Protective Housing Ecologies
Preliminaries for a Degrowth City
Any project on housing in Beirut stakes a claim how we should live, one that presupposes a collective deeply embedded in the city. The proposal calls upon the city- both its planners and inhabitants- to employ a degrowth strategy and decommodification of housing, one which would regard the built fabric of Beirut as a shared urban resource.
By strengthening the role of the Public Corporation for Housing through the conception of an Equitable Rent Program and Housing Research Cluster, the proposal details a scenario aimed towards an institutional regulation of the real estate sector by addressing old rent laws, vacancy, and the utilization of existing housing stock across the city. This also entails a new geography of operations and jurisdictive roles for various forums within the existing framework of governmental and municipal authorities.
Within a mechanism of equitable resource allocation and social ownership (both at the community and individual level) the proposal suggests that the real estate economy would be freed from the limitations of binary constructs such as public versus private and communal versus individual, and could harness their inherent potential for meaningful and affordable spaces in the city.
1.0 We assert that Housing must be made available on the principle of socially determined need, not profitability. We call upon the city- both its planners and inhabitants- to employ a degrowth strategy which would utilize the existing housing stock and built fabric of Beirut as a shared urban resource.
1.1 What we propose aims not to function as a complete narrative for Beirut’s de-growth, but rather as a socio-spatial imaginary of a city which no longer blindly follows a culture and model of economic growth that has operated more as an amplifier of spatial and social injustices than a means to mitigate them.
1.2 Through a mechanism of equitable resource allocation and social ownership (both at the community and individual level) the real estate economy could be freed from the limitations of binary constructs such as public versus private and communal versus individual, and could harness their inherent potential for meaningful and affordable spaces in the city.
2.0 We call for the decommodification of housing, by strengthening the role the Public Corporation for Housing plays in facilitating the needs of the city through the conception of a new forum for research and exchange within an already existing mechanism of governmental collaboration. The sustained oversight of the Equitable Rent Program (ERP) and its independently managed Housing Research Cluster (HRC), will act towards regulating the real estate sector to ensure the socio-economic health of Beirut’s Housing ecologies and the utilization of its existing fabric by tackling issues of vacancy and instances of old rent law agreements.
2.1 It is exactly the co-fertilization of the practices of the Public Corporation for Housing and decommodification of its housing fabric that can give new meaning to the reorganization of Beirut’s housing. Beirut will no longer be the privileged terrain of growth for the few, but will flourish with commoning activities, use values and collective creation towards our ultimate objective… us, its inhabitants, regaining our right to the city.
I Any project on housing stakes a claim on what and how we should live.Housing is a place as well as an act. Housing presupposes a collective deeply embedded in the city; one which has undergone and continues to undergo an unnecessary antagonism with a city like Beirut. We propose a course of change that should be interrogative and which must reflect deeper spatial structures concealed in Beirut’s housing ecologies: a complex of nuanced traditions and routines, codes and regulations.
I I Housing must avoid commodification, and the city’s maturity- not growth- should be prioritized! In Beirut, the residential apartment has become the cornerstone of a deregulated and overinflated real estate market of exchange and speculation. The mechanisms of the market and the architect, the planner, the investor, the developer, the owner and the tenant all play their part in perpetuating and reinforcing this hyper-commodification of housing units across the city. We propose the content and material with which to update regulations, as well as to envisage the productive possibilities of such constraints on both the dynamics of landlord-tenant relations as well as the activities of the Public Corporation for Housing.
I I I Housing must be disassociated from the real estate market’s circulation of fantasy and speculation and as the beacon of what is perceived to be the indicator of economic growth. The limits of housing should be subject to continual if not periodic reappraisal, and housing- both public and private- engaged for the transformation of the city. The reciprocal relationship between the domestic and the environment from which it arises and imposes upon has to be addressed along the spectrum of all its scales; a responsibility we reinforce upon the Public Corporation for Housing to disassociate the market value of housing from its physical being. We propose a paradigm shift which will deconstruct the perception of ‘building as commodity’ and installs a critical understanding of building towards a common good, attempting to substitute the growth machine that characterizes the economic culture of Beirut with a more sustainable and socially conscious model built on Equitable Resource Allocation and responsible public spending.
