In this Cities@Tufts presentation, we explore Real Estate for Radicals. A near consensus has developed in the US that there is a housing affordability crisis, it has done so while seemingly circumventing a debate about who deserves housing. The UN Declaration on Human Rights is quite clear on this point: housing is a human right and thus all humans deserve housing. The Real Estate for Radicals project features case study-based research on affordable community-owned housing (co-ops, community land trusts, communes, and squats) and their potential to advance housing as a human right. By studying 5 communities and their residents, this presentation will consider the extent to which these urban housing communities advance the principles of equality, liberation, and justice for the residents and the larger community.
Below you’ll find the graphic recording, audio, video, and transcript from “Real Estate for Radicals” presented by Erin Graves on January 25th, 2023.
Real Estate for Radicals by Anke Dregnet
About the presenter
Erin Graves is a Senior Policy Analyst and Advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. I research housing and other policies that combat and create disadvantages. Graves received a Doctorate in Urban Planning and Sociology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Masters in Planning from the University of Illinois, Chicago. Graves has published numerous book chapters, white papers, and in Housing Policy Debate, Journal of the American Planning Association, City & Community, and Urban Education. She also manages the Visiting Scholar program at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston
About the series
Shareable is partnering with Tufts University on this special series hosted by professor Julian Agyeman (Co-chair of Shareable’s Board) and Cities@Tufts. Initially designed for Tufts students, faculty, and alumni, the colloquium has been opened up to the public with the support of Shareable, and The Kresge Foundation.
Cities@Tufts Lectures explores the impact of urban planning on our communities and the opportunities to design for greater equity and justice.
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“Real Estate for Radicals” Transcript
Erin Graves: [00:00:06] Living in an alternative housing environment — what does that do for individual development? Is that household able to thrive and do well in terms of household’s financial stability and social stability? It’s also very curious to scholars what happens with civic development. Do these alternative housing programs and environments create the right setting for people to become more politically active, engaged citizens? And then the community development question — what do these alternative housing schemes, how do they fit in with the rest of the community? And the main question there is do they detract from value by creating some sort of alternative way in the real estate market?
Tom Llewellyn: [00:00:41] How are informal and formal spaces enabling radical democracy? Can we counter displacement through collective memory? And does public space have the capacity to authentically support community restoration and emancipation? These are just a few of the questions we’re exploring this season on Cities@Tufts Lectures — a free live event and podcast series where we explore the impact of urban planning on our communities and the opportunities to design for greater equity and justice. I’m Tom Llewellyn.
[00:01:09] Today on the show, we’re featuring Erin Graves’s Lecture Real Estate for Radicals. In addition to this audio version, you can watch the video, check out the graphic recording, and read the full transcript on sharable.net. And while you’re there, please take some time to get caught up on all of our past lectures and our ever-expanding library of stories, podcasts, how-to guides, and other resources. And now here’s guest host Professor Julian Hollander, who will welcome you to the Cities#@Tufts Spring Colloquium and introduce today’s lecture.
Julian Hollander: [00:01:54] All right, guys. Well, thank you so much, everyone, for joining us today. Thank you for those online as well. We’re happy to be able to run today as a hybrid event. So I’m Justin Hollander and I’m a professor here at Tufts in the Department of Urban Environmental Policy and Planning. So this is the Cities@Tufts Colloquium, and we have our partners Shareable, the Kresge Foundation, the Barr Foundation. And Professor Julian Agyeman, who is joining us online today, together with his research assistants Caitlin McLennan and Deandra Boyle, they organize Cities@Tufts. It’s a cross-disciplinary academic initiative which recognizes Tufts University as a leader in urban studies, urban planning and sustainability issues. We’d like to acknowledge that Tufts University Medford Campus is located on colonized Wampanoag in Massachusetts, traditional territory.
[00:02:50] And today, we are delighted to welcome Dr. Erin Graves. Erin is a visiting scholar here at EUP at Tufts and she’s also a senior policy analyst and advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. She conducts research on housing and other policies that combat disadvantage. Erin has a doctorate in urban planning and sociology from MIT and a Master’s in planning from University of Illinois, Chicago.
