There is an interesting article in today's Globe which talks about the poor, housing and average consumption and it’s rather startling. While stats do show there is real poverty in American, today’s poor often still have car(s), air conditioning and a 43% home ownership rate. The homes that the poor do either own or rent are drastically larger than either European middle class or American middle class of the 1970s. I'm sure these stats are probably relevant to the Canadian experience as well.
So a reasonable question to ask would be what is the true definition of poor? Is much of today’s poverty real or simply a combination of exaggerated expectation and the unwillingness of people to buy rationally sized homes, plus this problem is added to when towns and builders seem unwilling to build such units?
The average double garage is as large as a 1900 era home, when does poverty equate to greed and unwillingness to live within ones means?
Poverty to me would mean lack of food, shelter and medical care, ie basic necessities. Medical care is mostly a given in Canada but when the government does not mandate small houses of <1000sq ft, the poor end up spending their money on what they can find which are usually much larger and more expensive which in turns reduces their ability to feed their family and provide other needs.
Shelter does not necessarily mean 2 baths, each child having their own room, or the even the existing 439 sq ft average living space for poor U.S. citizens. Shelter means something safe, clean and warm that is not crowded (the U.S. definition of crowded is more than one person per room of the home which represents only 5.6% of U.S. poor today)
The market is either failing to providing small houses (I’ve seen no new ones) or else people are unwilling to accept what they need, rather than what they want. It's probably the combination of no supply and exaggerated expectation but the result is the same, people spending far too much of their income on shelter,leading to poverty.
So an ideal way to reduce poverty with a side benefit of lowering our carbon footprint and preparing for peak oil would be the creation and marketing of small efficient housing. Other than a small effort by Habitat for Humanity no one, and certainly not government is doing anything about this. Why is this not an election issue?
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Wednesday, September 26, 2007