Blogsplaining. Is that a thing? I think it is. It’s a close cousin to Rebecca Solnit’s mansplaining. Blogsplaining is the use of logic to solve an obvious problem, but without acknowledging the cultural imperatives that make the solution impossible to implement. In other words, blogsplaining is the thankless task of solving a problem no one wants you to solve.
Here’s a post by a friend in Sonoma County who blogsplains the affordable housing situation in his town. What’s really needed, he states, are lots of small discrete rental units tucked away amidst the cottages and bungalows of an ordinary residential neighborhood. An attic apartment here, a garage apartment there, a duplex or triplex around the corner, and every once in a while a modest four or six unit building. The Norman Rockwell examples from a pre World War II streetscape are very compelling. This is how Americans built almost every town a few generations ago. But all of it – every last scrap – is currently illegal and impossible to replicate.
Why? Because existing property owners don’t want affordable housing anywhere near them. More to the point, they don’t want the low income people who would occupy the units. They don’t want the parked cars littering the streets. They don’t want the traffic congestion. They don’t want the crime. They don’t want their children interacting with the children of renters… It’s a long list. And I was told by the local mayor that every new person who takes up residence in town costs the municipality money and is an additional burden to the taxpayers. So it’s a problem that no one in any position of authority wants to solve. The fact that the problem could be solved is irrelevant.
Another friend blogs about his neighborhood in suburban Los Angeles. This post illustrates how many towns are locked in to a lose/lose dynamic that satisfies no one. A neighbor was distraught that the house next door was installing a two story infill accessory dwelling unit in the back yard. All the trees and vegetation were removed and the site was made barren and ugly. The new construction was devastating his family’s right to privacy, blocking the sun, and generally degrade his property and lifestyle.
When I looked at the photos I worked out why each thing was being done. In order to build a backyard cottage two additional covered off street parking spaces were required. In order to fit a two car garage on the property the apartment had to be stacked above the parking. And in order to get the cars in to the garage all the vegetation along the side yard had to be removed to accommodate a driveway. Had a small cottage been built without parking the neighbor would have been far less impacted. And the administrative complexity and costs required to build this sort of infill housing is daunting, so professional investors tend to build them rather than ordinary mom and pop homeowners. Plus the high construction costs makes the units overly expensive.
The entire point, from the neighbor’s perspective, is that no infill should have ever been allowed in a single family zone in the first place, and certainly not a rental unit which is incompatible with respectable families. Norman Rockwell and Ozzie and Harriet are mutually exclusive. The society that built Mayberry no longer exists.
Yet another friend in LA has been blogging about the ubiquitous homeless camps in his neighborhood and how everything the city does (or doesn’t do) makes the situation worse – at enormous expense. The persistent lack of new smaller less expensive accommodations coupled with all sorts of other decades-long structural changes in the economy have created a homeless crisis. And the homeless population isn’t evenly distributed across LA. Palos Verdes, Century City, Bel Air, and Beverly Hills are relentless in their removal of undesirables. Fair-to-middling Van Nuys? It tends to absorb more than its share. His proposed solution is to gather up the homeless and relocate them.
“I am not opposed to using the Prop. H tax to pay relocation costs to the Rust Belt, or any place which would take them.”
“At the Sherman Oaks bridge housing meeting someone suggested a sober living trailer city in the Antelope Valley. If people are serious about addressing the personal crises driving addiction and self-defeat, this is not a bad idea.”
“I think we can agree a trailer compound would have to be well off the beaten path. Not downtown Palmdale. Something like Slab City, but with structure. There’s a lot of rural space up off the 138 in northern LA county.”
Ah yes. I can see the good people of Youngstown, Ohio and Antelope Acres so eager to receive steady flows of Los Angeles’s broken cast offs. How totally unlike Palos Verdes and Century City playing whack-a-mole and pushing the homeless over to Van Nuys… I wonder if my friend is aware of how heavily armed the folks in Antelope Acres are. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. Fun!
Here’s what tends to get built. The structure is large enough that parking decks, elevators, fire sprinklers, and all the other required features are incorporated and amortized within the project. It’s on a bus line, it has some street level retail, and the companies that built them can navigate the endless entitlement fiasco. There’s also plenty of financing available for these places since they conform to the standard profiles of institutional investors. But it’s always really expensive relative to a simple backyard cottage or attic apartment from a previous era.
So here’s how genuinely affordable housing is being supplied by the market instead. This is a horse trailer that’s been converted to a studio apartment. Take a closer look.
What’s really needed to house someone? A roof and walls. Light and ventilation. Heat. And basic sanitation. These accommodations are as bare bones or as stylish as the people involved wish them to be. These sub rosa adaptations are absolutely everywhere in high demand high cost areas. They’re carved out by property owners and eagerly embraced by renters. They’re inexpensive to build, easily dismantled if circumstances change, and blend in with their surroundings. Assuming folks are quiet and well behaved (and they have every inducement to keep a low profile) the arrangement can go on for quite some time. It all depends on how well the neighbors tolerate the particulars. In many cases the neighbors are engaged in something similar.
Here I am blogsplaining a work-around to the problems we don’t want to solve. These examples can’t be embraced by anyone (officially) because they’re so repugnant. And yet this is how the housing crisis is being addressed one illegal substandard patch at a time.