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The role of Local Government in Victoria’s Big Housing Build

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/01/2021 - 8:30am in

 Social Housing Growth Fund and Local Government

The Victorian State Government’s “Big Housing Build” announcement was widely well received, but left some in Local Government wondering what role they’ll be able to play. In this blog, Nenad breaks down the “Build” project and how Local Governments can be involved.

Work in Local Government?

.id has been supporting Local Government housing strategies for more than 20 years. We work with Local Government partners to build, analyse and monitor a local evidence base for use in policy and advocacy work. Read more about how we might help you.

In late 2020, the Victorian State Government announced its $5.3 billion “Big Housing Build” programme, the biggest social housing investment in the state’s history. The project aims to benefit Victorians not just by providing social and affordable housing, but also thousands of jobs.

The Big Housing Build Overview

This project is Victoria’s largest investment in the social housing system and will include:

  • $5.3 billion in new, additional investment
  • 9,300 social homes and 2,900 mainly affordable homes*
  • $1.38 billion, delivered through the Social Housing Growth Fund over the next four years to support up to 4,200 new dwellings.

* Affordable housing refers to housing which aims to allow low to moderate-income households to enter the private housing market.

If all goes well, “the Build” will result in a 10% growth of Victoria’s housing system by the end of the program. An increase in social housing will create a safety net for low-income and in-need Victorians, and create safe and secure shelter while controlling and hopefully decreasing homelessness. The increase in affordable housing will give low- to moderate-income households an opportunity to buy their own home in areas with increased access to jobs and transport. The project is being managed by the newly formed Homes Victoria.

The Big Housing Build will be made up of “fast start” projects (that is, those built on public Homes Victoria land) and “strategic and partnership” projects, which will begin later. Fast start projects have already commenced, with the planned delivery of 500 new social housing properties and 540 new affordable and market homes.

Most of these projects are expected to commence in 2021 with completion by 2023/2024. Fast start sites include developments in Hawthorn, Ascot Vale, North Richmond, Ashburton, Heidelberg West and Flemington. The Heidelberg West development on Tarakan Street, for example, commences in the second half of 2021 and, by 2023, will replace the existing social housing dwelling stock with 130 dwellings in the form of townhouses and apartments. The rebuild aims to redesign the look of social housing in line with other housing stock in the area and help lessen the negative stigma around social housing.

Priority Local Government areas

Along with the fast start projects, the Big Housing Build will seek bids from priority areas, beginning in middle-ring suburbs but including and inviting input from all over Victoria. The idea is that the State Government will work with the private sector and Local Government authorities to spot purchase and bring forward large developments/ready-to-start construction and purchase existing residential properties across Victoria.

21 Local Government areas have been identified as priority areas where social and affordable housing is urgently needed:

This phase of the Big Housing Build will create 1,600 new social housing properties and 200 new affordable homes.

What input does local government have?

Beyond 2021, the Big Housing Build will work with the community housing sector to launch the “Social Housing Growth Fund” for housing projects led by community housing providers, resulting in up to 4,200 new homes. It is this phase of the Big Housing Build and for the remainder of the program where Homes Victoria aims to explore opportunities to build on surplus government-owned land and other sites which come up through collaboration with industry, community housing providers and Local Government. This is where we see the most opportunity for our Local Government partners to advocate for the provision of State government social and affordable housing, by presenting a complete and convincing evidence-based narrative which describes and quantifies local need for social and affordable housing.

Some of our Local Government clients already have social and affordable housing strategies. The City of Yarra, for example, has a comprehensive “Social and Affordable Housing Strategy” which can help them advocate for some of the Big Housing Build stock to be fast-tracked there. The City of Darebin, one of the 21 priority areas, are working on an affordable housing strategy and have in recent years even proposed (albeit unsuccessfully) to make it mandatory for all councils to adopt “inclusionary zoning”, requiring developers to include social and affordable housing in their projects.

Ideas and drives for social and affordable housing inclusion like Darebin’s are an indicator that many places have realised that social and/or affordable housing can (and should) co-exist with other private housing, and that good planning and community integration play an important roles. Attitudes to social housing are changing in many communities, moving on from immediate “not in my backyard” reactions that have characterised some areas in the past. We hope that this phase of the Big Housing Build helps materialise and accelerate some of these strategies.

How can councils position their affordable housing strategies and policies in preparation for the rollout?

At a recent PIA webinar, Homes Victoria representatives answered the above question by saying that although community housing providers will be their  key partners, they also look forward to working with Local Governments, especially in areas where particular sites and identified developments are of interest to both parties. Strategies and policies created by Local Government authorities can help quantify what a good social outcome looks like for a particular community. These strategies will help the State Government consider their asset strategy, strategic allocation and priorities for projects, and also for any other funding that comes in the future.

Hearing the local view will also be beneficial for community housing providers, who will be looking for opportunities to partner directly with Local Government while identifying parcels of land and opportunities, some of which may not directly come up via conversations with Local Government. That last part was where some nervousness from Local Government and bodies such as the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) emerged following the announcement. It was thought that councils may not have the ability to appeal against decisions through VCAT if proposals went against council plans or community views. As it currently stands, the appeal process will still be available. Homes Victoria wrapped up the question by advising councils to be clear about

  • priorities in their municipality and
  • what they’d like to see community housing providers or Homes Victoria deliver.

What are you doing in Local Government?

Here at .id we have a strong interest in the influence and level of advocacy that Local Government plays with regard to social housing and affordable housing. We have helped many councils quantify affordable housing need and understand the challenges and opportunities that come with increasing demand for affordable housing in the face of dynamic demographic changes within their communities.  (Every one of the priority Local Government areas identified by Homes Victoria already subscribe to our Community Profile tool, giving them a truly local view of their community demographics.) We always encourage councils to use that information as an evidence base in strategies or conversations with State government.

We are genuinely interested in understanding what you – the decision-makers working for the communities needing social or affordable housing – are working on and what questions you are trying to answer.

If you work in Local Government have any stories to share or questions to ask us, feel free to send us an email.


Responding to Callaghan: completing Australia’s retirement income system

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/01/2021 - 5:57am in


Health, Housing

The Retirement Income Review (Callaghan) Report concluded that the Australian retirement income system is effective, sound and its costs are broadly sustainable.

Credit – Unsplash

While the Review’s terms of reference were ‘to establish a fact base’ rather than make recommendations, the Report has a very clear overall message: that we should now focus on settling the pensions phase of the system, moving on from the focus up until now on the accumulation phase. That is a message many of us have been pressing for several years now.

Should the Government decide not to proceed with the legislated increase in the superannuation guarantee (or at least not the full increase to 12%), citing the Report’s evidence that optimal use of savings accumulated at the current 9.5% can deliver adequate retirement incomes for those on median incomes or below, there must be a quid pro quo. The Government should fix the outstanding problems in the pensions phase that are causing sub-optimal use of savings and leaving gaps for particular vulnerable groups. Unless these problems are resolved and retirees fully utlilise their savings, then as the Report finds, an accumulation rate of 9.5% will not deliver adequate retirement incomes.

Unfortunately, Callaghan is not very helpful about the solutions to these problems, notwithstanding its support for funds to be required to provide regular estimates of expected savings in terms of the income stream they can generate and for people to be guided to income streams that include reasonable protection against market and longevity risks and against thinking of the savings as a ‘nest egg’ or for passing to the next generation. The Report highlights the underlying problem of complexity and suggests the need for much greater cohesion particularly between superannuation and the age pension, but it offers no support for any of the practical solutions it canvasses. Strangely, it also questions the value of the measures available to directly increase support for those facing the greatest financial stress without offering alternatives.

