Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Our Democracy’s Public Schools

Democracy Relies on Public Schools
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, August 29, 2023, p. A6

OK, I’ll just say it, “I don’t object to the existence of religious and other private schools. I just don’t want them funded with taxpayers’ dollars.”

As Ed Wasserman pointed out in a letter earlier this year, neither did Republicans – in 1876. Republicans who search for “original intent” ought to be required to chew on their party’s platform plank from that year:

“The public school system . . . is the bulwark of the American republic . . .. [W]e recommend an amendment to the constitution . . . forbidding the application of any public funds . . . for the benefit of any school . . . under sectarian control.”

We shouldn’t be surprised with this Republican sleight of hand. This is the same political party that demanded Trump-appointed U.S. attorney David Weiss investigate Hunter Biden. And then responded with outrage when Attorney General Merrick Garland made Weiss the special counsel to do so.

As former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld might have said, “You don’t govern with the opposing party you wish you had, you govern with the opposing party you’ve got.”

In that spirit, let’s imagine how Republicans might expand private funding for those rejecting public programs.

A family or business preferring private protection services could forgo access to the police in exchange for some money toward their security service.

A golfer might say, “I’ll agree to stay off the public golf courses in exchange for some taxpayer dollars to help with my country club dues.”

A citizen who has never entered the public library might prefer televised media and request a contribution toward a larger TV screen to watch Fox News.

The possibilities are as endless as they are a mind-numbing misunderstanding of democracies.

[Photo credit: Iowa Department of Education, https://educateiowa.gov/walk-through-iowa-s-one-room-schoolhouses (“Here is the original well of an 1800s school house located near Shellsburg in Benton County.”) And see, Tom Morain, “One-Room Schools,” Iowa Pathways, Iowa PBS, undated, https://www.iowapbs.org/iowapathways/mypath/one-room-schools (“The first schoolhouse in Iowa was built in 1830 in Lee County.”)
“Historically, Iowans’ enthusiasm and generosity for education has been overwhelming. . . In the 1800s they paid for 12,000 one-room schoolhouses for their kids. In the 1900s they were rightfully proud of funding a K-12 system ranked among the nation’s best. . . . The University of Iowa, 1847, and University of Northern Iowa, 1876, were primarily built with Iowans’ dollars . . .. “ “How to Save Higher Ed,” The Gazette, March 19, 2017; https://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2017/03/how-to-save-higher-ed.html]

One of the central benefits of democracies born of communities is their provision of the rules and tools for creating majority agreement on programs of such benefit to everyone they should be funded by everyone.

Those who came before us realized that for the vast landmass called the United States to become a “community” required many connecting networks. So they built them – a postal system, roads, railroads, telegraph, telephone, and ultimately international radio, television and Internet.

They also were sufficiently convinced of the public benefit from public libraries, parks, and wilderness reserves for everyone to pay for them, too.

Even if you drive the back country “blue highways” on vacation, you still benefit from what our 49,000-mile Interstate Highway System brings you. Few complained of its cost, let alone sought reimbursement because of how little they’d use it.

Boston’s first school was established April 23, 1635 – 141 years before there was a “United States.” How sad that of all the democratically created public programs today’s Republicans could dismantle, they picked the oldest: public education.

The 1876 Republicans knew public education’s standards were essential to have store clerks who know math, doctors who know medicine – and citizens who know civics. It’s no less true today.

Nicholas Johnson is a former Iowa City School Board member. Contact:mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

Ed Wasserman. Ed Wasserman, “GOP has strayed from its original position on public ed,” The Gazette, July 13, 2023, https://www.thegazette.com/letters-to-the-editor/gop-has-strayed-from-its-original-position-on-public-ed/ (“Iowans should be interested in the so-called conservative values of its Republican Party. Here is the text of one of its presidential platform planks from 1876: “The public school system of the several states is the bulwark of the American republic; and, with a view to its security and permanence, we recommend an amendment to the constitution of the United States, forbidding the application of any public funds or property for the benefit of any school or institution under sectarian control.”)

Republicans and David Weiss. Luke Broadwater and Maggie Haberman, “Republicans Wanted a Special Counsel Investigation of Hunter Biden. Now Many Oppose It; Although some G.O.P. lawmakers see the appointment of David C. Weiss as a vindication of their strategy, others criticize the now-scuttled plea deal he struck with Mr. Biden,” New York Times, Aug. 12, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/12/us/politics/republicans-hunter-biden-special-counsel.html (“Congressional Republicans have for months repeatedly written to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland demanding he appoint a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden, the president’s son, over his business dealings.

