Gentrification And The Housing Crisis, A Brief Examination Of An Unsustainable System

Gentrification is such a complex issue that effects many people in different ways. I will share a bit of my own experience and then examine a bit how different populations are effected when this happens. In my city we have a historical society that for a long time was enacted to preserve the city’s appearance. With a state that was nicknamed “vacationland” people over the years moved here as it was always an amazing place. Ultimately our city began to see lots of big new buildings pop up with “luxury condos” at astronomical rates. Respectively, the city also started taxing the landlords at a higher rate that these big companies could easily afford. For the smallest landlords they had to charge more due to increased costs and maintenance on properties.
In our city, the historical society and city can also demand that property owners do things that most other cities cant. They can dictate what colors many properties can be painted, what type of windows you use, and even the color brick mortar used. The city was hungry for money, they brought tourists here for years and encouraged wealthy families to move from out of state. When they did, our city councilmen lined their pockets allowing developers to build in our city without any restriction while making it equally impossible for smaller companies to stay afloat. Over the years as buildings fell apart, people were forced to sell their properties to these same companies for much less than they were once worth.
These buildings when they change hands often see mass evictions, as it is legally permissible to do so in order to renovate the building. Often this is justified by the fact the properties no longer meet code and the buyer justifies the action by this. What often happens is people end up in the shelter because there are no apartments they can afford anymore, if at all. It can take half a year or longer to find an affordable apartment and our shelter is now overcrowded. We have 2 teen shelters that are full, 2 full women’s shelters, several full family shelters, a fell “wet shelter”, the walk in shelter (200+ here alone!), and our day shelter has to be converted to sleep many more. The most startling fact is that there are still tent cities, and many sleeping outside as there is still not enough room.
Further problematic, many of these people hold housing vouchers but landlords wont accept them. The process to obtain a voucher can take a year or more as the system is overloaded, and living on the streets that long often results in alcoholism or addiction. Landlords will typically ask things like multiple deposits which subsidies wont pay, charge more than the subsidy will pay, enact credit score requirements, and many more that essentially prevent people from getting an apartment again. The end result is that now in my city, many who once had homes now live at the shelter and there may not even be enough apartments for these people as their homes are now occupied by new residents. In this article I will explain what “steering” is, and how communities are driven out based on race, disability, or religion. Likewise I will examine in further detail some of the practices in rental agencies that keep certain groups out of a home. In all cities where this occurs there are reasons it is allowed to happen, that too will be examined and the housing first model as a way to help many currently victims of the housing crisis. Likewise, we will look at the plights of those barely hanging on, and how many can barely get by anymore while keeping a roof over their head. One cant really talk about gentrification without examining the full scope of the housing crisis, and that goes all the way back to HUD and Ben Carson.

Gentrification is what happens as properties in certain neighborhoods are purchased, and the respective communities are driven out. It is a slow process, properties are acquired a few at a time, and as more people hear about the neighborhood it stems an unsustainable transition. The phenomena of perpetually increasing rents never ends, and one problem becomes many. The initial community can often be displaced leaving many in shelters or on the street. Years down the road, those same people who came to occupy the neighborhood will fact the same problem…unaffordable rents. Racial steering is when either landlords or brokers withhold information from minorities regarding housing, or only show them in certain areas. This same practice is employed also towards people with housing assistance, the poor, the elderly, and the mentally ill. Steering was actually a law until 1917 preventing minorities from living in certain neighborhoods. When Buchanan v. Warley abolished these laws, but they were replaced with covenants that said individual homes couldn’t be purchased by minorities. Until 1950 the National Association of Real Estate Boards mandated that nobody should introduce minorities into white neighborhoods and claimed property values would drop. In 1968 the Fair Housing Act formally outlawed this, and disabilities became protected in 1982. Despite creation of laws steering continues to this day, and studies done between 1989 and 2000 showed that as discrimination decreased, steering increased.

