This should be a matter of national will—even pride. But do we even have these feelings any longer? Are we so numb that we have become satisfied with daily briefings on the tides of the stock market; oil; the ebb and flow of viral loads; the slow spiral move of money and corruption out from the centers of power in the White House; the smell and touch of wrongdoing coming from the Rose Garden?
With an ongoing pandemic, it is close to a miracle that a major Covid-19 outbreak has not occurred amid homeless camps throughout California. Yet an average of six homeless people a week have died in the city since the end of March, a fact that can be directly attributed to a disruption of shelter and other services due to the pandemic.
There were more than 8,000 homeless in San Francisco alone in 2019. After the onset of the pandemic, California Governor Gavin Newson acquired a numbers of hotel rooms near the Oakland airport in an attempt to house the most vulnerable. To her credit, Oakland Mayer Libby Schaff has required that the hotels offer her city long-term leases. “I do not want, at the end of the health emergency, to turn homeless people back out onto the streets,” she said.
In addition to working tirelessly to manage his own state’s crisis, Governor Newsom has met with the governors of Washington State, Oregon, Nevada and Idaho, and has tried to get assistance from the federal government. The federal government, however, has left much of the decisions of state protocols to the states, and yet in one shot, vouchsafed trillions of dollars to uphold ‘small business’—much of which actually landed in the hands if larger corporations. Since then, there has been some help from the feds to help pay for unemployment insurance, and to keep those who are already housed from being evicted. But Trump’s allegiance has never been to renters or the homeless. His real motivation has been to ensure that banks won’t foreclose on landlords.
In the event that banks do foreclose, and in the event that hundreds of houses and apartments are lost to ownership, it is likely that banks would do as they did (for example) in 2008: sell off foreclosed properties to the highest bidder, which very likely would be national and international investors. This is just a replay of the so-called ‘Great Recession’, only now it might be named a great depression.
A new and different way of handling this crisis would be to stop handing responsibility and power to the federal government, and decentralize our economies. We need to house people in the suburbs, not just in ghettoized projects in the inner cities. There are houses in my neighborhood that are empty, and there’s no reason they should be. Either a new home that can house several families could be built in place of the oversized single-family houses that presently stand empty, or else these empty single family homes could be taken over by the city in order to shelter the houseless.
Isn’t the real problem the fact that people—some people—are able to pay upwards of $3,500 and more per month in rent? Why does it suddenly cost that much to maintain a house or apartment, when a few years ago it didn’t? It is because tech work is overpaid due to speculation on the stock market. Since our economy depends so fundamentally on the markets, that won’t change. No one wants to talk about rent control, but that is what would keep housing affordable. Rent control would mean losing a huge profit in housing, which our rentier society relies on. If affordable housing is built, will it not eventually fall into the hands of profiteers, just as slum dwellings have in the past? It seems that the only way to prevent that is to give people the title to their homes.
There should be mutual aid networks like Bed Stuy Strong set up in all major urban areas. If people began to wake up to the fact that do not need to buy a Starbucks latte every day, or new shoes every month, or another yoga mat or a car—and the evidence is in that they do not—and if the department stores go broke, maybe it means that we can put our dollars where they will do something of value. The price of housing has multiplied beyond the means of anyone earning $40K or less, so there is little avail in building more luxury apartments.