Optimal Drawdowns

The Report’s ‘optimal’ use of superannuation is questionable. It is doubtful that funds could offer the drawdown arrangements it involves: these are highly complex as they are designed to reduce real superannuation incomes as people get older to offset exactly real increases in the age pension, with superannuation balances dropping to zero at age 92. The optimal use also assumes that 5% of the savings will be directed into a deferred lifetime annuity from age 92: but the market for life annuities is already struggling and the likelihood of funds being able to offer an annuity that does not start to be paid until 25 or more years into the future seems extremely unlikely. This ‘optimal’ arrangement would also still leave unused some of the accumulated savings whenever the person died before age 92.

Much more likely models for sensible use of superannuation, consistent with the objectives of the system, would include life annuities from retirement (requiring most of the savings) with the remainder available for spending in the first decade or so for holidays and other active retirement living consumption; a small amount might be retained as insurance against unforeseen events but, as Callaghan rightly says, there is significant public insurance for health and aged care. Such models would of course need to vary depending on the person’s accumulated savings and the extent to which they should sensibly rely on the age pension, including for managing longevity risk. But for most people, the simplicity and security involved in having some form of life annuity starting at retirement should be most attractive. And if the funds claim they cannot offer life annuities, the Government should step in and sell them.

The Report’s emphasis on avoiding any real increase in total retirement income (super plus age pension) while acknowledging that the pension itself should increase in line with community incomes, would also cause some anomalies. As people age, retirement incomes at lower income deciles would become increasingly compressed. The more likely models involving CPI-indexed life annuities would, setting aside the funds kept for early consumption, lead to a pattern of regular income growth somewhere between wage indexation (for those reliant solely on the pension) and CPI indexation for those not reliant on the pension at all. Such a gradation would avoid the anomaly the Report’s ‘optimal’ model would cause.

While following the 2014 Financial System Inquiry the Government has lent support to requiring funds to offer ‘Comprehensive Income Products for Retirement’ (CIPRs), it is now high time to advance that agenda and to clarify what the CIPRs should look like. It is disappointing, however, that the Callaghan Report fails to provide useful guidance in this regard, especially as the progress in introducing CIPRs has been very slow and without them the Report’s key conclusion does not stand up.

Further work is also still needed to confirm or otherwise that key conclusion that appropriate use of superannuation savings would lead to adequate retirement incomes for those on median income at the current 9.5% superannuation guarantee. Despite my previous advocacy for the SG to increase to 12%, my suspicion now is that Callaghan’s conclusion will not be far out. Of course, those on higher incomes need to supplement the SG with voluntary savings. The Report mentions the FitzGerald finding in 1993 that, in the absence of the age pension, people would need to save around 18% for an adequate retirement income, a rate not dissimilar to the 20% OECD average contribution rate (or the rates applying in most existing Commonwealth Government schemes (including employee contributions)).

Cohesion and the Age Pension Means Test

The Report has a whole chapter on ‘Cohesion’ which hints in particular at the need for a simpler age pension means test so people can plan ahead sensibly. But it then suggests that a merging of the separate income and assets tests, or the Henry Report suggestion of a single income test with deeming of income from assets, would be too hard and expensive. It also seems to dismiss widespread concerns about the current assets test taper, highlighting the cost of any relaxation and that, under its (questionable) optimal drawdown model, net retirement incomes would still increase with marginal increases in savings.

But even with the high drawdowns the Report uses, the marginal increase in net retirement incomes from marginal additions in savings are very low as the graphs in the Report reveal. This suggests that, at the margin, the trade-off between incomes during working life (reduced by such extra savings) and incomes in retirement (very slightly increased at best) is extremely poor, and certainly not justified when the extra savings are compulsory. It is concern about just such trade-offs that the Report elsewhere emphasises when questioning the need to increase the SG.

The Report states that evidence that the current means test affects savings behaviour prior to retirement is weak. That is hardly surprising given how complex the means test arrangement now is. But if the system was ever to achieve the cohesion the Report advocates more generally, then people will have knowledge ahead of retirement of the marginal impacts from savings and, after retirement, of how best to integrate their superannuation and any age pension entitlement. The Report also notes the cost of lowering the taper and that those who would benefit would be people with more substantial savings. What is not explored is some combination of relaxing the taper and reducing the thresholds (reversing the 2017 changes which have caused such problems in the first place).

The Report shows how the separate income and assets tests (unique to Australia) cause inequities in the treatment of people with similar resources, and hints that a merged means test might assist. But the Report concludes that ‘it would be challenging to design a merged test that achieves the objective of the current dual means test but is less complex’. I am not at all convinced that this is so. The example chosen for Appendix 6B is particularly complex with suggested income equivalents of assets rising with age (the same pattern the Report criticises when currently used for minimum drawdown rules). David Knox and I have suggested a much simpler version (drawing on the experience of the test that existed in the 1960s and 1970s) with a standard deemed income factor, slightly above the price of an indexed life annuity at age 67, and with actual lifetime annuities treated as income only but in full. Thresholds for the savings included would be reduced, particularly for home-owners.

One of the impacts of such a merged means test would be an effective relaxing of the current assets test taper, as the deemed income would be subject to the existing 50% income test taper.

More work is needed on the design of a merged means test, but if we are to achieve cohesion and ensure people can properly and confidently plan how much to save and how to use their savings to achieve, with some age pension, an adequate and secure retirement income, this is an essential component. The challenge of also achieving cohesion with aged care arrangements – also referred to in the Report – might best be addressed later when the Royal Commission into Aged Care reports.

Consideration should also be given to complementary administrative reforms to limit the frequency of reporting about means and the frequency with which age pension entitlements are adjusted. A worrying fact mentioned in the Report is that, on average, age pension entitlements are currently varied four times a year!

Support for Vulnerable Groups

While concluding that the level of the pension is sufficient to protect people from poverty if they own their own homes, the Report highlights the extent of financial stress faced by retirees in private rental accommodation and those involuntarily retired before age pension age. But the Report does not lend support to the most obvious measures to reduce this stress.

It suggests that increasing rent assistance would have only limited impact on the different position of renters and home-owners and would cost a lot; it suggests – with no clarification – that ‘a broader approach to assisting renters in retirement appears necessary’.  Increasing rent assistance towards the level of subsidies available to those in public housing (as has been recommended as long ago as 1995 as well as in the Henry Report) would seem to deserve a high priority despite the Report’s scepticism. It should have happened in response to the 2010 Harmer Report on pension adequacy rather than the Rudd Government’s far more expensive across-the-board increase in the pension. There is also a case for addressing the supply of low cost housing but this should complement, not be in place of, increasing rent assistance.

For the early retirees on Jobseeker, the Report merely notes that ‘any change in the rate of the Jobseeker Payment must consider its broader implications to all age groups and many recipients may re-enter the workforce’. The case for increasing Jobseeker is already overwhelming, but the case for those over age 60 is particularly strong – almost 60% of those becoming unemployed at age 60 never achieve 12 months without social security assistance before reaching age pension age, the Report reveals.


The Report rightly draws attention to the inequities involved in treating assets held in the home differently to other assets. There is little doubt that, in principle, the value of the home should be taken into account in the means test (and also treated more equally with other savings in the tax system). But home ownership is rightly seen as one of the pillars of the retirement incomes system, providing both security and income-in-kind. With home ownership, the age pension ensures adequate protection from poverty.

The difficulties with including the home in the means test go well beyond the obvious political ones given over 100 years of exemption. Apart from identifying an appropriate threshold (or thresholds based on location), it would be essential to ensure easy access to an income stream funded by the home assets for those left with insufficient age pension support.

