Tuesday, December 5, 2006
One would think that there would be advantages to addressing homeless and affordable housing in a paradise, such as Hawaii. Architecture in the 50th state can almost dispense with walls, because of the mild climate. But housing for the poor has always been more about difficulties of economics, law, and social politics than it has been about construction.
On the west shore of Oahu, for example, about 1000 people are now living tents on the beach near Waianae, according to a story today in the New York Times. Most residents of Waianae are “native Hawaiians,” who are the least affluent ethnic group in the state. As rents have priced out some residents, as in many popular places in the country, some low-income Hawaiians have found a tent on the beach to be the best alternative. (See also today a story about an activist-created shantytown in Miami.) Without cold weather or heavy rains (west Oahu is very dry), tent housing is not as unpleasant as it would be elsewhere. In fact, many Sunbelt cities are experiencing booms in homeless populations.
Couldn’t some of the incentives to life on the street or beach in a place such as Hawaii be used to advantage by government? Although publicly built housing is disfavored today, for good reasons, in favor of government-supported housing payments, there are a number of advantages to having government more directly involved in housing construction. Instead of trying to swim upstream by providing monetary assistance that may not be able to keep pace with rising housing costs, government should also consider subsidizing housing of the kind not seen much in the past 50 years –- simply built rooms, without amenities and with limited private access to electricity and plumbing. While such rock-bottom housing would not meet modern building codes, it might clearly be better -– for residents and for the public -– than life in a beach tent. Such housing probably wouldn’t work in the violent slums of St. Louis or Los Angeles, but it might help in places such as Waianae.