Dedicated to the memory of Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller, 1895-1983
“And Jesus said unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”
—Matthew 8:20 (King James Version)
I begin with our Lord in his earthly incarnation as prime exemplar of homelessness, inherent in his condition, and a contributing factor in what has been called “the humiliation of the divine”. Of homelessness, and of those who find themselves in his condition, we might consider him the patron saint. These individuals may find themselves either without a home, in danger of losing theirs, or where the maintenance of living quarters is such a burden that it negatively impacts the other areas of their lives.
How better for Jesus to be on the side of the homeless than to be homeless himself and to depend upon the goodwill of others? As it frequently occurs with those having limited means and no influence, they are put upon by the power structure who would actually prefer that they simply not exist. Few things are sadder than to see a homeless person’s meager belongings gathered up and destroyed in a “sweep” or to have his or her car impounded (=lost forever) because of expired registration or another irregularity. The appearance of the vehicle is a dead giveaway and makes it a target. Law enforcement would not think of towing an $80,000 motorhome, but a rusted 1976 Dodge with a camper shell is another story entirely.
The fact that anyone is unhoused in the United States is a mark of structural failure and should concern elected officials at all levels of government. It may be argued as to whether housing is or is not a right, but people living in unsafe conditions anywhere in one of the wealthiest countries in the world is unacceptable. As I write this post, there are thousands of unhoused people, including veterans, disabled people, children, pregnant people, and folks living with chronic mental and physical health conditions.
Many local and state governments can’t help but handle the problem by trying to punish and criminalize the experience of being homeless. Here is an example, as they say, “ripped from the headlines”. Tennessee has become the first state in the nation to make it a felony to camp in parks and other public property spaces. The law, which goes into effect on July 1, 2022, will serve one purpose: It will make unhoused folks felons. It will do no good, and will make their situation worse, for with a felony on one’s record it is harder to qualify for services. Because it’s a felony charge, the long-term ramifications are incredibly steep: up to six years in prison, the inability to apply for benefits, and the loss of the right to vote. The law also makes it a misdemeanor for someone to solicit or camp along highways in the state.
A similar approach to “solve” the problem was made in Lula, a 3,000-person town in northeastern Georgia where city council members voted to ban “urban camping,” leaving violators — people who sleep in tents under bridges, in parks or on roadways — subject to a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. Although its supporters said it was part of a larger strategy which included outreach and support, opponents said the change does nothing but penalize an already struggling population while failing to address the root causes of the problem. One respondent said, “If residents of a tent city could afford to pay a $1,000 fine, they would … perhaps not be residing in a tent city…” Does any of this make sense?
Colorado has taken the opposite strategy, where $105 million was directed to convert existing properties into transitional or long-term housing for people leaving jail, dangerous home situations, homeless shelters or other precarious situations. Another $50 million will be set aside for permanent supportive housing, with transitional services like addiction treatment, behavioral care and workforce training available for residents.
The struggle for affordable housing is nothing new. I was living on California’s Monterey peninsula in the 1990s when the announcement from the Department of Defense was made that Fort Ord, the giant training base and home of the U.S. Army’s 7th Division, was closing. The base was a city within itself, but more than this was an economic lifeline to the surrounding communities who had grown and prospered. Their survival was now hanging in the balance. From the ashes of the former Army base came what was known as the Fort Ord Reuse Authority, empowered to convert the land, buildings, and facilities into assets which would benefit the community. Among these buildings were hundreds of houses. The sudden availability of such a vast amount of housing was viewed by most as a bonanza, but there was an underlying concern. If all the housing were released at once, the bottom would drop out of the rent structure charged by local landlords, so a phased-in schedule was arranged. Some housing was retained for military families at surrounding installations and more for the newly established state university as it occupied much of the central post area. But release of assets lagged, and many houses fell into such disrepair that they were eventually destroyed, wasting taxpayer dollars in the process. Moving on to today, there is still a large waiting list for affordable housing and the market rate for existing rental housing continues to climb, putting it beyond the reach of many. Why, I often asked, could the extensive central post area include a large mobile home park, where many could live for a reasonable rental rate or, as buyers, take the opportunity to buy a first home? Additional housing tracts were built in later years, with the usual platitude of “affordable” units, which largely failed to meet the need. It is easy for local governments, being cash-greedy, to side with developers and landholders. It is also more profitable to build a multi-million dollar mansions than low-cost housing units. Follow the money, and the money interests. It feeds the fire of a nationwide, make it worldwide, problem of that essential human necessity, housing.