The current Pension Loans Scheme goes a little way towards helping people draw on their home assets to supplement their age pension, but there would be considerable advantage if many more home-owners had access to income streams financed from their home assets, particularly amongst the current cohorts of retirees who do not have substantial superannuation savings. This would enhance the retirement incomes system whether or not action was taken to include the home in the means test. It should not be difficult to design market-based schemes with appropriate consumer protection to guarantee occupancy and to limit the net reduction in the person’s home equity. If the market has difficulty offering such products, however, there is a strong case for the Government to extend the existing scheme, based on repayment from the eventual estate.

A step towards more equitable treatment of renters vis-à-vis home-owners would be to increase the gap between the assets test threshold for renters above that for home-owners.

Taxation of Superannuation

The Report highlights its assessment of the cost of tax concessions for superannuation and that they are concentrated on those with higher incomes. But this analysis is premised on how tax concessions are defined and the benchmark against which they are compared. The Annex at pages 407-409 briefly canvasses the issues involved but the approach taken remains questionable.

The Report argues that the concessions should be benchmarked against ‘what is’ rather than ‘what should be’, where ‘what is’ refers to the existing ‘comprehensive income’ tax treatment of other savings i.e. taxing both contributions and earnings at the individual’s marginal rate of tax but exempting any tax on final spending (or TTE). Some account is taken of the likelihood of changed savings behaviour under such a tax regime, but this is assumed to be small as the superannuation savings are mostly compulsory.

For good reason, however, superannuation could never be taxed this way. The Henry Report, like previous studies, argued that the TTE approach taxes savings excessively discouraging savings. Just because super is largely compulsory is surely no justification for over-taxing it. The degree to which TTE is excessive increases with the length of time the savings are held, as a recent report by TTPI demonstrates, because the tax on earnings is effectively a wedge that compounds. The research mentioned in the Report clearly favours TEE or EET regimes (particularly for longer-term savings) or regimes that also have a modest tax on earnings (TtE or EtT).

Yet the Report’s figures highlight the ‘concession’ on how earnings are taxed in particular, revealing that those on the highest incomes and who are the oldest (and hence have held their superannuation savings the longest) are gaining the most ‘concessions’. In terms of any reasonable counterfactual, that is misleading.

Moreover, it plays into the hands of those interest groups who believe there is a magic pudding of tax revenues available for redirection from the wealthy to their particular priorities.

The case for an EET regime for superannuation is actually very strong. Pension schemes overseas generally take this approach as we still do in Australia in the case of the old public sector benefits promise schemes. This is not just because most overseas schemes have no identifiable contributions (or earnings) that could be taxed but also because they are generally compulsory and cannot be accessed before retirement: they do not provide any taxable capacity when they are accumulating. Moreover, the savings are very long-term, generally around 40 years.

Research a few years ago commissioned by the Committee for Sustainable Retirement Incomes suggested that the post-Turnbull reformed ttE tax arrangements were broadly equivalent to an EET regime and hence about right (the CSRI accepted that shifting directly to the preferred EET regime is too hard now). The progressive tax on contributions flows through to the pensions phase, and hence the conclusion about being broadly equivalent to EET applies at all income levels.

Perhaps, as Callaghan seems to be pushing, the tax on earnings could be extended to superannuation held in the pensions phase without upsetting the CSRI research conclusion or causing excessive tax overall, but the Report’s view that 15% represents a ‘concession’ (and really should be increased) is inappropriate. If anything, I suspect the tax on earnings should be lower – perhaps a revenue neutral move to around 10% should be phased in for both the accumulation and pension phases.  (A recent report by the Tax and Transfer Policy Institute suggests that, if all forms of savings were from after-tax income, a flat tax of under 10% on the earnings would be revenue-neutral, progressive and efficiency-enhancing.)

An Agenda to Complete the Retirement Income System

Most likely, the Callaghan Report is correct that the SG does not need to increase to 12%. Further work might confirm this (and whether 9.5% is sufficient or moving to 10% is still advisable).

But the Report also demonstrates the need now to settle the pensions phase of our retirement income system. Foregoing the full increase in the SG to 12% (and the costs to revenue involved) requires a quid pro quo that does precisely this if we are to ensure an adequate retirement income for most retirees. This quid pro quo should include:

  • Funds to report regularly to members on the income streams in retirement their superannuation savings are likely to lead to;
  • Accelerating the move to require funds to offer CIPRs that guide people to optimal use of superannuation which, with any age pension entitlement, delivers adequate and secure retirement incomes (if necessary, involving the Government selling indexed annuities);
  • A simplified age pension means test that ensures higher savings do in fact lead to improved net retirement incomes while still concentrating assistance on those most in need;
  • A sizeable increase in rental assistance, towards that available to public housing tenants, and a sizeable increase in Jobseeker, particularly for the over 60s;
  • The introduction of a broader home equity release program with repayment from estates, if necessary managed by the Government.

Some of these measures need further development but the work required is not particularly complex nor are the financial and political hurdles involved excessive. Indeed, the final outcome would confirm the quality and effectiveness of the emerging Australian retirement income system and its deservedly high international standing.

This article was originally published by the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy.

The Surprising Effect of a One-Time Gift

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2021 - 3:07am in

A number of recent initiatives have shown that a one-time gift of money to poor or homeless folks often allows them to permanently and meaningfully improve their lives. The studies that show the positive results of these projects disprove a myth that has often been used to argue against free cash: that people will simply squander it rather than spend it responsibly and effectively. 

In Vancouver, the Foundations for Social Change conducted a pilot initiative called the New Leaf Project in which homeless people were given CAD $7,500 (USD $5,800) as a one-time gift. Recipients were screened and not all were accepted — people with severe addiction or mental health issues were not eligible, for example. All recipients were required to present in advance a personal plan for spending the money. Some proposed fixing up their cars so they could get to and from a job. Others bought computers, and some planned to start their own businesses. 

Some of these folks received ongoing coaching and, for comparison, others did not, but all of them participated in a workshop and the study results showed that they used the cash to improve their situations dramatically. They moved into stable housing, became food secure, and after a year many still had around $1,000 of the money tucked away in savings. They dispelled the myth that the money would be misspent — they actually reduced their spending on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs by an average of 39 percent.

The New Leaf Project’s cash recipients spent more money on rent, food, bills, transit and other essentials than non-cash recipients. Credit: Foundations for Social Change

Receiving a lump sum seems to provide a kind of jump start to people’s lives that the usual incremental assistance doesn’t. A lump sum is transformational and it instills in recipients a sense of empowerment, of choice and of dignity. When folks come up with their own spending plan, as the recipients were required to do, it appears they’re more likely to follow it. This approach also cuts through much bureaucracy, as the recipients have to manage the funds themselves.

Vancouver’s New Leaf Project was a test to see if a one-time gift could make a difference. The results seem to show that in most cases it works, though only if the recipients are in a position to benefit from it and if there is infrastructure they can plug into: public transportation, affordable housing, fair credit ratings and alternatives to fast and junk food.

Around the world

The Foundations for Social Change was not the first to give this approach a try. A century ago, many U.S. states had something called Mothers’ Pensions, which were cash transfers for mothers who were single or whose husbands couldn’t work.

A recent study of the effects of the program found that: 

Male children of accepted applicants lived one year longer than those of rejected mothers. Male children of accepted mothers received one-third more years of schooling, were less likely to be underweight, and had higher income in adulthood than children of rejected mothers. 

