Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Can Small “Shantytowns” Help End the Homeless Problem with its Negative Environmental and Fiscal Effects?

The homeless problem in the United States and the world is growing. In fact, in every county of this country a minimum wage earner can’t afford a 2-bedroom apartment at the 30% income level for rent. The housing crisis is making things worse and we have homeless families living in cars and a drain on the welfare system. Worldwide most rivers will give you hepatitis and other diseases from improper disposal of waste. Squatters up and down waterways are an environmental hazard. This was the case around the Rio Grande until they organized some of the shantytowns called “colonias” all along the border (and yes, inside the U.S.), which is giving an example of an alternative to the welfare system, unaffordable housing, and tent cities. People get a small plot at an extremely reasonable price and start to help themselves by building a house and a better life. These places are not anarchically governed as some would expect but have community loan funds, strategic bridging organizations, and one often needs references to get in. Sure, the septic systems are often a cesspool but that beats spreading hepatitis at the riverbank. Now there is the composting toilet that can be built to large scale and is very clean—all you get is top soil out of it. We have neighborhood watches here but I imagine they step that up a couple of notches. They may use “social collateral”, where if you default on a loan you screw it up for 10 of your friends—unlike here where we think money grows on trees. People in the colonias also have "social capital" taking care of each other.
The U.S. government has hordes of public land and giving a few square miles to homeless people to start their own “individual asset accounts” and a modest cottage is a great way to get people out of the never-ending cycle of government assistance.
As for aesthetics, I have seen some in Mexico and I assure you there is a quality of the people and the place that is impressive (even with cardboard walls).
Let’s see what people think about this new economic solution to the homeless and check out the link below with comments and a place to put your own. Please don’t hit “submit” until you made yours and looked at the others.


Here is the survey link

David Best, PSU student

Link on Colonias

Link on affordable housing


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