Coastal Post Online

 

DONATE TO US

SUBSCRIBE TO US

ADVERTISE WITH US

 

**** COASTALPOST'S LOGO ****

 

DONATE TO US

SUBSCRIBE TO US

ADVERTISE WITH US

 

MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

 

Affordable Housing: An Idea Whose Time Has Past
By Stephen Simac


    Still keeping the New Year's resolution: write about solutions, not problems. Eliminate the Negative News.  It's just that there's so much bad news. The grinding you hear is not my teeth. I've got my TMJ mouth guard on. That's the gears in my head cranking out solutions.
   It's lovely to have so much energy again since the meds ran out. The TV has stopped talking to me since it's gone to the landfill.  This is no time to listen to critics, when you're solving the un-affordable housing situation.
   Tackle the biggest problems first. Last month I solved the health care mess. It wasn't easy but someone had to do it. The biggest problem with un-affordable housing is that there's so much of it. Un-affordable Housing owners want to keep it that way on their property, in their neighborhood, even in their watershed. Poor people are always going to be screwed by the wealthy. As Jesus said, that's insoluble, so we'll leave
that alone. 
   Pick apart the biggest problem, break it down into smaller tasks that can be accomplished. Stategize. Then delegate those tasks to others.  Right now, zoning regulations and government bureaucracy are the single biggest impediment to building affordable, healthy, safe, communities for po' people.
    It's in the vested interest of zoning and government officials whose jobs depend on property taxes, to protect property values, inflated or not.
   An idea man like me is never going to outsit those iron ast bastards to change bureaucratic regulations.  That's like watching cement crumble.

Houses Built On Sand
   Never fight with your weakest asset, unless it's your only one, as old Lao Tsu, or Sun Tsu or Who Tsu said. I'll delegate the zoning issues to whoever has the hardest ass.
    It's not just the actual costs of housing that creates unaffordable housing, although that's part of the problem. There's also the 30 year mortgage, which quadruples the price paid for a structure to the banks, which technically own it until it's paid off. At four to one, thanks to the miracle of compound interest.  If there was a scam to have gold roll downhill into banker's vaults, that's the one. I can't solve that problem, if Marx couldn't.
    Americans' medical costs and insurance to prevent economic catastrophe from illness or injury, drain dollars that could go to housing expenses. My proposal to outsource those costs for a dime on the dollar will change that and fix social security, too.
    There's maintenance to keep the place up and insurance to protect the investment in case it burns down, is eaten by bugs, collapses in earthquakes, mudslides, tsunamis or hurricanes, or is carried off by floods or tornadoes.  There's heating and cooling costs, ever increasing for most unaffordable housing.  Water and waste removal fees and expenses. Lights, frig, stereo/TV. Furnishing and renovating. Tools, materials and equipment to maintain it and the grounds it's piled on.
    There's the transportation costs to travel from house to market, employment, recreation, services and health care. The less money you make, the greater percentage you spend on transportation.  Just as true for the cost of food and beverages.
    That's too much bad news already, even with my improved mood swings. Let's just focus on the actual construction of affordable housing.  Putting up a pile. After all, if you build it, they will come.  But if you think about building it, and scatter ideas like  grass-seed, they may also come to hang out on the lawn, and might even do some work, if you provide drinks. It's all about delegation, as Tom Sawyer told Huckleberry Finn.

This Piggie Built With Straw
   Okay, humans have had affordable housing since time immemorial, as they say.  In many parts of the world they still have it,  because they build it out of available, cheap, local materials.  In
America there are often rules against that. There's a pretty clear correlation between number of rules in an area and lack of affordable housing.
   There are good reasons for zoning laws around health and safety issues. There should be certain structural integrity standards for both affordable housing and unaffordable housing. Basically  fire/quake/flood/wind resistant with  waste disposed of in a sanitary manner. Health and safety standards that are open to new ways to meet them would allow the American pragmatic spirit to create solutions, where before there was only a problem.
    I started with the existing situation. There's the homeless, of course. Most of them would be happy to live like the Boy in the Box.  A warm, secure, dry space, that they could sleep in, store some essentials and not burn it down by falling asleep with a cigarette.
  So they could be put up quite cheaply. Little hexagonal cells stacked like circled wagons, with a methane generating shitter fueling their campfire, running water and a solar shower would make most of them ecstatic, for a while.  Naturally there'd be some fighting like
fort injuns on firewater. You'd probably have to hire somebody to keep order and sell em sixpacks.
    But the homeless are only the open wound of the affordable housing situation. There's people who live in their vehicles. Technically they aren't homeless, merely nomads. At least while their vehicle is running.  But that can be expensive, then your next bed is pavement.

