GENTRIFICATION & THE LACK OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING

(Click here to see an egalitarian law about it and click here to see a letter about it by a PDRBoston member)

(Click here to read "Credibility, But In Whose Eyes," about what it really takes to stop gentrification.)

(Click here to read why so-called "affordable" housing is not actually affordable.)

 

Gentrification is when a working class neighborhood becomes too expensive for the long-term residents to remain, as wealthier people move into the neighborhood and displace many of the poorer ones. Sometimes wealthier people move into the neighborhood because of something that previously caused it to be more desirable, such as extending a subway line into the neighborhood for the first time. And sometimes wealthier people, for whatever reason, buy homes in, or rent apartments in, the neighborhood, "spruce up" the property and arrange for other improvements in the neighborhood. In either case the result is that property values increase, which in turn causes property taxes to rise and in turn rents to rise, leading to poorer people (either home owners who can no longer afford to pay the increased property tax, or renters who can no longer afford to pay the increased rent) being forced to leave.

Gentrification is what causes the problem of a lack of affordable housing. What follows is a close look at what causes gentrification, and what can end it.

 

The "gentry," meaning the wealthier newcomers, are typically professionals earning relatively high salaries, but they are not typically members of the plutocracy--billionaires, CEOs and other corporate and banking elites with hundred-million dollar salaries and politicians who serve them--that rules in our dictatorship of the rich. Often the "gentry's" wealth and income provide them a standard of living that is not substantially better than most people would have if we had an egalitarian society (please read "Global Wealth Equality: What Would It Mean?" to see why this is so).

 

In an egalitarian society with no rich and no poor there would be no gentrification as there would be no "gentry"--no people enjoying a higher standard of living than others. In an egalitarian society nobody who was willing to work reasonably according to ability would have to leave their neighborhood for lack of enough money to remain in it. Any improvements to the neighborhood would be enjoyed by the long-term residents as well as any newcomers to the neighborhood.

 

The cause of "gentrification" is, thus, the class inequality of our society. In a society based on inequality, in which some people have a lot more money than others and money is power--including the power to buy homes in the more desirable neighborhoods and kick the poorer people out--there will be gentrification inevitably. Trying to end gentrification without abolishing class inequality (i.e., winning egalitarianism) is like trying to stop the water of a river from flowing to the ocean by building a dam--it can't work.

 

Gentrification should be made illegal. In an egalitarian society it would be illegal. Anybody who worked reasonably "according to ability" would, for that reason alone, own their primary residence free and clear, without having to pay anybody rent or taxes or a mortgage payment (there's no money at all in an egalitarian society); they would be able to take for free what they reasonably need or desire from the economy (or obtain scarce things that are rationed equitably according to need) the same as anybody else because there would be no rich and no poor. Nobody would need to be a landlord renting to somebody else in order to afford to pay the tax and mortgage payments on their own home. Everybody could own their own home free and clear.

 

Who, exactly, is the enemy?

 

When it comes to gentrification, the enemy is all the people who deliberately enforce class inequality to gain at the expense of others. The people who must be removed from power in order to abolish "gentrification" are the plutocracy and those who willingly serve them: politicians who raise property taxes instead of taxing the plutocracy, landlords who raise rents more than required to offset the rise in property taxes, and the police who evict tenants from their apartments when they fail to pay the increased rents. The "gentry" are not the enemy for earning relatively high salaries and wanting to live in a nice neighborhood convenient to where they work. Some of the "gentry" may very well support an egalitarian revolution. Some of the gentry, on the other hand, may act to enforce inequality and attack the egalitarian revolutionary movement. Individual members of the "gentry" should be judged on the basis of how they act. Treating somebody as the enemy just because they are part of the "gentry" serves no useful purpose and only weakens the egalitarian revolutionary movement.

GENTRIFICATION AND EGALITARIAN REVOLUTION

 

This Boston Globe article is about gentrification, although with just a few extra words added here and there it would be about why we need an egalitarian revolution and a movement that explicitly aims for that. Here's why.

 

Read the article and you will learn that the once-blue-collar neighborhood of Union Square in the city of Somerville (just outside of Boston, MA) is being gentrified big time. The moving force for gentrification is a Chicago Big Money developer named US2, which is investing $1.5 billion into the Union Square development featuring expensive residential and commercial construction.

 

You will also read about how the working class people of Union Square and elsewhere in Somerville have organized and won a bunch of seats on the city council (called the Aldermen) and are in negotiations with US2 trying to wring from that corporation some "affordable" housing guarantees and things such as a guarantee that only union labor will be used in the construction.

 

You will also read about how the working class people of Union Square are totally on the defensive against Big Money US2, because whenever they ask for "too much" they are warned that their demands would make the development less profitable for US2 and at some point US2 will just say no and cancel the development altogether.

 

You will also read about how Big Money pitted the poorest people in Union Square against union construction workers in the area and their progressive allies. It worked like this. A developer (Redgate) announced it would "rebuild 216 apartments for low-income renters and add 323 market-rate units to the site" [the aging Clarendon Hill public housing complex] with non-union labor. Construction unions and progressives "resisted, saying Redgate was looking to squeeze profits from workers. It argued for rules that would require every job on the project to be union."

 

Result #1: "That blew a roughly $20 million hole in the project’s budget, said LeBlanc, whose agency is partnering on the project. Developers are looking for other funding sources, but until they find them, Clarendon Hill is on hold."

