Housing is Above the Law When Poverty is Institutionalized

Posted July 1st, 2009 by Gregory Johnson and filed in Issue 8: Bureaucracy/Regs.

housing-south-americaMost cities have ordinances that determine how small a house can be. Typically homes must be larger than 1000 square feet in size because any dwelling smaller than that is considered to be sub-standard and not suitable for habitation. Presumably these laws are established to prevent the construction of small shacks and shanty towns such as those pictured here. Such regulations may have the appearance of equity and reason, however they are neither fair nor rational.

Although housing codes suggest that small homes are not habitable, many homes built prior to such laws being established continue to be lived in and seem to be those in highest demand — despite the current national housing crisis. Although they cost less to construct, small homes aren’t necessarily of poor quality.

How is it that homes can be bought and sold on the market that are well below the legal minimum size standards, yet current laws dictate that newly constructed homes must be large? How is it that the law in most cities requires new homes be larger than 1000 square feet, yet apartments and rooming houses can be rented that are well below that limit?

The current “minimum size standards” are nothing more than institutionalized poverty and injustice. The fact is that the per-capita square footage for most people is about 300 square feet of space per person or less. Think of how common it is for several students to share a single cramped dorm room. Singles and couples on a budget often rent a room or an efficiency to save on rent.

The current minimum size laws do nothing to help ensure more square feet of living space per person in our society. What they do is ensure that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

The minimum size rules established in a municipality are not the only regulations a builder is constrained by. Most neighborhoods have covenants that include the permitted size of homes in the neighborhood. It’s not uncommon to have 2000 square feet as a minimum size for new home construction in many neighborhoods.

Those who can’t afford to build a large home (most people) must rent. Herein lies the core of this issue. Those who rent are not building equity. They are lining someone else’s pockets with profits and paying off that person’s mortgage. Meanwhile, the renter owns nothing. Those who rent are often charged exorbitant fees and are locked into restrictive contracts. Often deposits are not returned unless a tenant takes legal action.

Allowing the construction of smaller homes and perhaps condos, would ensure that those who aren’t wealthy could at least start on their way toward home ownership and building equity.

Until the laws change, what some people have done is construct homes that are above the law by being above the ground. Homes constructed on trailers are considered to be similar to a camper or motor home RV. So, in most cities, people are able to wheel them in, rather than constructing them on site, and live independent of the laws that would otherwise have them evicted and their home condemned.

One Response to “Housing is Above the Law When Poverty is Institutionalized”

  1. ErinNo Gravatar says:

    Great article!! This sentence just really hit home to me:

    The current “minimum size standards” are nothing more than institutionalized poverty and injustice.

    I’ve never quite thought about it like that, but you are so right! The only homes I could afford were older and below the 1000 sq ft limit (and I had NO desire for anything bigger than that). I just find it so sad that my 920 sq ft home that is absolutely adorabe and is more than spacious enough for me and my daughter is considered sub-standard by our government.