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			    About Affordable Housing]
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"There is a certain amount of irony in the term "affordable housing". It implies that our concept of "normal" housing is housing that is unaffordable. And in actuality that is the current reality for most of the people in the world."


The ProHousing Project

A New Way To Think About
Affordable Housing



The time has finally come in American history when the average American cannot afford a house. Most families who hang onto their dream are either quite wealthy or have two or more persons financially contributing to the expense of owning a house. It's quite a shock to realize that we Americans, who are world-known for our wonderful houses, may have to average out with the rest of the world's population and limit our possessions to a reasonable amount in order to fit into the new world economy. We have had an edge on the rest of the world with our vast, untapped resources, and what we didn't already have, we freely helped ourselves to -- from third-world countries, who were all too anxious to sell them at bargain prices in order to survive. Now our resources have been tapped to the hilt, we are running out of land, timber, oil, steel and even water. Prices of resources in these third-world countries are also soaring as their economies grow stronger.

Paradoxically, our houses are becoming increasingly large and more expensive, while at the same time people are losing their homes and living in wretched circumstances in the streets, in their cars, under bridges, etc. Their options are few, either to try to afford an unaffordable home or to be homeless. The numbers of homeless people are staggering and yet many of these same people have incomes but still fall considerably short of the ability to live in simple dignity. Part of the problem is that the minimum standards for house size set by historical precedents and current real estate markets are far too high, and property densities are far too low. The reason that housing is beyond our means is simply that our present concept of a proper house is one that is too big and too expensive for us to afford. We are holding on to a dream that no longer exists. This dream is based on the conditions of fifty years ago, when land was cheap and plentiful, energy was not a problem and interest rates were 4%.

There is a certain amount of irony in the term "affordable housing". It implies that our concept of "normal" housing is housing that is unaffordable. And in actuality that is the current reality for most of the people in the world. Our population is quickly increasing and the spread of suburban development is overtaking our precious croplands and wilderness. Sooner or later population densities will increase on our planet whether we like it or not. In many Third World nations this has already happened. The Latin American favelas and barrios -- vast shanty towns on the edges of urban centers, the millions of squatters in the garbage dumps of Mexico and the Philippines are examples of conditions so totally out of control that they are ignored by governments too overwhelmed by the situation to do anything about it. By acting now we can direct our development to a sensible solution and avoid the horrors of runaway, survival development.

About twenty years ago I was hired to design a plan for a house that was to be "low cost housing". I was excited to be able to make a contribution to a problem I was passionately in touch with, but that excitement soon dissolved when I saw the program I was to follow. The builder's answer to low cost housing was a standard three bedroom, bath and a half house with carport, -- exactly the same as every other tract house that was built at the time, but designed to be constructed of cheap, low quality materials. I often wonder what those houses look like today.

It is now time for the whole subject of housing to be re-examined and new options to be offered. Pro-Housing would like to take the initiative of offering several "scenarios" for new directions in housing, addressing the immediate problem of housing the homeless, then looking at what sensible housing should look like in the future. With a problem as immense as this, there is a tendency to involve time and energy in making studies of the situation, rather than develop practical solutions. Enough studies have already been done so that we know what the problems are, and what the magnitude of the situation is. Our intention is to start on the practical end of the process by creating solutions immediately.

We are working on a new concept of housing, complete with designs. We are proposing changes in zoning, building codes, property tax structure, and mortgage lending practices. We hope to encourage dialogue and actions that will effect a shift in attitudes about housing and open up new possibilities.

There are some people who think that to have a large house full of costly possessions for which one has to commit almost one's whole livelihood, at the risk of losing everything when the cash flow flutters, is a high form of sophisticated insanity. There are others who feel very confident of their capacity to be able to continually afford such a lifestyle. Some people choose to make a modest income and adjust the expense of their possessions to allow a large enough margin of comfort so that a larger amount of their energy is left over to give ample time to such important things like spending time with their children, artistic or spiritual pursuits, or just plain having fun. Other people like to take risks and live beyond their means. The line between these two extremes varies greatly with each individual. We believe that everybody should have the freedom to choose the level at which they can live comfortably, including those who choose to live extravagantly or minimally.


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ProHousing Main Page The Issues Zoning & Planning
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ProHousing - Copyright 1991, 1999 by Ron Konzak
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rkonzak@konzak.com


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