Without Living Wage, Job Security, Housing Collapse Will Be Permanent

By Shamus Cooke
Global Research

The recent chaos that erupted when 30,000 people waited hours in the Atlanta, Georgia heat to receive applications for subsidized housing is a mere symptom of a worsening national problem.  The housing market appears to be on a never-ending downward spiral, with the much-discussed “recovery” always around the next corner. The reasons that such a recovery is impossible at the moment should be obvious: millions of people do not have jobs; millions of others work only part time; millions more work fulltime but make very little money; and additional millions fear losing their jobs. Under these circumstances, there can be no recovery in the housing market, which will continue to contribute to the broader depression-like economy in the U.S. 
Interestingly, an op-ed article in The New York Times, entitled The 30 year Prison, actually took these realities into account when analyzing the housing crisis. The 30 year mortgage is the cornerstone of the residential housing market, which allowed millions of Americans to become homeowners.
But the economic conditions that allowed such a mortgage are disappearing. According to the op-ed author, Katherine Stone, one crucial problem of the housing crisis is that “…today’s mortgages are designed for yesterday’s borrowers.”
Ms. Stone makes clear that “yesterday’s borrowers” are people who could expect to have job security and were paid a livable wage. Thus, 30 year Mortgages  “…work well as long as homeowners have stable, long-term jobs that enable them to regularly make their monthly payments.”
“But these days such careers are increasingly scarce. Therefore, any effort to recover from the crisis must include more flexible mortgages that take today’s employment landscape, with its frequent job-hopping and episodic unemployment, into account.” (August 14, 2010).
Of course banks are never very eager to be “flexible” with loans.
Nevertheless, Ms. Stone is part of the recent wave of journalists and politicians who have discovered that there is a “new normal” in the U.S. economy, which will inevitably have profound changes on how millions of people live their life.  If the economy continues in the same direction it has been traveling for the last thirty years, with the needs of corporate owners overriding those of the employees, the “new normal” will demand that not only housing, but many other aspects of life be changed to suit the long-term joblessness and low wages that politicians and businessmen would like to make permanent.
Adequate housing is a basic human right. But often basic rights take a back seat to corporate profits.
Sometimes these basic rights must be demanded. The right to decent housing, a job that pays a living wage, health care, and peace could all be easily achieved in the United States if the economy were arranged with this purpose in mind. Sadly, it is not. It will take a mass movement of working people to re-arrange the priorities of those in power, or to put different people in power, so that the country’s resources are directed to those creating the wealth, or in the most need of it.
Helping jump start this movement should be the priority of every working/unemployed person. The first mass demonstrations to achieve working-class demands will be held on October 2nd, in Washington, D.C. and in other cities.  Local demonstrations, community forums, or town halls can be held locally to coincide with the larger demonstrations, thus amplifying our voices. One demonstration will not be enough, but hopefully October 2nd will be the first step working people take towards empowerment, greater organization, and political independence. Once we learn to march and shout our demands in unison, greater goals can be achieved.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org).  He can be reached at shamuscook@yahoo.com

2 responses to “Without Living Wage, Job Security, Housing Collapse Will Be Permanent

  1. The 30,000 in line in Atlanta would instead be searching the Classified Ads if that area had a decent supply of apartment housing. There are no waiting lists there. An apartment community works best if there is sufficient supply that tenants who find themselves in an incompatible multi-unit building have no difficulty relocating to one more compatible. There are such, but in the housing craze of the last 20 years, many apartments were turned into condos, which offer the worst of both (tenancy and ownership): (a) as a tenant, there is a group, over which you don’t always have choice, which isn’t always compatible; (b) as an owner, you pay the realtor, pay the bank interest, and take over a share of maintenance. If you want to move, you’re stuck.
    To the extent apartments have gone up (aside from luxury retirement apartments), cities go for the subsidized kind, which offer tax breaks to the developers, but creates a community which is not paying property taxes to the city, either directly as owner or indirectly as tenant. It creates a group of people for whom a boost in income could even mean having to leave; 25% of every dollar earned goes to the rent, per the lease. Those who want cheap housing in order to live “close to the ground” and pay off student debt or start a business, or save to buy a home, the subsidized units are out of the question. This leaves them living with relatives, and limited in where they can seek work.
    I don’t see appropriate apartment housing going up in locations where a living might be viable. It used to be there was a house because there was a living there, a farm or mill. Now there are lots of mobile jobs, but there are not apartment communities for getting a good start. They are shrinking. The idea is costly homes pay more in property taxes. Yes, but subsidized units tend to produce families with children to educate (a big cost to communities), without the property taxes.
    Someone isn’t putting their thinking cap on.

  2. Cutting taxes and having the government take a step back out of regulating every inch of life would go a long way towards fixing the economy and the housing market. When businesses are so taxed and over-regulated that they can’t afford to hire anyone, you force everything into a downward spiral. It’s worth noting, too, that even people with decent employment who could afford to buy a house can’t afford the taxes. Buying a fixer-upper is no good because the fees involved in permits, re-zoning, etc. will bankrupt you – and then you’ll have to pay higher taxes because you raised the value of your home! I think the answer to getting out of the hole we’re in has less to do with lending terms on mortgages than with the fee/cost structure on the other side of the table.

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