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What is the modern housing crisis? The housing crisis refers to the high rents and unaffordable housing Americans face, and how not only homes, but rentals, are becoming increasingly unaffordable. Americans being unable to afford shelter has led to both a decrease in homeownership and a rising increase in the homeless population. Simply, the problems we see within the housing crisis are people who can’t afford housing going without homes and gentrification, where the character of a neighborhood is altered through an influx of wealthier buyers, also exacerbates the issues by making more affordable neighborhoods less affordable for the people who were living there before, through rising rates.
First, in order to analyze the problems that cause the housing crisis further, we need to know what the housing market is. The housing market is just the market of houses that are being bought and sold between buyers and sellers. The housing market distributes homes to buyers who can afford the costs. The housing market also promotes property development, which leads to gentrification, so neighborhoods become wealthier, which raises rent prices. These high rent prices in previously affordable neighborhoods drive out and lead to lower-income families and individuals being displaced, resulting in lower homeownership and higher homelessness rates. So, in summary, the housing market leads to high rent and unaffordable housing and leaves those who can’t afford homes without. But, wait, isn’t that what the housing crisis is?
Articles upon articles are quick to blame millennials for the housing crisis, however it you stand back and look at the big picture, it’s easy to see that there’s no one group to fault. It’s not that people are choosing to not buy houses, it’s that they can’t reasonably justify buying a house when housing is extremely unaffordable. The housing crisis is a natural result of the system the housing market builds and forces people into.
The housing market and the housing crisis are intertwined, so much so the terms can become practically interchangeable when talking about the unfortunate effects of the two. To further solidify this connection, I’d like to bring up the works of Fredrick Engals, who documented how when regulations on the housing market were more relaxed, the housing crisis and economic status at the time worsened, as many homes were being built unsafely. The faulty system that the housing market sets up is the cause for the rising in homelessness. The housing market sets up unreasonably high prices, leaving only the very privileged few to the luxury a homeownership, something that really shouldn’t be a luxury.
Airbnb was, at one point, seen as a possible solution to the housing crisis. Airbnb is an online hospitality service where user can rent or rent out lodging. Airbnb was an amateur operation, but it’s quickly become more professional. Now, instead of the little guy renting out, for a short time, to tourists, it’s become a news story where landlords evicting and kicking out long-term tenants to make money off tourists. This creates a rent gap, where the, “potential economic returns,” in an area increase, while current rent prices reach a stalemate. Landlords want to close the gap and make as much profit as possible, as so they redevelop, so they can raise their rent prices, which may result in current tenants being unable to accommodate to new prices. Airbnb not only can create new rent gaps but can help to close them. This is great for landlords, but not so much for their tenants, whom of which will often get evicted out of their homes, and it only makes things worse for those who already can’t afford housing. Gentrification thrives on these rent gaps as well, however, unlike gentrification, landlords using Airbnb often don’t even need to put in the effort to close the rent gaps through redevelopment.
According to Amnesty International, there are around 3.5 million homeless people in America and 18.5 million vacant homes. The supply of homes is high, and the demand should be much lower, so why are the prices so ridiculous? It’s because, rather than treating shelter as the basic human need it is, we treat homes as a commodity. Shelter is the most important human resource and because it gets touted as a luxury item, people go without their most basic needs. So, we end up with these ridiculously overpriced homes that no one can afford, so no one purchases, contrasted by the growing numbers in the homeless population. This isn’t just an economic, “Why aren’t people buying more houses,” kind of issue. This is about human rights, morality, and how we need to distribute these vacant homes to those in need. Churches get together and build more houses for the homeless community, but at the end of the day, it’s not about how many houses are made. The reason these homes aren’t being expropriated and given away for free is because houses are deliberately made to be commodities, to be bought and sold.
Homes can be expropriated, sometimes right from under current tenants, for numerous economic reasons, so why not take empty houses and give them to homeless people? What if we got rid of the concept of the housing market? In order to fix the problems of the housing crisis, we need to address the actual underlying problem, which is that the system the housing market creates in inherently problematic and can’t be solved with small steps. Let’s get rid of the concept of, “landlords,” and allow people to move freely, as they may not have been able to before. No longer would someone have to be tied down to a specific property and if a new job opportunity came up, or if they wanted their children to be zoned to a different school district, they aren’t weighed down by mortgages and rent. We’d see fewer empty homes and fewer people on the streets. Previously unaffordable neighborhoods would receive an influx of new homeowners and we may be able to observe a reverse in gentrification.
And if you’re worried about property rights, look no further than Venezuela’s communes. Communes have the power to expropriate vacant homes and will fight for the rights of individuals property within court cases. The state helps, but doesn’t get too involved, and, yes, it is that simple.
The idea of no ownership may sound frightening, but it could be extremely liberating. No more rent is an ideal situation. No longer would lower income families have to worry about whether to pay rent or to buy food for their children. It sounds awful for the economy, but it’s great for the people, and the economy is really meant to serve the people. Plus, since people would no longer pay rent, they’d have more money in the banks, in savings, as well as more spending money, so really the economy would be fine, if not better. Really, the only people who would be adversely affected would be rich landlords and people who hoard property for money-laundering schemes, but when so many people who benefit, it’s hard to take their woes as seriously.
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