At least $84 Million in Minnesota state and municipal funds earmarked for affordable housing projects have gone towards contractors with records or accusations of worker exploitation, from wage theft to misclassification to labor trafficking to sexual abuse, according to a new report. Subsidizing Abuse: How Public Financing Fuels Exploitation in Affordable Housing Construction was published on November 14 by North Star Policy Action, which calls itself “an independent research and communications institute.” It was authored by Jake Schwitzer from North Star Policy Action and Lucas Franco from Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA).
A mobile home park in Moses Lake is up for sale and a new state law assures residents a shot at buying the property. In the past they might’ve never known it was on the market until after it was sold. Owners of North Pointe notified residents on July 17 that they are looking to sell the 25-space mobile home park. This started the clock on a process providing those living there and eligible organizations approved by the state Department of Commerce an opportunity to compete with other potential buyers. That chance is etched into a law that took effect Sunday and is intended to help preserve this stock of affordable housing.
In early February, the city commission in Decatur, Georgia voted to amend the city’s zoning law to allow the construction of “duplex, triplex, and quadruplex residential units” in “single-family residential zoning districts” — what many housing advocates call missing middle housing. The legislation followed on the heels of 20 years of special studies, litigation and resident agitation over the city’s declining affordable housing stock, gentrification and displacement. By early 2023, it was too late to preserve the Atlanta suburb’s affordable housing stock. As for Decatur’s diversity, the tipping point for demographic and economic inversion had been reached long ago.
Vienna, Austria - We all know we have a housing crisis all across our country. Rents have skyrocketed; there are insufficient numbers of apartments and houses available; many people in our cities are unhoused; rent control is considered too radical; there are few protections against evictions. The American dream has long included home ownership and stable safe neighborhoods. But the dream has become a nightmare as racism and capitalism leave some without homes altogether, and have displaced so many more. Most discouraging, few people see any alternatives to the current system of how housing is allocated and paid for. But there is an alternative. Two members of Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution (FCCPR) were in Vienna, Austria recently and saw how things could be different.
Providence, Rhode Island - Around 90 people gathered in Burnside Park in Providence, Rhode Island on Sept. 1 to protest a development plan for so-called “affordable” housing. The plan would give millions in government subsidies and tax breaks to a private real estate developer to convert The Industrial National Bank Building into luxury apartments. Like the rest of the country, Rhode Island is in the midst of a statewide housing crisis where truly affordable housing is almost impossible to find, and evictions and rent hikes run rampant. Protesters called on the government to fund public, affordable homes while protesting the gross misuse of a building which could house hundreds of families.
Forty years ago, residents of Philadelphia won a subsidized housing community in the area known as Black Bottom after fighting the discrimination and displacement being used to clear the way for University City. Now the city is allowing that community, 72 residences called University City Townhomes (UCT), to be sold for gentrification. Clearing the FOG spoke with Rasheda Alexander, a resident of UCT, and Sterling Johnson of Philadelphia Housing Action about their efforts to protect UCT and stop the wave of evictions and displacement that primarily target low income black and brown people. Their organizing and actions have not only been effective in putting pressure on city officials but have also brought the community together and inspired others to stand up for their rights. See SaveTheUCTownhomes.com for more information.
Rhode Island - In June, Rhode Island passed a $10 million pilot program that will use COVID-19 stimulus money to build mixed-income public housing. By acting as a public developer itself, Rhode Island would be the only state to acquire its own land and build housing directly, cutting out profit-gouging developers — a model approach for the rest of the country amid a housing crisis that has only grown more dire since the start of the pandemic. The state’s pilot housing program is already shaking things up at the local level. On Monday, Providence mayoral candidate Gonzalo Cuervo added a municipal public developer plan to his housing policy platform as Reclaim RI — the progressive organizing group that backed the state’s pilot program — endorsed his campaign. Cuervo also adopted a rent stabilization plan that would institute a four percent cap on year-over-year rent increases.