POLICY REFORM 1
Invoking upon the state’s responsibility in facilitating access to housing its citizens under Housing Law (58/1965), as well as Law (118/1977) which identifies shelter provision among the shared responsibilities of municipal authorities.
POLICY REFORM 2
Enforcing more rigorous controls on new large scale developments and imposing stricter reforms on laws pertaining to merging plots by championing well-designed buildings, spaces and places, which value the existing residential ecologies and contribute towards their sustained health.
Enforcing an appropriate spectrum of Capital Gain Tax upon property sales as well as imposing reforms on laws pertaining to Heritage assessment and obtaining land rights for the purpose of demolition, which value that housing is neither produced nor distributed solely for the profit of producers and providers but also to maintain the general stability of the system (in both an economic and political sense).
POLICY REFORM 3
Enforcing more rigorous taxing mechanisms on vacant properties that are not placed on the rent market, should said properties exist within buildings that are occupied by other tenants, which will encourage property owners to partake in the city’s revitalization by either promoting occupancy within the existing housing stock or by financial retribution towards the common good.
The Equitable Rent Program (ERP) and the independent Housing Research Cluster (HRC), are proposed as a new forum for research and exchange which will enforce the protection of Beirut’s Housing Ecologies, within a non-speculative approach to housing production, finance and ownership which seeks to:
- Create a system of balance and of continuous reappraisal between housing demand and housing supply.
- Regulate the hyper-inflated real estate sector by devising more appropriate market value assessments.
- Facilitate Affordable Housing units across the city (irrespective of location, size, and market value).
- Limit the adverse impact of profit-oriented development on lower-income and minority neighborhoods.
- Ensure appropriate living condition standards within properties placed on the market.
- Enforce design guidelines which champion sustainable, communal and healthy living ecologies.
Implementation and Funding Mechanism
Rather than developing rigid processes that demand conformity, we propose a more flexible and inclusive socio-spatial imaginary implemented through a mechanism of social ownership (both at the community and individual level) which will function within two spheres of operation…
1) Intra-governmental collaboration/ Public Financing
(Public Corporation for Housing and Governmental Forums)
A major shift in public spending priorities (most notably from increased taxes on corporate and individual property gains tax) would be required to generate the initial revenues for the scheme in a progressive way. This would necessitate continued collaboration between the Public Corporation for Housing and the Ministry of Finance and Banque du Liban, but specifically in devising a mechanism which would reallocate funds generated from new tax reforms (those proposed within the Protecting Beirut’s Housing Ecology strategy and which stem directly from the real estate sector).
2) Equitable Resource Allocation: Protecting Beirut’s Housing Ecology
(Public Corporation for Housing and the inhabitants of the city of Beirut)
Landlords/ Property Owners whose properties are of inadequate living standard (which require refurbishment) or who require help to be able to rent out their properties at market value (including those currently held within old rent law agreements) register their properties within the Public Corporation for Housing as a form of Social Ownership.
Social Ownership (Individual Landlord or Community organized Trusts)
Becomes a mechanism to control the speculative ownership of housing (in cases of multiple ownership) and to expand the stock of housing under public, collective, community, or resident ownership that is operated solely for resident benefit and subject to resident control.
Landlords/ Property Owners are incentivized by:
Funds and subsidies to renovate or refurbish their properties.
The mediating role the Public Corporation for Housing and Equitable Rent Program (ERP) will play in dealing with their future tenancy agreements which will guarantee a more significant return to them than their present situation.
Avoiding the new taxing mechanisms put into effect, which seek to protect their ownership rights without infringing upon the common good (Policy Reform 2/ Policy Reform 3).
Tenants and Residents, specifically but not limited to low income backgrounds (including those who are currently living under old rent law agreements that are essential to their financial stability) register for eligibility within Beirut’s Housing Ecology strategy. Upon meeting specific criteria for suitability within the scheme, they are afforded a property and appropriate rent price bracket from a spectrum that ranges from subsidized affordable living values to a controlled percentage of market price values. Standard Tenants, who are registered to rent within the program but who are not eligible for affordable rent subsidies are also allowed to access the market of available units based on a continuous appraisal of demand.