[00:03:19] I’ve known Erin for many years and she and I have collaborated on a bunch of research projects. So it was really just so wonderful for me that we were able to get her to be a visiting scholar here this year. And I’m really excited to hear about what she’s talking about today at the session. So we’re going to give her about a half an hour to tell her story. And then really, the rest of our hour together is for Q&A and discussion.
Erin Graves: [00:03:45] Thank you, everybody, for coming. And thank you for the many people who were involved in putting this together — Julian, the folks at Shareable, there are just a lot of folks on these emails as we’re trying to put this together. So I’m very grateful for all of their labor and putting this together. As Justin said, I’m Erin Graves. I’m super excited to be talking to you today about this project. I’m going to talk fast because I somehow decided a little more than a half an hour. And this picture I just chose because my wonderful colleague took it and some of these hands are mine. But this is a picture from the folks in community development in my department at the Boston Fed.
[00:04:19] And first, two disclaimers. One, this is a work in progress. I’m here — I’m so delighted to be here as a visiting scholar to work on this project. So I’m making headway in the project. We’re going to talk about that. But much more importantly, I really need to disclaim from my institution that these ideas are my own and they do not represent the Federal Reserve Bank or the Federal Reserve Board.
[00:04:43] So I do a lot of introductory research thinking about how to introduce this problem, and it seems like any article I pick up from any era, we’re in housing prices. And so I want to talk about different housing prices and how they’re framed and how the contemporary one might differ. So in the early 20th century, as America urbanized and folks realized that we needed much more places for people to stay than we had available, we had the tenements — the problem there was overcrowding and the unsafe and unsanitary conditions that were a result of that. And most moral actors in the system disavowed unsafe, unsanitary and deadly conditions. And we had policies to eradicate those types of conditions.
[00:05:27] Then in the mid-20th century — these are extremely familiar maps. Who knows what this map is of? Yes, Chicago, it’s very specific. Redlining. That was a discriminatory practice where folks of color and in certain neighborhoods were not able to lend both for homeownership and for business purposes, which is devastating to those neighborhoods. But once again, most moral actors, at least publicly, really disavow discrimination and say it is not — it doesn’t have a place in the contemporary market. And again, there are lots of policies to try to combat that, not that effective, as we know.
[00:06:00] And then the following crisis in the 21st century, we have the foreclosure crisis.The problem here, among other problems, was predatory lending. Really targeting certain households for loans with unfavorable terms under conditions they really could not handle. And once again, we have policy actors saying this isn’t okay. The Dodd-Frank Act to try to control this behavior.
[00:06:23] And now, this crisis — and I’m calling this the mid-21st century. I’m a little eager on that one, but I wasn’t sure how to label it. This is the crisis of affordability, and many people attribute this crisis of affordability to a twinfold problem. The twinfold problem is that we have property rights — so property is a commodity that people can buy and sell on the market. It is folks’ nest egg. It is their source of wealth on the individual level. On the corporate level, the housing sector is an enormous sector of the economy. And so property rights and the buying and selling of property is something that is part of the system in a way many people endorse.
[00:06:59] And the second source of our affordability problem, many people say, is zoning. As we know, single family zoning doesn’t enable the kind of density that we need, both to keep people in cities as well as keep costs down. Unlike these other crises, this crisis, unfortunately aligns with our value system. As I sort of alluded to here. We are okay with private property, and zoning is highly contentious — many people prize their single-family homes with lots of acronyms to describe those folks in that behavior.
[00:07:32] So more about this housing crisis — it’s economically based, as I said. But I also want to say that from a market perspective, that the way that the housing market works today, if we say it’s part of capitalism, which is a popular thing to say, it actually preys on it. And the affordability aspect actually preys on the lowest form of capitalism. So capitalism — I work for a market institution very fond of capitalism — capitalism works along three dimensions in order to create growth. It creates growth through efficiency — so making things cheaper, faster and better is a way it makes growth. It makes growth through innovation, making things that are better than the thing before — I like to use the telephone 100 years ago. What was the telephone? Look at it now. This is innovation and this is efficiency. And that’s how we get these terrible devices that were glued to.
[00:08:23] Unfortunately, housing — the main way that housing works in the market today is through scarcity, through supply and demand, that there’s more demand than there is supply because the supply is controlled. And even card-carrying capitalists don’t like this. They don’t think this is the right way to get growth. And certainly there’s plenty of capitalists, builders who would vastly prefer to get more efficiency by eradicating zoning. So it’s not as simple as saying, Oh, it’s a problem capitalism, it’s a problem of a particular kind of constraint we’ve put around housing and capitalism.