In 2010, a British charity called Broadway gave 13 homeless folks in London $1,277 each. All of them had been living on the streets for at least four years when the project started. A follow-up study found that 11 of the 13 ultimately moved into housing. That’s not a big sample size, but it is additional evidence of success.

In 2014, Christopher Blattman wrote a New York Times op-ed describing how he worked with the Ugandan government to give out $8,000 to poor folks to put toward a business proposal. When Blattman followed up four years later he found that most of the recipients invested in learning trades like carpentry, and their earnings were 40 percent higher than the control group. 

However, when Blattman checked in again after nine years it seemed the control group had mostly caught up. The cash recipients did accumulate more assets and they and their children were healthier, but after nine years they were not earning more. It seems the gift accelerated the progress of those who were motivated rather than being solely responsible for it.

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A similar initiative in Mexico, the Prospera cash transfer program, had positive effects mainly on the children of recipients — better health, more education and eventually better jobs.

Blattman also worked on a cash giveaway program in a poor part of Liberia. Here the recipients were given just $200. They spent it wisely — mostly on food, clothes and adding minutes to their phones — but it was not enough to put them over the threshold to true self sufficiency. It takes a substantial amount for one to get both feet on the ladder out of poverty.

Issues and questions

So, does this imply that all we need to do is hand out free cash and let the recipients figure out everything for themselves? I suspect not exactly. Folks are smarter than they are given credit for, and that needs to be acknowledged. But the rungs on the ladder have to be in place for a person to gain a foothold. 

The programs described above required recipients to put together a plan, a proposal. And they were paired with other kinds of support: workshops, job training programs, subsidized housing, affordable public transportation to and from jobs, decent low-cost or free medical care, and in some cases, child care for single parents who became working parents. Without that infrastructure folks can’t really put the money to use. In Uganda, for instance, carpentry mentors were available to help recipients learn the skills they needed. An ecology and infrastructure are key —  cash alone won’t do it.

If that ecology is present, and if folks are given a substantial enough amount of money — enough to really allow them to create and sustain a change in their lives — then it appears they do come up with a plan, a roadmap to raise themselves and their families up. They know how to manage their money and time given the opportunity. 

With renewed dignity and confidence folks who were counted out often realize their hopes and ambitions.

The post The Surprising Effect of a One-Time Gift appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

The Year in Cheer

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/01/2021 - 7:00pm in

You could be forgiven for thinking that 2020 was little more than a slow-motion train wreck broken up into 365 individual units. But if you’re a regular RTBC reader, you know that’s not true. Yes, it was a most difficult year. But it was also a year of problems solved, hopes sustained and seemingly insurmountable challenges met. We reported on literally hundreds of good things that happened this year, from the earth-shaking to the arcane. Here are 112 of the highlights.

More than two-thirds of all the money being invested in energy is now going to renewables

Australia is on track to eradicate transmission of HIV by the end of this decade.

The world is gaining two million acres of leafy cover per year, an increase of about five percent since 2000.

treeCredit: Pierre Prestat / Flickr

The hole in the ozone layer is expected to heal completely by 2030 in the northern hemisphere and mid-latitudes, by 2050 in the southern hemisphere and by 2060 at the poles. 

In a 25 year period, homicides in North America and Western Europe fell by 46 percent.

In 2016, the only country in Europe to reimburse for PrEP, the once-a-day pill that can prevent HIV, was France. Today, the national health systems of 14 European countries reimburse for PrEP

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After California learned that many college students drop out because they can’t afford relatively small expenses, it started offering them up to $1,500 in aid. Now 70% of them graduate.

The number of Chinese people living in extreme poverty was 88% in 1981. By 2015 it had fallen to 0.7%.

A $2.75 billion project is covering the radiation-contaminated farmland in Fukushima with solar and wind farms that will produce 600 megawatts of electricity –– two-thirds as much as a nuclear plant.

A German organization has helped 3,200 people understand how it feels to be disabled by having them grocery shop while wearing vision-obscuring goggles and movement-constricting vests.

Credit: SENSE Akademie

A German supermarket chain is selling expired, ugly or mislabeled food other stores won’t carry. It turned a profit of $1.3 million in its first year.

Aboriginal Australians have received $80 million to conduct “defensive burning,” which is credited with stopping enough wildfires to reduce greenhouse gases there by 40%.

Rockford, Illinois began tracking the personal situations of each of its homeless residents. Now the city is on track to reduce homelessness to functional zero this year.

A high school in Detroit employs a counselor who guides its graduates throughout their college careers. Last year, she logged 2,600 miles on the road visiting her former students on campus.

Decades after being eradicated, 14 wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Today there are hundreds –– and their bloodlines can be traced to that original pack.

yellowstone wolvesGray wolves in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley. Credit: Scott Kublin / Flickr

A company in New Mexico has dispatched teenagers to help 3,000 seniors figure out how to use their tablets and smartphones, bridging a generational divide. 

After canvassers engaged in empathy-based dialogue with 1,900 voters in a district that voted for Trump, that same district voted for the Democratic candidate in the 2018 midterm elections.

A collective of women farmers in Mesopotamia have adopted ancient techniques that require no chemicals or irrigation. Their June harvest yielded 485 tons of wheat.

An IMF economist calculated that great whales are worth at least $2 million each because of their role in fighting climate. That’s over $1 trillion for all whales combined.

whaleChami, an economist at the International Monetary Fund, calculated great whales provide over $1 trillion in economic value, in large part due to their role in fighting climate change. Credit: Ju Lei / Flickr

A biologist invented a sensor that detects spikes in ethylene, the chemical that makes fruits ripen, so distributors can sell it before it spoils. It’s already saved one company $400,000 in wasted food.

In Denver, carbon dioxide captured from a beer brewery’s fermentation process is being used to stimulate the growth of 2,500 marijuana plants.

Atlanta is building soccer fields on the unused lots that surround its transit stations. 300 low-income kids are registered to play, and a “station vs. station” tournament is in the works.

Police in Durham, England are helping arrestees get access to social services instead of prosecuting them. Of the 2,600 people they’ve helped, only 6% have re-offended.

Since 2011, 2,000 businesses in 60 communities across Canada have become wheelchair accessible with simple, DIY ramps.

stopgapCredit: StopGap Foundation

In 2017, NYC made free legal services available in 20 low-income zip codes. Since then, evictions have fallen by 29 percent

In Kentucky, an initiative to bring preschool to the people has provided portable schooling to over 100 families.

In the past decade, 546 coal-fired power units in the U.S. have either been closed or slated for retirement.

Over 720 hyper-local volunteer groups formed across the U.K. to help residents who are vulnerable to the coronavirus stay homebound and healthy.

French luxury perfume makers like Givenchy and Dior are reconfiguring their equipment to churn out hand sanitizer. The gel will be distributed for free to the country’s network of 39 teaching hospitals, serving eight million patients annually.

Credit: FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Center / Flickr

New Jersey fishermen are using sonar to clear the seabed of abandoned crab traps, which can continue to collect and kill crabs for years. So far they’ve hauled up over 2,200 traps.

A hospital in Columbus, Ohio has spent $80 million to build and repair homes in its neighborhood to make them healthier places to live.

Public libraries are booming. One central Florida library tripled their curbside pickup requests from 1,100 to 3,300.

Everyone in the Italian city of Vò was tested for coronavirus. 89 of those tests came back positive. The city instituted a nine day period of isolation and that number dropped to six.

France converted a high-speed train into a 200-mile-per-hour hospital to race coronavirus patients to less-overwhelmed regions of the country.

france high speed railCredit: Enzo Jiang / Flickr

The Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota has more than doubled its graduation rate for Native American students. 