In Sacramento, near my current home, is a road called Commerce Circle. There isn’t much commerce there. Rather, it is the end of the road for those with no other place to live, full of hopelessness and lacking in facilities. They are directed there by police officers from other locations where they were more visible. Out of sight, out of mind. It is a place of despair, of lost hope. There are no facilities, so human waste and trash continue to grow. The situation is bad and growing worse. So far, no one has done much about it. The people surviving there would need a tremendous amount of help from trained professionals before the situation of most of them would improve. The establishment of safe spaces is in the works, but is not there yet and is politically unpopular. Naturally, any such development is always met with public opposition and is never achieved without struggle. There are plans for a county facility but the standard response from anyone nearby is “not in my back yard”. Granted, some will always prefer to drop out and simply be left alone, but most just need a helping hand. Their numbers are growing and there is a real risk that the city will lose control and the sprawling encampment will become the next Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, or Los Angeles. What comes with it is the danger that Sacramento will become the dumping ground for neighboring cities who find reasons not to directly address the crisis. What if the city can’t turn the tide and it becomes beyond its capacity to solve? It cannot be legislated away. With growing numbers of unhoused individuals and families, it is getter harder and harder to ignore.
How did housing become a major crisis of our time? First, the housing crisis didn’t start with the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was made worse. For one thing, the shift to remote work kept the demand for housing steady, even in the midst of high unemployment. Unfortunately, inequity boomed right along with housing demand. If you owned a home, you could sit tight. If you were in the rental market, your chances of being a homeowner fell even further behind. And, if your employment did not provide you the luxury to work remotely, chances increased that you weren’t able to work, so you fell even further behind. One report found that nearly 20% of Black renters and 15.4% of Hispanic tenants are behind on rent payments, compared with 9.7% of whites. The discrepancies were far worse in Wisconsin, where 47.4% of Black and 31% of Hispanic renters were behind on payments, compared with just 8% of white renters. Enormous spikes in the number of residents without housing were soon to follow. Many of these inequities were revealed by the pandemic. In Milwaukee, evictions have increased since 2020, most of them in low-income communities.
Home ownership has been exacerbated by a related issue, that of student loan repayment. Many graduates who would ordinarily be homeowners are burdened with years of debt repayment, putting the purchase of a home out of reach. This crisis was not created in a vacuum: an explosion in higher education costs, coupled with the predatory lending practices of many student loan providers, created a perfect storm of indebtedness from which many find it nearly impossible to escape. I count myself lucky to have attended college in the era of the California Master Plan for Higher Education (1960), which delivered what it promised: educational opportunity at a reasonable price. The 1960 Master Plan assumed that high school graduates who were university eligible could choose to enter the campuses of the University of California or California State University at any time (before obtaining junior status) and needed only to be students in good standing at the college level. Furthermore, the Master Plan directed the California Community Colleges to offer lower-division instruction that was transferable to four-year colleges, provide remedial and vocational training, and grant associate degrees and certificates. This was a reaffirmation of California’s long-time commitment to the principle of tuition-free education to residents of the state. However, the 1960 Master Plan did establish the principle that students should pay fees for auxiliary costs like dormitories and recreational facilities. In my case, I paid no tuition but what was called “student fees”, minimal even for that day and age. California passed “free community college in California” for the socially beneficial purpose of providing greater access to higher education for vulnerable communities such as low-income students, veterans, people of color, and first-generation students. Researching this hit me like a far-off echo, a dream which has since been lost due to the pressure of events.