Some even demanded that a specific man be named to lead the inquiry: David C. Weiss, the Trump-appointed Delaware U.S. attorney who has long investigated the case.

But on Friday, after Mr. Garland elevated Mr. Weiss to special counsel status, Republicans in Congress reacted publicly not with triumph, but with outrage. “David Weiss can’t be trusted and this is just a new way to whitewash the Biden family’s corruption,” Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.”)

Secretary Rumsfeld. Thomas E. Ricks, “Rumsfeld Gets Earful From Troops,” Washington Post, Dec. 9, 2004, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2004/12/09/rumsfeld-gets-earful-from-troops/ec74b055-5090-496b-a66c-145d37a79473/ (“Rumsfeld replied: ‘As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.’")

“Blue highways.” “Blue Highways,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Highways (“In 1978, after separating from his wife and losing his job as a teacher, Heat-Moon, 38 at the time, took an extended road trip in a circular route around the United States, sticking to only the ‘Blue Highways.’ He had coined the term to refer to small, forgotten, out-of-the-way roads connecting rural America (which were drawn in blue on the old style Rand McNally road atlas).”)

Interstate highway system. “Interstate Highway System,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_Highway_System (“Following the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, use of the railroad system for moving passengers and freight declined sharply, but the trucking industry expanded dramatically and the cost of shipping and travel fell sharply. . . . The Interstate Highway System was being constructed at the same time as the intermodal shipping container made its debut. These containers could be placed on trailers behind trucks and shipped across the country with ease. A new road network and shipping containers that could be easily moved from ship to train to truck, meant that overseas manufacturers and domestic startups could get their products to market quicker than ever, allowing for accelerated economic growth. . . . As of 2020, about one-quarter of all vehicle miles driven in the country used the Interstate Highway System,[3] which had a total length of 48,756 miles (78,465 km).”)

Earliest public school. “Apr 23, 1635 CE: First Public School in America; On April 23, 1635, the first public school in what would become the United States was established in Boston, Massachusetts,” Education, National Geographic, https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/first-public-school-america/ .

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Tuesday, August 15, 2023

What Governors Do

This, Children, is What Governors Do
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, August 15, 2023, p. A5

When very young my first introduction to the people, rivers, and ducks of China came from “The Story of Ping.” It became one of my favorites.

My dad used to say that children’s constant questions are their 400 little tugs each day, trying to get the world inside their heads. But some of his responses to my stream of questions was just, “That’s the way ducks do.”

I always associated his line with Ping. Though I looked, I can’t find it there now. But it’s still useful.

When a little older my definition of “president” was Franklin Roosevelt. “The way presidents do” was, for me, what FDR did.

For Iowa’s children in their early teens, their definition of “governor” is Governor Kim Reynolds. For them, whatever she says or does becomes, “That’s the way governors do.”

No, it’s not.

And her critics might be more successful showing Iowans what other governors can and are doing than focusing on what she shouldn’t be doing.

My exhibit: Washington State’s Governor Jay Inslee. [Photo from: https://www.jayinslee.com/top-priorities/health-care.]

His impressive experience includes an economics major, law degree and practice, city government (city prosecutor), Washington legislature (four years), U.S. House (13 years), national government (regional director, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), country’s longest serving governor (11 years), chair, Democratic Governors Association.

His latest “state of the state” address makes no mention of restrictions on how doctors can practice medicine, professional teachers can teach or the books librarians can provide. No efforts to make life more difficult for LGBTQ people. No increases in his executive power. No curtailing of access to public information for media and other Washingtonians. No refusal to hold press conferences. No cuts in support of the poor. No taxpayer-funded private and religious schools. [No headline-grabbing trip south for Washington’s law officers to stop immigrants.]

What has he accomplished or proposed? Some examples:

Human rights. “Housing is a Human Right” campaign (construction; zoning; $1 billion for homeless and affordable housing); public transportation. More access to healthcare; including immigrants’ and women’s rights. Reduced racial disparities. Marriage equality. Protection of LGBTQ rights. Paid family and medical leave.

Early childhood education and care. Schools provide students mental and educational support, and programs for those with special needs. Reformed criminal justice system. Suspension of executions. Marijuana single misdemeanor offenders pardoned.