[00:08:57] If you saw this photo, you would see an old-timey photo of a person putting up a building for sale. It says for sale. This building for sale for rent in whole or part. This person is absolutely desperate to be apart of the economy, of buying and selling property. But I want to just highlight this phrase that you sell the earth. So we have this 6 billion-year-old planet we live on, and we’ve just decided right now to parcel it out to the highest bidder for whoever happens to be occupying it now. And they can have that in perpetuity. So it seems a little strange to me that we’ve taken this planet and heard the land acknowledgement sand here we parceled it out for profit. Let’s talk about some alternatives.
[00:09:46] So an alternative is to decommodify housing. What do I mean by that? What are the types? Typically, there are several types of decommodified housing. That’s where there’s some divorce between the ability to make money off of property and the right to live there. There are community land trusts — the land is owned by the community, what’s on top is negotiable. The structures on top are negotiable. Limited equity cooperatives — these are cooperatives where costs are constrained in order to promote affordability and shared equity ownership is a huge variety of schemes that enables lots of people to participate in the purchase and therefore keeping the costs lower. So affordability is maintained through shared-ownership across the community, across many actors and through cost constraints. Almost all these models, you can buy into it, but when you buy out of it, you are really limited in how much money you can make off of it, and that’s to pass that affordability on to the next household.
[00:10:47] Okay, theory for alternative housing. Another quiz: how many housing units do you think there are in the United States?
Audience: [00:10:57] Eighty million?
Erin Graves: [00:10:58] Eighty million from Professor Hollander. Anyone else?
Audience: [00:11:02] How about one-hundred and twenty million?
Erin Graves: [00:11:04] Much closer, sir. Yes. It’s about 140 million housing units in the United States. And these alternative housing units I’m talking about, I think saying there’s 500,000 is a stretch. So in terms of the how common these are, they’re not common. But I think that’s actually a case to talk about how interesting it is that they endure despite how unusual they are. There’s also — given their relative infrequency, there’s a lot written about alternative housing. Living in an alternative housing environment — what does that do for individual development? Is that household able to thrive and do well in terms of their household’s financial stability and social stability? It’s also very curious to scholars what happens with civic development. Do these alternative housing programs and environments create the right setting for people to become more politically active, engaged citizens? And then the community development questions — what do these alternative housing schemes, how do they fit in with the rest of the community? And the main question there is do they detract from value by creating some sort of alternative way in the real estate market?
[00:12:12] I’m taking alternative feminist brand — this is bell hooks,in case you needed a refresher. And the feminist frame asks, to what degree do alternative housing schemes confront inequality, injustice, and oppression? So are these vehicles to work against some of the factors that hold people back in the United States as well as the rest of the world?
[00:12:33] Primer on feminism — feminism is a movement to end discriminatory attitudes or beliefs, exploitation and oppression, by bell hooks. It’s not about men. It’s not about vilifying men or marginalizing men. It is about promoting equality, choice, diversity and, inclusion for all. I will add that, especially globally, disproportionately most property is owned by men.
[00:12:58] Okay, on to feminist theory. So feminism is a social movement. It also has a theoretical arm and feminist theory investigates — again, and this is my question about housing, how people interact with systems and empower them to confront and eradicate oppressive systems and structures and possibly offer solutions. I’m taking a page of feminist economic geography. I don’t think Pen Loh is here, but thank you to Pen for really helping me key into Katherine Gibson, a feminist economic geographer. And as I went into this sort of disquisition about capitalism, she makes the point with her co-author, Graham, that we treat capitalism as monolithic. We say it’s this force that there’s nothing we can do, it consumes everything and ruins everything. But in that narrative, we actually give it more power than maybe it necessarily has without that narrative. And that there are non-capitalist sites within capitalism and it’s important to pay attention to those to really cleave apart this narrative that capitalism is totalizing.
[00:14:02] An example that she uses outside of housing that I find really compelling is around sole entrepreneurship and sole proprietorship. So, in the US, we really prize entrepreneurs, we really prize small businesses. Those people own their means of production. They are not yet capitalists. They really wish they were. But we do have a place for them in highly mainstream understanding about the economy. We’re interested in alternatives to mainstream housing that are here and now — they’re practiced in this environment.