What is affordable housing? According to the (California) East Bay Housing Organization, housing is affordable if it costs no more than 30% of one’s income. People who pay more than this are considered “cost burdened”; those who pay more than 50% are “severely cost burdened.” Affordable housing generally means affordable to lower-income people with incomes at or below 80% of area median income (AMI). Most affordable rental housing programs target lower-income people, while affordable homeownership programs increasingly target people making up to 120% of AMI.
The problem, which has been building for decades, is only getting worse. Working and middle-income families can no longer afford to own a home, renters face rising costs that force them to move further from their jobs and communities, and growing numbers of unhoused people live on our streets. Public opinion polls show that most Bay Area residents are concerned about their own housing stability as well as that of their families, friends and neighbors. A majority report that they’ve considered moving out of the area and even out of state because of the housing situation.
Does rent control work? By definition, it is a policy that limits the amount that a landlord can raise the rent in a given year. It aims to stabilize housing costs for low-income households who do not live in rent-regulated affordable housing. It also discourages speculation in low-income neighborhoods, where rising rents lead to gentrification and displacement. In California, however, the Costa-Hawkins Act weakened rent control by letting a landlord raise the rent when a new tenant moves in. This encouraged landlords to evict tenants who live in rent-controlled units. Thus the “remedy” needs a remedy: eviction protection alongside rent control to discourage this practice. The recent COVID-19 eviction moratoriums were only a quick fix. A new wave of evictions is sure to follow once these expire. The quick answer to whether rent control works is not really—only the supply-side availability of more housing can do that.
As Detective Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts, ma’am.” Knowing the facts enables us to to honestly and directly face the problem in order to effect an approach. Here are some of them:
- In October 2021, about half of Americans (49%) said this was a major problem where they live, up 10 percentage points from early 2018. In the same 2021 survey, 70% of Americans said young adults today have a harder time buying a home than their parents’ generation did.
- A variety of factors have set the stage for the financial challenges American homeowners and renters have been facing in the housing market, including incomes that haven’t kept up with housing cost increases and a housing construction slowdown. A surge in home buying spurred by record low mortgage interest rates during the COVID-19 pandemic has further strained the availability of homes.
- As home sales have boomed, active housing listings have dropped and the median home sale price has surged, according to data from the Federal Reserve. The number of active housing listings in the U.S. was at its lowest in at least five years in January 2022, with 408,922 active listings on the market. That’s a 60% drop from about 1 million listings in February 2020, just before the coronavirus recession hit the U.S.
- Home ownership is actually improving. There were an estimated 2.1 million more homeowners in the fourth quarter of 2020 than there were a year earlier, equal to the previous record increase in homeowners, which occurred during the housing boom between 2003 and 2004. In the fourth quarter of 2021, 74% of White adults owned a home, compared with 43% of Black Americans and 48% of Hispanic Americans. These disparities in homeownership have persisted over decades.
- Evictions often increase with gentrification, leading to the displacement of low-income residents and communities of color. However, they are also common among cost-burdened renters who struggle to afford the high cost of market-rate housing. The individual and communal costs of evictions are high. In the Bay Area, eviction can lead to homelessness. Rent control, Section 8 vouchers, subsidized affordable housing, and eviction moratoria are all tools to reduce the likelihood and harms of eviction.
- In 2020, 46% of American renters spent 30% or more of their income on housing, including 23% who spent at least 50% of their income this way. This meets the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of being “cost-burdened”.
- Renters across the U.S. have seen the average rent rise 18% over the last five years, outpacing inflation.
- People with lower incomes or net worth were more likely to be renters: Only 10.5% of people in the top income quartile, for example, were renters.
- According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Survey of Consumer Expectations. Americans expect that rents will increase by 10% this year – that’s larger than the expected increase in price for any other commodity, including food (9.2%), college education (9.0%) and gas (8.8%).