Landlords/ property owners registering their units to the scheme will receive rent earnings which are at percentage of market values, regardless of whether their tenant is paying affordable value rent or market value rent.
The funds generated by rents of the properties registered at market price (from standard tenants) will begin to collectively finance the value difference for affordable units, the equilibrium of which will be overseen the Equitable Rent Program (ERP). It is the role of the Equitable Rent Program (ERP) to find the equilibrium in the both the demand/supply economy of the scheme, as well as the redistribution of surplus value from market value units to subsidize affordable rent properties.
Landlords will receive rent value R, which is the market price rent M minus a capped percentage (M-R) , while the market rent surplus above the value R is redistributed to cover the lower value A of affordable rent.
The Equitable Rent Program (ERP) allows for a dynamic variation of the affordable housing unit stock and assigned rent value in relation to the real and specific demand for it. As unit can become an affordable housing unit, the offer for affordability increases without the immediate requirement for new developments. Instead a certain percentage of any existing housing unit type can become affordable.
The Equitable Rent Program (ERP) is inscribed within a degrowth agenda that favors the transformation of existing housing stock which can be renovated and refurbished to meet appropriate living condition requirements and follow good design principles.
The program was devised from the specificity of addressing the Mar Mikhael cluster, with its considerable percentage of vacant units and old rent law tenants, but formalized as a more generalized system which could be applicable within other mixed neighborhoods across Beirut. Protecting Beirut’s Housing Ecology strategy seeks not only to facilitate the introduction of more affordable spaces across the city, but to promote an assimilation of affordable housing within the existing fabric without explicitly designating zones or buildings for it. The diagrams below illustrate a possible timeline instigated by the cancelation of the old rent law in early 2018 and the implementation of the Equitable Rent Program (ERP) in early 2019.
Vacant units enter the rent market following a funded or subsidized refurbishment provided by the program, affordable units are introduced and increased in quantity over time (all the while assimilating within the existing fabric and occupants). The scheme allows a unit to alternate between being at affordable rent value and a market rent value depending on the tenant occupying the flat. As a favorable consequence in the long term, this would alleviate or eliminate any difference of living conditions, location, etc… between what is an affordable unit and a market rent unit.
Actors and Agents
Proceeding from the ideas set out within the Towards Affordable Housing and the Inclusive City report, we invoke upon existing governmental forums to support and develop the Equitable Rent Program (ERP). In addition to the pivotal responsibility assigned to the Public Corporation for Housing, especially in manifesting the ERP and Housing Research Cluster (HRC), the most essential actor in our scheme is the city of Beirut and its diverse citizenship. Rather than developing a rigid mechanism to be enforced, Equitable Rent Program (ERP) is based on the direct involvement (and social investment) of the citizens of the city- property owners and tenants alike. Figure 5 charts the new geography of our scheme as well the jurisdictive roles and participating factors of all its agents as follows:
Public and Governmental Institutions
Public Corporation for Housing
4. The Ministry of Finance/ Bank du Liban: (FUNDING) devising a mechanism which would reallocate funds generated from new tax reforms (those proposed within the ERP, and which stem directly from the real estate sector).
5. The Ministry of Public Works and Transport: (IMPLEMENTATION) Continuous development of infrastructure and oversight role in new developments and community projects.
6. The Ministry of Culture (PLANNING): Continued oversight in the identification and preservation of architectural heritage and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs (PLANNING): Shared Databank on participating parties within the ERP.
7. Order of Engineers and Architects (IMPLEMENTATION): Responsible for issuing the RFPs for the Investors and the supervision of the works under the ERP.
8. The Municipality of Beirut: (PLANNING) Coordinating the de-growth strategy and promotion of community projects across the city.
9. The Directorate General of Urban Planning: (PLANNING?) Examining the impact of new developments and community projects.
