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Summer Reading List

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Housing Edition

My housing-related book list has been growing and I’m excited to make some headway this August. Being submersed in housing policy most days, these books provide an opportunity to view my work from a perspective that I had not steeped in or had not considered. They often serve to reinvigorate my excitement and passion for our work, and I am sharing a few recommendations in hopes that they can do the same for you.

Earlier this year, I read Homelessness Is a Housing Problem: How Structural Factors Explain U.S. Patterns by Clayton Page Aldern and Gregg Colburn and it’s quickly become one of my most recommended books. A data nerd at heart, I appreciate the author’s use of “accessible statical analysis” to demonstrate how homelessness is most closely correlated with a lack of housing supply. The authors methodically go through the common stereotypes of what causes homelessness (e.g., mental illness, drug use, poverty and weather) and show that while those are correlated with homelessness, they are not causal. I also appreciate their effort to move away from the individual experiencing homelessness and look at the structural factors at a regional level, namely lack of housing supply, that contribute to homelessness.

I’m of the opinion that The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein should be required reading for anyone working in the housing field. Rothstein and his daughter, Leah Rothstein, published a follow-up book Just Action: How to Challenge Segregation Enacted Under the Color of Law aimed at tangible policy solutions communities can take. Richard Rothstein will be the first to tell you that the book was published partly so he could stop answering the question, ‘I’ve read your book, what should I do now?’ While this remains on my to-read list, I’m particularly excited to get to the “dozens of strategies local groups can pursue to redress segregation in their own communities.”

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book from 2016 is another required reading. He’s out this year with Poverty, by America. The book has already hit the New York Times Bestseller list and I’m bracing myself for another deeply compelling and intimate exposé. Desmond argues, “Poverty isn’t simply the condition of not having enough money. It’s the condition of not having enough choice and being taken advantage of because of that.” It’s incumbent upon all of us to create more choices within the housing market for those with the least.

I was finally able to move Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor to my finished list when a co-worker lent me a physical copy. While redlining is well-documented and understood, this Pulitzer Prize finalist covered what was, for me, a new chapter of history: the late 1960s and early 1970s phenomenon of predatory inclusion, in which loans were targeted to “Black women most likely to fail to keep up their home payments and slip into foreclosure, multiplying their profits.”

In my May column on zoning, I mentioned Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It by Nolan Gray. At National Housing & Rehabilitation Association’s 2023 Summer Institute we held a panel on Maximizing Land Use for Affordable Housing with William Fulton from the UC Berkely Terner Center and Claudia Monterrosa from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to talk about their new $85 million competitive grant program aimed at rewarding state and local governments that reform land-use policies and other local barriers that constrain the supply of affordable housing. I’ve also been tracking the development of a National Zoning Atlas (https://www.zoningatlas.org/) and I’m excited to continue following what is a bright spot for the industry in making more land available for multifamily affordable housing.

Happy reading, and please don’t hesitate to send me your recommendations.

Kaitlyn Snyder is managing director of National Housing & Rehabilitation Association.