[00:14:35] And I’ve said a lot about theory, but now I’m going to disclaim a little bit. And feminism tries to use low theory — that’s not high theory that is only accessible and known by experts, but theory that’s developed on the ground and relatable to the people who are experiencing the phenomena. So it seeks to privilege subjugated knowledges, it replaces mastery and favors conversation, and its ultimate goal is to reveal and relieve oppression. And there’s sometimes nothing more oppressive than high theory.
[00:17:01] So just a model of feminist theory — it starts with the assumption and the understanding that systems and structures of power and oppression. exist — it accepts that and how this works against difference by identity, sex, gender, race, ability, etc.. This is how we get discrimination and exclusion. But to action and knowledge — I would call not knowledge, action — power and oppression are acknowledged and disrupted and this supports more understanding, advocacy and change.
[00:17:29] Okay, so returning to our alternative housing sites, the research questions I have are — what are some of the lived experiences in various alternative housing schemes? To what degree are these sites — or as I keep talking about, individual or group, liberation, justice and equality? And what are some barriers to replication and scale, and what would it take to empower more people to surmount them?
[00:17:29] And here are my cases. I have a community land trust that’s a rental, a limited equity cooperative, community land trust manufactured homes, an intentional community — sometimes those are also thought of as communes, and a squat. And I also have one counter case which is a gated community, and within it another gate. So a double-gated community, to just try to have some comparison with how lives might be lived in another way. And the criteria for selecting these cases that I have is that they had to be urban — in an urban environment. They had to be longstanding — they can’t be something that’s only been around for a couple of years, some sort of proof of concept and it had to be relatively large, so not just a couple of families, but something larger than that. And then my method is participant observation — going to these sites, trying to understand the lived experience and that perspective, interviewing, folks and content analysis.
[00:18:45] These are some formative figures in women — formative female figures who historically have been very active in these movements. And trying to create alternatives to what is typically done in these 140 plus million housing units in the United States, which is renting from a landlord or purchasing in the private market.
[00:19:05] So this is Marie Cirillo. She was a nun. She gave up the habit to move to Appalachia to advocate in Rose’s Creek for the residents there whose lives were very much devastated by mining. She formed one of the first community land trusts, of Woodland Community Land Trust, in that area. She’s still alive, she’s 92. And then, zooming to the present, can’t resist, more gazing at Dudley. This is Dudley village, it is the rental units that sit on the Dudley Neighborhood Initiative Land Trust in Dorchester. And this is built in 2008. And it’s 50 units, 50 rental units. We’ll talk a little bit more after I introduce the sites.
[00:19:55] The next case are resident-owned communities. This is Ruth Taylor — she was a renaissance woman. She was a photographer, a preservationist, a realtor and an advocate for building residents-owned communities of manufactured homes. She bought a parcel off of Highway Pacific 1, right by the Hearst Castle in California. She wanted to develop, I think, luxury mobile homes. She was told no again and again. She took it to court after court after court — ultimately, she persevered. The sentence. that attracted me to her is it said in the article, “It took a lady to upset the apple cart.” I don’t think that she ever actually built her housing, but she did pave the way for many other resident-owned, manufactured home communities like this one — Pasadena Trails in Houston, Texas.
[00:20:48] This is a resident-owned community (ROC). It’s an organization that helps hundreds of households buy the land from their landowners when they’re manufactured homes. And this particular one has a woman-only board. It’s been around since 2012. And part of the transfer from private ownership to a manufactured home is that the ROC helps them with some infrastructure work. And so there was a devastating hurricane in Houston, and they distinguish themselves — they were not barely affected by it, and they were actually able to offer their neighbors some [inaudible] on how to shore up their developments.
[00:21:31] Next case — a limited equity cooperatives. This is Esther Siegel. One Christmas Eve in 1978, the mean landlord knocks on her and her neighbors’ door and says, you’re going to be evicted. I want this for a different purpose. She organized with the neighbors, they got educated on the law, they worked with a clever lawyer that figured out that they could have a first right of refusal. And so that began the transference. And in D.C., there are limited equity cooperatives relative to the rest of the nation, it’s fairly common because there’s a lot of knowledge about how to take this right of first refusal and help residents convert it into limited equity cooperatives.
