When it comes right down to it, housing is one of the most important social issues of ours or any time. The ability of a family, or of any individual, to have a roof overhead, a place to call home, is an indispensable component of an industrious, progressive society. It could be fairly argued that the right to a home is one of those “inalienable rights” that our nation, and the enlightened countries of the world that have participated in the crafting of the seminal documents of the United Nations, ought to affirm along with others spelled out in the U.S. Bill of Rights. Our democracy has evolved to embrace the right of all individuals to a free, public education, to equal justice under law and a fair and impartial trial, and care and security in old age. At key points in our history, the critical importance of accessible housing for all, at least in principle, has also been affirmed, such as following World War II, when federal aid for GIs and others recovering from the ravages of the Great Depression and war responded to a desperate need.
Perhaps the greatest travesty of the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina’s destruction on the Gulf Coast is its continuing stubborn, ideological refusal to recognize any, even remotest notion of this concept. In conjunction, to be sure, with the banking and mortgage industry, Bush’s approach to housing in the wake of the storm was and still is to hold fast to the preeminent role of the private sector at all cost. He has kept the public sector out of it almost entirely, except, perhaps, for some temporary mortgage relief that must eventually be paid back in full, leaving, among other things, legions of modular house trailers rotting on open fields in Arkansas.
Now, the City of Falls Church has a unique opportunity to strike a blow against the callous indifference the Bush administration has exhibited toward the Gulf Coast recovery by hosting a unique demonstration of one of the bright lights that glowed in the darkness of Katrina. A team of world renowned architects and designers assembled in Louisiana following Katrina to develop a model for solid, attractive and affordable housing reconstruction, known as the “Katrina Cottage.” Its application, as it turns out, is appropriate not only for the Gulf Coast, but it addresses a critical national need for affordable housing, as well. Moreover, ironically, as the City Council in Falls Church mulls addressing its “substandard lots” issue with proportionality restrictions, “Katrina Cottage”-sized housing units may also suddenly be entirely appropriate for hundreds of smaller residential lots in this small city.
As reported in last week’s edition, one of the nation’s most prestigious architectural firms, Duany Plater-Zyberk, met with three members of the F.C. City Council last month to explain the “Katrina Cottage” concept and seek a location for a region-wide demo here. We call on the City Council to embrace the plan. On a much larger scale, it would be about as humane a gesture as the City could imagine.