Affordable Housing…What the 99% Folks Don’t Want to Understand


Upscale Housing in,DaNang, Socialist Republic of Viet Nam

Upscale Housing in,DaNang, Socialist Republic of Viet Nam

Do you know the difference between  socialism and democracy/capitalism?  Are you sure?

I was in my  twenties before I realized that someone planned infrastructure. Roads and plumbing were not just there.  Due to a comedy of errors, I ended up getting a master’s in urban planning, and  a concentration in land use & zoning.  It’s amazing to me that there was a time in America that we could afford to lay  water and sewer pipes.  It’s also amazing to me that  the politicians thought it would be a  great idea to allow private companies to handle energy  and other infrastructure services.  Not  everything will make a profit.  Some things—like infrastructure, you have to provide to support economic development. This is why we need governments. For no other reason, really.

The companies that have a monopoly on  infrastructure  now  realize that nobody will rein them in. They can do whatever they want and charge whatever they want.  That is capitalism.

In many places in the world, they (meaning politicians) don’t allow the private ownership of land in urban areas with infrastructure.  You get a 99 year lease, and then  the lease is renegotiated.  This is  to prevent land speculation and inflation blamed on land rents.  However,  often the lease holders  sublet the space, and this causes inflation.  I saw this when I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Blantyre, Malawi.  Improved land had been sliced and diced so many times, that, per square foot, improved land was as expensive as it is in Chicago.  It was shocking, and this was why many people were starving.  They could not go back to their  ‘home’land/tribal area, as all the arable land was  spoken for. They could not be farmers.  They didn’t have enough education  to get a job, nor enough connections for access to capital. This is also why crime is rising in the urban areas  of developing countries. People are desperate.  This is also why we need public schools. There is  currently  an uproar about ‘core competency’.  Do we really not agree that  our populace has to know basic business math, science concepts, and how to write a proposal?  More serious, still:  do we not understand that we  graduate  people as  teachers who don’t know how to teach this kind of stuff?

Forget the bs that there is enough food that nobody should go hungry, and that nobody should be homeless. Those are not the real issues. The  issue, bottom line, is still that  men are still choosing (for women) to have  more children than the economy can support.  It’s a global problem, now, and it’s a problem that most  politicians will NOT address.  Too controversial.  But the bottom line is that  jobs will never be created fast enough for  all the people who need employment.  That’s capitalism.

On my most recent trip to Viet Nam, it appeared that most urban people were very sophisticated about family planning.  It was surprising  how small an area  in Hanoi that  the entrepreneurs had  carved out for themselves.  The  government  could never create enough jobs, so entrepreneurship is encouraged.   It’s that, or crime. These people might be poor, but they all have cell phones and TVs, and they don’t have to punch a clock. Their time is their own.  That’s how it is in  many places in the world.  Just not so Europe or the USA.  If more Americans could do this,  they might possibly demand that their schools teach getter mathematics and science.  How teachers are taught in the US would be funny were it not tragic!

I got to thinking about this again, because a young woman, Amara Enyia , child of Nigerian immigrants, is running for mayor of Chicago.  She came to a very small community meeting, and someone asked her what she would do about creating more affordable housing.

She  thought very carefully before answering, because she’s smart.  That train has left the station.  There is no longer any  affordable housing that is decent because our land rents—-property taxes are too high. They are not the same all over the city, but  in my neighborhood, Rogers Park,  which is right along the lakefront, and has several rapid transit stops, and a private university (Loyola), we now average over $100  per week per unit in property takes.  Even if you live in a studio apartment, under 500 square feet, your landlord is paying at least $200 a month in property taxes.  And then there are  the heating bill, water,  maintenance. Also, our politicians pay themselves an outrageously high salary—over $100,000 a year, and they have their patronage workers, too. If you are poor, and didn’t luck into a Section 8 voucher (which, apparently, is good for the life of the holder), or subsidized housing (also good for life), you are s…o…l.

I’ve always thought that  a rent subsidy should only be good for a limited time:  five to 10 years at most.  When you have a subsidy, you have no incentive to improve your skills or try for a better job, or to make any money.  Neither do your kids.  It becomes a chosen lifestyle—that of being poor and scamming the system.  Nobody has dared to do a study of this, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence:  people are proud to say they live in this or that housing project, as did their grandparents.  No joke.

Now, you could say I’m lucky, and  I have white privilege.  However, I made a choice to not have children I could not support, to buy my first home in what was considered a slum area, and move up.  I know a lot of women like me.

What Ms. Enyia said in response, in so many words, was that you have to work with others in your community and get control of the land. They are called housing trusts. That means working together with other poor people, forming an organization, and raising money.  Still private, but you  vote on how the money is spent—like a cooperative.

It’s been done, but the people whining the most want others to do it for them.  I want I want…I want to live in Manhattan, or San Francisco, or LA. I want a Cadillac.  I want someone to clean up my house.  I want to go on vacation to Hawaii  three or four times a year.

Our schools don’t teach kids to  think, but to comply.  Couple that with people being in denial that they can’t still live in the community they grew up in, and I see much more strife coming down the pike.

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