[00:22:11] [Inaudible] Equity Cooperative is in the US Virgin Islands. It will not be bad to visit there. In the nineties, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) tried to decommission public housing and sell it back to the residents. This experiment, they tried to do a series of limited equity cooperatives, and this one, Pearson Garden, is the only surviving limited equity cooperative from that time. It is a fascinating place. It has — many people in the arts and letters and the sports have come out of Pearson Gardens. This is Tony the Hawk — he’s a boxer. He’s in the US Boxing Hall of Fame. There’s poets, rappers, academics — it’s a fascinating place.
[00:22:56] Next are intentional living. This is Phoebe Lane — she lived in a Shaker village in New York. She lived there with her father — her father decided that he wanted to leave the Shaker village. She did not. He tried to claim that she was her property. She said no way. She also took it to court and she ultimately persevered and was able to live out the rest of her life in the Shaker community.
[00:23:24] My community is Gonas it’s in Staten Island. It’s been around since 1980. It started out, no doubt, as a cultish commune, but I have a blog entry on that, “From ‘cult’ to community: Gonas mellows out with age.” It is now a place where there are some people there that are quite serious about the tenants that started it, and then other people who just kind of live there affordably and peacefully.
[00:23:48] This is May Bowron — she’s an English woman who moved to Hawaii. And she helped folks in Honolulu convert their native land into a homestead. And much more recently, this is Moms for Housing. They squatted in this abandoned home that was owned by a corporate entity. They squatted there. They got really active, they got a lot of attention. They prevailed. So what happens with squats is, they never stay squats. If they ultimately become permanent housing, this one will be a community land trust.
[00:24:25] All right. And then we have a gated community. This is one of the first gated communities in the United States, started in the 1850s. It’s called the Llewellyn Park. It started out as a utopian community. It kind of changed — 150 homes, it sort of changed identity over the years. As I mentioned, it’s now a double-gated community. Thomas Edison lived there, who most of us, Whoopi Goldberg, lives there now. And Betty Berry was extremely active in the civic life of Llewellyn Park and the Ladies Association. And she also – very familiar to urban planners — she successfully fought a highway running through Llewellyn Park.
[00:25:03] Okay, back to our research questions. What are some of the lived experiences? To what degree are these sites for individual or group liberation? And what are some barriers to replication? And what would it take to empower more people to think about doing something like this? I have some thoughts — they’re preliminary. Lived experiences — so these housing environments house everybody, from students to seniors, from people of all walks of life, it’s a huge variety of people that live there. And in terms of involvement, as I mentioned, the Community Land Trust Boston, it’s rental, many of the folks don’t even know they live in a Community Land Trust. So it can be from extremely low involvement to extremely high involvement. Gonas, that I said before, each morning begins with a two-hour session, a planning session for the rest of the day, so that’s a lot of involvement.
[00:25:50] And then from short to long tenure, as you might guess, if you’re a student, you’re not going to live in these places very long. Some people spend their entire lives in these environments. For a Community Land Trust, I think somebody did a study and the average amount of time people live there six or seven years.
[00:26:04] Are these sites for liberation, justice and equality? I think the story of Phoebe Lane is an interesting one. Through living in the Shaker village, she was able to secure her liberation from her father. So, I think that’s important. Mom’s for Housing is a very active social justice movement — just yesterday they were on Facebook Live. I got a notification fighting an eviction. They are very robust and out there, group of people trying to fight for people’s rights. And in general, I think these sites represent, in some way, the right to the city. This is a way for people to live in the city that otherwise may not be able to afford it or manage it.
[00:26:42] And what are the barriers to replication and empowerment? So I think there’s a psychological barrier which I’m trying to contribute against, which is helping people gain what I call a houser’s imagination. So imagine yourself living in this place. Can you think about this as a place that you might want to live? So sort of demystifying what in the heck is going on there. And the physical barrier is land acquisition. Land is very expensive. It’s especially expensive in cities which are the most desirable places. And foundations, large, deep-pocketed foundations, are starting to realize that this is a place that they can support — get housing in perpetuity, get their name on housing in perpetuity. The Zuckerberg Foundation has started helping to facilitate the purchase of housing in the Bay Area. And actually all the big tech companies have pledged billions of dollars to trying to get some permanently affordable housing.