Environment. Leading climate change action advocate. Conservation of wildlife habitat; protection for endangered species. Cleaner water and air. [Sustainable agriculture and forestry. Ban on fracking. One hundred percent clean energy goal.]

Economy. Need-related college financial aid (boosted state’s economy). Increased minimum wage. Record low unemployment; 500,000 new jobs. A “Working Families Tax Credit” – rather than tax cuts for Washington’s wealthiest.

The result?

Washington has been ranked the best state in the U.S., second best for business and third best for workers and teachers. Similar to what Iowa’s ranking sometimes was under both Republican and Democratic former governors.

And that, dear Iowa children, “Is the way governors do”!

Nicholas Johnson wonders what Governor Inslee will do next; it won’t be reelection. Contact: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

NOTE: Text [within brackets] was deleted by the editors for space reasons.


Jay Inslee, General. Note: Most of the assertions and items listed in the column are from the following general sources:

Wikipedia: Jay Inslee, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_Inslee

“Washington Governor Jay Inslee,” https://governor.wa.gov/

“Jay Inslee Governor,” https://www.jayinslee.com/ (campaign website)

Jay Inslee, “Building a Washington That Works for Everyone,” https://www.facebook.com/WaStateGov

The Seattle Times, use The Times Search feature, enter: Jay Inslee, https://www.seattletimes.com/

Results from Google search for, “Governor Jay Inslee”

Inslee’s experience. See, Jay Inslee, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_Inslee

Nation’s longest serving governor. “List of Current United States Governors, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_current_United_States_governors (“Currently, the longest serving incumbent U.S. governor is Jay Inslee of Washington, having served since January 2013 . . ..”)

State of the state. Jay Inslee, “2023 State of the State Address: Bold actions for building a stronger Washington,” Jan. 10, 2023, https://governor.wa.gov/news/speeches/2023-state-state-address-bold-actions-building-stronger-washington

Accomplishments. Gene Johnson and Ed Komenda, “Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee won’t seek 4th term,” Associated Press, May 1, 2023, https://apnews.com/article/inslee-democrat-2024-climate-450cb6ef6347f0ac04022f079c3c0e13 (“Among his accomplishments he lists a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions in the state and a trio of gun violence prevention measures that he signed into law last month, including a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles that is already being challenged in court by gun rights advocates.

Early this year the state Supreme Court upheld a capital gains tax Inslee promoted as a way to address what was considered the nation’s most regressive tax system.

He also vowed to protect gay rights and abortion access as conservative states constrained them, and he bought the state a three-year stockpile of a popular abortion drug in anticipation of court rulings that could limit its availability.

Inslee said he still has work to do before his exit, including collaborating with legislators and community leaders to address Washington’s homelessness crisis and speeding efforts to broaden behavioral health services.”)

Terra Sokol, “Gov. Jay Inslee Approves Salary Increases for Teachers,” News Radio, 560 KPQ, April 22, 2023, https://kpq.com/gov-jay-inslee-approves-salary-increases-for-teachers/ (“Program supervisors and instructors would make a minimum of $72,728 a year, administration $107,955 a year, and classified staff (paras, office staff, custodians) would receive $52,173 a year. . . . Salary increases total to approximately $1 billion and will go into effect in the 2024-25 school year.”)

Katherine Long, “Could you go to college tuition-free in Washington? Here’s how to find out,” Seattle Times, May 28, 2019, https://www.seattletimes.com/education-lab/could-you-go-to-college-tuition-free-in-washington-heres-how-to-find-out/ (“Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a sweeping higher-education bill that will cut the cost of tuition, or make it free, for low- and median-income students. In a tweet, he described it as creating “a statewide #freecollege plan for eligible students.” Nationally, the bill has been hailed as a progressive approach to making college more affordable, and it’s expected to reach up to 110,000 students. . . . The Workforce Education Investment Act replaces the State Need Grant with a new program, the Washington College Grant (WCG), and makes the money an entitlement. Grants can cover up to 100% of tuition plus service and activity fees, and do not need to be paid back. It’s not a so-called “last-dollar” program — a student who qualifies for WCG could also receive a federal Pell grant, for example.

The legislation is built on the idea that Washington’s economy already employs a lot of college graduates, many of whom move here to chase opportunity — yet only about 31% of Washington’s own high-school graduates have earned a degree or credential by the age of 26, according to one study.

