[Podcast] Grand Designs, with Ian Volner | Harper's Magazine

Sign in to access Harper’s Magazine

Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?

  1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
  2. Select Email/Password Information.
  3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.

Locked out of your account? Get help here.

Subscribers can find additional help here.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!

Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
Subscribe for Full Access
Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.

Grand Designs

Better living through affordable housing

Public housing has had an embattled history in the United States. It’s been a constant site of political struggle, from its heyday in the Thirties to its erosion under the Reagan Administration in the Eighties. In the June issue of Harper’s Magazine, Ian Volner explores that struggle through one of its principal characters: his grandfather Kelsey Volner, who began his career in public housing and ended it in disgrace in the private sector. In telling his grandfather’s story, Volner finds a parable for the fate of affordable housing in this country.

But there has been a sea change in recent years. Responding to rising discontent with skyrocketing real estate prices, advocates have renewed their efforts to build affordable developments. In the face of a myriad of obstacles—“from local opposition to byzantine funding requirements and state-level interference,” as Volner writes—they have employed a variety of canny tactics to piece together their projects. Volner tells the stories behind new affordable housing complexes in Queens, Austin, Texas, and Jackson, Wyoming, to illustrate the way that “designers and developers have learned to adapt, grafting an entire subeconomy onto a warped bureaucratic rootstock.” In this episode, Harper’s web editor Violet Lucca and Volner delve into the broader issues surrounding the contemporary housing crisis, epitomized by the condo boom and brought to a boil by the coronavirus pandemic. They discuss public housing’s aesthetics and socioeconomic demographics; its stigmatization at the hands of the right; and where we go should from here to guarantee housing for all.

Never miss an episode! Subscribe to our podcast:

Sign up and get the Weekly Review delivered to your inbox every Tuesday.

More from