If the past is any prologue, only a tiny fraction of Newark’s 165,000 voters will contest next Tuesday’s mayoral election.
The likely anemic engagement of local voters comes at a precarious time in our national narrative. Respected scholars posit that a “democratic” country where tens of millions of voters believe the last national election was stolen might in fact be ungovernable.
This widespread distrust, combined with the kind of voter apathy and disengagement that manifests in a city like Newark, should alarm us.
Even in 2020, when the nation set a record for the number of voters casting ballots, only 49% of Newark voters turned out. In 2021, with Governor Murphy leading the way, only 20% bothered to participate.
In 2018, Council President Luis Quintana needed just 17,000 votes to win his seat on the General Council, around ten percent of registered voters. In the South Ward, John Sharpe James won with just 3,000 votes.
What explains this disconnection of Newark voters? Could it be that a succession of indictments and convictions for political corruption has just exhausted the electorate? Is it so hard to get out of it that many voters just don’t have the bandwidth to engage in a process that just seems to enrich those elected and those close to them?
Could it also be a symptom of the growing economic marginalization of people of color as the concentration of white wealth at the top accelerated in the aftermath of the Great Recession? In the final years of the pandemic, it was the same struggling communities of color that bore the brunt of COVID, with exponentially higher death rates than wealthier, whiter communities.
For several years, researchers have associated a marked decline in home ownership among blacks, following the mortgage crisis triggered by Wall Street in 2008, with a decline in black voter turnout. Black home ownership is now at its lowest level since the landmark 1968 Fair Housing Act was enacted.
In 2016, the fact that Donald Trump edged out former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College by capturing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania had everything to do with hundreds of thousands of black voters staying in. home, after proving reliable for President Obama in 2008 and 2012. As the overall economy appeared to be recovering, home ownership among black struck as generations of family wealth were lost to predatory moneylenders.
While 75% of white Americans own their own home, Black ownership fell to 41%, a gap that helps explain the widening of the household racial wealth gap which is now around ten to one.
According to a 2020 research paper by Brigham Young University sociologist Jacob S. Rugh, there is a strong link between home ownership and voter turnout.
“First of all, it’s easier to vote if you stay at the same address as landlords, more likely tenants,” Rugh told NPR’s Utah affiliate KUER. “Second, it’s easier to vote when you have more resources and more time. And third, homeowners are more likely to vote because voting, like any measure of civic participation, such as writing a letter to a government official or participating in a protest, is matched with more resources such as income, education, and wealth in the form of home equity. or the value of your home. »
With Newark’s mayoral election less than a week away, a Rutgers University study shows nearly half of all its homes are owned by corporations, “a model designed to enrich investors through rent returns. .that can displace residents and property,” according to the authors of Who Owns Newark?
“The Rutgers Center on Law, Inequality and Metropolitan Equity (CLiME) found that the city has the highest rate of business buyers in the nation, although the number is increasing nationwide,” according to a statement. release issued with the report. “This is especially true in predominantly black neighborhoods, such as Newark’s south and west neighborhoods, where business ownership is most prevalent.”
The Rutgers Researchers wrote that while this trend is happening in other cities, it’s happening in Newark “on a scale unmatched nationwide”.
Of the 2,500 homes sold in Newark between 2017 and 2020, “more than 47% of the city’s one- to four-unit buildings — were sold to institutional buyers” who were often “completely anonymous investors”, hence the title of the Rutgers report, Who owns Newark? Transfer of wealth from Newark owners to corporate buyers. “Unfortunately, this reality perpetuates a long pattern of economic threat to predominantly black and increasingly Latino neighborhoods in a state whose communities are among the most segregated in the nation,” the report said. “From racial exclusion to predatory lending, from foreclosure to rent extraction, the Newark experience shows what can happen when local economies ignore equity.” “These trends demonstrate the high likelihood of rapidly rising rents, falling homeownership rates, a shrinking black middle class, market challenges for building affordable housing and more. more housing instability for low- and moderate-income Newarkers and displacement,” according to the report.
Professor David D. Troutt, distinguished John J. Francis Scholar Professor of Law and Justice as well as founding director of the Rutgers Center on Law in Metropolitan Equity, contributed to the analysis of homeownership.
The Rutgers report notes that home ownership is the means by which wealth is transferred between generations, as it helps provide stability as well as improving public safety, which strengthens “neighborhood self-reliance.” “.
“Americans traditionally believed that home ownership was the individual pathway to collective security,” Troutt said. “Business buying of the residential market rules out all of that.”
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