Mon, Feb

Concentration on Profits at Expense of Poor.



ACCORDING TO LIZ - Do Californians get to choose to live on the streets, under freeways and in Section 8 housing? No, they are forced to do so because they are poor and because our elected representatives, egged on by those who profit by the current situation, make policy choices that create and exacerbate poverty.

Do the laws tumbling out of Sacramento help the homeless or only serve to concentrate destitute people into communities less powerful to protest abuse of their land use regulations? How come these future tenements are targeted at the San Fernando Valley and Northeast Los Angeles and not at Beverly Hills or Brentwood?

How many in Los Angeles supported business magnate Rick Caruso’s plan to box up the City’s homeless in barracks similar to POW camps? Or worse?

Since 1981, New York City has had a right-to-shelter law in place guaranteeing access to shelter with minimum standards on personal space and basic amenities which has stopped the spread of the tent cities that have become quintessential features of the Los Angeles cityscape. California could create a similar law but, until it can force existing units to be affordable, there aren’t enough shelter spaces to accommodate our homeless. No room at the inn.

Does encouraging swathes of industries to profit off poverty help housing?

Is subsidizing developer-built housing and calling it affordable a waste of taxpayer dollars?

How can concentrating construction along transit corridors – locations usually left for businesses that thrive in well-trafficked zones – that would expose residents to air and noise pollution as well as safety concerns benefit the poor in the long term?

And now California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta, who I generally support, is suing the city of Elk Grove to go against the clear desire of its residents to put a hold on a developer-driven project.

The developer has also sued – clearly they must believe that there are significant profits on the line.

While Bonta pursues a law passed by politicians who have been bought and paid for by developer and real estate money.

The common thread here is not affordable housing, but how much money can be made. And how fast.

The good citizens of Elk Grove have seen clearly that the Oak Rose Apartments would not help families at risk of becoming homeless, it would accelerate the risk for those living near the proposed complex of becoming homeless themselves.

Which matter more? The voices of the citizens?

Or regulations imposed, ostensibly to address the scourge of homelessness, that are structured to line the pockets of real estate investors and developers while putting more Californians at risk for eviction as development pushes prices inexorably up?

These projects are approved not to relieve homelessness – that’s just the pretext to get them funded and avoid petty annoyances like local building codes and environmental requirements – but to provide profit to their investors.

Housing in America should not be a commodity.

Housing should be a roof over one’s head, warmth and safety in a community close to work and schools and activities. And its cost should not empty bank accounts.

Beyond commodification, the existential crisis in California and across the U.S. is poverty.

People living in poverty can never hope to be able to own a home, let alone rent one of the tens of thousands of units standing empty everywhere in the state.

Why are they empty? Too many are vehicles of profit for investors waiting for the price to go up so that they can make their money back.

Will the prices rise? You can bet your bottom dollar so long as the real estate industry and developers continue to suck our tax dollars from the various levels of government, generating bidding wars in poorer and poorer neighborhoods, forcing more and more people from their homes.

So, Mr. Bonta, your first order of business tomorrow should be to instigate regulations that no property in California can be held for profit by a consortium, a REIT, or other entity, the focus of which is not to provide affordable housing.

And by affordable, that means quality accommodation at a cost not to exceed 25% of an ordinary Californians’ pay.

So next, you’ll have to address the rampant poverty and its underlying causes which has very little to do with those who are suffering and everything to do with how our country is structured to allow the very few to perennially profit from the suffering of the many.

To address the causation of this rampant profiteering, start by studying Matthew Desmond’s book Poverty, By America.

Instead of penalizing the poor, fine those profiteering off of them – the developers, the REITs, the commodifiers of housing – those pushing prices up, pushing people out, dumping them on the street only to use their unsheltered condition to justify further tax incentives and regulatory breaks for developers.

Instead of facilitating profiteers, California should be investing in planned communities. Don’t be scared off by what happened in the 1960s – just ensure contractors don’t use substandard materials and shoddy workmanship to increase their profits and mandate quality maintenance.

Yes. Many companies and individuals stand to lose substantial sums of money... but those people were never guaranteed a return.

The property rates on which all levels of government depend for part of their income will fall, but that only underlines the need for them to live within their means. In this case, they can boot the real estate industry, developers, Big Ag and Big Oil off the corporate dole and divert those tax dollars towards education, healthcare, good government housing and other modes of poverty eradication.

Yes. Some will suffer but the people who should count, those on the street or heading there, will surely benefit.

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions. In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)



Across CityWatch