Young writers produced over 1,000 publications through the help of youth writing organizations.

Australian tour boat companies are taxiing scientists to the Great Barrier Reef to repair its coral. So far, over 1,000 pieces of coral have been replanted. 

Cambridge, Massachusetts is paying its restaurants to keep the city’s homeless residents nourished. The initiative delivered 1,800 meals in its first week.

cambridgeStaff of a closed restaurant in Cambridge preparing meals. Credit: Subhash Roy / Flickr

Utah’s “vote at home” system has increased voter turnout by an average of 9%.

Cities are taking advantage of the dramatic decrease in car traffic to speed up transit projects. With Los Angeles traffic down 60% the city will expedite the extension of the city’s Purple Line.

In Brazil’s ranking of 5,000 school districts, the impoverished city of Sobral jumped from 1,366th to number one.

Two-thirds of the world’s people now live in countries where renewable energy is less expensive than coal.

More than 7,000 hotel rooms in California have been secured to house recently released inmates and protect them from the coronavirus.

Over 4,000 volunteers knocked on 125,000 doors to collect the 400,000 signatures that ultimately ended gerrymandering in Michigan.

VNPCredit: VNP

Last year, Texas got 23.4% of its energy from wind — more than any other U.S. state.

The 2,000-mile “Yellowstone to Yukon” corridor helps grizzlies and wolverines safely follow their migration rates through populated areas.

In a recent national poll, 59 percent of respondents said they’d support a government investment of $1.5 trillion in wind and solar.

California has spent nearly $200 million on over 100 machines that convert cow dung into clean energy, mitigating thousands of tons of greenhouse gases.

Paris is creating 650 kilometers of pop-up “corona cycleways” for travel once the lockdown ends.

bike laneCredit: Mikael Colville-Andersen / Flickr

Two years after reforms New Jersey started releasing defendants accused of low-level crimes rather than holding them on bail, violent crime decreased by 16%.

Buffalo in Rwanda’s Akagera National Park have rebounded in number from 500 to 3,500 in 10 years thanks to a partnership between poachers and park officials.

As part of Pakistan’s “Billion Tree Tsunami,” hundreds of thousands of trees have been planted, restoring the depleted Changa Manga forest by 85 percent in the last few years.

Milan has announced that over 20 miles of cycling infrastructure installed for the pandemic will remain in place post-lockdown.

Even though schools are closed, school buses in Ohio’s Kanawha County are dropping off 12,500 weekly meals at “every bus stop along our normal routes.”

50 leading European financial firms endorsed a Covid-19 recovery plan to retrofit buildings, electrify transportation systems and build renewable energy and storage.

In order to receive their government bailout, Air France will have to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030.

An evangelical church in Berlin opened its doors to those of the Muslim faith, giving them the space to worship six feet apart. 

Over 60 German companies issued a joint statement calling for any coronavirus stimulus they receive to be tied to a green transition.

solarCredit: 100% Campaign

In Europe, the source of 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, over a dozen countries will be coal-free by the end of the decade.

In the last decade, the cost of solar has dropped 87% and offshore wind by 62%.

To help black-owned businesses survive during lockdown, one organization is offering them $1,000 per month for six months, no strings attached.

Instead of cops, mental health professionals are deployed to over 20% of 911 calls in Eugene, Oregon.

New York City’s census response rate is 49%. America’s is 60%. But one working-class community in the Bronx is winning the census with a 70% response rate.

In a Milwaukee high school where a violence-interruption group works with students, attendance has risen by 14% and graduation rates have been twice as high as projected.

At least 15 cities are taking steps to divert some of their policing budgets toward social services and neglected communities.

Since Wales switched its organ donation consent from out-in to opt-out, donation rates there have risen from 58% to 75%.

Thanks to conservation efforts, Oregon’s Fender’s blue butterfly, which numbered fewer than 1,500 in the 1990s, is now fluttering 30,000 strong.

Credit: LIHI

To fight homelessness during the coronavirus, Washington State is building tiny houses that cost 62% less than putting people up in hotel rooms. (And they’re permanent!)

After Camden, NJ reorganized its police force under a community-policing model, its crime rate dropped by half and reports of excessive force by police fell by 95%.

Elk were hunted to extinction in Kentucky before the Civil War. Thanks to reintroduction efforts, today some 13,000 elk roam the Bluegrass State.

A jazz club in Paris has re-opened for performances –– for one patron at a time. In just a few weeks, Le Gare hosted over 3,000 concerts for one

At-risk teenagers in North Carolina are turning an abandoned prison into a farm — the program has been 92% effective at preventing recidivism and adult incarceration.

prison farm

West Virginia elected its first transgender official –– the 27th out trans person to be elected to office in the U.S.

Oregon’s vineyards are keeping their farmworkers safe. 400 workers have been tested for Covid-19 –– only two have been hospitalized and they are recovering at home.

A new app, cooperatively owned by 51 Latin American housekeepers, has increased some workers’ average hourly wages from $11 to $25.

The hashtag #NativeTikTok, where Indigenous users perform and share their stories, has reached almost 200 million views.

Lesotho’s Premier League club is the first in the world to fund its men’s and women’s soccer teams equally

detroitEarthworks Urban Farm in Detroit, Michigan. Credit: A Healthier Michigan / Flickr

Researchers in Detroit are making city soil healthier by planting enriching vegetables on over 36 ten-by-five-foot plots.

California’s 2019 budget allocated $12.6 million for safe syringe exchanges and harm reduction grants.

Seattle eliminated parking minimums in most of its central neighborhoods. The result? Some 18,000 fewer parking spaces, saving an estimated $537 million. 

Researchers are reforesting over 4,500 square feet of Tasmania’s kelp forests with climate change-resistant “super-kelp.”

“Talk pedometers” for babies are increasing vocabulary exposure from 8,000 words per day to over 12,000.

The U.K.’s largest pension fund is divesting $7.2 billion from fossil fuels.

One in four Europeans either owns an e-bike or plans to buy one this year.

e-bikeCredit: Zweirad-Industrie-Verband

Residents in a San Francisco housing project set up their own impromptu contact tracing effort and reduced their positive Covid-19 cases from 7% to 1%.

Indiana is requiring that its new 1,400-acre solar farm be seeded with pollinator-friendly plants.

Bogotá pledged to expand its existing 550-kilometer cycleway network by 50%.

The protection of watersheds along the 175-mile route traveled by New York City’s water supply has saved over $7.5 billion.

One voter outreach program connected with 130,000 Muslim households in five states and increased Muslim voter turnout by 25%.

muslim voteCredit: Emgage

A telehealth service is providing “trans-competent” health care in 16 states, which together are home to more than 50% of America’s trans population.

Latino community organizers in Cleveland collected 78 vote-by-mail applications and registered 54 people to vote using a parade.

The World Health Organization has declared Africa free of wild polio — 95% of Africans have been vaccinated against the disease.

Produce prescription programs that serve patients healthy foods at a subsidized price have increased 371% since the pandemic started.

Over 133,000 acres of Hawaiian watershed have been protected from an invasive species attacking the native koa tree.

A start-up that helps people with disabilities find roommates and vacation rentals boasts over 2,500 members.

A group therapy initiative in California is helping to extinguish the anxiety that 60% of survivors of wildfires, hurricanes and floods experience.

An organization promoting civil discourse at universities has spread to 24 campuses.

7.6 million acres of the Great Bear Rainforest are completely off limits to logging thanks to a unique partnership between loggers and conservationists.

In Atlanta, cops and community organizers are working together to re-imagine a 471,000-square-foot jail as a community center.

