Housing Is A Basic Right
By Marcus Perriello | Our Voice Contributor
Almost everyone has heard a certain response to the question, “Why is this area so expensive?” That answer is, “Location, location, location.” The logic behind this is rooted in both ignorance and greed. Wherever industry and commerce is the most active is where people usually want to reside due to the convenience factor. This leads to private real estate developers seeing an opportunity for greater profit by auctioning their properties to willing buyers and finalizing the sale to the highest bidder. This seems like a normal (and often encouraged) activity in the world of Capitalism. And if a buyer is more financially capable of purchasing a property, then that buyer should indeed be free to do so. But there is a small caveat to this Free Market Housing practice: Housing is a basic human need.
As one of the 5 Basic Commons, Housing is the one thing that protects us from the elements of Nature, and provides for security from external threats. But in the world of Capitalism, Housing is just another business opportunity; the idea being that one could “invest” in a home, build equity, and eventually sell the property to a wealthier buyer and retire somewhere else when they’re ready, or simply pass it on to the next of kin for future disposition.
The problem is that this practice has extended to the point where it is no longer viewed as a basic human need and for those who desperately need a dwelling but can’t afford one, they are left out in the cold… literally. This leads to the homelessness crises that exist all over the world, leaving only the financially well-off to be safe and secure, while those who are impoverished are discarded like yesterday’s garbage. This causes a spike in crime related to homelessness such as Petty Theft, Drug Dealing, Public Intoxication, Trespassing, Loitering, even in extreme cases, Murder. The simple fact is when people are desperate, there’s no telling what they’ll do in order to survive. This is why Housing must be guaranteed as a basic human right.
Part of the reason for this unbridled Capitalist approach to Housing is the fear of incursion. People are often afraid of losing what they need to survive and as a result, they take what precautions they feel are necessary to see that their basic needs are not compromised. This, in combination with the concentration of industry and commerce, has led to the most industrialized and populated areas becoming the most expensive to live in. The need for strong and sustainable social services increases as a result of this phenomenon. This need also means higher taxes, which in turn means workers must make more money to compensate.
There are two opposing arguments at work in this case:
- Public Investment (higher wages, social services expansion, higher education opportunities, etc.)
- Complete Privatization (Free Market coasting, perpetuated by a combination of private investment and the natural occurrences from Supply and Demand).
Privatization allows this situation to be dealt with more quickly and with greater efficiency. But there’s a catch: The public is subject to the dictations of those who control the Housing market. This creates an often tense situation whereby private investors and real estate developers are eager to make a profit, but inevitably face backlash from the public as they see Housing being priced farther and farther out of their reach. Eventually, in order to avoid civil unrest, prices must be decreased to ease the tension, which makes living in the area more manageable (for the time being.) Ultimately, however, it comes full circle and the process begins all over again – in many cases restarting from a worse position than the last. There is no end result with a setup like this. It is a continuous road of inflated pricing and economic strain that only ends when the entire economy collapses under its own weight.
When Public Investment is pursued, more people ultimately have more money to invest in the economy, including Housing, as a result of higher taxes on the wealthiest residents and higher wages to offset an extremely high marginal tax rate. This helps to strengthen social services such as utilities, public transportation, schools, fire departments, police departments, even Healthcare. What happens is that wealthy residents begin to flee when they see their financial growth begin to slow down as a result of these measures and the public is eventually forced back into having to decide between continuing with Public Investment or moving back towards Privatization. When the Private sector controls the bulk of the wealth, they are the ones who have the most leverage in negotiating the direction of the economy. Likewise, when the Public sector controls the bulk of the wealth, it is the public who has the greater bargaining power.
The entire journey is a multi-generational, lifelong tug-of-war between the Haves and the Have-Nots due to the unbalanced financial infrastructure of the country. But what happens when that infrastructure is changed? What happens when the interdependence between the 99% and the 1% is severed? What happens when, due to policies like Social Security For All, a living wage, a Public Banking infrastructure, a reorganizing of the economic system takes place to where money can be printed on an as-needed basis without risk of inflation or debt? The country becomes a place where both the 99% and the 1% can operate independently and not have to worry about encroaching on each other’s respective lifestyles.
This solves the money problem. But next, there’s the issue of Power, which is the more addictive force at work. The 1% know full well that the public will never agree to grant them as much wealth, and therefore power, as they would otherwise get under Privatization. Likewise, the public knows that once the 1% has total control over the economy, and therefore the public’s very ability to live, they are virtually powerless and subject to the dictations of the 1% – especially if the 1% seizes control of the government body and rigs the system in their favor. Man, does that sound familiar!
As both history and modern economics have shown, only the most well-mixed economies are stable and sustainable enough to endure short-term and long-term hurdles. This is why in order for the economy to move forward and not repeat the mistakes of the past, there must be a mixture of private hierarchical companies, unionized companies, worker cooperatives, and government-funded entities to coexist in a mutually-cooperative environment. A big part of the price of Housing is not the buildings themselves, but rather the land they rest on. Again, this goes back to the Location argument. But what if one day, we suddenly decided that Land was no longer a commodity, but rather part of a greater nation that all Americans share as citizens? What if we decided that legally recognized and documented boundaries were all that was really needed to define a given property and the only thing that was subject to market valuing was the dwelling itself? Some might say this sound silly. But since we have a Green New Deal on the horizon, along with the socialization of the internet through municipal broadband projects, Medicare For All, legalization of Marijuana, even legalization of sex work and gambling (why not), those thousands of additional jobs could potentially offset the taxation of land and render it irrelevant to the greater cause. More people making more money, with more jobs propelling the economy forward can make it so that we can eventually get rid of the taxation of Land for U.S. citizens and make Housing much much cheaper.
The Location argument as to why certain places should be more expensive is total hogwash because with a plan of action like the one described earlier, more profit is made as more people with jobs are able to actively participate in the greater economy. One possibility is a package deal where Medicare For All, Abolition of Private Prisons, Legalization of Marijuana, Sex Work and Gambling can result in killing multiple birds with one stone. With the implementation of this package deal, not only would countless jobs be created as Private Prisons are converted into medical facilities and Marijuana and Sex Workers begin their endeavors, but productivity in the economy, personal happiness, and fulfillment all rise as well. More homes can be obtained at affordable pricing. Neglected dwellings can be renovated and brought up to code. And because most of the Private Prisons are located in the Rust Belt where the majority of America’s ill-stricken population resides, Medicare For All, along with the conversion of the private prisons into medical centers, not only provides thousands of jobs, but also provides multiple places for those in need of care to go and get it.
The final point to be made about Affordable Housing concerns the Banking system. It is extremely important that we put an end to predatory banking practices via a constitutional amendment. Should we skip this step, those unfair practices will continue and people’s lives will only get worse. Decentralized Public Banking is the best way to ensure Affordable Housing on this front. Housing is a human need, and must be made a fundamental human right. One homeless person is indicative of a failed system.