchers in a recent white paper from the Center for Social & Urban Research at University of Pittsburgh:
In the near term, Pittsburgh leaders can take the following steps to advance these goals,
and many of these are already included in the recommendations of the City’s Affirmatively
Furthering Fair Housing Task Force Recommendations:
• Prohibit—at city and county levels—source of income discrimination by landlords.
• Establish affordable housing preservation program, task force, and plans to ensure
permanent affordability of publicly subsidized developments.
• Enact policies to reduce financial speculation in the housing sector and improve
transparency and anti-corruption measures.
• Establish fair taxation policies to provide needed public resources.
Policy makers at global and other levels of government are recognizing the need to
protect local housing by delinking it from global financial markets and shifting away from
privatization. Around the world, cities and communities are building momentum for the
de-marketization, or decommodification of housing and other public goods.
For instance, Berlin residents recently passed a referendum to “remunicipalize” the housing
stock of large real estate companies. Large corporate landlords are to be compensated
at rates well below market prices, and a democratically structured nonprofit public
institution will administer this common property. Communities elsewhere are looking to
replicate that model.75 Cities around the world (including Pittsburgh) have already begun
to “remunicipalize” public utilities such as water in the face of dramatic failures by private
entities to ensure the health and safety of residents.
There are a number of other promising models for transforming our approach to housing,
treating it not as a source of private profit but rather as community wealth building. For
instance, community land trusts can help stabilize housing prices by delinking land prices
from global markets and providing greater community control over land use.
Cooperative housing allows residents to own their homes while keeping housing prices
affordable. Public policies must be put in place to provide financing and to otherwise
support these and other non-market housing options.