Being clear and upfront about who qualifies, and guaranteeing the money, removes the uncertainty surrounding financial aid. That, in turn, should make it easier for school districts and colleges to encourage kids to think about earning a certificate or a two- or four-year college degree, or becoming trained through a registered apprenticeship (also covered) . . ..[Chart indicates declining dollar support as family income increases above $69,000. $10,748 available up to incomes $46,000 or below. Declines to $5374 at $64,000 and $0 at $69,000 and above.]

Claire Withycombe, “Gov. Inslee signs bills to increase housing in WA,” Seattle Times, May 8, 2023, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/gov-inslee-signs-wa-affordable-housing-bills/ (“Many of the bills are aimed at boosting the supply of homes in a state where it’s expensive and sorely needed.

Washington will now allow multifamily housing in many more neighborhoods, encourage people to develop accessory dwelling units, and streamline development regulations, among other policies. The overarching effort to smooth regulatory barriers, like zoning and permits, to building housing garnered bipartisan support.

“We are attacking this problem at its root, which is the lack of housing in the state of Washington,” Inslee said.

The Washington Department of Commerce estimates the state will need about 1 million more homes in the next 20 years.

This year, lawmakers also passed a budget with a $400 million investment in the state’s Housing Trust Fund, which finances affordable housing projects. That money will pay for about 3,000 new rental homes, and help about 250 to 400 households with homeownership, according to the department. . . .

Inslee signed nine bills about 1 p.m. Monday in Seattle at SEIU 775, and signed a 10th bill in a separate ceremony later that afternoon at the Northwest African American Museum, in a nod to the lengthy and harmful legacy of racist policies that kept many Black people from buying homes in certain neighborhoods and from building generational wealth.

House Bill 1474, which sponsors say is the first statewide policy of its kind, will help people who were affected by racist housing covenants designed to keep ethnic and religious minorities out of certain neighborhoods, as well as their descendants, with down payments and closing costs. . . .

Inslee signed nine bills about 1 p.m. Monday in Seattle at SEIU 775, and signed a 10th bill in a separate ceremony later that afternoon at the Northwest African American Museum, in a nod to the lengthy and harmful legacy of racist policies that kept many Black people from buying homes in certain neighborhoods and from building generational wealth.”)

New York Times. Reid J. Epstein, “Jay Inslee Sees Greener Pastures Ahead; After nearly 30 years in elected office, Washington’s governor plans to shift his focus to climate solutions and clean energy, underscoring the need for ‘a sense of optimism and confidence,’” New York Times, May 2, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/02/us/politics/jay-inslee-climate.html (“. . . [O]ne of America’s leading climate hawks.

Mr. Inslee ran for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination by arguing that the country would have to radically reshape its relationship with fossil fuels and promote renewable energy. . . . [H]is goals later became the blueprint for the climate spending in the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden signed into law last year. . . .

In 2007, I [Inslee] said we’re going to be driving electric cars. People thought I was smoking the cheap stuff. Well, now we’re buying them so fast that production can’t even keep up.”]

Reid J. Epstein, “Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, Climate Champion, Won’t Seek Re-Election; Mr. Inslee, 72, a former presidential candidate and a leading Democratic proponent of policies to slow climate change, said he would not seek a fourth term,” New York Times, May 1, 2023, . https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/01/us/politics/jay-inslee-washington-governor.html (“Mr. Inslee and the Washington State attorney general, Bob Ferguson, filed a series of lawsuits against Mr. Trump’s administration, challenging policies on its ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim countries, its separation of migrant children from their parents and its unwinding of climate regulations.”)

David Wallace-Wells, “Gov. Jay Inslee Is Taking a Well-Earned Climate Victory Lap,” New York Times, Aug. 31, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/31/opinion/environment/jay-inslee-ira-climate-change.html (“[C]limate has become one of the issues that really holds the Democratic coalition together.

I think the reason for that is because it is such a powerful job creator — a good-paying-job creator. I mean, I can’t turn over a rock in my state where I can’t point to good jobs being created, in Moses Lake, where battery companies are coming in and Lind, Washington, where a solar plant went in and Arlington, where there’s electric planes that are in development. It’s just an explosion and it’s a welcome one. . . .

[In] 2009 or 2010, I brought a Chevy Volt, the prototype for the hybrid electric, to Capitol Hill because I wanted to show my colleagues, “Look what’s coming. Electric cars are coming.” . . . I was just being teased mercilessly by my friends . . .. Now people have a waiting list for the F-150, the Lightning, 10 miles long. . . .

