Here are ten ways mayors can tackle poverty through housing policy

The Falinge Estate, Rochdale. Image: Getty.

The new metropolitan mayors who are being elected in the UK this week will wield significant power. But can they do any better than their colleagues in Westminster when it comes to tackling poverty? Housing is perhaps one area where the new mayors will be able to make their mark. The Conversation

Two years ago, researchers found that there was “little consideration of social or environmental policy” in the 38 city regional economic plans they reviewed. And further research in 2016 showed that growth is not enough to secure falls in poverty.

But since then, the government has struck devolution deals with many city regions. This has enabled those areas to articulate a vision and argue for the freedoms, flexibilities and funding necessary to realise it. This provides new opportunities for city regions and the metro mayors to use these powers to tackle poverty head on. So what exactly can these new city regional bodies do to have an impact on tackling poverty?

In our study, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, we assessed the extent to which devolved institutions were using their new housing and planning capacities to meet poverty reduction objectives.

The study found that the interest in more “inclusive” growth has yet to be translated into firm strategies and policies for housing and planning designed explicitly to support poverty reduction. Instead, the primary focus is on increasing housing supply to attract the skilled workers needed to deliver growth.

But we also concluded that city regions have significant opportunities to ensure their ambitious growth targets include the delivery of new and genuinely affordable housing and a better deal for increasingly marginalised private renters.

Here are ten ways that city regions can use devolution to support poor households in housing and planning policy, increase the stock of genuinely affordable housing and improve conditions in the private rented sector.

  • Combined authorities should use new planning powers – including the power to make new city regional plans – to make clear statements about the role of genuinely affordable housing in future housing developments.

  • Local authorities with the capacity to build affordable housing should get the funding they need to do so. Cross-boundary partnerships between city regions will open up possibilities to pool or trade the capacity within Housing Revenue Accounts so individual local authorities don’t max out their borrowing limits.

  • City regions need to dig deep and go far in deploying the land resources that they have available. This includes disposing of land at discounted rates to support affordable housing delivery.

  • City regions need to use devolution discussions to put in place a regeneration strategy for their areas. Grant funding will be critical in unlocking brownfield sites which are expensive to develop. City regions could go even further to ensure full alignment of transport, infrastructure and service investment to develop sustainable new communities and not just housing estates.

  • “Use it or lose it” measures, including compulsory purchase and levying charges on undeveloped sites, might unlock stalled projects where planning permission has been granted but where developers are not taking action.

  • City regions could set up non-profit lettings agencies to drive up quality in the unregulated private rental sector – where only voluntary reforms have so far been promised by the government.

  • Local authorities have insufficient incentives to enforce housing laws and maintain quality because revenues are paid directly to the Treasury. City regions could negotiate the right to keep fines and reinvest them in enforcing housing standards.

  • In some poor quality local rental markets it may make sense to negotiate with government to administer housing benefit more flexibly. The Local Housing Allowance rates could be set by reference to standards, with higher payments going to better landlords.

  • The political challenges of securing cross-boundary cooperation are all too real. But for metro mayors there is a distinct prize. Housing-related poverty is a local issue that will not go away on its own and smart mayors will get capital from distinguishing themselves from central government ineffectiveness in tackling the housing question.

  • The city regional political conversation must begin to articulate a convincing narrative beyond the current myopia on housing growth. Whitehall’s sole fixation on numbers is wrong but is being copied elsewhere. City regions can tackle the problem head on.

Our work has shown that there are huge challenges to come for the city regions. Most notably, those areas that need the most help to cut poverty may be left to get on with the job on their own, without the political capital and financial resources they need.

But there is a good deal to be hopeful about, too. The opportunities for new metro mayors to respond to the issues facing towns and cities are great. And it can set them apart from the Westminster pack.

Ed Ferrari is senior lecturer in urban studies and planning at the University of SheffieldRichard Crisp is senior research fellow at Sheffield Hallam University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.



America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 

In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.