Julian Hollander: [00:27:39] Ok, great well. So I’d like to open up time for Q&A. I will start with the in-person group and then I know there 39 comments online. So we’ll get you online. Let’s just start with folks here. Does anyone have a question or comment?
Audience: [00:28:00] [Inaudible]
Erin Graves: [00:28:18] So his question was how realistic do we think it is that Facebook is actually going to follow through with their pledge for permanently affordable housing? So I think in the tech one, right, it’s very interesting to see how these enormous pledges — so there’s question one, is fine, it’s great to, pledge, but does the money actually ever get dispersed? And that’s where it gets really complicated. And I know Justin is teaching a class — or last semester, maybe, taught a class on real estate development. And so getting that deal together, even if these actors are completely earnest, getting the deal together is very, very complicated. So their first acquisition was in East Palo Alto, the Facebook one. I mean, you can’t even find Facebook really in the list of who owns it, who supports it, because it’s so complex trying to get all the pieces together.
[00:29:08] So it’s sort of a — it’s both that, it’s maybe they’re not being that genuine, but also it’s not as easy as like the way a museum used to be and a foundation would just say, there’s going to be a museum in my name — and there it was. So it’s definitely much more complicated than other gifts in the past.
Julian Hollander: [00:29:26] Does anyone have any more questions at this point?
Audience: [00:29:32] [Inaudible]
Erin Graves: [00:29:52] Yeah, thank you for asking it. I haven’t been to the sites yet, for the most part, so I’m absolutely going to be thinking about that, because I think that is a very insightful question, is, right, beyond just the land — and that, I think, is one of the things back to the houser’s imagination, like, how much work is this really taking because I could just rent an apartment and be done with it. So thank you.
Julian Hollander: [00:30:16] Well, I mean, apartments are expensive. I think most of you have a pretty good idea of what a typical apartment cost in the greater Boston area — outside of the alternative. So I think it may be helpful to talk a little bit about the scale of affordability. I know someone who lives in a commune are three rooms and food — $400 a month. So when you talk about how [inaudible].
Erin Graves: [00:30:46] It’s sort of interesting — people don’t exactly want to talk about this. But for in Gonas, because I ask the students who live there — because you can ask students things like this because they’re more forthcoming — so he said, I think it was $1,400/month all in, that was what it cost him to live there. And he was comparing it to — he was had left a dorm of a nearby university, and I think it was sort of double that. So for him…
Julian Hollander: [00:31:10] In New York City?
Erin Graves: [00:31:10] Well, in Staten Island. Yeah, right. And so for him, it was very, very tempting. I mean, I calculated it and if he just saved the difference at the end of his college years, he would have saved like $25,000, ad then he could just have a downpayment and then go back into home ownership. And for limited equity cooperatives, they are — I mean, again, it really varies depending on the urban environment, but they usually — around like a thousand to fifteen hundred dollars a month. I mean, that’s such a — but there are maybe half what you might expect from market rate.
Julian Hollander: [00:31:52] And with the manufactured housing, what is that?
Erin Graves: [00:31:54] Thank you for asking. So manufactured housing, the savings — it’s complicated. So the savings is that, so you used to rent the land from these sort of not that competent landlords, it was sort of either landlords that were kind of greedy or landlords that couldn’t quite maintain their property. And so you’d have the rent and then you have the manufactured home that you own. And those — it’s hard to say, but they may cost between twenty and fifty thousand dollars. And I would say manufactured homeowners are actually the only true homeowners — because that’s all they own. They don’t own the land, they own the structure.
[00:32:30] However— when I hope I can say, I try to explain this, I’m not great at explaining this — when you have a budget on a manufactured home and you’re getting into the market, you don’t really care, you have a thousand dollar budget, you don’t really care — if three-quarters of the costs are coming and renting the land, then the house is suddenly worth a lot less. So what these resident-owned communities can do is reduce the cost of the land so that the cost of the structure raises, so that it actually increases the equity for the manufactured homeowners.
Audience: [00:32:58] Thank you so much for sharing the initial stages of this really interesting project and also the way you framed the concerns that these are addressing. And I particularly appreciated your approach to capitalism, and I’m wondering what would happen if you later add on to your savings and understanding of affordability that also encompasses the challenge of where people’s income comes from — whether it’s wages or other sources, which could be government or the rest of us as we’re exploited in the capitalist economy.
