Good luck finding respite at home from whatever horror casts a pall over your life, as it’s hard to find quietude, peace, hygge, etc., given the outside world’s constant intrusions into the domestic. Chemical spills kill our pets, inflation halves our grocery budgets, and that’s holding aside the question of housing insecurity itself. After the glory days of zero interest rates, the twenty-first-century spin on the American idyll of homeownership has come crashing to a halt with the end of easy money on tap (and the rise of gas prices, which has upended even van-life dreams). Many are realizing what the poor have always known. “Rent eats first,” to quote sociologist Matthew Desmond’s work on eviction—or your mortgage payments do.
How do we put more people in homes, and how do we make sure they’re able to stay there? The interminable debate has seen YIMBYs and NIMBYs become the Hatfields and McCoys of housing; Ian Volner braves the yay-nay vitriol to ask whether the whether is the problem, when there’s so much to be pondered with regards to the what—as in what exactly are we building in our backyards, and have built already? Poorly insulated buildings that are hazardous to our health, Patrick Sisson answers, in his survey of American construction. Nothing exemplifies this more than the country’s undying preoccupation with the McMansion, as Kate Wagner points out, which has survived financial crises and ecological catastrophes to become a suburbanite monument to this country’s will to self-annihilation.
Not that the suburbs weren’t already memorials to housing failures, as Dave Denison argues while revisiting the 1985 classic Crabgrass Frontier, which chronicles the federal government’s mid-century role in keeping the suburbs lily-white. Focusing on the country’s capital, Kaila Philo traces the persistence of racial disparities in housing some fifty-five years after the Fair Housing Act, despite its intent to help realize a multiracial democracy in this country. Sadly, the most ambitious visions for housing now seem to come from tech billionaires dabbling in utopic urban planning, but as Charlie Dulik writes, these crypto-cities say more about their would-be founders’ fears and dreams than how we might actually accommodate anyone. These supposed marvels of technological splendor will likely run on salad, as do knowledge workers today, according to Aaron Timms—at least those not eating pastéis de nata in Lisbon and bandeja paisa in Bogotá while typing away in their Airbnbs, as Jessa Crispin describes in her reflections on the American cosmopolitan. Laura Grace Ford wanders through the blighted landscape of Coventry, where life crawls along through the ruins of industrial collapse.
When the state does actively decide to house people, it usually does so violently. Jess McAllen shows how politicians across the country have been rolling out forced treatment policies amid an increase in fearmongering about people with mental illness being violent. Meanwhile, those in jail face the increasing use of bails set by algorithms, as Bryce Covert reports; meant to provide a fairer measure of whether defendants should be released pretrial, such tools have failed to live up to their promise. As always, regardless and in spite of their conditions, people wrest autonomy from their surroundings, dream of better homes. Joshua Craze reports on deportees to South Sudan attempting to build new lives, despite widespread corruption and famine, in the youngest country in the world. In Dorothee Elmiger’s fiction, a narrator considers how prisoners in nineteenth-century London dreamed of new lives in the colonies. And a group of homeless women in Tokyo known as the Koyama-san Notebook Workshop transcribe and reflect on the writings of one of their community, her diaries providing a glimpse into a woman’s struggle to maintain dignity despite the myriad forces arrayed against her.