 

Result #2. (Divide and Rule): "The episode left Jessica Turner fuming that Somerville’s newly powerful progressives put ideology before better housing for the city’s poorest residents. She heads a tenant group for Clarendon Hill residents, and complained about the alliance the progressives struck with construction unions — most of whose members, she notes, don’t live in Somerville. 'There’s thousands of people on the waiting list for public housing in Somerville. People need a place to live,' said Turner, who has lived in a Clarendon Hill apartment for 10 years. 'These groups say they’re fighting for people over profit, but it’s just not true.'"

 

An Egalitarian Revolutionary Perspective on This

 

#1. It is morally reprehensible that the people of Somerville should have to negotiate (in what amounts to begging) with a bunch of very rich people in Chicago about what they--the people of Somerville--will or will not build in their own home town with their own labor, and how they will or will not build it! The only reason that this despicable kind of negotiating (begging) is not widely denounced as the despicable thing that it is, is because it is standard procedure in our dictatorship of the rich. The rich have made it taboo for anybody to denounce this dictatorship of the rich. The ruling plutocracy censors in the mass media all expressions of wanting to remove the rich from power to have real, not fake, democracy with no rich and no poor. This makes people think that (contrary to fact) hardly anybody else wants to remove the rich from power, and so people keep quiet about this desire they have. This is why working class people in Somerville are not denouncing the dictatorship of the rich and instead merely attempting to wrest from the rich whatever crumbs they can.

 

#2. The fact that the poorest people in Somerville, who wanted the affordable housing that didn't get constructed in the Clarendon Hill project, are now pissed off at the progressives and union workers, who wanted union wages to be paid for the construction, demonstrates this key fact: Whenever a reform demand, such as that union labor be used, no matter how good, is made, Big Money will use its power (in this case the power to cancel the project) to make some have-nots suffer (in this case lose affordable housing) from the demand, and thus turn some have-nots (in this case those fighting for union labor) against the other have-nots who fought for the demand.

 

In contrast, a movement that explicitly aims for egalitarianism unifies all the have-nots because all the have-nots will benefit enormously from having an egalitarian society with no rich and no poor. An egalitarian revolutionary movement is therefore what we need TODAY to unify the have-nots.

 

If the people of Somerville were building an explicitly egalitarian revolutionary movement, making the goal of an egalitarian society with no rich and no poor and real, not fake, democracy the aim, and using whatever tactics they can to confront Big Money with their vision of what they REALLY want (stated in terms of specifics such as such-and-such kind of development in Union Square, and also in terms of general egalitarian principles for how a society should be, as discussed here) then Big Money would be forced to respond to a growing revolutionary movement. How would Big Money respond? Often it responds by making concessions to the movement in the hope of making the people in the movement think that there's really no need for a revolution. This is exactly why FDR launched the reforms of the New Deal such as Social Security and Unemployment Insurance--to head off a growing revolutionary movement at the time, as discussed in great detail here.

 

“I want to save our system, the capitalistic system,” FDR told an emissary of the archconservative newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. To do so, Roosevelt said, “it may be necessary to throw to the wolves the forty-six men who are reported to have incomes in excess of one million dollars a year” (click here for the source.)

 

An egalitarian revolutionary movement, unlike the progressives' and union workers' narrowly focused effort to get union labor, will not be so easily portrayed as a special interest group about which other have-nots (like Jessica Turner quoted above) complain: "These groups say they’re fighting for people over profit, but it’s just not true.'"

Somerville Shows that Band Aid (20% Affordable) Reforms are NOT the Answer

In 2016 the Somerville Aldermen (Somerville's name for its City Council) enacted a new law requiring housing developers to include a greater percentage of "affordable" housing than had been required previously. The details are reported in a local Somerville newspaper  an article titled "Aldermen approve new requirements for building affordable units in Somerville":

"The ordinance requires 20 percent of developments with 18 or more residential units to be affordable and 17.5 percent of projects between eight and 17 units to be affordable.

"Previously, only 12.5 percent of all developments of eight or more units had to be affordable. So a 12-unit project in the past would have to build 1.5 affordable units, but is now required to build 2.1 affordable units.

Smaller projects are included in the new ordinance: Developers of six- or seven-unit projects would have a choice to pay 40 or 60 percent of the value of one unit to the city’s affordable housing fund, respectively, or provide one affordable unit.

"The new ordinance is a modified version of the one submitted by a group of citizens in late 2015, proposing boosting the percentage of required affordable housing from 12.5 percent to 20 percent citywide, and applying this number to all projects of six or more units."

This new ordinance is typical of the kind of reform that people in many other communities are fighting for, hoping thereby to solve the problem of a lack of affordable housing in their community.

But does such a reform solve the problem? No.

In 2019 Commonwealth Magazine had an article all about Somerville, titled "More housing alone won’t solve housing crisis: Legal rights for tenants must be part of the solution." The article is all about how (despite the law passed in 2016 to increase the amount of affordable housing units that developers must include in new housing developments) gentrification is still driving the poorer people out of Somerville at an obscene rate. To read and study this article is to see very clearly that band aid solutions (such as the 2016 "20% affordable housing units requirement" reform) don't solve the problem of gentrification. The reason is because gentrification is caused by class inequality, and band aid reforms don't end class inequality. Only egalitarian revolution does.

 

Yes, 20% affordable is better than 13% affordable, but it's by no means an adequate substitute for actually solving the problem by ending class inequality. When we win reforms such as "20% affordable" but leave the rich in power, then the rich get around the reform and the problem it was meant to solve persists, as happened in Somerville.

This Boston Patch article about the proposed development at the current Whole Foods site on Washington St. in Brookline explains why even the "20%" demand of the Brighton Allston Community Coalition will hardly solve the gentrification problem.

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