In difficult times not unlike the ones we face today, it often seems any change might be preferable to the way things are. But too often in this process is a dangerous social preference for the “lowest hanging fruit.” That is to say, when we diagnose problems, we tend to gravitate towards the most obvious solutions that come to mind, even when they’re insolvent to the complex nature of these issues.
I read two Op-Eds in the L.A. Times — an April 8 Op-Ed by Mike Loftin and a May 3 Op-Ed by Adam Murray. I felt both were indicative of just this: the mainstream media’s tendency to amplify moderate yet antiquated views specifically on the issue of shelter for low-income families and families of color.
In doing so, our mainstream media has bit the low-hanging fruit, when that fruit has unfortunately proved time and time again to be distasteful to how we frame discourse surrounding minority homeownership.
Contrarily, he proposes that we ought to offer vouchers instead to help people of color and low-income households find a down payment sufficient enough for an affordable and safe mortgage.
Murray acknowledges that we must invest in long-term solutions that address problems between housing and incomes too but then writes that to equalize the playing field for families of color, the government must pump out more affordable housing units.
Yet both rely on the same flawed assumption: that housing should exist within a profit-driven framework in the first place.
Loftin’s advocacy that we ought to give housing-insecure people a voucher to afford a mortgage down payment, just so they can attempt to reach economic equality points out a severe double-bind in our system: a dysfunctional dependence of wealth on homeownership. And equal players on historically unequal grounds produce unequal outcomes: continuing this cycle only keeps people of color in a vicious cycle of catch-up.
Murray’s advocacy, on the other hand, fails to get at the heart of the crisis. While local, state and federal governments writ large have continuously contracted out the expansion of building these units, where they’ve missed is actually getting people into units.
Further, it’s vital to understand that the reason we have a housing crisis in the first place is that our current system makes mortgages a necessity of sorts as Loftin concedes. Then, profit-driven proprietors exploit the accessibility of these mortgages, raising the prices of homes; which then raise the mortgages needed. It’s a feedback loop that helps the bottom lines of big players by pitting families against each other.
So, what’s the alternative?
Although the end goal might be to deconstruct the profit-driven housing market entirely, that likely isn’t tenable right now. Rather, in the short-term, we should transition to what progressives have advocated for years: community land trusts.
In other words, governments should rather invest in buying out local land and give democratic control of it to communities so big corporations/land developers can no longer arbitrarily set price demands that price low-income families out.
It’s a tried-and-true system all across this country in which the housing market is replaced with local voters, by communities owning all of the lands with no profit margins, subsequently scrapping the mass need for mortgages and homeownership in general and putting people first.
Making families opt into a system where your only way to “be equal” is to sign away your economic freedom for 30 years (at the benefit of large banks) isn’t a system in which we should take part in. Strengthening this by giving people mortgage vouchers to participate and handing more capital to it in order to optimize the already-broken status quo isn’t any better.
Contrary to the neoliberal ideologues of the past, it’s time that we recognize this system has a clear precedent of failure. It’s time we rethink past incrementalist, low-hanging views. It’s time we stop giving people a ticket to play but rather hand them control of the game.