Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Solving the Housing Shortage

Soon to be famous! Or: Move over, Shirley Jackson.
Solving the Housing Shortage

Last night our Harlem Housing Study Committee reported their findings to the Planning Board. They had spent months assessing past reports and studies. Then they counted the current dwelling units, identified the rentals, the owner occupied units, and the mobile homes. They compiled this and more information and identified trends from the past fifteen years. They also amassed information about housing help programs. In short, their study was comprehensive. As is true for most communities, housing needs in Harlem cannot be shoved under one umbrella. The study group identified the three most pressing wants: more rental houses, group housing for seniors, and a plan/program to aid renters to become home owners.

Among these many items of information, we learned that a surprisingly large number of single elders rattle around alone in three and four bedroom houses. These houses could be freed up for young families who need the space. Many of these houses comprise the more desirable homes in town. In fact, some of us hoarding these houses are on the planning board. We talked about it. Some of us have whole rooms devoted to knick-knacks. Some of us agreed that we would gladly transition to a nice shared-living space with a gardener to mow the grass, a maintenance man to fix the faucets, and somebody else to shovel snow in the winter.

That was when I got my brilliant idea. This idea is Big. Harlem ’s housing problems are not unique. Small towns throughout Montana share our plight. We could institute a pilot program. Here it is: We would hold a lottery. We would draw numbers, to match a single elder woman with a single elder man, one of whom must be able to fix a leaky faucet. The matched pair would then draw for a two bedroom home. This pairing would free up two larger homes for families with children, homes they might either rent or purchase. We would continue the lottery until all the elders in town are matched and moved. Just this one program alone, a program which would not require federal funding, a program which would not require a preliminary engineering report, a program which would be locally managed, would solve the majority of our communities’ housing problems.

The thoughtful reader may have noticed one small difficulty. Demographically, there are more elderly women than there are elderly men. Fortunately, I have the solution. The women would be paired, as long as one of them could fix faucets. If neither could, they would be matched with a couple with faucet fixing ability and all would live in a three bedroom home.

Another problem is that in each community a small number of persons, of either sex, could be classified as crotchety curmudgeons. These people would be identified in the initial pre-lottery assessment and would live alone in a single bedroom unit. If said curmudgeon lacked faucet fixing ability, an on-call fixer would be provided.

One question you may have is this: Is a lottery a fair way to pair a man and a woman to live together? It is far more fair and equitable, a much less chancy arrangement, than the hormone-driven process younger people commonly use. This is not about romance. This is a communal-living plan. Each pair would share a house, much like college room-mates. Each would have his/her own bedroom with shared kitchen privileges and would rotate taking the garbage to the alley.

Should fate draw together a compatible couple, they might consider marriage. This could present a problem of a different sort which is not covered under my plan. I strongly advise that they be required to first undergo a minimum six months of intensive marriage counseling before they be allowed to take this step. In addition, all their living children must approve the match.

Here’s another benefit. The pre-lottery assessment will identify mentors to coach young renters and homebuyers, now moving into their former houses, in the essential skills of changing light bulbs, hanging the screen door, and fixing the leaky faucet. Everyone wins.

Who knows, my Harlem Housing Solution Lottery could spread nationwide. I am polishing my speech for the moment when the Governor hands me the Montana Humanitarian Award. Who knows, this plan may lead to my Nobel Peace Prize.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door.
May 27,2010

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