Reviews | Gardening tips, homelessness solutions and charter school questions

In the seven months since I started this newsletter, I have received thousands of emails from readers. These led to extensive correspondences with all sorts of people that pushed my thinking in significant ways. Today I want to thank everyone who has written and publicly responded to some emails, which I will try to do on a fairly regular basis. I have always envisioned this newsletter as a dialogue between you and me, so if you have any concerns or thoughts or even just endless praise, email me at kang-newsletter[email protected]

The first email is from a reader named Ramon, who sent a response to an article I wrote last week about potential slums in California:

The issue of homelessness is not new or obscure in the United States. At the very root of the problem is the affordability of permanent housing as well as its availability. Many cities have been able to address the problem by offering cheap (affordable) housing finance programs that aim to address the financial weakness of those most likely to become homeless. In Singapore, the Housing Development Board (HDB) acts as a provident fund that raises funds from all sectors of the population and provides access to affordable housing (which includes building and selling homes). He is socialized. Not a private initiative. In the United States, however, the mere mention of public housing is given a label of socialism and is therefore evil.

Housing, especially in California, is expensive. Even financially savvy people with paid jobs struggle to make their mortgage payments. It doesn’t help that interest rates are about to start rising and for what seems like a very long time. Inflation is real and it is high time the government of the wealthiest nation on the planet did more for the most vulnerable.

It’s the only viable long-term solution.

Hi Ramon,

Your note touches on one of the major dilemmas of California’s housing crisis. There is almost no political appetite to build social housing. Even units that have been approved and have land purchased for construction are in a state of uncertainty due to a truly byzantine permitting and funding system that makes it difficult to put a shovel in the ground. (I recommend reading this NBC Bay Area Survey in this issue.) There are tons of reasons why politicians are reluctant to ask for more social housing – it’s expensive and landlords don’t want it near them.

Also, the term “public housing” conjures up places like Pruitt Igoe in Saint-Louis, a 33-tower complex that lasted only about 20 years before being demolished. There is also the infamous Cabrini Green in Chicago, who has become the avatar of countless tales of poverty and crime. Given all of this, social housing is a tough sell for politicians and as a result we have seen the number of units across the country decline over the past 30 years.

This puts housing activists, policymakers and politicians in a bind. For those of us who believe there needs to be more social housing (that includes me), should we really be putting all of our effort into a goal that may ultimately be unattainable? Or should we side with more market-oriented thinkers who just want to build more housing, period, in the hope that greater overall housing supply will lead to lower overall rents?

Terri S. Tomasini