The economic boom at the turn of the new millennium not only made life harder for the poor. It reduced options and the quality of residential life for many ordinary tenants. This was not simply an aberration or side effect of good times. In the rental housing industry, bleeding the tenant has always been a calculated art.
There is one single predominant factor that affects the price of everything including housing. That is the simple law of supply and demand. In the housing market there are two primary things that control supply and demand:
- a) growth manipulation and mismanagement
- b) general economic conditions.
Nearly all but the wise would have you believe that blind market factors are the primary cause of higher rents. Economic prosperity does indeed raise rents, simply because most people are willing and able to pay more rent. But this does NOT account for housing shortages on the supply side. In many boom zones, housing shortages are caused by the construction of new industry while new housing construction is allowed to lag or forbidden to grow. This serves all property owners well by increasing demand for their properties. It also raises rents for tenants and may severely limit vacancies. It puts a horrible burden on the poor since poor tenants are the least desired in a competitive market even if they have enough income to pay the rent.
"Cleaning Up the Neighborhood"
The poor are in fact screened out aggressively in many booming neighborhoods. This process is often called "economic cleansing" by way of comparing it to the practice of ethnic cleansing. Surely genocide is far worse, But both practices are diabolical devices of social exclusion. It has ruthlessly replaced entire neighborhoods and towns with new populations.
Housing shortages are particularly acute in specific locations where economic boom is focused. These "boom zones" are magnets for mass influxes of new tenants. These new tenants unwittingly raise the rents for existing tenants by the sheer force of their competitive demand for a limited number of housing units. In turn, tenants in "rust belts" or economically lagging areas may enjoy less pressure from housing shortages because there is a decline or slower growth in their local populations. Overall, wherever economic boom is greatest, there will usually be housing shortages. These housing shortages are the quintessence of low income tenant miseries and rampant rent inflation. Housing shortages and high rents are not merely a side effect of boom times. They are is a fundamentally deliberate and reckless sociopolitical evil. That in itself is not a common view. So lets examine it for validity.
In the housing market, there are two broad social classes. These of course would be tenants and landowners. I say "landowners" to mean primarily landlords, but also property owners who do not rent their properties. It is important to observe that support for industrial growth often has popular momentum. This is because property owners benefit from increased local populations caused by new industry. Tenants often support industry growth unwittingly to the effect of their own demise. Incoming new tenants typically do not care one way or the other. Poorly regulated new industry growth is in fact very harmful without correspondeing levels of new vacancies to accomodate new population influxes.
What about OUR Voice?
In terms of housing, the perspectives, common ideas, objectives, and combined political voice of landowners is basically all that you ever hear in the newspapers. It is the voice that prevails in the politics of states, municipal localities and neighborhoods. It is the voice that controls every aspect pertaining to the usage of property as well as development. It is the voice which receives direct and frequently undeserved federal funding for development of specific properties. Oh sure, you've seen plenty of articles about "affordable housing" shortages. But these news articles have consistently failed to take into account the evil side of capitalism, and how it places enormous pressures upon low income tenants by reducing vacancies and affordable options.
Affordable housing has long been a sideline media and political issue while commercial property reigns in all its diversity. The mainstream media has every interest in maintaining this imbalance of journalism since a vast portion of their advertising revenues comes from real estate marketing and rentals. In a social society, no such evil could prevail.
The rental housing industry would have you believe that "market value" rents are fair and just. They would have all poor and lower middle class tenants believe that our tenant conditions and lack of options are the fault of ourselves. To them, all of social order is a scale of individual monetary performance with each entity to be screened for money value.
The Territorial Imperative
Karl Marx declared a generality that property in itself is theft. This notion may or may not serve as truth, depending on interpretation. But essentially, real estate is the preeminent form of property. And it has been the preeminent facilitator enabling the upper classes to dominate and bleed the lower earning classes through much of human history.
In previous indigenous orders of society, concepts of property were rarely conceptualized given that there was so much land for all. The human beings who lived in pre-urban societies were typically organized into flexible nomadic tribes, without deeds to land. Europe has long hosted struggles against feudalism and tenant oppression. In America, the arrival of Columbus changed everything. Over the course of a mere few centuries all of the hinterlands were carved into "properties." Barbed wires and ecoterrorism were used to annihilate the original inhabitants, blocking all means for nomadic and traditional existence. Teddy Roosevelt secured much of the remainder to serve as "public lands". Industry, lumber harvesting, mining and meat-based farming has since grabbed most of the remaining acres. Rural life is still an affordable possibility if you can find water that's legal to drink. It might appear that we all have the convenient option to go out and live in the sticks. But essentially, property is a complex matter almost anyplace. Today, most people have settled for the complexity of living in urban jungles.
