Saturday, March 3, 2012


A student of ours alerted us to this terrific essay about OCCUPANCY STANDARDS by Ellen Pader, an Associate Professor of Regional Planning at UMass Amherst. What is an occupancy standard? In a nutshell, it's a rule that outlines how many people can live in a dwelling unit. The most widely followed standard is HUD's: no more than two people per bedroom. As Pader points out, while the standards take up only a few lines in state health and safety codes, they have a disproportionately large impact on the ethnic, racial, social, and economic structure of communities. Here's Pader: "When fewer people are permitted to share a unit, it means larger families may be priced out of the market or forced to move into run-down neighborhoods with larger, less expensive homes and often poorer quality services . . . and schools. In practice, this tends to segregate neighborhoods by race, ethnicity, and class."

Standards, of course, are cultural constructs: what is "too close for comfort" for one person might not be for someone else. The paper does not, however, make a case to abolish occupancy standards, only to give households the opportunity to decide for themselves what they consider acceptable and preferred living arrangements. The argument is for "a definition of equality that recognizes difference, not one that touts sameness as a social goal."

A highly recommended read!

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