As it stands now, gentrification doesn’t truly describe the complexity of the issue. First off, there are now an excess of luxury units but the majority of working class cannot afford them. The middle and lower class citizens of cities are now often spending at least 30% of their income on rent alone. Since 1960 the median income has only increased 5% where rent has increased 61%. The same study found that homeowners income has increased by 50% but home prices have increased 112%. This Harvard study found that the construction of these luxury properties encouraged private companies to buy properties, evicting tenants and ultimately leading to a rise in homelessness. The fastest rise in price was found to occur in the once affordable units, with rent increasing 50% faster in these places.
Many people have responded to the cost of living in the city and move to a less populated area. Before the recession 1.1 million homes were constructed each year, but since then the most built in a year was 849,000. Currently the last time there were this few homes for sale was 1982. Also now there is a shortage of construction workers with some 200,000 job openings. Likewise, as construction costs increase these same developers only truly turn the type of profit they desire on these more expensive units. As of 2016, more than 50% of homes were large homes with pools, yet “starter homes” only made up 20%. Currently in America roughly 22 cities have homes being sold at 6 times that of the median income. Shockingly, 30 years ago Harvard found that in 72 of the 100 largest cities in America it only took 18 months of median income to purchase a home.
The sad reality too is that even in today’s modern age, it is often the minorities who will experience these things the worst. Since 1987 home ownership rates have increased by 3.6%, however they actually fell by 2.7% in predominantly in black communities. In Hispanic communities there were increases that now have reached a little over 16% respectively. The wealth gap too is worse for minorities, minorities have been found to have half the net worth of white families and are found to be asked to pay more as well. A recent report from the National Association of Real Estate Brokers found that minorities still to this day are obtaining homes through use of “sub-prime” loans. It is found that minorities are much less likely to obtain loans to purchase homes, and due to the cost it often takes this off the table for veterans as well as poor families also. Home ownership is seen the most in those over the age of 65, with the rate dropping in other demographics parallel to their net worth.
Last year a study concluded that the only cities in America where rent growth slowed were the ones that added more units than renters in a year. Last year it took doubling the construction of rental units to reduce rent by only 1%, they created over 10,000 units! Prior to this change rents were increasing by 5% each year from 2015-2017. At this point there are hardly homes that are affordable to the middle class, nor are there apartments left for low income families. Since 1988, there are now 6 million more low income families, and 2.5 million less affordable units. The only way to solve the growing problems with housing, cities need to create more affordable units, but nobody is funding projects for more profit can be found elsewhere. Recently HUD secretary Ben Carson implemented policies that would raise rents for 5 million people, and make rental assistance harder to obtain.

Currently there are lawsuits still open against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is headed by Ben Carson, for Civil Rights Violations. Recently it was found that Carson had appointed 5 persons to his department, with no previous experience, for salaries between $90,000 and $155,000. In total 24 people have been hired under similar conditions, and the top 70% of employees earn salaries in this range. Even Carson himself, a retired neurosurgeon, has no previous experience in this sector. Since assuming control, many policy initiatives have failed due to employees lack of experience. This however may actually be a good thing as many are not exactly good for citizens. Among these we almost saw rent triple for families, assistance become hard to obtain, and help for the homeless population drop significantly. When Carson assumed duty, the backlog was in the tens on millions of dollars, buildings were in disarray, and he was barely phased. Instead of attempting to ensure buildings were properly maintained, he used an incredibly illegal amount of money to refurbish his office. He even demoted a secretary who refused to help stating that “one cannot even buy a good even buy a good chair for less than $5,000”. While they plotted to cut billions in funding to housing alone, Carson had just bought a $31,000 dining set for his office. Many times Carson has made his stance clear, that he thinks the best thing HUD can do for people is “ensure that living quarters aren’t nice enough for people to want to stay”.
Likewise it shouldn’t be new knowledge to most people who have lived in a city that often landlords have a skewed moral compass when it comes to operations. Often times it can come back to money, either driving out tenants to raise the price or denying business to low income customers. A common practice that can be seen is a landlord refusing to do repairs until a tenant finally moves and they subsequently raise rents more. Landlords will never mention this or include in a lease, but more jurisdictions contain laws that all renters are entitled to an Implied Warranty of Habitability. This means your home must legally be safe, free of lead, mold, radon, and some cities strictly enforce strict building and fire codes. Discriminatory renting is often seen as described above, and many too are not ever told that by law a landlord must give 24 hours notice prior to entering ones unit. It is commonly seen for property to create more units in a building outside what the law even allows, and at times one could be “baited and switched”. Essentially you could see an available unit online that is not actually available, only to be talked into one slightly more expensive. Security deposits too can be both kept via illegal means, or charged at an illegal rates. The important thing to remember is check the laws in your area…stay informed! With someone like Ben Carson at the top of the housing pyramid its no wonder there are so many landlords getting away with these things. Also, if your city has a tenant’s union I would recommend that you join one. The only way renters can acquire enough power in their community to push back against big developers is by banding together.

– Adam Rice

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