Following are some strategies for Improvement:
- Acquiring and preserving existing housing as permanently affordable. For example, the East Bay Housing Organization was part of a coalition that passed AB 1079, which enables tenants and non-profit organizations to match top bids on foreclosed homes, enabling existing homes stay in community control, preserving affordability by decreasing speculation. Preventing the loss of existing housing from condo conversion, demolition or use as short-term rental housing.
- For the rest of the estimated 48% of renter households that are housing cost burdened, other techniques must be used to ensure people can stay housed and afford the basic needs of their daily life. Housing Choice Vouchers, often referred to as “Section 8,” are subsidies that ensure that low-income households pay no more than 30% of their income in rent. The voucher is used to pay the landlord the difference between the full rent and the amount that is affordable to the tenant. The HCV program is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and run by Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) in local communities. HCVs may be tied to either specific tenants or specific housing units. A household with a “tenant-based voucher” can move from one apartment to another and the subsidy will move with them. A housing provider with a “project-based voucher” can subsidize a specific unit in order to make it affordable to successive low-income tenants. When a tenant leaves an apartment with a project-based voucher, the subsidy will not move with them.
The 3 P’s—a Plan for Action:
- Requiring that all cities – particularly those that historically have blocked new housing – establish zoning for higher-density housing to accommodate their fair share of the region’s housing needs. For example, in 2020-2021, EBHO advocated for a Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RNHA) that promotes an equitable distribution of new housing and furthers fair housing.
- Expanding funding for affordable housing at the local, county, regional, and state levels.
- Using surplus public land to develop affordable housing.
As previously stated:
- Acquiring and preserving existing housing
- Preventing the loss of existing housing from condo conversions, demolition or use as short-term rental housing.
- Preventing excessive rent increases and unjust evictions.
- Providing counseling and legal assistance to tenants facing eviction.
The preceding discussion points to the possibility that there is something about the entire basis of our housing approach that is wrong. Into the dialog comes an extraordinary genius, inventor, visionary, philosopher, architect, and engineer, Richard Buckminster Fuller. Amazingly, he addressed much of his writing and design work to housing solutions, beginning nearly a century ago, in 1927. “Bucky” (as he was known to his friends and as he called himself) asks what may seem like an impertinent question but is actually deadly serious: “How much does your house weigh?” This typical provocation was aimed at critics of his Dymaxion House, a radically new environment for dwelling introduced in 1927 and so named for its “maximum gain of advantage from minimal energy input.” This 1,600-square-foot house weighed only three tons; its cost was about the same as the price of a car. The dream of a low-cost factory-built house captured the attention of many socially conscious architects in the twentieth century: if the automobile industry could mass-produce their products quickly, efficiently, and relatively cheaply, why couldn’t a similar system be applied to housing? Perhaps no one pushed this idea as far as Fuller, an extraordinary genius, inventor, philosopher, architect, and engineer. He started looking for ways to improve human shelter by:
- Applying modern technological know-how to shelter construction.
- Making shelter more comfortable and efficient.
- Making shelter more economically available to a greater number of people.
In 1920, 85% of the cost of production of a single-family dwelling in the United States went into the house’s shell and foundation. Only 15% of the general contract went into what we call “mechanical inclusions”. In North America, that 15% covered a kitchen sink and a furnace. There was no electrical refrigeration at that time. Only a small percentage of houses had indoor toilets. A very small percentage had electrical wiring. Due to the high mechanization of World War I, the postwar “fallout” of advanced technology brought one mechanical inclusion after another in general contract for a single-family dwelling. Thus the percentage changed upward, in 1929, 28%; in 1940, 45%; in.1969, 65%. Because of these trends, what we now call “home trailers” or mobile homes were developed—modern, lightweight, aluminum boxes, full of the mechanical package which constitutes the improved standard of living—minus the expensive house. It should be mentioned that many who live in coastal areas or by lakes choose to live on their boats, another form of mobility, and others with mobile homes are truly mobile, living their lives on the road.
