Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Untangling the Dilemma: Ethics, Housing costs, Economics

Most planners strive to be AICP certified.  It's a professional certification that offers more opportunities for professional work, promotions, clout, and an expectation to uphold a clear code of ethics published by the American Planning Association.  But do those with AICP credentials actually adhere to the code of ethics?  Do certified planners spend time thinking about how these less tangible standards become implemented?  Do they scratch deeper than the surface to uproot any lingering injustices left over from the civil rights movement?  And, if these planners see it, do they have the means to address it?  Are such planners empowered by their bosses?, their clients?, and do local Commissioners/Council members tolerate shaking up the status quo?

I'm not sure if local officials from growing communities have the political courage to face issues of economic justice when luxurious development requires special attention (if not coaxing) and acquiring such development promises to raise the stature of the community.  Housing diversity doesn't mesh well (whether political or marketable) with housing for the wealthy.  The wealthy seem to require private airports armed with gates and offer exclusive perks like upscale clubhouses with spas and tennis courts and a choice of tee times.  This exclusive space (with costly upkeep) is generally thought to be more exciting than affordable housing or cost-effect housing for working class families.

Is this a matter that was never reconciled in the civil rights movement?  Is this practice of marketing neighborhoods to a certain demographic a remnant of a time where exclusive neighborhoods were plenty recognized by race?  Is perpetuating the existence of exclusive neighborhoods (now divided by salary) really any different?  Have people earned the right to live among only among those who share similar socioeconomic backgrounds?

It was also once perceived that housing for black and white families didn't mesh well with one another.  I might suggest that the poor (working poor, ill poor, underemployed poor, uneducated poor, undocumented poor, etc.) of today deal with a similar stigma that were once reserved for black households of the 1950s and 1960s (or any time before Fair Housing regulations of the Civil Rights Act of 1968).  Even after passage of the Act, there were holdouts on the practice of redlining where black home buyers were denied access to (or steered away from) certain neighborhoods by one means or another.  Housing discrimination only protects people based on  race, color, religion, or national origin (and I believe expanded to include disability/handicap and familial status) at the federal level.  Other protections have been applied in certain states to protect LGBT or age discrimination.  I also think that these cases of discrimination are seen for what they are: bigotry and a form of injustice.  Regretfully, issues of segregation by class remain as an accepted stratification of our economic reality that upholds the idea that we all earn our place in society.  It is commonly justified in everyday rhetoric that money earned is a sign of dignity, accomplishment, and stature earning a person the right to isolation from the downsides of income stratification.

What do you think?  Do we need to take a careful look at our beliefs about housing "markets" along lines of income stratification?  Have we accepted upper class enclaves that segregate people along new lines of discrimination by doing so?

Take these ideas and read what AICP has to say about Housing Policy and planner's "responsibility to support the needs of underrepresented and disadvantaged people."  Does the diversity within neighborhoods offer social cohesion even between people at different ends of the pay scale?  Is the way we zone and implement design regulation have an impact on this outcome?  I carefully question common practice and its wisdom.

--- Addition 3/9/13 ---

I would also thank Marc Brenman for his contribution of bringing up another source that provides direction of Housing as a right under the UN's UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS.