Tag: Housing

Wildfire Housing Buyouts

Wildfire Housing Buyouts

Wildfire Housing Buyouts


“Why may homes in wildfire-prone territories need to be bought out by the government?”

With the growth of the wildfire urban interface from urban sprawl and climate change, more and more homes are going to be in fire-prone territory. And given that these disasters are only becoming more destructive, drastic action will need to be taken. One thing that can be done will be to take a page from flooding adaptation and look into Wildfire Housing Buyouts. This means having the government purchase homes in communities that may no longer be safe to live in year-round.

Why Climate Change is Driving Urbanization

Why Climate Change is Driving Urbanization

Why Climate Change is Driving Urbanization


“Why is climate change driving urbanization?”


Climate change is disrupting everything. And some of the people most hurt by this are the ones who work in agriculture. As the world becomes hotter, more erratic, and less liveable, maintaining a farm may no longer become a sustainable livelihood. This will cause more people to move from the farms to cities in search of employment and stability, drastically increasing their size. This is Why Climate Change is Driving Urbanization.

Why Abolishing Parking Requirements for New Developments Would Build Adaptation Capacity

Why Abolishing Parking Requirements for New Developments Would Build Adaptation Capacity

Why Abolishing Parking Requirements for New Developments Would Build Adaptation Capacity


“Why would abolishing parking requirements for new developments build adaptation capacity?”


The urban form of so many cities is being weighed down by the fact that an immense amount of parking space is required for each housing unit. This leads to sprawl, which could force people to live in areas exposed to the elements. If parking requirements were abolished, then cities can densify and move away from these hazardous regions. This is Why Abolishing Parking Requirements for New Developments Would Build Adaptation Capacity.

Why Urban Densification Will Allow Cities to Accommodate More Climate Refugees

Why Urban Densification Will Allow Cities to Accommodate More Climate Refugees

Why Urban Densification Will Allow Cities to Accommodate More Climate Refugees


“How will allowing for a denser urban environment allow cities to accommodate more climate refugees?”


The Earth’s changing climate is forcing many people to flee their homes in search of new ones. As the land available to be inhabited becomes smaller, a few places are going to see tremendous population growth. Many of these areas do not have urban zoning and building layout to accommodate such a move. However, if they choose to densify, then they will be able to handle the influx of denizens and provide everyone a safe and happy place to live. This is Why Urban Densification Will Allow Cities to Accommodate More Climate Refugees.

Segregation and Climate Vulnerability

Segregation and Climate Vulnerability

Segregation and Climate Vulnerability


“How does segregation exacerbate climate vulnerability?”


Climate vulnerability is dependent on a multitude of factors, such as income, spatial proximity to hazards, and disaster planning. Segregation exacerbates all of these factors for oppressed communities, whether it be historical disenfranchisement or forced displacement. These are just a few reasons why there is a connection between Segregation and Climate Vulnerability. 


And remember, racial justice is environmental justice.

The Economics of Canceling Rent and Mortgages

The Economics of Canceling Rent and Mortgages

The Economics of Canceling Rent and Mortgages


It’s no surprise to anyone that the advent of a global pandemic is inducing a worldwide 

economic meltdown. For months offices have been turned into ghostly shells, busy city streets into silent lanes, and restaurant halls dormant all because coming into close contact with another person holds the potential to be lethal! This has caused upwards of 20.5 million Americans to lose their jobs as of May, marking a 320 percent jump from 3.5 percent unemployment in February to 14.7 percent now. This is particularly felt among the working class

and communities of color, who are experiencing unemployment at higher rates than their more privileged counterparts. 

Although COVID relief legislation has been passed to provide some financial assistance and delay the collection of rent, many are saying that this is not enough. In fact, a sizable number of activists are calling for an entire cancellation on rent! From Organizers in New York to Ilhan Omar’s recently proposed bill to cancel all rent and mortgage payments throughout the pandemic, “cancel rent!” has become one of the latest rallying cries. But how can a cancellation of rent policy be achieved practically?