More on the subject of weight: reduced weight benefitted from airplane design, and from doing more with less. Fuller writes, “This new range of environment control built lightly and sinuously into airplane enclosures indicates postwar housing solutions distinctly advanced in every standard of performance, yet weighing only a few hundred pounds per capita. Thus postwar human container weights of possibly one-quarter ton per occupant are to be compared with the lightest wallboard prefabricated structure of 1942, which weighed twenty-five tons (not including foundations), or better than five tons per capita, while the so-called permanent housing structures of 1942, including their foundations, still averaged in excess of 100 tons per capita and will be obsolete in ten years.”
Fuller strongly believed one of the primary failures of mankind was what he determined to be a general human disadvantage in the ability to control our environment. Specifically, humans suffered from overly priced and grossly inadequate living conditions. The traditional house did not support the dual relationship of house and occupant. Influenced by the industrial progress seen in the automotive and aeronautical industries, the most beneficial form of shelter would be:
- Had a low cost of construction and was easily replicable for mass production
- Tornado resistant
These ideas would be the foundation for the Dymaxion House prototype.
Fuller’s analysis questioned the entire economic basis of conventional housing. He asked, “Why does the public not know of the ineconomy [Fuller’s term] in the building arts? Because the costs are underwritten deferred and hidden by the government’s socialized subsidy of the uneconomic prototypes through mortgaged guaranteeing, the thirty-year amortization of the astronomical costs of homes, whose costs might otherwise be felt personally by the public. We are dealing with a comprehensive industrial accounting problem that has been misconceived of as a political class system problem….The problem is now for the first time in history subject to complete solution by comprehensive anticipatory design science in a way utterly painless…. Three-quarters of the United States national debt of almost $1 trillion and much of the private debt, which altogether transfers $25 billion a year ‘interest’ from our nation’s pocketbooks to the banks and insurance companies, has been amassed through government building subsidies that were designed strictly as ‘money-makers’ for bankers, real estate operators, and handcraft building-industry interests. The funds were not amassed in the interest of the individuals and the community…. if we solve the human problem and do so in the most economical and satisfactory manner, independent of building codes, zoning restrictions, etc., while employing air-space technology, effectiveness, and safety, we will do that which no subsidized housing thus far has done.” He predicted that, “with increasing socioeconomic emergencies, the economic support will ultimately materialize simply because we have what the world-around humanity is looking for needs. The money-making solutions of housing are exactly what humanity is not looking for but has had to accept, lacking any alternatives.”
In the Dymaxion House, a central aluminum mast contained all the mechanical elements of the building in its core. Two hexagonal decks are suspended from this mast by triangulated tension cables. The house is enclosed within walls of double-panel vacuum glazing and is a fully air-conditioned environment. One of Fuller’s students called the Dymaxion House a metallurgical pound cake, and indeed the rooms are divided into wedge shapes, seen most clearly in the color-coded plan. The unconventional shape, structure, and materials of the Dymaxion House stood in sharp contrast to buildings by leading modernists such as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. Le Corbusier had described his own mass-produced housing as a “machine for living in,” and the Dymaxion House was unabashedly machinelike, but Fuller was highly critical of modern European architects, who he felt were preoccupied with cosmetic concerns that merely symbolized or aestheticized functional elements without a clear and honest display of function and efficiency.