10. Council for Development and Reconstruction: (PLANNING?) Oversight in new developments and community projects.
2. The Equitable Rent Program (ERP), a new governmental forum operating from within the Public Corporation for Housing.
3. The Housing Research Cluster (HRC), an extension of the existing practices of Research and appraisal existing within the Public Corporation for Housing which will facilitate the work of the ERP
11. Policy Reform 2: Enforcing more rigorous controls on new large scale developments and imposing stricter reforms on laws pertaining to merging plots by championing well-designed buildings, spaces and places, which value the existing residential ecologies and contribute towards their sustained health.
12. Policy Reform 2: Enforcing an appropriate spectrum of Capital Gain Tax upon property sales.
13. Policy Reform 3: Enforcing more rigorous taxing mechanisms on vacant properties that are not placed on the rent market.
14. Request for Proposal targeting Small to Medium Scale Investors, developers will be issued to attract investors in the renovation and rehabilitation works of old existing housing stock.
Citizens/ End Users
15. Subsidies and affordable housing support will be granted based on eligibility criteria.
16. Subsidies for the refurbishment of properties that are of inadequate living standard or vacant will be granted based on the eligibility criteria.
17. Small to Medium Scale developers/ investors will refurbish and renovate the existing stock of housing units and could be afforded tax exemption incentives as they are contributing to the activation of the dormant stock of housing units and likely increase the affordable stock.
18. The supply of Housing Units consists of new or old units that have undergone renovation or refurbishment
19. The demand for Housing Units consists of applications submitted by hand or online that will be matched with more than one option in the housing stock available within the program.
Objectives/ Future Development
The proposal aims at fostering a culture of inhabiting the environment rather than setting parameters and building frameworks within which perceptions of housing are confined. By encouraging communal strategies towards the degrowth of the city and by engaging existing governmental forums to participate at the scale of its neighborhoods, we believe that a healthy ecology of living would be made sustainable within the diverse citizenship of Beirut. With the increase in affordable housing units across the city, and an assimilation of those units within the existing fabric (as opposed to their segregation within designated zones), we would pave the road towards a socially conscious transformation aimed at engaging the city housing ecologies as a shared urban resource.
This new ecology, geared towards a more sustainable, adaptable, and inclusive ecosystem is driven by simple strategies of spatial appropriation. Building on our site observations and existing social practices, we would envisage multiple possibilities for strategic intervention and future development:
The Ground Level could become an uninterrupted expanse acting as a platform for social encounters, exchange and spontaneous events. This could be activated and enhanced through interstices spaces, the appropriation of doorways, passageways and thresholds: a complex of nuanced traditions and routines which already exists and would only be encouraged within this collective appropriation. We imagine the plausible reality that the ground level could act as an organic social landscape, integrated and inclusive: linking the buildings that will start to champion new modes of sustainable and flexible living patterns.
As Degrowth emerged from ecological approaches, we envision our roof ecology as a platform for innovative forms of urban agricultural production, natural habitats for species regeneration and greenhouse microcosmes that help secure particular microclimates. The aim is to include the MM cluster in a sustainable production ecosystem that offers an inclusive and self sufficient living. The rooftop also houses large collective rain water recipients to adress the frequent water shortages in the neighborhood. We imagine the plausible reality that the roof level could act as a regenerative green ecosystem, efficient and sustainable: creating new processes of production and challenging the destructive status quo of our current use of natural resources.
The habitable ecosystem:
The habitable space is an adaptable and inclusive platform interacting with the Ground Level and fueled by the roof systems. It encapsulates the refuge as well as the prospect. We envisage this space as a flexible and sustainable potential that each individual or family can appropriate as an opportunity to receive and to contribute to the larger community. We call for the appropriation of habitable space rather than claiming its ownership. Tactics such as shrinking the domestic private spaces and expanding onto the public common areas help creating participatory communities. The Rehabilitation of these building will be implemented using green materials and efficient systems. We imagine the plausible reality that the habitable spaces could act as models for flexible, expandable and self sufficient urban living: creating inclusive and self reliant communities.