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Editorial

Affordable Housing Crisis

by Fight Back! Editors |
October 1, 1999
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A shortage of affordable housing has turned the lives of millions into a nightmare. Emergency shelters are occupied by an army of the homeless. Many more people are living on the streets. In New York City, the wait for public housing is 8 years.

One common scam shows just how bad things have gotten: most landlords charge application fees, which they claim are used to run checks on new tenants. The truth is, a lot of these landlords keep an apartment open for no other reason than to collect an endless amount of application fees from those desperately in need of housing.

Clearly the shortage of affordable housing has become a crisis. Working people, employed and unemployed, are denied a basic human right - the right to a place to live. Oppressed nationality workers, African Americans, Chicanos, Latinos, Asian peoples, and Native Americans, are the hardest hit.

The actions of every level of government have made this crisis worse. Through zoning codes, many suburbs have made it impossible to build new low-income housing. City governments promote and subsidize gentrification, the process of replacing low-income housing with upper-income housing.

In many of the larger cities, the "war on crime" has become a become a war on housing, as so-called problem properties are condemned and demolished. The result is less affordable housing.

The federal government has done its part to fuel the crisis by encouraging housing authorities to tear down big public housing projects, and by putting a freeze on the total number of housing vouchers. In addition, some public housing authorities are considering changes that would limit the rights of the unemployed to public housing.

Some politicians, urban development "experts," as well as some honest but confused people have injected the issue of "deconcentration of poverty" into the housing debate. They blame the poor for poverty, saying that if a lot of low-income people are in a community, we will set bad examples for each other. Based on these anti-poor ideas, they want to tear down large housing projects, and refuse to invest in keeping affordable housing in low-income communities. In reality, plans to deconcentrate poverty are no more than a cover for getting rid of affordable housing.

It's true that government policies fuel this crisis, along with high rents, that for 8 years, have gone up much faster than the income of the poor. But the bottom line reason for the shortage of affordable housing is this: we live in a capitalist society.

People with money are out to get the highest rate of profit off their investments. As things stand, housing developers make more money building upper-income, single-family homes and condos, than they could by putting up rental units for low-income people. Money chases money, and the result is a disaster for those of us who need affordable housing.

That's why there is no market solution to the housing crisis. Under current conditions, housing developers and the banks will never put their money into low-cost housing.

Big-business serving politicians would rather cut social services than address this crisis. Their hands must be forced. The powers that be must be pushed into dealing with the shortage.

A growing movement is putting demands on government for decent, affordable housing. Housing is right! It is crucial that the low-income community, with its knowledge, numbers, and determination, adds its strength to this fight.

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