Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Growth for its own sake is the philosophy of a cancer cell.

Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist. — Kenneth Boulding

The headline was among graffiti scrawled on a men’s room wall in an Encinitas restaurant. It’s a variation on a line written by Edward Abbey in The Journey Home.

The Boulding quote means economic growth increasing by a successive percentage.

If exponential economic growth meant lifting more and more people out of poverty and a more equitable distribution of wealth, it would be a good thing. It has often meant that in what are called developing economies. In recent decades in the US, however, it has meant the opposite.

The downside of economic growth is that it’s nearly always environmentally destructive. Eventually, the damage outweighs the benefits. If we’re more well off as we destroy the planet that sustains us, where’s the good?

Among the threats humanity has caused and faces:

Global Warming/Climate Change: July 2019 was the hottest month measured on Earth since records began in 1880, the latest in a long line of peaks that scientists say backs up predictions for man-made climate change. — Associated Press

The effects of global warming and climate change are broad, deep and dire.

Scientists don’t want you to take this as a death sentence. There is still hope to curb climate change before it becomes life-threatening; it simply needs a massive amount of financial support and attention. — National Public Radio

Water Crisis: A quarter of the human population [~1.9 billion people] is facing the growing and dire risk of running out of water, according to World Resources Institute data. — New York Times

There is and has always been a fixed amount of fresh water on the planet. The only way to make more is to desalinate sea water.

Desertification: A half-billion people already live in places turning into desert, and soil is being lost between 10 and 100 times as fast as it is forming. — New York Times citing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international group of scientists convened by the United Nations

Shrinking/shifting arable land: Climate change is putting dire pressure on the ability of humanity to feed itself, with the possibility that food crises could develop on several continents at once. — Attribution as immediately above

Species Extinction: The UN already reported earlier this year that one million species are threatened by human activity. — CNN

Life on Earth is in peril. The biodiversity crisis could potentially have permanent effects if swift action is not taken. — Vox

Sea Level Rise: It has two components. The volume of ocean water is increasing as northern and southern ice caps melt. Global warming is raising sea water temperature. The warmer the water, the more it expands. Sea water is simply taking up more space, forcing land area to shrink.

Plastic Pollution: One of the reasons global warming and climate change have taken so long to alarm most people is because they’re slow. They don’t seem like an emergency because they’re not readily apparent. On the other hand, plastic pollution is visible everywhere. Besides having been recently found in snow and rain, it’s abundantly visible in the oceans, on beaches, in inland waters and on the land. It has even overwhelmed the peak of Mount Everest.

The seven problems given above are consequences. The cause is too many people. Our population has grown beyond Earth’s carrying capacity.

The solution is not 10 or 12 billion people driving electric cars. The solution is fewer people — about half the current 7.7 billion world population. We got away with our destructive behavior until there were too many of us. We have overloaded the planet. We’re killing it and its ability to sustain life — and not only human life. We’re heading for a Mad Max scenario: Too many people competing for too few resources.

The fertility rate (the number of births per woman) is shrinking below or to the replacement level in many countries. In 1964 worldwide, it was 5.0. By 2017, it had dropped to 2.4. That still means population growth overall. For population to gradually shrink, the global fertility rate has to fall below 2.0.

Driven by economics and fear of the future, some people are choosing to have fewer or no children. But openly encouraging population reduction provokes instant condemnation. Almost nobody talks about it.

Hummingbird chicks so small they fit in a teaspoon know not to poop in their own nests. They raise their tiny butts above the rim and shoot poop projectiles into the air. We humans soil the only nest we have. The more of us there are, the faster we destroy our planet. The only way to save our species and millions of others is to reduce our numbers.

Problems caused by a shrinking population — more older people and fewer younger people — are solvable. Problems caused by limitless population growth are not. They threaten the existence of life on Earth.
— Doug Fiske

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Providing Affordable Housing Requires Filling the Gap

First, there’s what housing actually costs. Second, there’s what the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) says people can afford to pay. At least in coastal California counties, the second figure is much lower than the first. For a city to provide affordable housing requires filling the gap between the two figures.

The state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) uses HUD’s figures. HUD says housing costs 30 percent of total income. The latest figures available at post time were for 2018. See the full details here:

To simplify things a bit, HUD and HCD use a four-person household and the county’s median income as benchmarks. The figures for other income categories are percentages of the median. The city of Encinitas has designated only the Very Low and Low Income categories in its affordable housing plans, so I’ve included only those in the chart below.

San Diego County 4-Person Area Median Income: $81,800

# People

The term “affordable housing” is tossed around without definition. To make it meaningful, it has to be expressed in dollars. Going with the 30-percent-of-income allowance for housing, here’s what a four-person household can afford to pay per month in San Diego County:

Very Low Income: $1,216
Low Income: $1,946

Say a four-person household needs a two-bedroom, two-bath unit. That’s tight but let’s not get extravagant. At post time, Zillow showed 20 rentals with those specifics in Encinitas. Of those, 13 were under $3,000. The range was $2,145 to $2,900. The average was $2,561.

Using that average and the HUD/HCD figures for affordability in San Diego County, here are the gaps the city would have to fill per rental unit:

Very Low Income: $1,345
Low Income: $615

None of this is exact and not everybody is in a four-person household. But putting affordability in dollar terms using the accepted benchmarks gives some idea of what the city of Encinitas is up against. Incidentally, the wait list for HUD Section 8 housing funding in San Diego County varies a bit from city to city, but it’s about 10 years long. Effectively, there’s no new Section 8 funding.

In her April 24, 2019 commentary in the Union-Tribune, Mayor Blakespear wrote: “Our housing plan accommodates zoning for 1,504 housing units designed to be affordable for lower-income people, spread across 15 different sites throughout the city.” That’s not correct. (The income figures the mayor gives are also wrong.) A maximum of 15 percent of the units the upzoning permits would be “affordable for lower-income people.” If that actually happens, which is doubtful, there would be 226 affordable units.

What can the city do to fill the gap between what housing costs and what HUD/HCD say Very Low and Low Income people can afford to pay? The city has to provide some form of subsidy. One way is to build the housing on city-owned land. That takes a substantial cost out of the calculation. The deal the city struck with Habitat for Humanity to build housing on city-owned land on the corner of Urania Avenue and Leucadia Boulevard did that. City-owned site L7 on Quail Gardens Drive could have done that, but the majority of then-City Council members struck the L7 site from consideration.

A way the city now fills the gap: It owns 16 condos at Pacific Pines on El Camino Real. They’re a mix of one and two bedroom units with one or two baths. The rent range is $962 to $1,406 per month. The highest rent is $1,155 below the $2,561 average given above.

Facing the problem of having to fill the dollar gap for 1,504 units, what did the city do? It gifted developers at least 1,278 market-rate units for the sake of maybe getting 226 affordable units. The city shifted the subsidy from itself to the buyers of the market-rate units. The developers won’t pay the subsidy; they’ll pass it on to the market-rate buyers.

The city also forced the suspension of voter-approved Proposition A. Rather than abiding by Prop A as several residents demonstrated could be done while still satisfying HCD’s mandate, the City Council compromised the law, gifted developers and broke faith with the residents they were elected to serve. 
— Doug Fiske