[00:33:39] And part of that aspect of the other costs that go into affordability are also the work of care work, that is often unpaid, or if it’s another burden on us and also location costs. So where are we in our manufactured housing, for example, in relation to where we need to go to live our lives and have our employment for doing our caring? So I’m curious about how that thinking might be adjacent to or incorporated into the project.
Erin Graves: [00:34:34] Well, I think those are super fascinating things to think about. I think the constraint on these environments is that ultimately they are run on a budget and it’s not that the money is generated from the people that live there. So I don’t know if they can, in the way that a public system could accommodate care work in some way and you could get some sort of credit if you engage in care work. But since these are outside both capitalism, but they’re also outside both the subsidy system, tight now, in the moment, I can’t think of how to think about how people have to put their lives together in order to get by.
Julian Hollander: [00:35:18] So why don’t we take a question from online and there are, at this point, 49. Well, some are comments and some are short essays. Why don’t we just start with this one — so the whole concept comes from the civil rights movement. How is this now a feminist movement?
Erin Graves: [00:35:35] It’s not now a feminist movement. It’s a lens. So one of the ways that we can look back on different efforts is to say, okay — and we evaluate them is, how how do we evaluate them under a new set of ideals or norms. So another way to evaluate them is in terms of, do they advance the principles of social justice? So I’m sorry if I suggested in any way that this was commandeered by feminism. It’s more that it’s a new way to look at a problem that might unearth new and hopefully interesting and helpful observations.
Julian Hollander: [00:36:07] Could you share any details from your research about how these alternative housing structures support seniors and opportunities to age in place or age in community?
Erin Graves: [00:36:17] A friend was just asking me that the other day, and I agree this is a major, major issue as we confront an aging population and other than many people who live there do feel comfortable to live out their days and they can they can live there affordably, they’ve been ideally able to set aside some savings through the affordability. But I agree that’s a huge area of need and thought and reflection.
Julian Hollander: [00:36:47] When we bring it back to the room. Anyone else have anything they want to ask about? What nascent projects can we follow? What would you recommend we kind of pay attention to that are kind of going on now that are getting started and maybe even support if we believe in them?
Erin Graves: [00:37:02] Well, you can always follow Mom’s for housing — they’re very active and…nascent projects. Other than that — that’s the only nascent project that I — but I’ll think about it.
Julian Hollander: [00:37:15] Yeah. No, I mean there have been a lot of these — you’ve talked about these ones that have been around for a while and for research purposes that’s really helpful to ones that are more established. Got another one. Just curious why social housing doesn’t seem to play a role as an alternative in your work. Seems like there are some great examples of successful social housing — Vienna’s, for example.
Erin Graves: [00:37:41] Many of these housing types, in some form or another are pretty common in Europe, which is also a capitalist — basically a capitalist system. So once again, these things can thrive. The reason that I’m focused on these outside of social housing is because on some level I think they’re agovernmental, which can be useful during political regimes that are more exclusive. So one of the really hard things about American public housing during immigration is there is a great deal of fear among folks who live there, whose status is unclear and they may feel unwelcome. They also sometimes don’t even apply because they’re afraid of participating. So, it’s sometimes useful to stand outside those systems when the systems are not working for everybody.
Julian Hollander: [00:38:32] Yeah, and at least in the United States, public housing has a very strong stigma.
Erin Graves: [00:38:38] Right.
Julian Hollander: [00:38:39] So that’s in terms of government support, popular support for it, where I know a lot of the UEP grad students that I talk to, people are really enthusiastic about a lot of these models, but I don’t get too many students who come up to me and say, let’s invest more in building more public housing.
Erin Graves: [00:38:59] I’m not against that either. We were talking the other day. I mean, in the fifties and sixties there millions of public housing units that were built. And we were saying that’s not even scale. That didn’t solve the problem, but it was a heck of a lot more than is produced now, but now we’re decommissioning public housing. So I think it’s also, as I said, it’s also about choice. It’s about that, as people think about their housing tenure, that’s where you’re going to live across your lifetime, maybe you’ll rent sometime, maybe you’ll live in social housing, maybe you’ll live in alternative housing, maybe you’ll live alone, maybe you’ll go back, maybe you’ll live in a retirement community. But that we have this stylized notion of an American housing career, which is you start as a renter and as a homeowner. And so it’s just maybe there’s some other options in there for you somewhere to do something different with your time.