I looked at the Alpine Meadows and thought about how they are at such risk right now. . . . [W]e’ve lost 45 percent of our glaciers — Olympic National Park, and the same thing’s happening on Rainier. It’s just great to see action today, knowing that Alpine Meadows might have a chance for my grandkids.”)

Best state and top priorities:

Best state. Levi Pulkkinen, "Education, Energy and Economy Lead Washington to Top Spot in Best States Ranking; The Evergreen State takes the top spot again in the U.S. News Best States ranking on the strength of its tech sector and other industries," U.S. News, March 9, 2021, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/2021-03-09/why-washington-is-the-best-state-in-america ("For the second time, Washington has been named No. 1 in the U.S. News Best States ranking and is the first state to earn the top spot twice in a row.")

Economic Recovery. “Jay Inslee Governor, Top Priorities, Economic Recovery,” https://www.jayinslee.com/top-priorities/economic-recovery

(“During Jay’s tenure, Washington has made historic steps to improve the lives of Washingtonians. In his first term, Jay led Washington out of the Great Recession. By his second term, he brought Washington together to create what CNBC rated the top state for businesses and Oxfam declared the best state for workers.”

https://www.jayinslee.com/about - “Under his clear leadership, Washington helped build an economy that is ranked number one for both businesses and workers.”)

Healthcare. https://www.jayinslee.com/top-priorities/health-care

(“Jay has protected and expanded access to health care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to nearly 800,000 additional Washingtonians, driving uninsured rates to record lows. . . . • Expanded the Affordable Care Act to nearly 800,000 Washingtonians
• Protected those with pre-existing conditions and women’s reproductive rights
• Signed first public health care option in the country
• Passed historic long-term care benefit program so seniors can receive the care they need
. . . Jay has made Washington state a leader in reproductive health care. He helped to pass and sign the Reproductive Parity Act, which requires health plans that include maternity care services to also cover abortion services and for all health plans to cover over the counter contraceptives without a prescription.

We must change how we take care of people who suffer from mental illness in Washington state. That’s why Jay championed and signed legislation to integrate physical services and behavioral health services by significantly transforming the state’s mental health system and reshaping how and where patients receive care.”)

Education. https://www.jayinslee.com/top-priorities/education

(“[He] invested billions in our education system.

These important investments have resulted in increased access to early learning, including all-day kindergarten so that children can start building a foundation at an early age for success. For children with the most need, he pushed to secure $130 million for direct special education services and expand Breakfast After the Bell program to ensure Washington’s kids are focused on learning, not hunger.

Jay values our teachers and he’s worked to increase educator pay more than any other state and to lower class sizes so our educators can focus on giving our children the best possible education. He has also made a commitment to recruit and retain more diverse educators in our schools.”

• Enacted all-day kindergarten
• Raised teacher pay and lowered class sizes
• Funded full and partial college tuition assistance for working and middle-class Washingtonians
• Launched Career Connect to give 100,000 students career-ready apprenticeships and technical training

[The] Workforce Education Investment Act, which ensures full and partial college tuition scholarships are available to working and middle-class Washingtonians. . . . [And the] Career Connect Washington. This program connects 100,000 Washington students with career-ready education like apprenticeships and technical education.”)

Climate; Clean Energy. https://www.jayinslee.com/top-priorities/climate-and-clean-energy

(“Known as the “greenest governor in the country,” he has made Washington state a leader in both the fight against climate change and growing clean energy jobs — something he knows will be vital to our economic comeback post-COVID.

, , , Jay set the state on a pathway to a carbon neutral electrical grid by 2030 and to be powered by 100 percent clean electricity by 2045. We have built the cleanest energy grid in the nation and a $6 billion wind energy industry, while also increasing the use of solar energy and electric vehicles.

• Committed Washington to have a carbon neutral electrical grid by 2030 and 100% clean energy electricity by 2045
• Built cleanest energy grid in nation and helped build a $6 billion wind energy industry
• Signed orca and salmon protections

He led the passage of the greenest transportation package in our state’s history to create an estimated 200,000 jobs.”)

Justice and Safety. https://www.jayinslee.com/top-priorities/justice-and-safety

(“Jay wants to rethink public safety and eradicate systemic racism not just in law enforcement, but in education, healthcare, housing, and other areas of inequality. . . . He issued a moratorium on the death penalty . . .. offered pardons to individuals with misdemeanor marijuana convictions . . .. [and] helped pass bipartisan de-escalation and deadly force standards to ensure there is accountability for police violence.