Utopian Communities versus Mundane Urban Politics
Urban centers are essentially zones of compacted living. They are tightly integrated historical accumulations of consumerism. In nearly all urban centers, commercial priorities are the predominant contemporary and historical force affecting social order subjectively. Even education is subservient to this order. This is the intellectual aberration responsible for the bulk of tenant miseries, much poverty and many other shortcomings in the quality of our lives. When social constructs are given priority over commercialism, then the common man might know the joy to breathe free.
History has offered a wide assortment of idealists and progressives who have promoted a diversity of concepts for utopian communities. By and large such communities have either been ignored or, when constructed, overrun by eventual commercial priorities. It is a territorial imperative that all men should exist, rest, sleep, produce, and grow through the usage of land. It is divine that all should seek to enjoy prosperity and the concept of plenty. But all of social disorder is pitifully focused on self enrichment, each man cutting the throat of the next to exist for another day. Nobody has time to slay the monster. Few tenants or poor have the time to grapple with the ideologies that have led to the evils of socioeconomic unfairness. In thousands of years class opression has refused to go away.
Tenant Power - a Sleeping Giant
It is astonishing that tenants today are so silent, so impotent, so meaningless in the grand scheme of commerce. Our influence in neighborhoods, state and federal government is virtually nonexistent. We have no powerful consensus, no significant lobbies, no order of any kind. We know no power because we are like sheep. Our historical position has been to submit to a monthly fleecing.
We are nothing. Take our billions of dollars, make us compete for inadequate vacancies, screen us, deny us the right to breathe clean air, restrict our heating, intrude upon our privacy, evict us! With little due process, blacklist those of us who fail the mark. For we are here to give woolen comfort to lords of land.
Tenant apathy is understandable, considering such a long history of tenant subjugation. The question thus arises "How could such weakness even exist in the modern age?" In short, democracy extracts the greater participation from those who have the monetary influence, the income and hence the time, to participate. Tenants, especially poor ones, are caught up in the struggle to pay rent or buy their first property. Most of us do not have the time nor the clairvoyance to decipher the large issues that control our economic fates.
What Are the Issues?
As the new tenant rights movement springs forth, it will have much to grapple with. Growth control, land rights, tenant rights and mobilization, homeless rights, and the pursuit of greater access to affordable home ownership are all becoming significant topics of discussion.
Tenants will have no power to mobilize or change the system until there is a significant momentum in the development of self-education in tenant rights issues. This in turn will depend upon tenant journalism and tenant debate above all else. There is no self righteous leadership in the tenant rights movement. Tenants will seize the day by grasping issues in greater depth and with deeper understanding. The Internet has already become the first ever medium hosting worldwide discussion of tenant rights concepts and issues.
Tenant rights journalism will thrive on the Net and might begin to flourish in print as well. The Internet is no longer new. Yet it still offers the greatest opportunity for small social movements to become household issues everywhere.
There can be no body of social change that does not know its own organs. Strangely, the fledgeling tenant rights movement has long been precisely such a vast collection of organs with no body. Therefore, the most immediate opportunity for advancing the cause of tenant rights is to network the existing organs for change. By knowing our peers we have immediate avenues for debate, consensus and direct action against all manner of tyranny. With concerted energy on specific issues, we can take our struggle to neighborhoods and city halls. There is no limit to the power of tenants who choose to fight for progressive change. It may sound absurd at first, but tenants could eventually become a lobby superpower. Regardless that political roads are daunting, tenant rights journalism is a movement just being born.
Tenant Rights Journalism
The housing industry has tens of thousands of publications devoted to selling and renting real estate, and to managing tenants and properties. The rental housing industry has millions of dollars invested in databasing tenant histories. Why then should we not invest our own time and money to database landlords, especially bad landlords? Are there not hundreds of issues that tenant rights journalism could write about? Tenants have perhaps but a few scattered publications here and there devoted to managing landlord abuses or challenging the whole notorious infrastructure of rental housing.
Every person is capable of discussion. Many are writers, Many are dreamers, artists, intellectuals, political theorists, or pundits. And anyone can serve a cause as a reporter. These are the feet and toes of tenant rights journalism. This is the struggle for tenant rights.
- 2001 April 16 Monday