Credit: Karsten Moran for The Marshall Project

A program at a Connecticut prison houses 14 incarcerated young women with 10 older mentors who offer counseling, classes, job training and addiction help.

15 streets and intersections in Oakland were designated “essential places” to help essential workers get where they need to go.

Between April and June, grassroots organizations trained over 16,000 people on how to address everyday racism. Aftereward, 99% said they felt equipped to help if they witnessed a racist incident.

Last week Colorado passed Proposition 118, which guarantees new parents the right to three months of paid family leave.


After opening a supervised injection site for drug users, Vancouver saw overdose deaths within a 500 meter radius decrease by 35 percent.

When Switzerland started prescribing heroin to addicts in combination with methadone and therapy, their daily heroin use dropped from 81 percent to six percent.

The Mall of America is renting out space to 17 minority-owned businesses rent-free for the holiday season.

The Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte, population 2.5 million, has virtually eliminated hunger.

After a tornado, Greenburg, Kansas rebuilt itself as a wind-powered town, making it one of the few places in the U.S. that runs on 100 percent renewables.

In an effort to become a “zero-waste city,” one of Berlin’s best-known department stores has dedicated 7,000 square feet to used goods.

berlinCredit: Jacobia Dahm

Over the past five years, scientists have grown more than 100,000 plants from seeds almost lost in Syrian’s civil war.

Chattanooga is providing ultra-fast 1 gigabit-per-second fiber optic internet service to low-income families for free.

In the race for carbon neutrality, the Paris suburbs are using district energy to provide geothermal heat to over 40,000 residents.

A rainwater reuse program in Tucson has saved over 52 million gallons of water this year.

New Zealand fishers are donating over one ton of valuable fish heads per week instead of throwing them away.

Lisbon is offering landlords 1,000 euros per month to turn their Airbnb-style apartments into affordable housing.

Los Angeles will use artificial intelligence to decide where to plant 90,000 trees next year.

CREDCredit: Monica Guerrero

A program in Chicago that replaces guns with jobs has decreased gun violence by 33%.

A California program offers rent assistance for middle-income folks who make 80% of their area’s median income but don’t quite qualify for subsidized housing.

The post The Year in Cheer appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Monthly digest on housing affordability and homelessness – Nov/Dec 2020

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 31/12/2020 - 5:47am in



The following is the latest instalment of a monthly digest of interesting articles, research reports, policy announcements and other material relevant to housing stress/affordability and homelessness – with hypertext links to the relevant source.

Victorian Budget’s big social housing plan lacks public housing pillar [The Age, 25 Nov] This article by two academics from RMIT and one from the University of Melbourne queries the extent to which the Victorian government’s recent and much-lauded “Big housing build” initiative, cost at around $5.3b, meets the State’s need for new state-owned and directly provided “public housing”. The authors say: “The only new public housing – which is owned and managed by the state, caps rent at 25% of a tenant’s income, provides secure tenure and prioritises the people in greatest need – replaces housing that has already been demolished as part of another program.” They go on to estimate that two-thirds of the package will go to “community housing” – which they claim is less cost-effective and provides less security of tenure than public housing, and only 75% of which is allocated to those in greatest need. The authors say international research provides clear evidence that directly-provided public housing is what is needed for a fair housing system.

Australia’s rental affordability crisis remains despite COVID welfare boost [ProBono Australia, 2 Dec] The latest Rental Affordability Index (RAI), covering the period to 30 June 2020, reveals ongoing moderate to extreme “rental stress” – where more than 30% of a household income goes towards rent – even after accounting for the coronavirus supplement to JobSeeker payments. The reduction in that supplement in September 2020 and the further reduction proposed for late December 2020 make the situation even harder for those facing rental stress.

What did COVID do to rental markets? Rents fell as owners switched from Airbnb [The Conversation, 2 Dec] A group of academics from the Universities of Sydney and NSW, writing in connection with the release on 1 December 2020 of their related AHURI research report, Marginal housing during COVID-19, has found that even modest reductions in Airbnb listings – as accommodation owners have switched to longer-term rentals as a result of COVID related travel restrictions and a sudden drop in tourism – increased the supply of these properties for long-term rental, thereby resulting in lower local rents.

The research focused primarily on Sydney and Hobart – cities in which Australia’s rental affordability pressures have been amongst the most extreme – during the period from March to May 2020, in the midst of COVID-induced lockdowns. It includes analysis of which renters are most at risk, particularly during COVID, including those living in substandard and/or unsafe rental housing, or who have precarious rental tenure, or who are living in overcrowded housing with shared facilities.

The authors comment that the difficulties lower-income renters face in Australia’s major cities reflect a chronic undersupply of social and affordable housing, a problem made worse by the rise of short-term accommodation platforms such as Airbnb, which have drained rental properties from permanent rental supply.

To preserve permanent housing supply in high-demand markets and increase the security of tenure for tenants (and improve accommodation standards), they advocate for the States to impose controls on short-term Airbnb style rentals, as well as higher regulation of the private rental sector – citing New Zealand’s “healthy homes” standards framework for inspiration. Increasing the supply of social and affordable housing would also help, as it would reduce dependence on the precarious and marginal private rental market.

Eliminating most homelessness is achievable. It starts with prevention and “housing first” [The Conversation, 3 Dec] Angela Spinney, a Lecturer/Research Fellow at Swinburne University of Technology, profiles the nature and extent of homelessness in Australia, and its varied causes, and summarises the findings of a 1 December 2020 AHURI research report, Ending homelessness in Australia: A redesigned homelessness service system, of which she is one of the co-authors. That research proposes a reform path, based on emerging international trends, towards reorienting homeless service systems away from larger crisis response and towards prevention and long-term solutions.

The key is what is known as the “Housing First” approach, which involves investing resources into first getting people into long-term accommodation, and then providing support to address the various reasons they find themselves homeless in the first place and related issues (eg. helping prepare them for employment or deal with drug and alcohol rehabilitation, domestic and family violence and mental health problems). Spinney cities Norway’s positive outcomes in deploying a Housing First approach over the past 12 years. She points to the need for an integrated national strategy and leadership, including coordinated federal and state funding for an adequate supply of affordable and social housing and an enhanced role for universal welfare services. Providing crisis accommodation should be the solution of last resort.

Social housing: helping the vulnerable and the economy [bluenotes.anz.com, 4 Dec] It is refreshing to see economists from one of Australia’s major banks (ANZ Bank) shining a light on the very significant undersupply of social housing in Australia, and on the long-term social and economic benefits of increased investment in social and affordable housing. This article also summarises key social housing and homelessness policies introduced during COVID-19, by state, and assesses the effectiveness of Commonwealth rental assistance (CRA) in alleviating rental stress.

Homeownership and super are far more entwined than you might think [The Conversation, 11 Dec] Monash University Professorial fellow, Deborah Ralston, notes that the home is the largest form of voluntary saving and is far more entwined with super and the pension than might be thought. Some 76% of retirees own the homes they live in, about 12% rent and a further 11% either live rent-free with family or in residential care or another arrangement. This current unusually high rate of homeownership (by international standards) benefits both the individuals concerned and also the public purse.

However, homeownership is declining and the proportion of homeowners retiring with an outstanding mortgage is increasing. As wealth tied up in housing is exempt from the age pension assets test, it is for many a preferred form of retirement saving. This can and often does result in retirees being “asset rich and income poor”, with one-fifth of age pension expenditure going to the wealthiest two-fifths of retirees. Non-homeowners are much less fortunate and among those most likely to experience poverty in retirement. Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) is much more targeted than the age pension, with 90% of CRA going to the poorest fifth of retirees, though it has over time become increasingly inadequate, and now covers less than half the rental costs of its recipients.