Jay . . . is working to eliminate Washington’s rape kit backlog.

He has fought . . . gun violence, banning dangerous mass-killing tools like bump stocks, made sure guns are kept out of the hands of high-risk individuals, and supported the passage of voter-approved universal background checks.”)

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Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Quality Housing for All

Quality Housing for All is Possible
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, August 1, 2023, p. A 6

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for [their] health and well-being . . . including . . . housing . . .” declares the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If you find the Bible more persuasive, many versions include in Matthew 25, “I was homeless and you gave me a room.”

The Iowa Code provides equivalent rights for farm animals. And yet 1.6 billion people not only don’t have the housing Jesus called for and the U.N. considers a human right, they’re lacking the housing rights of Iowa’s animals.

Two million U.S. housing units were judged to be “extremely inadequate.” There are around 500,000 homeless people each evening.

U.S. agencies and organizations also measure “housing insecurity” (e.g., high costs, poor quality, unstable neighborhoods or overcrowding). For renters the percentages with housing insecurity range from 30 percent (Florida) to 17 percent (Wyoming). In Iowa it’s 23 percent.

It’s not like Iowa’s doing nothing. The state, county and city governments have programs. Vouchers, affordable housing in new developments (mixed income, inclusionary zoning), rezoning, housing trust funds, government owned and operated and “housing first” for the homeless.

But a conflict of goals is bound to occur when housing programs look to profit-maximizing capitalist landlords to provide housing for all at prices that leave everyone with enough left over for nutrition, healthcare, transportation and other basic needs.

Where might we look for alternatives?

When I served on the Iowa City School Board, we wanted new ideas. With 16,000 U.S. school districts, we set aside meeting time to discuss what Education Week was reporting and other countries were doing.

Iowa’s governmental units could do the same, researching others’ housing solutions. Take Vienna for example.

The focus of Vienna’s “social housing” is not on giving money to the poor, passed through to landlords. It’s on construction of a livable, lovable city and society – connected with cheap, frequent, fast public transportation. The Viennese believe such a city requires upscale, architecturally attractive cheap housing for everyone. Housing that mixes middle class with the poor. Housing conveniently located in neighborhoods with a range of facilities and services, such as a community center, swimming pool, dental clinic, library, post office, restaurant. [Photo credit: wikimedia.org/commons]

Anyone earning under about $80,000 (U.S.) can apply if they’ve had a single Vienna address for two years. The financial requirements are such that 80 percent of Vienna’s residents choose to rent. The U.S. defines “affordable” as 30 percent of before-tax income. (Landlords extract more from nearly half of all renters.) Vienna defines “affordable” as closer to 20 percent of after-tax income. No one’s excluded, and no one’s evicted if their income increases. The homeless are provided “housing first” facilities.

When people pay less, but get quality, inclusive housing they have less finance-related stress – and more money left over to live life and boost the local economy.

We could do it here. In fact, we’ve tried in California, Maryland and Washington.

Why not Iowa?

Nicholas Johnson believes the U.N. and Jesus would like Vienna’s housing. Contact: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, Dec. 10, 1948, Article 25, https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights (“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”)

Matthew 25. Numerous sources from Google search: “Which versions of the Bible include ‘I was homeless and you gave me a room’ in Matthew 25?” For example, “Matthew 25:35-40,” You Version, Bible.com, https://www.bible.com/bible/97/MAT.25.34,35,36 (“I was homeless and you gave me a room”)

Animal rights. Code of Iowa, Sec. 717B.3(1)(d), https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/ico/chapter/717B.pdf (“1. A person commits animal neglect when the person owns or has custody of an animal, confines that animal, and fails to provide the animal with any of the following conditions for the animal’s welfare: . . .

d. Ventilated shelter reasonably sufficient to provide adequate protection from the elements and weather conditions suitable for the . . . animal so as to maintain the animal in a state of good health . . . . The shelter must protect the animal from wind, rain, snow, or sun and have adequate bedding to provide reasonable protection against cold and dampness. . ..”)

1.6 billion without adequate housing. “First-ever United Nations Resolution on Homelessness,” Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations, March 9, 2020, https://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/2020/03/resolution-homelessness/ (“A serious violation of human dignity, homelessness has become a global problem. It is affecting people of all ages from all walks of life, in both developed and developing countries.