Well, let’s start with what would happen if rent were to be canceled. Rent payments are usually mandated because the individuals and/or institutions who own the property may need to make payments on the mortgage they took out to purchase everything in the first place. If their source of income is cut off, then the lack of cash flow to the institutions who sold them the physical space could force them into foreclosure, which would be devastating for everyone involved. Given that nearly half of properties are held by individual landlords, a blind rent cancellation without question would bring great consequences. Paired with the fact that a multitude of non-renting homeowners have lost their jobs and would also need assistance, most calls for rent cancellation are usually paired with a mortgage one too, as outlined in Representative Ilhan Omar’s bill. 

So where would things go on from there? Well, a mortgage freeze would lead to a stop of money flow to financial institutions such as banks, credit unions, and non-bank lenders. If these agencies do not receive their funds, then they risk the possibility of going broke and triggering a replay of the 2008 financial crisis. To prevent such a thing from happening, the federal government could instead intervene and cover residential rents and mortgages. According to the table below, the federal government would have to pay around $1.61 trillion to cover the cancellation of all rent and mortgages for a year (barring the administrative cost of implementing the system). Although this may seem like a lot of money, keep in mind that the COVID stimulus package cost U.S taxpayers around $2 trillion, and that canceling rent would help stimulate the economy by letting consumers spend more money on goods and services.  Given that no country in the world has canceled rent or mortgage payments, the U.S can show its leadership by being the first.  


Furthermore, a suspension on city taxes would lead to a drastic loss of revenue for

municipal governments, which are already buckling under the weight of the COVID economic downturn 


Rent Mortgage Total
Number of units 43 million rental units 1 128.8 million households 3 * 64.8% homeownership rate 4 * 62% have a mortgage 4  = 51,425,280 households with a mortgage
Average Cost $1,343 per month 2 $1,486 per month 5
Total payment 12 months $ 692,988,000,000 $917,015,592,960 ~ 1.61 trillion

1Number of renter occupied homes in the U.S. from 1960 to 2019

2Average two bedroom rent in the United States

3Total number of households in the U.S

4U.S Mortgage Statistics

5U.S Average Monthly Mortgage Payment

The total cost of rent and mortgages can be found by taking the number of rental and mortgages housing units in the United States, multiplying them by the average monthly rental price and mortgage price respectively, and then summing their values.


Although the math and economics work out, the idea of canceling rent might seem too extreme to some. In fact, given the lack of support of Ilhan Omar’s bill in congress, this action may never see the light of day. But before one criticizes rent cancellation advocates as being unrealistic, there needs to be recognition that this rhetoric can shift the Overton window of political possibilities towards a more renter-centered stance. “Cancel Rent!” could also be an effective rallying cry for movement Tenants, BIPOCs, and lower-income individuals are facing the brunt of this economic fallout, and canceling rent is the desire for a substantial number of them. Given that the current economic stimulus is fairly minimal by many standards, channeling this fury can lead to a very beneficial outcome.


 So what else can be done to help with the rent burden if it won’t be canceled? Well, the Federal Government could simply cut it for lower-income households. By covering the households that fall under less than 80 percent of the Area Median Income (the normative guideline for lower-income status in the U.S) and covering their rents or mortgages, their fiscal security can be ensured. Another tactic that can be used is for governments to cover part of the salaries of workers who have been laid off. One example can be found in the Netherlands, where the government has pledged to cover upwards of 90 percent of the salaries of employees whose businesses have been experiencing rough times due to the COVID epidemic. Another action that may be taken would be to mandate renters to be able to stretch their repayments over a long period of time. For example, instead of having to pay all of the missed rent at once, they could pay 1/12th of it over the next year.  

The call to cancel rent has been growing fast. The economic crisis induced by the COVID epidemic has disproportionately impacted tenants and Black and Brown communities, and the need for drastic relief is acute. Although canceling rent looks promising to many and could make economic sense, it’s completely experimental in nature. But consider this. The cost of inaction on this could leave millions of Americans with crippled finances and hundreds of thousands on the streets. This could potentially be an even greater strain on public finances than paying for their housing. Whatever action the U.S decides to take will have ramifications for decades to come, whether it be a massive spike in homelessness or civil unrest.

Wildfire Damage and Class Inequality

Wildfire Damage and Class Inequality

Wildfire Damage and Class Inequality


“Why is it that wildfire damage affects lower-income communities much more?”


