In the US, rental property is one of the biggest barriers to electric vehicle take up

An electric car charging point in San Francisco, 2010. Image: Getty.

Americans have now purchased more than 800,000 electric vehicles, counting both plug-in hybrids and all-electric models. That may sound like a lot of EVs, and it is a big jump from the less than 5,000 that were on the road in 2010. But this is still less than 1 per cent of all U.S. registered vehicles, despite the recent availability of longer-range, more affordable EV models like the Chevrolet Bolt.

Policymakers nonetheless see EVs as having great potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and other forms of pollution, and are supporting tax credits and other policies to encourage people to buy EVs. California, for example, aims to have 5 million of them on its roads by 2030.

But to meet ambitious goals like that, EVs will need to stop being a niche product and appeal to as many drivers as possible.

I am an energy economist working on transportation policy, and I’ve looked at newly available data to try to understand why people purchase EVs. It turns out that renting a home may be one of the biggest barriers.

A striking difference

New federal data show that homeowners are more than three times more likely than renters to own an EV. And since 43m/a> U.S. households – 37 per cent of all households – rent their homes, it is worth thinking hard about why this gap exists.

By analysing the Transportation Department’s newly released 2017 National Household Travel Survey data, I found striking differences in EV ownership between homeowners and renters. In California, homeowners are three times more likely to own an EV than renters.

The gap is even wider for the rest of the U.S., where homeowners are six times more likely to own an EV than renters.

Income isn’t everything

You might be thinking that this gap is caused by income. It is true that EV ownership is higher for richer people, which is only natural since EVs cost more to buy than comparable gasoline-powered vehicles although charging them is cheaper than filling a tank.

But I learned that homeowners are more likely than renters to own EVs, even when they have similar income levels. For example, among households earning between $75,000 and $100,000 per year, 1 in 130 homeowners owns an EV, compared to 1 in 370 renters.

Parking and charging

The other big difference between homeowners and renters is having a place to park.

Most homeowners have a garage, a driveway or both. That makes charging extremely convenient for them because they can charge their vehicles at night.

It’s not so easy, however, for many renters. Renters are more likely to live in multi-unit buildings and parking spots may not be assigned, or there may not be any parking spots at all. The federal data doesn’t provide any information about parking availability, but this likely helps explain the disparity between homeowners and renter EV ownership rates.

There is also the related question of charging equipment.

For homeowners, it is relatively straightforward to invest in a 240-volt outlet, electric panel upgrades and other improvements to speed up charging. These investments can cost $1,000 or more, but are a good investment for a homeowner planning to stay put.

Making this investment is trickier for renters, however. They may not want to invest their own money in a property they don’t own and their landlords may be unwilling to let them do it in any case due to liability and other concerns.

This quandary is what economists call a landlord-tenant problem. In theory, a landlord could make investments like this, and then charge higher rent to recoup the cost. In practice, however, this can get complicated.

Even if the current tenant has an EV – the next tenant may not. And if future tenants don’t have EVs then they won’t need – or appreciate – having charging equipment handy. Several studies, including work by economist Erica Myers, show that renters tend not to value the energy-related investments their landlords make.


Public support for charging

California policymakers are well aware of these challenges and that is a big reason why they are investing heavily in charging stations. The state is spending $2.5bn to bring 250,000 charging stations statewide by 2025. Each of these stations will support several EVs, so this will make charging much easier for EV owners.

Much of this funding will cover the cost of building charging stations in communities with a lot of renters. The big utility Pacific Gas & Electric, for example, is making multifamily residences a high priority as it builds thousands of new charging stations across the state. As this charging infrastructure grows, the EV market is bound to expand as well.

I’m eager to see whether these investments will narrow the homeowner-renter gap.

While writing this article, I searched on the Zillow real estate website for rental listings in San Francisco and could find only four apartments that mentioned EV charging as an amenity.

The ConversationThis isn’t many compared to the more than 1,000 of the apartments on the market, but I have no doubt that there will be many more landlords giving their tenants a place to plug in their cars as more renters buy EVs in the near future.

Lucas Davis, Professor at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley

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

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.