Globally, 1.6 billion people worldwide live in inadequate housing conditions, with about 15 million forcefully evicted every year, according to UN-Habitat, which has noted an alarming rise in homelessness in the last 10 years. Young people are the age group with the highest risk of becoming homeless.”)

Adequate housing in U.S. Housing insecurity in the United States https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Housing_insecurity_in_the_United_States (Chart: “Rented households facing housing insecurity (%)” High: Florida (30%), low: Wyoming (17%). Iowa (23%). “The American Housing Survey, using a standard of “extremely inadequate” housing, found (averaging numbers from 2005, 2007 and 2009) 2 million units to be “extremely inadequate” (1,896,890 units).”

U.S. Homelessness. “How many homeless people are in the US? What does the data miss?” USA Facts, May 23, 2023, https://usafacts.org/articles/how-many-homeless-people-are-in-the-us-what-does-the-data-miss/ (“More than half a million people experienced homelessness in America last year. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) counted around 582,000 Americans experiencing homelessness in 2022. That’s about 18 per 10,000 people in the US, up about 2,000 people from 2020.”)

U.S. school districts. Imed Bouchrika, “101 American School Statistics: 2023; Data, Trends & Predictions,” https://research.com/education/american-school-statistics (“The U.S. is currently home to 16,800 school districts.”)

Vienna. Homelessness. “Homelessness in Austria,” Policies & Strategies, Feantsa Country Fiche, 2017, https://www.feantsa.org/download/austria-20178599194934673684360.pdf (“Vienna and Upper Austria have adopted an integrated program on homelessness, covering prevention, accommodation and reintegration. The program in Vienna is known as the Vienna Integration Program for Homeless People (Vienna Multi-Stage Scheme). Housing First approaches are being implemented.”)

Viennese incomes. "Average Salary in Vienna, Austria," SalaryExpert, undated, https://www.salaryexpert.com/salary/area/austria/vienna ("51,823" -- $57,347 US)

"The average salary and minimum wage in Austria," Expatica, March 4, 2023, https://www.expatica.com/at/working/employment-law/minimum-wage-austria-89338/ ("The median salary in Austria is about €2,182 per month. However, the median income for full-time employees working all year round in 2020 was €40,415 [$44,723 U.S.] for women and €46,292 [$51,227 U.S.] for men. Normally, this includes the basic salary, bonuses, annual leave payments, and sick pay.")

"Cost of Living in Vienna," Numbeo, 2023, https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/in/Vienna • ("A family of four estimated monthly costs are 3,483.6$ (3,153.1€) without rent (using our estimator). • A single person estimated monthly costs are 1,008.7$ (913.0€) without rent. • Vienna is 33.7% less expensive than New York (without rent, see our cost of living index). • Rent in Vienna is, on average, 75.1% lower than in New York.")

Transportation. “The Public Transport System,” Visiting Vienna, https://www.visitingvienna.com/transport/public/ (“The public transport system is definitely one of Vienna’s good points. Cheap, frequent, fast, clean, efficient, and rarely overcrowded.”)

Vienna; Excerpts from Francesca Mari, “It Might Look Like Vienna; Soaring real estate markets have created a worldwide housing crisis. What can we learn from a city that has largely avoided it?” Magazine, New York Times, May 26, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/23/magazine/vienna-social-housing.html

Note: I found this to be one of the best sources regarding the Vienna social housing program. Rather than trying to link each of these excerpts to the precise language in two of the column’s paragraphs they are simply listed in the order in which they appear in this New York Times Magazine article – thereby making them easier to find.

Questions the reader may have about any of my assertions should be answered by one or more of them.

Conversion from Austria Euros to U.S. dollars with ExchangeRate.com, https://www.exchangerate.com/currency-exchange-rate-cities/vienna.html

Viennese law dictates that rents in public housing can increase only with inflation, and only when the year’s inflation exceeds 5 percent. By the time she retired in 2007, Eva’s rent was only 8 percent of her income. Because her husband was earning 4,000 euros a month, their rent amounted to 3.6 percent of their incomes combined.

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In Vienna, a whopping 80 percent of residents qualify for public housing, and once you have a contract, it never expires, even if you get richer. Housing experts believe that this approach leads to greater economic diversity within public housing — and better outcomes for the people living in it.

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49 percent of American renters — 21.6 million people — are cost-burdened, paying landlords more than 30 percent of their pretax income, and the percentage can be even higher in expensive cities. In New York City, the median renter household spends a staggering 36 percent of its pretax income on rent.

