Housing crisis in the US: social movements reshaping the discourse (openDemocracy, 1 Sept 2020)

  • Podcast: US election special #3 – the housing crisis (part 2)

  • By Aaron White and Freddie Stuart. Published on openDemocracy on 1 September 2020

  • Summary:

    • In this podcast episode, openDemocracy explores how social movements are reshaping the political discourse on housing in the context of the 2020 US election.

    • This podcast episode considers the failure of existing policy frameworks to deal with the housing crisis, and examines "how popular movements are proposing radical new policies that are reshaping the political discourse on housing in the US."

    • Context: During and after the coronavirus crisis, in the last six months, the US economy has seen its sharpest decline since records began – with over 57 million Americans filing for unemployment relief. "There is not a single US state where the number of affordable homes to let matches the number of low-income people looking to rent."

    • "With eviction moratoriums now lifting across the country and Congress stalling over a new relief package, recent reports suggest that up to 43 million Americans could face eviction in the coming months."

    • Since the “welfare reforms” of Bill Clinton’s second term, the Faircloth Amendment has limited the total number of government-owned public housing units, by law, to its 1999 level. Severely dilapidated public housing has been demolished and sold off to private developers. Only 2 million units of legacy public housing remain, in a country of 330 million people, and successive administrations have turned to government subsidies to “incentivize” low-income construction in the private sector.

    • Even as demand for housing has intensified, the number of new units actually created has fallen - from over 70,000 per year in 1997 to less than 60,000 by 2014. Over the same period, the public cost of the program has increased by 66%.

    • "In the wake of the 2008 financial crash, international social movements such as Occupy, introduced wealth inequality and structural critiques of our economic system into the political discourse." Even when these protests ended, the underlying conditions which are really driven the financialization of housing and of urban land did not change.

    • Nowadays, activists are pushing for rent control to be adopted on a federal level. "Currently, “36 states preempt local governments from adopting rent regulation laws” and as of 2019, only five states (California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Oregon) and the District of Columbia have localities in which some form of residential rent control is in effect." If adopted nationwide, 42 million households could see their rents stabilized.

    • This year, progressive democrats and other organisations are championing a bold new agenda for federal and local housing policy – the “Homes Guarantee”. It begins with the simple premise: that housing is a human right, and calls for building 12 million social housing units over the next 10 years, and reinvesting $30 billion annually over five years to repair crumbling housing stock. It also recognizes the climate crisis as the greatest displacement threat.

    • Those proposing a bold social housing agenda in the US, often quote notable examples od public housing in Sweden and Vienna.

    • Also, during the 2020 Democratic primary, Senator Bernie Sanders released one of the boldest housing plans ever by a presidential candidate. "Taking direct inspiration from the Homes Guarantee platform, Sanders called for an investment of $2.5 trillion to build 10 million affordable housing units and end homelessness."

    • The now Democratic nominee Joe Biden proposed that every eligible extremely low income individual receives a voucher – and none pay more than 30% of their income in rent. "It also proposes a new renters tax credit to cover rent and utility costs over 30% of income for families that “make too much money” to qualify for Section 8 – and creates a permanent, refundable $15,000 tax credit to help first-time homebuyers make a downpayment on a home." However, "his housing agenda does not consider an expansion of rent control, nor does it address the fundamental undersupply of affordable units."

  • Keywords: US, elections, housing crisis, discrimination, privatisation, privatization, financialisation, financialization, Trump, social housing, coronavirus, Covid19, Covid-19, activism, rent control, affordable housing, Biden

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