Due to the start-up costs involved, the Dymaxion House never went into production, but the shortage of affordable housing after World War II re-sparked his initial goal to develop mass-produced residential housing. Working for the Foreign Economic Administration in Washington D.C. during the war, he was able to focus on new ideas and redevelop the failed Dymaxion house. In 1944, with the end of the war in sight, Fuller made a deal with the Beech Aircraft Corporation in Wichita, Kansas to produce his reconstructed Dymaxion House. Beech had played an important role during World War II producing aircraft bombers at their midwestern factory, but the end of the war meant uncertainty for the future of the company. With a surplus of aluminum on their hands and workers to employ, under Fuller’s guidance, the company hoped to produce up to 50,000 Dymaxion homes annually. Prior to the end of construction of the prototype, Beech released a full-length article on “The Fuller House” in its official bulletin The Beech Log describing the house in detail. In 1945 two physical prototypes, one indoor and one outdoor, were officially unveiled. The new house was aptly titled the Dymaxion Dwelling Machine. A Fortune magazine feature on the house published in 1946 was titled “Fuller’s House: It Has a Better Than Even Chance of Upsetting the Building Industry.”
Fuller’s new design, the Dymaxion Dwelling Machine, popularly known as the Wichita House, was round instead of hexagonal. Like the Dymaxion, the center mast of the Dwelling Machine was mounted on top of a sunken concrete post and the remainder of the house was stacked around it. Unlike the 4D house, the Dymaxion Dwelling Machine would not face the issues that had caused its predecessor to fail. New innovations as a result of the war brought him the technology needed to make the house a success, namely materials. These included new corrosion-resistant aluminum alloys, plastic ‘Plexi-Glass’ windows, steel, plywood, and synthetic rubber. Although several thousand advance orders were received, only one was built; the enterprise collapsed under bureaucratic delays. Fuller went on to design the famous Geodesic Dome, which applied some of the same principles of efficiency, shape, system, and materials that he had explored in the Dymaxion House. The main difference between the standard post-war brick and mortar home and his home was the cost. Keeping his promise to maintain affordability, the Dymaxion Dwelling Machine could be purchased for a total cost of $6,500, or the price of a Cadillac.
After much promotion by Beech, visitors flocked to Wichita to see the house. Over 3,500 orders were placed by customers wishing to purchase the house of the future and the success of the project seemed imminent. Buckminster didn’t think the infrastructure to set up distribution of the houses was ready and insisted on seven more years to work through some of the issues he saw with the prototype. Licensed electricians and plumbers also refused to set up service for the houses as the majority of pre-installation had been completed by machinists outside of their unions. Investors in the project grew impatient and Beech was unable to come up with the amount of money required to go into full-scale production of the houses. The project eventually collapsed when Fuller walked away from it leaving only the two prototypes as the result of his vision.
Not to be deterred, Fuller moved on to the development of the geodesic dome. Its key advantage is structural: Fuller would describe the differences in strength between a rectangle and a triangle would be to apply pressure to both structures. The rectangle would fold up and be unstable but the triangle withstands the pressure and is much more rigid–in fact the triangle is twice as strong. This principle directed his studies toward creating a new architectural design, the geodesic dome, based also upon his idea of “doing more with less.” Fuller discovered that if a spherical structure was created from triangles, it would have unparalleled strength.
The sphere uses the “doing more with less” principle in that it encloses the largest volume of interior space with the least amount of surface area thus saving on materials and cost. Fuller reintroduced the idea that when the sphere’s diameter is doubled it will quadruple its square footage and produce eight times the volume.
The spherical structure of a dome is one of the most efficient interior atmospheres for human dwellings because air and energy are allowed to circulate without obstruction. This enables heating and cooling to occur naturally. Geodesic shelters have been built all around the world in different climates and temperatures and still they have proven to be the most efficient human shelter one can find.
More specifically, the dome is energy efficient for many reasons:
- Its decreased surface area requires less building materials.
- Exposure to cold in the winter and heat in the summer is decreased because, being spherical, there is the least surface area per unity of volume per structure.
- The concave interior creates a natural airflow that allows the hot or cool air to flow evenly throughout the dome with the help of return air ducts.
- Extreme wind turbulence is lessened because the winds that contribute to heat loss flow smoothly around the dome.
- It acts like a type of giant down-pointing headlight reflector and reflects and concentrates interior heat. This helps prevent radiant heat loss. The net annual energy savings for a dome owner is 30% less than normal rectilinear homes and helps save the environment from wasted energy.