[00:39:49] I think home ownership is oppressive because you have to spend a lot of time thinking about your investment, maintaining your investment — it makes you not necessarily the nicest neighbor. And so being relieved of the anxiety of, is my — I read it today, ‘Are housing values going down in Boston in 2023?’ So there are downsides to the system that maybe you just want to step out for a minute.
Julian Hollander: [00:40:14] Yeah, I think it’s really interesting, but this idea that NIMBY — Not in My Backyard — is a phenomenon that we talk about a lot, but you’re suggesting that reimagining housing for these alternative models, it eliminates that. And then my other comment is, you’re right, people move. People move all the time. I don’t know about you guys who in the last five years has moved more than three times? That’s almost everybody in the room. People move all the time. And so we don’t always have to be moving to the same kind of housing. So I think that that’s what’s really valuable about this research. Patrick had his hand up. Yeah.
Erin Graves: [00:40:59] Patrick is asking about combining these efforts to see if we can get some sort of stronger cross-fertilization across these different schemes from government subsidies to alternative housing. So at first, when you were talking about, I was like, oh, I don’t know of any, but then I think on the land side, just pure land acquisition, I think you see quite a bit of government land being handed over to Community Land Trusts or being sold to Community Land Trusts at highly affordable rates, I think in that case, but I think it’s exciting to think about both, like, wait, there could be a lot of great work that could be done if you could use some government funds to support these. And then I don’t know of any beyond this land thing. And that makes me wonder why. And I’m guessing there is some sort of barrier to that that either is a barrier of houser’s imagination, or something more fiduciary that is harder to cross. But I’m going to keep thinking about that. Thank you. Any more questions?
Julian Hollander: [00:42:00] I think we have time for maybe just one more question. What does it mean — this is a plan that will open up more challenges and people might be victimized — how do you protect vulnerable residents in some of these situations?
Erin Graves: [00:42:22] Right, I agree completely. There is a lot of vulnerability. Marie Cirillo, the Nun, she moved to Appalachia, was shot at multiple times. She had death threats. The Moms for Housing had multiple encounters with the police and — armed-police. So this not necessarily work, when you advocate for it, that’s for the faint of heart, when we’re talking about poverty in America — we’re probably talking about guns. So how to keep people safe? That’s an ongoing question. I will be thinking about that. I think life in these places, once they’re established, and again I am selecting examples of established places, so I may not run into some of these situations where people feel put at risk. But I think there is some risk involved anytime you do something that’s outside the norm.
Julian Hollander: [00:43:11] And I know there’s a lot more comments online, and I really appreciate people contributing to the conversation. Erin is going to be here the rest of the semester all the way through May, as a visiting scholar.
Erin Graves: [00:43:22] Visit me!
Julian Hollander: [00:43:24] You can visit her and she’s going to be visiting a few classes, doing some lectures. So definitely connect. And so, thank you, Erin.
Erin Graves: [00:43:36] Thank you.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:43:40] We hope you enjoyed this week’s lecture. You can access the video transcript and graph recordings of Aaron Gray’s presentation on Shareable.net. There’s a direct link in the show notes. Our next lecture — Countering Displacement through Collective Memory: Recovering African American Landscapes Using the Texas Freedom Colonies Project Atlas, presented by Professor Andrea Roberts, will be on Wednesday, February 8th.
[00:44:05] Cities@Tufts Lectures is produced by Tufts University and Sharable with support from the Kresge, Barr and Shift Foundations. Lectures are moderated by Professor Julian Agyeman, and organized in partnership with research assistants Caitlin McLennan and Deandra Boyle. “Light Without Dark” by Cultivate Beats is our theme song. Robert Raymond is our audio editor, Zanetta Jones manages communications, Allison Huff manages operations, Anke Dregnet illustrated the graphic recording, and Caitlin McLennan created the original portrait and the series is produced and hosted by me, Tom Llewellyn.
[00:44:36] Please hit subscribe, leave a rating or review wherever you get your podcasts and share it with others so this knowledge can reach people outside of our collective bubbles. That’s it for this week’s show, here’s a final thought.
[00:44:49] We’re interested in alternatives to mainstream housing that are here and now, that are practiced in this environment.