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In Vienna, 43 percent of all housing is insulated from the market, meaning the rental prices reflect costs or rates set by law — not “what the market will bear” or what a person with no other options will pay.

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The mean gross household income in Vienna is 57,700 euros [$63,151 US] a year, but any person who makes under 70,000 euros [$77,462 US] qualifies for a [social housing] unit. Once in, you never have to leave. It doesn’t matter if you start earning more.

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80 percent of all households in Vienna choose to rent.

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Vienna prioritizes subsidizing construction, while the United States prioritizes subsidizing people, with things like housing vouchers. One model focuses on supply, the other on demand. Vienna’s choice illustrates a fundamental economic reality, which is that a large-enough supply of social housing offers a market alternative that improves housing for all.

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[T]he average waiting time to get a [social housing unit] is about two years (at any given moment there are 12,000 or so people on the waiting list, and each year about 10,000 or more people are housed). Vienna residents — anyone who has had a fixed address for two years, whether they are a citizen or not — may apply, and applications are evaluated based on need.

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City housing officials point out that having wealthier tenants in ["social housing"] helps thwart the problems that accompany concentrated poverty, creating a more stable, healthier environment for everyone. Unlike in the United States, where public housing is only for the poorest . . . the relative integration of ["social housing"] means that they are not stigmatized.

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[One social housing project] housed 5,000 people in 1,400 apartments. These apartments were coveted. “It had two central laundries, two communal bathing facilities with tubs and showers, a dental clinic, maternity clinic, a health-insurance office, library, youth hostel, post office, and a pharmacy and 25 other commercial premises, including a restaurant and the offices and showroom of the BEST, the city-run furnishing and interior-design advice center,” Blau writes. Now fewer than 3,000 tenants live [there] — not because it’s undesirable but because living standards have improved and, in response, Vienna has allotted tenants more space . . . [combining] some of the units to create larger ones.

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Vienna has succeeded in curbing the craving to own. It has done it by driving down the price of land through rezoning and rent control.

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Living in Alt-Erlaa, Willie enjoyed access to seven rooftop swimming pools, seven indoor swimming pools, tennis courts, gyms and acclaimed art. When the rest of the delegation joined us, he led us toward one of his favorite aspects of the buildings: two murals in the lobby of the second building meditating on the role of the news media and labor in society.

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The spiral of overvaluation in housing, which makes the housing-haves rich and the have-nots desperately poor, has brought us to a point where only something radical can solve it. The problem with housing in the United States is that it has been locked in as a means of building wealth, and building wealth is irreconcilable with affordability. The housing crisis in the United States is proof. Even in 2017, before the pandemic, around 113 million Americans — some 35 percent of the nation’s population — were living with a serious housing problem, such as physically deficient housing, burdensome costs or no housing at all, notes Alex F. Schwartz, an urban-studies professor at the New School.

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The United States government intervenes heavily in the housing market. It’s just a two-tiered system, as Gail Radford, the historian, argues. There’s generous support for affluent homeowners and deliberately insufficient support for the lowest-income households. In 2017, the United States spent $155 billion on tax breaks to homeowners and investors in rental housing and mortgage-revenue bonds, more than three times the $50 billion spent on affordable housing.

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Though “social housing” represented a large initial government outlay, Vienna’s social housing is now self-sustaining. Guess how much of the residents’ salary goes toward the program. One percent. Social housing drives down rents in the private market by as much as 5 percent. Vouchers may appear cheaper in the short term, but directly financing well-regulated public and limited-profit construction is the only way to mitigate speculation and hedge against ever-increasing housing costs. In 2020, New York and California spent $377 and $248 per capita, respectively, in housing development, while Vienna spent just $124 — and approximately half of Vienna’s spending is on low-interest financing that will be repaid and then re-lent.

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Local social-housing programs, many of them inspired by Vienna, are underway in Montgomery County, Md.; Seattle; and California. And they have a long legacy in New York, which built 66,000 affordable apartments and 69,000 limited-profit co-op apartment units from 1955 to 1981.

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Seattle. “A place to live, a place to grow; Providing housing and supportive services for people with low incomes,” Seattle Housing Authority, 2023, https://www.seattlehousing.org/

Montgomery County, Maryland. “Housing,” Montgomery Planning, July 19, 2023, https://montgomeryplanning.org/planning/housing/

California. “Five More Jurisdictions Designated Prohousing,” California Department of Housing and Development, 2023, https://www.hcd.ca.gov/

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