Outlaw Corporate Landlords and Make Housing Free
A national epidemic of evictions, homelessness, and housing insecurity is spreading to every region of the country. Its scale can no longer be dismissed or hidden. In California, for example, over half of renters pay over one third of their income for housing, and over a third pay more than one half. Hundreds of thousands are homeless.
This situation has caused the rise of the broadest and deepest movement for housing in the history of the U.S. Impulses toward unity are beginning to overcome the scattered, divided, and localized nature that has characterized the struggle so far. We are still often separated by housing status, with separate groupings fighting for the rights of tenants, homeless people, and homeowners. And we continue to be divided by America’s long history of deliberate residential segregation, and by discrimination like the government’s current campaign to evict people based on the immigration status of their family members.
In this difficult environment a number of national networks of housing campaigns are developing. As the government increasingly refuses to meet the needs of the people, the movement is polarizing between those who emphasize compromise with politicians and those who have to fight to survive. Compromises will not and cannot bring back the “good old days,” before rents began spiraling out of control. The daily reality of the housing crisis is forcing new leaders to organize around the vision of housing as a human right.
The question today is to define exactly what that means. As one Washington, D.C. homeless leader stated, “I know housing is my right because I read about it in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But if it is my right, why do we have to beg for it at budget time?” There is a growing realization that neither rent control, nor so-called “affordable housing,” will address the fact that millions can no longer pay for any housing at all.
On the Defensive
In spite of our increasing militancy and our insistence on our right to housing, we are still often forced to fight from a defensive position. The ongoing campaigns for rent control are a good example. We are fighting for fair rents against a ruling class that is demanding unlimited rents. In April, tenants sat in all night in California Gov. Newsom’s office and managed to get four out of five rent relief bills moved out of committee, but they still face an uncertain future despite Democratic Party super-majorities.
At the same time, tent cities of homeless communities continue to survive pitched battles with law enforcement, despite repeated illegal sweeps, anti-homeless media campaigns, and Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY) mobilizations. When they are destroyed, they rise back up again because they have nowhere else to go. In Los Angeles, a coalition of seventeen organizations called Services Not Sweeps came together to defend the street homeless encampments.
In Florida, communities have won important victories over official attempts to ban meal-sharing.
Because of their destitution and daily persecution, it is impossible for homeless people themselves to compromise. They need the breadth and numbers of the larger housing movement to be able to win. At the same time, the renter and anti-foreclosure movements need the moral power they gain when they unite with the battle against homelessness. Together they can rally the popular imagination and deflect the divisive propaganda of the government that portrays homeless people as inhuman, criminal, and worthless.
As the housing crisis threatens millions across the country, more and more leaders are seeing the need to take the offensive. On the one hand, we cannot fight and win larger campaigns if we do not learn how to defend ourselves, build our unity and independence from unreliable politicians, and recruit and train leaders in the course of day-to-day battles. But on the other hand, we can only build an effective movement when we understand the real causes and solutions to the housing crisis. We need this understanding to sustain us through the see-saw outcomes of our reform battles, and to help us formulate a plan to win this struggle and attract the millions who have every reason to join us.
The capitalist economy is failing us. Automation dominates the production of things everywhere across the world. Robots cost less than human workers, jobs are disappearing as we speak, and they are not coming back. The “living wage” is a thing of the past for most, as workers compete to provide services in areas where robots are not yet profitable.
Simultaneously, the people at the top – the ruling class – are cutting off life support. Their attitude is, “If you don’t need them don’t feed them.” Efforts are being made to cut Social Security to the bone. Corporations are refusing to pay taxes to support workers they do not intend to employ. In the area of housing, corporate tax avoidance has decimated state and federal programs, to the point where only 25% of people who are officially eligible for housing assistance today actually receive it.
Finally, automation has not only impoverished workers and government programs, it has also caused a declining rate of profit in the production sector. The result has been a dramatic shift of capital into speculative financial investment. A huge part of this speculative capital has entered the real estate market, wherein favored cities hedge funds are buying up housing, bundling rents into securities, and wringing out the ever-higher profits demanded by investors. Land, housing prices, profits, evictions, displacement, and homelessness have all skyrocketed.
A system that increases wealth for the ruling class, by plunging millions into destitution is hopelessly broken. It cannot distribute the abundance created by our economy because that would require the presence of money in the hands of people, and more and more people today have little or none of it. The struggle for housing challenges the private property system. When that movement demands housing as a human right, as a human necessity, it demands not treating housing as a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. Since the rise of automation is reducing the cost of building homes to next to nothing, it is time for revolutionaries to project a vision of housing for all.
The only way to ensure appropriate distribution of the social wealth today is for the public to take ownership of the means of production and give out the social product on the basis of need. This is what a cooperative society looks like. In the case of housing, public ownership of the land would eliminate speculation and guarantee that every person has a home. This is already being modeled in a small way by limited equity housing cooperatives and by community land trusts that permanently remove land and housing from the private market place.
The rising movement today has to demand housing for the new class that is being replaced in production by electronic technology. They are the people at the margins of the economy, with insecure “gigs,” temporary low wage work, or none at all. They have little or no money for rent. They are at the heart of the housing movement. They have both the power and the incentive to transform the housing movement from one demanding fair rents and fair eviction laws, to one demanding that rents and evictions be abolished altogether. Corporate landlords should be outlawed, and housing should be free.
The government should turn over vacant government or corporate-owned housing to the homeless and take rental housing from corporate landlords and turn it over to the people who live in it. The people of Berlin, Germany are engaged in a campaign for exactly that. Six thousand took to the streets on April 6 in a march against “rental insanity,” demanding that the government ban landlords with over 3,000 housing units, and “socialize” the 200,000 apartments that the large owners possess now. A ballot referendum is being prepared that will “expropriate” this landlord property and turn it over to democratic councils composed of tenants, administration, and community members.
No strategy can succeed if it is based on patching or repairing a system that is falling apart. The role of revolutionaries is to teach that the emerging new class of propertyless workers cannot coexist with the private property system. We build the movement’s strength and capacity by making it conscious of its role as part of a revolutionary, class-based struggle for a cooperative society. Going on the offensive in this situation means spreading these ideas from within the movement. The fight is for an economic system where distribution is based on need instead of money. Revolutionaries work with the movement to create a vision of where we want to go and what we want to be. At this point, to learn and to teach is the unique role of revolutionaries. It is a matter of survival. RC
July/August 2018 Vol29.Ed4
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011