HUD Director Ben Carson, a Trump appointee, recently proposed that rents in subsidized HUD housing be tripled, leaving the poorest households with a mere $50 of their benefits after rent! HUD has been scaling back on public housing for decades, including the notorious “One Strike” provision that led to many evictions and homelessness, and the Hope VI program that destroyed public housing projects across the country and replaced them with “mixed-income” developments that left many families without housing. Recently, the UN Rapporteur on Housing called the housing situation in the US “devastating,” with housing treated as financial commodities, and the treatment of the homeless “stunning and cruel.”
Evictions and foreclosures are sweeping the nation everywhere. As cities and even smaller towns gentrify, millions more are driven out of their communities and neighborhoods, or into homelessness. This, coupled with massive and permanent job loss as production automates and replaces human labor with robots, leads to mass dispossession and poverty, even among formerly well-paid and stable workers. Some who yesterday had jobs and a home find themselves suddenly living in their vehicles: one tow away from living on the streets.
While the average monthly rent nationally has risen to over $1,200 a month, with much higher numbers in most cities, the national minimum wage has stayed at $7.25 an hour. These figures just don’t add up to anything that sustains “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”—even sheer survival. This is a formula for homelessness, and the process is speeding up with no end in sight.
In cities such as San Francisco, homeless people sleep on cardboard at the feet of a building boom of shining glass towers of multimillion dollar condos, while families are being run out of town. Under capitalism, housing is seen as a source of profit for financial interests, not as a social priority of the government and an absolute survival need for people. The attack on housing by the billionaires and their government that began with the steady abandonment of public housing is reaching ever-broader sections of the American people. With automation eliminating jobs, the billionaires will not provide housing for workers they do not need. The capitalists cannot guarantee a right to housing because to do so would threaten the very economic system they rely on for their profits.
People everywhere are organizing around housing and homeless issues, which share a common cause: housing as a right—whether in eviction defense or demanding homes for the homeless; protecting the right to safe, affordable public housing; divestment from banks that are foreclosure mills; organized squatting; and the establishment of independent tent communities as bases of homeless and housing rights activism. Automated processes that resemble 3D printing can create a house overnight, and there are enough houses standing empty to house everyone many times over. We need to demand that this new technology, and all the resources we need, be publicly owned, not owned as investments by the billionaire class, with the rest of us in the street. Our demand for the right to housing is in reality a demand that government guarantee housing, and all else we need to survive and thrive, and that these things be distributed “according to need.”