Building damage from wildfires is a common occurrence when they close in on a populated area. However, people from lower-income backgrounds are more likely to not possess wildfire insurance and have subpar housing units, making them much more liable when a wildfire strikes. This is why there is a connection between Wildfire Damage and Class Inequality.

SB 902

SB 902

SB 902


“What would Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 902 bill accomplish?”


With the defeat of SB 50 in the California state senate and the advent of the COVID pandemic earlier this year, solutions to the state’s record housing crisis seem ever more out of reach. However, Senator Scott Wiener is back at it again with SB 902. In essence, SB 902 would authorize for local governments to enact “missing middle” zoning or rezoning for upwards of 10-plexes in designated neighborhoods, at a height specified by the local government in the ordinance, if the parcel is located in a transit-rich area, a jobs-rich area, or an urban infill site. Site. This bill would also provide CEQA exemption for such projects. In addition, the bill would allow for upwards of a fourplex to be approved in a low-density zone with by right ministerial approval of the city.

Why the 100% Affordable Housing Project at 480 E. 4th Avenue and 400 E. 5th Avenue in San Mateo Would Increase the City’s Climate Resilience Capacity

Why the 100% Affordable Housing Project at 480 E. 4th Avenue and 400 E. 5th Avenue in San Mateo Would Increase the City’s Climate Resilience Capacity

On April 28th, 2020, the City of San Mateo Planning Commission held an online study session looking for community feedback on a proposed project that would bring 225 affordable housing units to the downtown area. I wrote a letter explaining why the project would increase the city’s resilience capacity towards climate change.


To the City and Community of San Mateo, 

My name is Isaac Gendler. I am a Housing-Climate Resilience Researcher whose work is focused on the San Francisco Bay Area. It has recently come to my attention that Downtown San Mateo may soon be a host to a 100% affordable unit project at 480 E. 4th Avenue and 400 E. 5th Avenue. The geographical positioning of the venture would simultaneously make the city a more just, equitable, and climate-resilient place to live for all.

According to Zillow, the median home value in San Mateo is $1,467,184 and the median rent is $3,357. Given that the minimum wage of the city is $15.38, the cost of living is simply out of reach for many people who would be potential upstanding residents. If the proposed project is constructed according to its current specifications, it will contain 225 units of 100% affordable housing, half of which are designated as low and extremely-low income units. This will allow workers and their families of all backgrounds to enjoy the full benefits of living in the city. A city with ample greenery, clean air, and the most comfortable weather in the world.

Not only would this project provide a phenomenal quality of life and a plethora of economic opportunities for these potential residents, but also insulate them from the effects of climate change. If constructed, this project would provide dense transit-oriented housing in a location that would be safe from the ill effects of sea-level rise. In fact, even the most dire climate models predict that by the year 2100 the site will not be negatively impacted. It would also be a secure distance from the wildland-urban interface, ensuring that residents would be spared from wildfires. The units will be constructed to the most current building codes guaranteeing a safe indoor environment to counteract a hazardous outdoor environment, such as wildfire smoke or a global pandemic.  

It is understandable that some residents are concerned and hesitant about these changes. The height of the buildings is above the average San Mateo home, and the architecture may be seen as unfamiliar. However, at this moment we must consider what San Mateo could lose if this project is downsized or even terminated. The city would lose residents to other towns that will most likely not have access to the same level of provided services. They may be forced to super commute over an hour to work, leading to great financial, psychological, and physiological stress.  If San Mateo strives to be a champion of equity and environmental management, this project would be a pragmatic and forward-thinking avenue to pursue.

I endorse this project for the economic and environmental benefits it will bring to both the current and future community of San Mateo. Maps of the project’s positioning against sea-level rise and wildfires can be seen below.

Thank you for your time.







200 cm sea-level rise map of San Mateo. The location of the project can be seen on the yellow pointer. Mapping courtesy of Our Coast, Our Future (link). 


Wildland-Urban Interface map of San Mateo. The location of the project can be seen on the black dot. Mapping courtesy of Los Padres ForestWatch (link). 


Header image credit https://www.cityofsanmateo.org/