Boosting CRA would of course help, but is only part of the solution, which should include increasing the supply and affordability of housing (including public housing) and making it easier for renters to obtain long-term secure rentals. Ralston runs through the various ways in which super supports homeownership (including through the so-called “wealth effect”) and estimates that for a typical homeowner at retirement, home equity represents about two to three times as much of their wealth as does super, something which ought to make accessing the equity in the home through schemes such as the government’s Pensions Loans Scheme attractive. She says these schemes are at last becoming more popular, and she encourages their use. She concludes that homes are a critical part of the retirement system – not only a place to live but also a substantial part of householder wealth.

“The worst is yet to come”: Growing number of indigenous women seeking homelessness support [ProBono Australia, 14 Dec] A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows the rate of Aboriginal Victorians seeking homelessness support is growing twice as fast as the rate for non-Indigenous people. The report finds that 260 people were turned away from specialist homelessness services every day throughout the 2019-20 financial year, with women and girls making up two-thirds of that figure. In Victoria, that year saw a 6% increase in Indigenous people using such services, compared with a 3% increase for the non-Indigenous population.

Kellyanne Andy, CEO of Elizabeth Morgan House, an Aboriginal-run refuge and crisis support centre for Indigenous women and children who have experienced family violence, has warned that in the months ahead we are likely to see things become even more difficult for Indigenous people, as we begin to see the impact of people exiting crisis accommodation hotels and motels. The Victorian government’s $5.3b “Big housing build” initiative is considered a welcome commitment, as about 10% is targeted for Aboriginal families. The Council to Homeless Persons believes this should be matched by co-investment in social housing by the federal government, and a boost in social housing, managed by Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, from all levels of government.

Aussie housing demand to plunge as COVID shocks population growth: report [The Australian, 15 Dec] The newly formed research team of the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC) has, in its first report (published on 15 December), State of the Nation’s Housing, provided a picture of the projected Australian housing supply and demand balance to 2025. A key finding of the report is that COVID-19 has caused the biggest shock to population growth since early last century, triggering a forecast plunge in new demand for Australian housing over the coming years. It is forecast that by 2025, almost one million fewer people than previously expected will be living in Australia.

However, low-interest rates and government stimulus have boosted construction activity, and new supply is expected to exceed new demand by around 127,000 dwellings in 2021. Cumulative new supply is expected to be around 93,000 higher than new demand by 2025, though sensitivity analysis around difficult-to-predict key assumptions (including earlier than expected opening of borders and a resumption of high levels of migration) could reduce or even eliminate cumulative excess supply over a medium to longer-term horizon.

Excess supply results is a silver lining for renters, as higher vacancy rates should push down rental rates and improve affordability, but the position of low-income renters and prospective first-home buyers is unlikely to improve materially in the long term, given the trend of declining affordability, particularly in central parts of larger urban areas.

“Double Return” from investing in social housing – reduced homelessness and boost to economic recovery [Equity Economics report, 15 Dec] In this new economic study, commissioned by the Everybody’s Home campaign, economic consultancy Equity Economics details rising levels of homelessness and housing stress in recent years, and forecasts further increases in the period ahead, by region. For the period from February 2020 (pre-pandemic) to June 2021, significant increases are forecast in the number of Australians experiencing housing stress (+24%) or homelessness (+9%). The report describes the merits of a Housing First approach to reducing homelessness. Just as importantly, it explains why housing matters to the economy and why increased government investment in social housing is not only good for those in desperate need of it, but also for the economy and employment generally, particularly at a time when we are looking for ways to boost economic recovery in the wake of the COVID pandemic.

“Same old housing” not right for modern Australia [University of Sydney news, 16 Dec] This article accompanies the 16 December 2020 AHURI research report, Urban regulation and diverse housing supply, which finds that new homes being built in Australia are failing to meet the changing needs of Australia’s diverse population in terms of the size and form of dwellings, tenure options and their affordability. The research, which was led by Dr Catherine Gilbert, included as co-authors a group of academics from the University of Sydney, Curtin University, the University of Adelaide and the University of Melbourne. The authors note that land-use zoning laws can obviously have a significant impact on whether diverse housing types (eg. medium-density housing) are permitted and/or financially viable and that the high cost of land, particularly in accessible locations, presents a significant challenge for projects that are directed towards non-market-based residential dwellings, such as housing which is affordable to lower-income groups.

This implies the need for governments to play a leadership role in encouraging the development of more diverse housing products, particularly those aimed at vulnerable members of the community whose needs are not automatically met through market mechanisms. Government is uniquely placed to leverage desired public policy outcomes in relation to large-scale government-owned land parcels, where it can condition its sale or lease of such land on outcomes that market forces alone do not guarantee. Mandatory inclusionary zoning is an obvious tool for these purposes. Government leadership can also take the form of long-term funding to support affordable housing supply, as well as a requirement for a more appropriate mix of housing types and tenures (including lower cost or affordable housing).

Cartoon: Lifestyles of a stimulusaire

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/12/2020 - 9:50am in

Hope you didn’t forget to leave a plate of means tests out before Stimulus Claus arrived!

Follow me online if you want to.

When Life Gives You Milk, Make Cheese

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 16/12/2020 - 7:00pm in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Dairy deliverers

As Covid-19 has shuttered restaurants, the small farms that supply them have suffered. But in New York, some are finding a way to stay in business — by filling a gap that big industrial food suppliers can’t.

Civil Eats has the story of Lively Run Goat Dairy in upstate New York. When the restaurants it services closed, its business dried up overnight. Meanwhile, big dairies were dumping thousands of gallons of milk — they were set up to sell “the kind of 20-pound tubs of sour cream that ended up at Chipotle,” said Pete Messmer, one of the brothers who runs the Lively Run Goat farm. “They couldn’t switch over to retail.” 

That’s when Messmer had an epiphany. Lively Run Goat Dairy could buy the excess milk from the big farms, process it into cheese and turn it over to food banks. “Bigger businesses have a much harder time [pivoting] because they need so much more infrastructure in order to be efficient,” Messmer said. “A business like ours can be nimble and switch over quickly.”

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They initially paid for the effort with a GoFundMe campaign, but it was so successful that it caught the eye of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who mentioned Messmer’s farm in one of his press conferences. In April, Cuomo announced the Nourish New York Initiative, which is now allocating $25 million in state funds to connect upstate farmers to food pantries to do just what Lively Run Goat Dairy has done.

Read more at Civil Eats

Naturally spiritual

In addition to being one of the most innovative and functional democracies on earth, Taiwan is an environmentally conscious country, too — a mindset that begins in childhood. Yes! reports on how environmental stewardship is tied to the tenets of Buddhism in children’s education in ways that seem to reverberate for years. 

taiwanA town on the banks of Taiwan’s Guangfu River. Credit: Jared Yeh

Buddhist organizations — at the forefront of much environmental activism in Taiwan — use children’s stories to teach kids about the interconnectedness of all things. Often, ecological responsibility is placed in the context of reincarnation and karma, in books like Samantabhadra Bodhisattva’s Great Battle against the Trash Monster and Record of the Wanderings of a Plastic Bag. These books, published by Buddhist groups, teach about the concept of “cherishing” to help kids understand environmental protection on a more spiritual level. The goal is to produce what sociologist Bengt Larsson called in a 2012 paper not environmentalists, per se, but “ecological selves.”

Though the impacts of these efforts haven’t been quantified, there’s evidence that suggests they could have an impact — one Australian study found that anthropomorphism, in which elements of the natural world are given human traits, in children’s books by J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling, increased kids’ concern for the environment. 

