There’s a bit from the ‘Half a House’ podcast that’s stuck with me like an earworm over the past week. Not quite about the actual Chile based project itself, but something said by one of their guests, Dr Jennifer Stoloff, a Social Science Researcher with specialised knowledge in housing.
Stoloff is asked “why don’t we see this approach in the US” (the approach being, to build the first half of a house – making it more affordable to buy – and allowing owners to complete it, if and when they have more money), and while she does kind of agree that it aligns with the US ethos of pulling yourself up by the boot straps, she proposes risks and perceptions that sit uneasily with me. Uneasily, because I’m saddened by how accurate they might actually be.
Firstly, is the old litigious aspect:
…there’d be litigation issues, right? I mean if you were working, building your floor or ceiling, and you fell down, in the states, maybe you would sue the developer!
But more specifically, Stoloff and 99% Invisible presenter Roman Mars, sadly propose an even bigger perception barrier to this sort of scheme in the US:
Stoloff : It’d be an embarrassment, right? So the United States of America can only afford to build poor people half a house?! We would be ashamed of ourselves! Even though in fact that might end up providing more people with adequate housing at the end of the day. But we couldn’t do it. We’d lose face! > Mars: Because unlike Chile, the United States does have the money. And perhaps, also unlike Chile… > Stoloff: We don’t like to spend money on poor people. We think everybody should be able to find their own way out of poverty. And it’s just not true, but that is the expectation. And, we are not in a scarcity economy, and we could afford to give people an entire house… > Mars: But, by and large, we don’t. For the US, it’s not a matter of scarcity, it’s a matter of values.
If not clear in reading the way Stoloff and Mars put it: they do not personally hold or support this perception, but they are painfully aware that many others in the US do. And while I’ve always known the North American narrative of it being the land of opportunity, where anyone can make it etc. I never quite put that together with anti-socialist, or more broadly anti-social sentiments.
I don’t know. No point to this post really. Just, that line though. “We don’t like to spend money on poor people,”. That scares the crap out of me