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.
Robles Park Village is a 433-unit public housing complex in Tampa Heights, Florida, near Ybor City. After months of inspections, city officials found that a small portion of this community was built on top of Zion Cemetery, a historic Black cemetery, forcing 88 units to be vacated to move forward with cemetery preservation processes. Following several surveying sessions, the remaining Robles Park residents were told by Tampa city officials that their homes were set to be demolished. The Tampa Housing Authority along with Baker Barrios Architects and Property Markets Group announced a “master plan” for the Robles Park Village which is set to include over 1,000 new houses, resource facilities, and a Zion Cemetery memorial site. The Tampa Housing Authority reports that 85 percent of the new development will be “affordable rental housing” while
On the night before Thanksgiving last year, Sasha Atkins, a 31-year-old hair stylist and single mom, hauled a few carefully chosen belongings – her phone, blankets, pillows and a laptop – into a vacant duplex on Shelley Street in Los Angeles’ El Sereno neighborhood and held her breath. Busting into an empty house was a last resort, but the pandemic has turned her precarious housing situation into an emergency. For three years, she and her son couch surfed or occasionally landed a motel room. But work had become scarce, and friends and family feared COVID-19 if they let new people into their homes. So, even though she was afraid, she moved forward.
A recent study in Environmental Research Letters examined how coastal flood risks tied to climate change threaten affordable housing. The authors also touched on the social justice aspects of housing scarcity and climate change, as well as the importance of not displacing people when flood-preparation housing improvements are carried out. “Affordable housing residents have far fewer safe options and much more to lose than their neighbors as sea level rise increases coastal flooding risks in their communities,” Benjamin Strauss, study co-author and Climate Central CEO and chief scientist, told Invisible People.
In many major metropolitan areas across the United States, there are far more vacant homes than people experiencing homelessness. This is true in New York City, it’s true in the Bay Area, and as our new report shows, it’s true in Los Angeles. Here, there are 93,000 vacant homes compared to just over 41,000 unhoused people. Our report, the product of a collaboration between UCLA School of Law and the community-based nonprofits Strategic Actions for a Just Economy and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, is perhaps the most detailed look yet at the characteristics of residential vacancies situated in the broader speculative housing market in any city in the United States.