Is housing a human right?
Or is it a privilege available only to those who made it under our unjust system of market capitalism?
If you read CNBC’s recent financial advice column, you may come away thinking this one is true. Economist and CNBC contributor Laurence J. Kotlikoff said Americans are “wasting too much money on housing,” and in order to be more financially savvy when it comes to housing, he came up with innovative ideas like moving in with his parents, rent part of his house to visitors. through Airbnb, selling your home in favor of a smaller, cheaper home, or – and this is my favorite – moving to a cheaper state.
These sorts of ludicrous solutions are typical of the corporate media’s response to a housing crisis of epic proportions: If you can’t afford to live, move.
Home prices are skyrocketing, putting homeownership out of reach for most Americans. Reuters described how “strong house price inflation has combined to significantly increase the typical monthly mortgage payment.” And, as the Federal Reserve has begun raising interest rates, homebuyers are being forced to pay an increasing portion of their mortgage in interest.
Another corporate media response to soaring house prices—one that Kotlikoff took for granted without articulating it—is to simply let the market handle the crisis. Reuters quoted a business economist by the name of Robert Frick, of the Navy Federal Credit Union in Vienna, Virginia, who said: “We may be approaching a turning point when higher housing costs and interest rates Higher mortgages are cooling both sales and price increases, but given the supply- and demand imbalance, we may not reach that point this year. Those waiting to buy a home apparently have to wait for the invisible hand of the market to balance supply and demand and put their lives on hold in the meantime.
Rental costs are also skyrocketing. According to the latest report from Realtor.com, rents jumped 17% over last year. The organization’s chief economist, Danielle Hale, had a similar response to Frick, saying: “With rents up almost 20% over the past two years, rental prices are likely to remain high, but we expect some cooling from the recent accelerated pace.” In other words, at some point, rents will go up so much that people will stop being able to rent altogether, which will then lead to lower rents.
Katie Goldstein, Director of Housing Campaigns at the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), explained to me in an interview that the current housing crisis is the result of “corporate control of our housing system” where “investors For-profits and for-profit landlords are causing our country’s affordability crisis.The federal government has allowed what she called “speculative behavior” in the housing market.
It is not simply that the federal government leaves it to the private market to ensure that all Americans are housed. It goes much further, by intervening to favor corporate buyers of houses and rental units. For example, when the housing bubble burst in 2008 as a result of predatory lending practices, thousands of people lost their homes to foreclosures. Instead of helping people stay in their homes, the government sold many of these foreclosed properties to Wall Street investment firms at very low prices.
These companies now control a significant portion of the rental market in the United States, raising rents in the service of profitability. They continue to receive tax breaks and subsidies far greater than the amount the government spends on low-income housing. In other words, the federal government has adopted policies to ensure that the interests of big business outweigh housing needs, rather than the other way around.
We don’t have to live like this. And increasingly, government officials and lawmakers are being pressured to embrace the idea long championed by housing rights activists that “housing is a human right.”
Marcia Fudge, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in a recent address to the National Low Income Housing Coalition said that “if we are to fully achieve housing justice, we must fully accept what it means: housing justice is about everyone realizing the basic truth: housing is a human right”.
It was the first time a sitting HUD chief has made such a statement, and it represents a major shift in thinking that has yet to inform government policy or seep into the worldview of the media. of business.
With “more than 500,000 people [who] are homeless across the country,” Goldstein considers every homeless person “a political failure.” This is a correct assessment, because if housing is a human right, as Secretary Fudge says, government should allow community control of the housing market, not corporate control. Only the so-called market can be relied upon to prioritize profits, not human rights.
Although there is a public housing system in the United States, overseen by the HUD, and intended to ensure that the most vulnerable Americans have a home, the problem is that “public housing has been underfunded for decades” , says Goldstein, “even though it has been the main source of housing for low-income people.
To ensure that the government brings federal housing policy into line with its stated ideal of “housing as a human right”, the CPD has released a new report titled “Social Housing for All: A Vision for thriving communities, tenant power and racial justice. According to the report, one part of a multi-pronged solution to the country’s housing crisis is to “provide $1 trillion over ten years to fund the construction of 12 million new social and public housing units. “.
The CPD wants the government to go further than just investing in public housing and instead embrace a broader framework of ‘social housing’. Goldstein says his organization is calling for a “mass public housing program,” which “will not only fix the current public housing that exists, but actually create millions of new units for people… [who] really need it. Social housing, according to Goldstein, is “a public housing option”.
In other words, if the private market is making housing out of reach for an increasing number of people, there should be a public option offered by the government to meet the need that the market is failing to meet.
Social housing, according to Goldstein, is “permanently affordable, protected from the private market and owned by the state or under the democratic control of the community”. The CPD’s list of social housing principles includes ‘high affordability’, ‘tenancy unions and collective bargaining’ and ‘quality and affordability’. As the current housing crisis disproportionately affects people of color and women, CPD’s vision for social housing is based on racial and gender justice, for example by requiring that people with criminal backgrounds or immigration violations are not excluded from access to housing.
There are models we can look to. Finland has launched a “social housing” program, aiming to eliminate all homelessness by 2027. It is already underway, with 16% of all housing in the country owned by municipal governments. The CPD report points out that the capital, Helsinki, has “50,000 municipally owned dwellings”. That’s far more than US cities of similar size and population, like Detroit, which has 3,700 public housing units, and Portland, which has just 450.
If the federal government is currently fueling a system designed to benefit corporate America, surely it can step in to benefit people instead. Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar reintroduced a bill that invests $1 trillion in the housing system. Its Homes for All Act aims to “ensure safe, accessible, sustainable, and affordable housing for all at all times, create a genuine public option, and affirm that housing is a basic human right for every American.”
Social housing is not a radical idea. Goldstein, whose organization supports Omar’s plan, offers a simple basis for social housing, saying, “We believe there should be an alternative to the corporate and for-profit housing system.
Independent Media Institute
This article was produced by Economy for alla project of the Independent Media Institute.