Saturday, August 18, 2007

things I read

One of my favourite reads is The Republic of East Vancouver. I pulled a couple of excerpts from it that are vaguely pertinent. Emphasis is mine.

The first is in regards to speculator-held CONdo's in the downtown (Coal Harbour) and the homeless. I don't draw the same lines between them, but it is interesting thought anyhow - especially the reported vacancy rate.
Appearances aren’t always deceiving

A source informs The Republic that the occupancy rate in all those new condo towers blocking the view along Coal Harbour is around 18%. Those who bought them are the offshore class who own similar prestige homes around the world to which they pay occasional visits as their elite whims dictate. They don’t bother with the dirty commerce of renting out their homes when they’re not using them.

Add up all the vacant homes in that one sector of the city alone. The number comes coincidentally close to the estimated number of true-to-life Vancouver citizens who are forced to live on the street due to lack of rentable homes.

It’s not a question of supply, it’s a question of distribution. Of course no one would suggest for a minute that the homeless be housed in the vacated condos of Coal Harbour. That would be an affront to entrenched and untouchable concepts of property rights. But we would have a quandary explaining ourselves to future anthropologists, who are going to find the strangely discordant phenomena of many unused living spaces alongside evidence of many people not living in spaces at all. link

Regarding phenomena (in the same edition) - This is actually an essay about GW Bush, but the ideas can be applied further to the recent RE phenomenon that has swept the globe, and the nay-sayers that have been warning of the situation, and those that blithely repeat the mantra that "real estate only increases in value", "this time it's different", etc.

I guess I just like to make connections in my purview from out here on Pluto.
In his metaphysics, Kant made a distinction between two types of reality that he referred to as “phenomena” and “noumena” in the plural, and “phenomenon” and “noumenon” in the singular. A “phenomenon” is an object as it’s perceived by our senses and our thoughts, but our senses and thoughts are very limited. For example, unlike bats, humans don’t navigate with sonar, and unlike sharks we can’t perceive electrical fields. Similarly, people with average intellects are often blind to things that are obvious to the intellectually gifted. We can use education and technology to overcome some of our perceptual limitations, but even the greatest minds using the finest technology can only perceive the tiniest fraction of the world’s unfathomable complexity. Kant used the term “noumena” to refer to the realm beyond the reach of perception and cognition. If the word “phenomena” refers to things as they appear, then “noumena” refers to things as they are.

Now I wouldn't say that those who perceive this market as beyond reason are necessarily "intellectually gifted", but we can say that on average, the preponderance of the populace is blind to the obvious.

We don’t know much

Because noumena are beyond our perceptual and intellectual grasp, whatever value judgements we make about things are necessarily judgements about phenomena. Since phenomena convey only the most simplified, superficial, and often contradictory information about reality, our judgements are always lacking: it’s impossible to understand the ocean by tasting a teaspoon of seawater. The rational response to this predicament is to withhold value judgements whenever possible, and when judgements have to be made, to recognize that they’re provisional, partial, and very possibly wrong. The realization that phenomena are only the shadows of noumena, that whatever we perceive is only a mask concealing an endless mystery, nurtures the development of an attitude of intellectual humility and reverence. link

The Republic is an erudite read. Sometimes one needs to read around the politics, but it is always thought-provoking.


patriotz said...

The number comes coincidentally close to the estimated number of true-to-life Vancouver citizens who are forced to live on the street due to lack of rentable homes.

People are living on the street in Vancouver because they have personal troubles which keep them from working and being able to get along with other people.

There are plenty of cities where rental housing is less affordable versus minimum wage than Vancouver. People just live at higher densities.

Homelessness is a real problem and needs to be dealt with, but it's really a mental health and addiction issue, not an economic one.

I agree it appears wasteful that outsiders buy condos and let them sit empty most of the time, but in reality it's the owners wasting their own money on accommodation and public services they're not using, with net benefit to the local workers and taxpayers.

solipsist said...

I agree with you completely regarding troubles of the homeless patriotz (that's what I meant in "reading around the politics" in The Republic). What caught my eye in that piece was the purported occupancy rate in Coal Harbour. That's a fair bit of under-utilized inventory.

I do not find rent to be unaffordable in Vancouver, and as far as buying, well, that will shake itself out in time - it always does. Will that empty inventory contribute to that shake-out? Probably. Would it help the homeless? Probably not.

I do not think that any government intervention is warranted, and I think that the xenophobia around who is buying (and hoarding) is silly.

expatriate said...

"The number comes coincidentally close to the estimated number of true-to-life Vancouver citizens who are forced to live on the street due to lack of rentable homes".

The operative word here is "forced". For every person living on the street, there are better options available. I agree that homelessness is largely a mental health issue. For example, the vast majority of homeless in the USA are vietnam veterans with post traumatic stress disorder among many other mental health issues. Until we spend some resources on mental health, no matter how much social housing we build, there will be the mentally ill on the street, not to mention the few who truely "choose" to be there.

solipsist said...

Agreed expat. But, I guess that those "forced out" of Riverview (and other places) didn't have many choices.

I'm non-partisan, and pretty much apolitical (just another phenomenon), but was it not the "NDP" who shut down Riverview?

Clarke said...

THe information that only around 18% of the water view condos are occupied is interesting. Given that this is information appears to be solely based on what a "source" told the writer, this does not mean much. I can probably find sources telling me the lunar landings were all fake, or 9-11 was an inside job, or whatever.

While homelessness may be partially attributed to a shortage of affordable rental properties, the bulk of the homeless are indeed mentally ill with substance abuse issues.

Simply increasing the stock of social housing in isolation will not fix the problem. To do much about this would require Institutionalization and managed care. This is expensive, and amusingly enough, would result in legal challenges by advocates for the mentally ill.

si fu said...

So let me get this straight. Riverview is closed, and now will be replaced by non-institutional housing for persons who have mental health and addiction issues. Presumably the lack of attendants/caregivers will place the burden of coping with the 'clients' on fellow residents and police. Sounds like a plan...