Our survey of Fuller’s amazing vision concludes with the science fiction-like concept of entirely domed cities. Domed-over cities could be constructed in desert areas to shield new growth from the sun while preventing wasteful evaporation of piped in, desalinated water. Or, as he writes in Utopia or Oblivion (1969), “The structure can be assembled on the floating foundation. This will make the whole structure earthquake-proof. The whole city can be floated out to the ocean at any point and anchored.”
As advanced as this thinking was, our present reality is far from its fulfillment. Yet, I am far from being pessimistic. The backside of crisis is that it often creates opportunity. The wellspring of historical progress proceeds from the pressure of events, the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith’s vision pushing us forward. It currently manifests itself in several ways:
A breath of fresh air and hope for the immediate, not distant, future lies with the YIMBY (Yes, in My Back Yard) movement, a public advocacy group dedicated to achieving improved housing affordability and access through legislative reform. Its goals are to “increase transparency and encourage more thoughtful and inclusive development practices by requiring localities to fully examine and disclose their housing policy decisions; provide localities a framework for smart policymaking and regulatory practices, thus promoting more inclusive development principles; decrease the barriers to smart, inclusive growth and reducing the negative and cumulative impact of exclusionary housing policies. It is also a way to clearly demonstrate that the federal government takes seriously the challenges created by exclusionary zoning.
Current California initiatives include:
(1) amending the state constitution to allow local land use laws to supersede those of the state. (2) legalizing the production of public or affordable housing without a referendum. (3) establishment of a rental registry to track local markets for landlords who own five or more properties. (4) establishing a regional agency in Los Angeles County to raise revenue and fund local housing. (5) eliminating expensive parking mandates, along with well-meaning but counterproductive climate and clean air goals: “We need affordable housing for people, not expensive parking for cars.” (6) A revolution has taken place in the design, construction, and permitting of tiny homes, which include manufacture of the homes themselves as well as the repurposing of shipping containers, storage buildings, and the like. These must be accompanied, of course, by zoning and permitting to enable their placement on residential lots and available urban sites.
Oregon has taken similar steps to implement solutions not only to the problem of homelessness but to the housing supply in general:
(1) Dignity Village, Portland’s oldest homeless village features sleeping pods, originally seen in Ulm, Germany. Dignity Village began in 2000 as a protest movement by people experiencing homelessness. It’s now a self-governed village with 45 pods onsite and 60 people living there. Residents typically spend about 1.7 years there. This is an important statistic as critics often view accommodation for the homeless as something they will never outgrow.
(2) Similar to the YIMBY movement in California, Oregon’s steps to increase housing supply include the conversion of basements, garages, and spare rooms of the main dwelling, and construction of additional cottages, yurts (or domes) on the same property.
(3) Within the house itself an alcove apartment with a dedicated place for sleeping may be created. This tucked-away sleeping nook is usually divided by some sort of wall, bookshelf, or divider. Sometimes it is nothing more than a corner in the back of the studio hidden by a wall. As is the case in Oregon, it may be further reduced in size and built as an add-on to the house, containing a bed and a built in storage cabinet.
Zoning and building codes have previously been the enemy of such innovation, but the current crisis dictates the need for a new direction, and many of these restrictions are falling or have fallen..
As I completed work on this post, I saw a program announcement for a series entitled “You Live in What?”, this episode featuring living spaces in a bakery, a church, and a dance hall. I take this as a sign that housing is on the radar. And it should be. Perhaps it is not too late to benefit from Fuller’s nearly hundred-year-old vision which has become new again. I, for one, being comfortable in my situation, am unwilling to give my house up for a dome or a mobile home, but these structures could certainly provide a bridge from inadequate or nonexistent housing to home security. The availability of these, plus tiny homes, repurposed buildings, and the like, combined with the public will to make it work, have the potential to remake our housing profile and achieve long-needed equity and stabilization of the market. The future is in our hands. Bucky, I think, would be pleased.