Read more at Yes!

Homes for the middle

Middle-income folks typically don’t qualify for subsidized housing, even when those middling incomes aren’t enough to pay the rent in expensive cities. A new California program seeks to fix that, offering housing support for people in this “missing middle,” who earn between 80 and 120 percent of their area’s median income.

anaheimDowntown Anaheim. Credit: Chris Pesotski / Flickr

Launched this year, the Workforce Housing Program allows the California Statewide Communities Development Authority to purchase rental units and then rent them to moderate-income tenants at restricted rates. The authority then uses this rental income to pay off the purchase price over 30 years, just like a regular mortgage. This allows the initiative to pay for itself, with no costs to the cities that adopt it. So far it’s been taken up in Yolo County, Woodland, Carson, and most recently, Anaheim, the home of Disneyland. “For us it really is kind of a no-brainer, because this is a group that’s often overlooked when we do affordable housing in our city,” an Anaheim city spokesperson told Next City.

Read more at Next City

The post When Life Gives You Milk, Make Cheese appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Time Team Creator Tim Taylor Attempting to Bring Back Show through Patreon on YouTube

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 15/12/2020 - 3:44am in

Remember Time Team? That was the popular archaeology show on Channel 4 that ran from the late 1980s to the early part of this century. Presented by Tony Robinson, who played Baldrick in the Blackadder series, the show broadcast each week a short archaeological investigation of a different site. These investigations only lasted three days and attempted to solve a particular historical or archaeological. It would begin with the questions raised by the site they were excavating that week. Was it really the location for a Roman villa, lost Norman castle, or medieval manor house, for example? Robinson would lay out what has been found so far, stating what they hoped to find and saying a bit more about the excavation and who would be taking part, before finishing, ‘And, as usual, we’ve got three days to find out’.

It was immensely popular, at least for Channel 4 shows and archaeology programmes. It spawned a number of tie-in book and publications. Some of the programmes were written up as pamphlets in a series of Time Team Site Reports. In the spring/summer of 2004 or 5 the show also embarked on their Big Dig. This was a piece of mass archaeology involving the general public. The goal was to get the British public digging test pits up and down the country in their back gardens or other premises, and see what they found. And the British public joined in with enthusiasm. Some of the excavations were carried out, not just by the fit and able, but also by people with learning difficulties and/or physical disabilities. It was part of the show’s ethos to get everyone involved. They were also keen to demonstrate that archaeology wasn’t just about the rich, kings, princes and the nobility, but also about ordinary people. Hence there were a number of shows devoted to excavating industrial sites, such as a very early, pioneering factory in Birmingham dating from the industrial revolution. This was important not just for its role in the country’s industrialisation, but as a place where ordinary peeps worked. The Team also excavated further abroad. In one edition, they went to St. Kitt’s to dig on a former sugar plantation. This dated from the period of British transatlantic slavery. The show therefore discussed Caribbean plantation slavery and its horrors, and also excavated the site of the quarters of the estate’s enslaved workers. In another edition, Robinson also described the horrendous living condition of the urban working class in the 19th century, as recorded by the inspectors. This described people living in cellars mouldy with damp and with rags stuffed into the cracks in windows. One of these hovels also had a dead baby on the floor. He also described how factory owners would also purchase children from the workhouses to labour in the factories. Robinson’s a member of the Labour Party, and there was real anger in his voice when describing these horrors.

Time Team sort of fizzled out a few years after the death of one of its founders, Dr. Mick Aston, and a row over choice of presenters. One of the Team had been dropped, and replaced by a model. The new presenter had actually done a degree in archaeology, but this caused a nasty background argument. I believe the lady at the centre of row chivalrously offered to step down.

Now it seems the show might be coming back, though on YouTube rather than television. Tim Taylor, the show’s creator, posted a video on YouTube on the 11th December 2020 giving an update on how the attempts were progressing so far, and what remained to be done. The show’s being financed through subscriptions on Patreon, and the video’s partly an appeal for more people to join. The show also has its own Patreon Channel, on which videos will appear over the next few days of Helen Geake, Carenza Lewis and Phil Harding discussing the plans for Stage 1. They’ve started looking at sites and contacting key team members. Stages 2 & 3 will involve more research, site mapping on their new digital database, collecting key paperwork for each site, assembling potential experts, talking to local communities, and then creating a PD – Project Design, the archaeological strategy. They will also be auditioning new field archaeologists for Stage 3, with the possibility of a ‘dig off’. That will be when they really build the Team. They managed to get 1,000 patrons in 3 days, but in order to get Stages 2 & 3 underway they need to have 3,000 patrons by the end of January 2021. When 2 & 3 are complete, they’ll share the list of sites, so that people can choose which sites go forward to stage 4, where they visit those locations. Taylor states that the show depends on people supporting them on Patreon and appeals for more people to become members and patrons. He tells the viewers that they’re posting an old Time Team episode on their Time Team Classic YouTube channel on Sunday – yesterday, 13th December 2020. The show ends with a message of support from Robinson.

Time Team ANNOUNCEMENT Next steps and news from Tony Robinson! – YouTube

This is really interesting, and I’d like to see the show come back, but have mixed feelings about it. While the programme has been immensely influential and has doubtless got people interested in archaeology, it has not been without its detractors. The criticisms I’ve heard are that the Team never wrote up their findings and didn’t fill in the sites after they’d finished. This is only what I’ve heard, and so I couldn’t swear it was true, though I did hear about them not filling in their digs from two different sources. This has led to accusations that they have been trashing sites. That said, the Team were professional archaeologists with the exception of Tony Robinson, and some of the TV presenters brought in for the specials, such as Sandi Toksvig when they were digging up Viking York. She was obviously chosen because she’s Danish. They also had the support of some very senior British archaeologists, such as Francis Pyor, who was the head of one of one of the major British archaeological societies. Mick Aston, a founding member of the Team, was a lecturer at Bristol University, as was Dr. Mark Horton, who appeared on several of the shows before going off to front Coast. Raksha Dave, another member of the Team, has also subsequently appeared on various history/ archaeology shows. Although nothing is said about her ethnicity, Dave’s Asian, and I think her presence on the programmes wasn’t just due to her skills as an archaeologist, but also to try and widen the discipline’s appeal and include people from ethnic minorities. Like very many other academic subjects, there’s a concern in archaeology to recruit more people of colour. Mark Horton is particularly keen to see more people in general take up archaeology. When Bristol University launched its exhibition on the city’s involvement in the Slave Trade, ‘A Respectable Trade’, back in the ’90s the Uni also launched a scheme to interest young people, in which a prospective future archaeologist would be sent to work on an excavation in the Caribbean. Again, nothing was said, but it’s the kind of project, which I think they devised in the hope that it would appeal particularly to Black youngsters.

It’ll be very interesting to see if Taylor’s successful, and show comes back, if only YouTube. And there’s clearly a space there for more people from ethnic minorities to enter the subject and, perhaps, join the show as presenters.

Hopefully, if it does get off the ground, it will inspire more people, of all colours, to get involved in archaeology. The future’s yours, folks! Get those trowels ready!

the recession’s likely long-term impact on homelessness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/12/2020 - 2:59am in

I’ve just written a report for Employment and Social Development Canada on the current recession’s likely long-term impact on homelessness in Canada. An overview of the report can be found here.

the recession’s likely long-term impact on homelessness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/12/2020 - 2:59am in

I’ve just written a report for Employment and Social Development Canada on the current recession’s likely long-term impact on homelessness in Canada. An overview of the report can be found here.