Living In Glass Houses
   The fear of that final solution to the unaffordable housing problem, resides even in the American middle class, like a dark succubus in their nightmares.  They are in debt financially because of unaffordable housing, childcare, transportation, food and health care.
  An injury, illness, or getting downsized  and they could end up squatting alongside those people begging on the sidewalk.  Sleeping in a cardboard box. The homeless are the flip side of the American dream, failures in the struggle to stay housed. That cottage with the picket fence was only an illusion, as Horatio Alger said.
   There's always trailer parks, where for a reasonable sum you can actually buy or rent a large aluminum box to live in.  Lots of poor and struggling people live in them. I've done so myself.
   Except for their unfortunate tendency to attract tornadoes, this is not a bad thing. Often, trailer parks charge rent and fees for the space that aluminum box is propped up on. Still it's usually more reasonable than living in a wooden box. Yet no one would want to take shelter in a trailer when a hurricane is coming.
   I first thought of a way to turn a trailer into a wind/flood/fire resistant structure. Reinforced concrete can provide more protection than aluminum and fibre-board. Trailers can easily be jacked up high enough off the ground to avoid most flooding or waves.  Drive up with a cement truck and a framing system, pour a concrete foundation with some flying buttresses or whatever, a concrete shell with window recesses and shade awnings to keep it cooler,  maybe a nice flat roof  with some drainage/storage devices for a rooftop garden, Vitamin D accumulation and solar cell or two. For like a few thousand dollars apiece, far less than the cost of a single Hurricane Warning evacuation, every trailer could be a refuge, instead of landfill material afterwards.
   That's fine for trailers, but why would you even need them with all that concrete around them, a shipping container would do just as well. Maybe if you could use the trailers like a lost wax sculpture.  Still, there's not enough landfill space to trash every trailer out there.  So that's a keeper, if only to deal with old problems.

Castles Built Of Air 
   To an idea man like me though, old problems are boring.  I started thinking about concrete. The Romans created it, although Egyptians and the Chinese have probably claimed it, since Latin died. Basically an aggregation of gravel, sand, lime and water- with other materials optional for special-effects, which becomes agglutinated into an agglomeration through some alchemical magic.
    If shredded paper is mixed into this blend to make  paperkrete, it has similar strength with less weight and cost. It seems like styrofoam pellets could be added to the mix for the same effect.
  Although the main ingredients of concrete are plentiful, they still add up to unaffordable housing, if you're pouring walls thick enough to hold off a tornado. The weight of concrete increases the costs of reinforcement, even if you're using old bedsprings and scrap metal. 
   It came to me late at night, or early in the morning depending on whether your glass is half empty or half full.  There oughta be a way to make a concrete light enough and strong enough for load bearing walls, roofs, even a geodesic dome or two.  Using cheaper materials than the same stuff the Romans did. We're not in
Rome, anymore.
    What is there way too much of? Currently going into landfill mountains, that theoretically could be agglomerated. Diapers, plastic and styrofoam, destruction rubble, juice boxes, Kerry campaign buttons, cigarette butts, broken toys and stuffed animals, out of date electronics, music/ video discs, old clothing, important papers, the ends of glue tubes and toothpastes, greasy TV trays, scented candles in glass jars, without enough wax to light. 
   All that stuff could be ground together, zapped with sonic waves, shot through with bubbles as a carbon dioxide sink, transmogrified through some mercurial allembration.
  And emerge from a Gran Cloaca as a pourable, light, strong, load bearing concrete. The PeoplesKrete, for affordable housing. So easy to work with even a single Mother could pour her own free form style house, like a coiled clay creation. You might have to claim it's an art project to get it through zoning, anyways.
   I hate it when people say, but that's never been done before.  If Cristobal Colon had thought that way, the Native Americans would still be scalping each other with stone tools. Americans love doing what hasn't been done before, by God.
    Naturally that has led to trouble, but PeoplesKrete should be safe enough. Layer a styrofoam and rubber mix on the inside to make it child/elderly/clumsy safe, and hose washable. Clad it with solar electric nanotechnology using cast off CD/DVD's and broken glass, hooked into the grid so these houses would earn money, not burn it.
   Don't tell me it can't be done. As Nike says, Just Do It!  

Coastal Post Home Page