Affordable Housing Week day 2

Yesterday (Monday) we organized an executive briefing and luncheon for the Housing Endowment And Regional Trust, the HEART of San Mateo County. We reached our goal of 200 RSVPs as of Friday afternoon at 6 pm. We weren't charging, because we had a sponsor and enough budget to cover costs, so we anticipated at least a 10% dropoff of people not showing up, and figured 15% was quite possible.

As it happened, we had 22 people not show up, just over 10%. However, 14 people showed up who had not RSVPed. So we were down only 7 people or 3.5%! In other words, we had a full house. The energy was great.

And the San Jose Mercury News ran a great piece about it today! It's here, but you may have to do a free registration to read the whole thing.

Then I went to a groundbreaking event followed by an open house at an affordable housing development run by a wonderful nun. Yes, folks, it's Affordable Housing Week! (www.Home-Is.org).

Tonight we had an evening panel discussion on the state of the local housing market, with a banker, a Realtor, and a business journalist. I was the moderator. It was an interesting discussion. Still, I wish we had a better turnout than the 30 or so people who were there (that figure includes panelists, representatives of the corporate sponsor, and two of my coworkers). Turns out there was a basketball playoff game tonight with one of the local teams, so that may have taken a few people away. We set the room just right with 40 chairs, and so the 30 people who were there had room but were not too spread out and dissipated.

I'm grateful for my time in meetings for worship with a concern for business and also in presenting workshops on aspects of Quaker values or Quakerism to the Friends School. It has really given me a comfort level talking in front of a group.

I felt a little odd at the lunch yesterday when I did a brief slideshow presentation. I knew that the communications consultant who had coached me in making presentations was in the room, so I was remembering her advice as I talked. And then I made eye contact with a friend and board member at the very back of the room, who has encouraged me to step up and speak more powerfully, and I thought of that as I was stumbling over some of my words. Overall, though, the feedback I got was positive, so I think the training shone through the slips and hitches.

As an event organizer, I always focus on the slips and hitches so as to learn from them and do a better job next time. However, I need to remember the big picture: We had a good event with great energy, and there was a superb follow-up story in one of the two major dailies in the Bay Area.

There's still more to come.

Oh well, at least Quarterly Meeting is this weekend! It should be glorious. I will need my long underwear for camping under the redwood trees in the Santa Cruz Mountains, at Ben Lomond Quaker Center.


Nancy A said...


I'd like to bring up a philosophical question. I bring it up every time I consider again the question of affordable housing. I hope you can consider this idea as a new perspective on the subject.

I wonder to what extent our culture's inability to provide affordable housing is the result of a misdirection. Is it that housing has suddenly and unreasonably become unaffordable? Or is it that over a few decades of affluence, our culture got in the habit of living in unsustainable ways, and we expect to continue living that way, even though times have changed?

Before the 1940s, North Americans lived in extended families. Several adults supported households. But since the creation of the nuclear family in the 1950s (and the replacement of one's life work with one's "career"), our culture now has this idea that a single person or a married couple should be able to afford a house. They should be able to get a job that pays enough to cover the rent or mortgage.

I am questioning this logic, since it's based on the notion that the nuclear family is the normal household economic unit. The nuclear family depends entirely on a surplus of industrial jobs. Those jobs are gone. The nuclear household is no longer sustainable--even for adults that do have jobs, because most of them are exhausted and burned out from trying to do everything themselves.

If instead of trying to lobby governments and industry to "provide" more affordable housing, if we worked on the larger social questions of what is a family and enacted laws that would make it easier for people to live in extended families, would we not help the poor (and ourselves) more? Would we not be creating more options? Would multiple adults bearing a household's responsibilities not also reduce the stress on families?

There is a certain vulnerability to living on the edge of poverty all the time. With only one or two adults supporting the household, there is no room to manouver to get into a better position. There are no options of improving life. It's just continuous dependency of one form or another. I can't help wondering how many ills (depression, substance abuse, marital breakdown, family violence, suicide) result from this stress. Think of it as multiple forms of poverty (economic, social, psychological, etc.) -- affordable housing will only scratch the surface of one of them.

Since the 1950s, our culture has rebuilt its family infrastructure around nuclear families. Nowadays it's nearly impossible to go back to the extended family lifestyle. For example, many cities have bylaws that prevent multiple generations of families from living together. Many prohibit joining two adjacent properties into one larger home. Few apartment complexes offer double apartments, and no legislation obliges them to. Most new homes are now being built with three bedrooms OR LESS, even the big suburban welcome-to-my-double-garage houses. And most government poverty support programs have rules about ineligibility if another adult moves into the household.

Our social culture reflects this same bias. Most people put down other people who choose to live with their family (like adult children who "refuse to leave home" or aging parents who "lose their independence" -- as if this is a sign of deficiency). We need to find healthier ways to talk about people, rich or poor, who make intelligent life choices, to encourage them to trade their "independence" for a much healthier and more economically viable "interdepence."

Perhaps instead of providing the means for affordable housing, we need to provide the means for affordable families.

Just a thought.

Chris M. said...

Nancy: Yes, that's absolutely part of the picture. A Realtor (of all people) told me once that the size of the average U.S. house has doubled since 1945, while the size of the average U.S. family is half what it was then.

So the trend is definitely toward a cultural norm where we "need" more space. After all, where are all the consumers going to stash all that stuff purchased to fill the emptiness in our collective soul?

That said, in our work, we talk a lot about the need to provide for intergenerational communities. One of our individual members wrote a book called "Together Again: A Successful Guide to Multigenerational Living." It's pitched largely at owners of detached, single-family houses that can accommodate construction of an accessory unit ("in-law apartment"), so that leaves at least 40% of this county out. But it's one part of a solution.

Meanwhile, though, too many families or single workers -- especially Latino and Pacific Islander immigrants -- in our community are living in overcrowded conditions that are NOT what anyone would advocate: two or three families sharing an apartment or home; single men renting out the same bed or cot because they work on different shifts. They truly do need the market to supply more places for them to live!

-- Chris M.