Christopher Alexander: Can You Own My Home?
|December 13, 2013||Posted by Staff under Editorials|
Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language (1977). From Pattern #79, Your Own Home:
People cannot be genuinely comfortable and healthy in a house which is not theirs. All forms of rental — whether from private landlords or public housing agencies — work against the natural processes which allow people to form stable, self-healing communities. …
This pattern is not intended as an argument in favor of “private property” or the process of buying and selling land. Ineed, it is very clear that all those processes which encourage speculation in land, for the sake of profit, are unhealthy and destructive, because they invite people to treat houses as commodities, to build things for “resale,” and not in such a way as to fit their own needs.
And just as speculation and the profit motive make it impossible for people to adopt their houses to their own needs, so tenancy, rental, and landlords do the same. Rental areas are always the first to turn to slums. The mechanism is clear and well-known. The landlord tries to keep his maintenance and repair costs as low as possible; the residents have no incentive to maintain and repair the homes — in fact, the opposite — since improvements add to the wealth of the landlord and even justify higher rent. And so the typical piece of rental property degenerates over the years.
This requires, then, that every house is owned — in some fashion — by the people that live in it; it requires a form of ownership which discourages speculation.
In Germany, “just 45% of homes in Germany are owner-occupied, one of the lowest rates in Europe.” Are 55% of Germans not, then, genuinely comfortable and healthy in their living quarters?
Still: Renting works against “stable, self-healing communities.”
The degree to which the housing “recovery” has been driven by speculators isn’t fully appreciated. Some sources have said that cash buyers have accounted for as much as 50% of the activity in the hottest states, and those would also have a bigger impact in the national estimates of home price appreciation.
They might have had some cash from a previous life on Wall Street, and raised a bit more money overseas, mainly from the Middle East and China. They may call themselves hedge funds as a way of glamorizing their strategy and justifying asking for hedgie-type fee structures. They often simply hold the houses for expected appreciation.
It was “not a coincidence” that more Americans than at any time since the Great Depression were being forced out of their homes just as records of home ownership and mortgages were transferred wholesale to a privatized database.
Ed. Notes: The key is to realize that the rent for the building and the rent for the land are two very different rents. The value of the building belongs to whoever built or owns the structure. The value of the location belongs to those who created it, which is the surrounding community.
As they say, the three most important things in real estate are location, location, location (the actual answer to an actual question on the California Real Estate Exam). People pay for good views, nearby shops, schools, accessible open space — things not made by any lone owner but by society as a whole.
Our mistake is having people pay lone owners instead of paying the neighbors. That is, we should pay the seller for the home (or other building) but pay the local government — which in turn would disburse the revenue to residents — for the land.
Government could require Land Dues, levy a land tax, or shift the property tax off buildings, onto locations. Places that have done this have de-motivated speculators. When speculators back out of the property game, then the price for land and improvements falls.
And more people become homeowners, as happened in Pittsburgh from 1980 to 2000 when they taxed land six times as much as buildings. They enjoyed the most affordable housing and highest owner occupancy rate of any major US city and twice was named America’s Most Livable City.
The writers above are looking for a solution. Geonomics is it.