Rising housing costs have made housing largely inaccessible and unaffordable to most Americans, but have acutely impacted communities of color and low- to moderate-income families over the past several decades. The median asking rent in the United States rose above $2,000 for the first time in June 2022. Given that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sets the standard of affordability at 30% of household income, $2,000 per month would only be “affordable” for households earning at least $80,000 per year—well above the median U.S. household income ($67,521). A growing housing supply shortage is a key contributor to the housing affordability crisis. Following the Great Recession, the share of homes being built fell significantly, causing buyer demand to exceed housing production.
For two and a half months, unhoused protesters maintained a tent demonstration across from the capitol in so-called Boise, Idaho. In response, folks were given a printout from capitol security and Idaho state police that informed them that they would be ticketed/trespassed from the area and potentially arrested if they remained past the 28th of March (a date that the State conveniently decided to begin early lawn maintenance and sprinkler set up). Fed up from constant state repression, and still facing a lawsuit and criminal charges, demonstrators decided to disband and scatter. The thought of further raids, ticketing, and repression from the State was too much to bear.
While the land relationships that dominate this society have implications for every relation in society, the recent crisis of gentrification and forced removal in low income Black communities, along with the volatile boom-bust real estate cycles, has made the struggle for adequate housing the most pronounced battleground in an increasingly intense war over the vision for the future of how we relate, prioritize and manage access to land. The current regime of land relationships renders housing and community development fatally flawed in at least two respects: first, houses serve dual social functions in this society, but those functions are contradictory and at odds with each other. And second, decisions about land use is fundamentally undemocratic, rendering people unable to make basic decisions about how to improve their own communities.
Across Europe, affordable housing is being pushed farther and farther out of reach. Homes are increasingly owned not by the people who live in them, but by companies who rent them out for profit. Housing is no longer treated as a public good, but as a commodity and vehicle for wealth and investment. In Berlin, which currently boasts some of the fastest-rising housing prices in the world, the situation is particularly extreme. Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1992, private investors flocked to the city to capitalize on the state-supported financialization of the housing market. As of today, more than a quarter of Berlin’s roughly two million apartments are owned by private companies. According to researcher Christoph Trautvetter, more than half of the city is owned by fewer than one thousand multimillionaires.
Progressive sections in the city of Amersfoort, Netherlands took to the streets demanding affordable housing on January 30. Activists from various youth & student groups, feminist groups, trade unions and political parties marched for housing rights on the call of #Woonrevolte Amersfoort, a housing rights coalition. Different housing coalitions have announced protest actions in other cities of the Netherlands in the coming days and weeks.
On Sunday, November 28, housing rights groups and other progressive sections in the Dutch city of Groningen marched under the banner #Woonstrijd to protest the acute housing crisis in the city. Various groups including Shelter Our Students (SOS), International Socialists Groningen, New Communist Party of the Netherlands (NCPN), Communist Youth Movement (CJB), RED Groningen, Young Socialists Groningen, Democratic Academy Groningen, Groningen Feminist Network, and others, participated in the march while adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols. The protesters demanded a radical housing policy from the authorities which will be beneficial for all residents of the city.
Most international coverage of the German elections is focused on who will replace Angela Merkel after her 16-year term as chancellor ends, but for everyday Berliners, just having the resources to pay the rent is a bigger concern. Berlin’s efforts to lower the fast-rising rents in Germany’s capital city have led to a referendum which could expropriate and socialize almost a quarter of a million apartments primarily from Deutsche Wohnen, the largest real estate company in Europe and one of the largest companies in Germany. After years of rising rent forcing many Berliners out of the city, activists led by Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen (Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen, or DWE) received nearly 350,000 signatures from Berliners and managed to force a vote on whether to allow the expropriation of housing owned by landlords with over 3,000 units on the Sept. 26 election ballot.
There is a battle raging in U.S. cities around land and who controls it. It is fought with zoning laws and red lines. Its battlefields are neighborhood associations and local elections. Across the country, racist reactionaries square off against capitalist developers in a struggle to determine the future of the housing market. In these types of battles, whoever wins, tenants lose, according to housing organizers working to halt the damage wrought by both developers and racist politicians. The U.S.’s housing crisis began long before COVID eviction moratoria brought the problem into the spotlight. Median rent in the United States has increased 70 percent since 1995, even as real wages remained static. This lack of affordable housing kept millions of people one crisis away from losing their homes.