The Rent’s Too Damned High
A human right, commodified and rendered zero-sum.
The pandemic housing bubble has multiple, complex causes. Among them:
- A housing shortage resulting from a decade of anemic construction following the Great Financial Crisis and a wave of homebuilder bankruptcies;
- Supply-chain shocks created by the pandemic, which was especially hard on “efficient” industries, where financialization and monopolization drained vital industries of their cash and inventory reserves and turned them over to the richest people in America;
- The trillions that the Trump stimulus pumped into the financial markets, which are now being used to buy up every single-family dwelling that hits the market, for cash-above-the-asking-price, in order to convert it to a subprime rental whose predatory rents, savage evictions and dangerous neglect are the basis for a boom in bonds that financialize the rent they generate.
Generations of Americans have dreamed of owning a home, both to insulate themselves from the whims of their landlords and to create intergenerational wealth. Home ownership was a key driver of social mobility, allowing working class people to enter the middle class. A horrible “natural experiment” shows just how important property acquisition is to economic stability: redlining and restrictive covenants froze Black people out of the home-purchasing boom of the New Deal and the GI Bill, exacerbating and accelerating the racial wealth gap.
Two factors drove the growth of the American middle-class: property ownership and unionization. Of the two, unionization was more universal — by no means free of institutional racism, but far more accessible than home ownership.
Of the two, unionization was the one that underwent sustained assault from business, finance and the state. After decades of declining union participation, amid stagnating wages and worker misclassification, the dream of social mobility through stable employment has evaporated for most workers (especially workers from the poorest households, burdened beyond belief by student debt, this debt assumed on the assurance that it would create employment-based access to a stable, middle-class existence).