Home Improvement

Defensive Architecture Shines a Light on Housing Problems

All across the country, cities and developers are working together to increase housing. Developers are building luxury homes, condos, and downtown lofts. Cities are seeking to erect affordable housing units subsidized by government money. It is all in an effort to maximize access to housing.

Now, there is another effort underway in some cities. It is an effort to practice defensive architecture. What is defensive architecture? It is redesigning outdoor spaces in such a way as to discourage homeless encampments. It involves things like replacing grass with rocks and removing public benches. Salt Lake City has started utilizing defensive architecture in recent months.

Only Displacing the Homeless

Those in favor of defensive architecture say it works as advertised. At a senior services center in Salt Lake City, the grass along the entire right-of-way in front of the property was removed at the beginning of the year and replaced with rocks. Facility ownership did so after trash and human waste got so bad that landscapers refused to maintain the property.

Homeless advocates say the rocks have only displaced the homeless. It hasn’t solved the problem. Those previously camping in front of the senior services center have merely moved down the street. Similar things have been observed in other cities across the country.

Defensive architecture does accomplish its intended purpose. But it does not create affordable housing or contribute to understanding why people end up on the street. Those two problems are systemic problems that never garner any legitimate solutions from lawmakers or developers.

Building Houses in Salt Lake City

It is no secret that Salt Lake City’s housing market is tight. Just ask the real estate brokers at CityHome Collective. Houses go on the market and, within hours, start receiving offers. Very few homes stay on the market very long. Housing in Salt Lake City is a hot commodity right now.

As for local builders, they are putting up homes as fast as they can. They are building single-family homes and apartment buildings. They are putting up duplexes and luxury townhomes. Virtually every sort of home is being built in the area, with the exception of affordable housing for those who make less than the median wage.

Building Is a Business

Caught in the middle of the need for affordable housing and the resources available to both municipalities and builders is the reality that building is a business. It costs money. In order to get builders to spend money, you have to allow them to make a profit. They are also going to invest their time and resources in whatever allows them to earn the greatest return.

If builders are not willing to put up affordable housing, that leaves cities, counties, and states. But government agencies aren’t builders. They are not particularly good landlords, either. So they ultimately have turn to the private sector to get affordable housing built.

Solutions Have Been Fleeting

Salt Lake City is not the only town trying to solve an affordable housing problem. Cities and towns have been working on the issue for decades. Thus far though solutions have been fleeting. That has left private property owners to practice defensive architecture in order to protect their own interests.

Is homelessness a problem we can conquer? Theoretically, yes. Practically, probably not. People have been living without ‘normal’ homes since the dawn of humanity. Some always will. The best we can do is help those who generally want help while leaving the rest to do as they choose. That may not sit well with people on either side of the affordable housing debate, but it is reality.