Let’s start off with the numbers. There is, according to an estimate by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a “a nationwide shortage of 7.1 million rental homes that are affordable and available to extremely low income households.”
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federally chartered mortgage underwriting companies that now sit in government receivership, has failed to make its statutory contributions to a national trust fund. That $380-plus million failure is now the subject of litigation.
State-level trust funds also are experiencing significant shortfalls. In New Jersey, it is estimated that more than 110,000 affordable housing units need to be built just to meet current needs. In Minnesota, all but three counties report that there are more low-income families seeking affordable housing than there are affordable rental units. And advocates for the poor in states as diverse as Nevada, Arizona, Indiana and Ohio also report shortage.
The NLIHC is pushing for Congress to fully fund the National Housing Trust Fund to “address the shortage by providing states with funding to expand the supply of affordable rental homes.” And the coalition United for Homes is proposing a method it says will generate almost $200 billion in revenue over 10 years – a modified plan to tax mortgage interest that would turn the existing program into a tax credit and cap eligibility for the deduction at half a million dollars.
The proposal, they say, would expand eligibility to 16 million additional homeowners, nearly all of whom would be earning less than $100,000 a year. Essentially, the shift to a tax credit would alter eligibility rules — to qualify for income-tax deductions (or deductions from reportable wages), total deductions usually have to pass a threshold that many low-income people cannot meet. A tax credit would be assessed on the total tax bill and, therefore, result in real savings for low-income homeowners.
While the legislation offers aid to both homeowners and a way to fund more housing, it only nibbles at the edge of the real problem – corporate capitalism’s built-in inequities.
Capitalism – especially its corporate variety – is designed to generate profit and, not only does little else matter, but anything that gets in the way of that profit-making is deemed expendable or dangerous.
This is the real story behind the business community’s assault on environmental regulations, for instance. If corporations can generate profit by creating waste and then make the rest of us assume the cost of cleaning up that waste, they will do so.
Homelessness functions in the same way. The corporate state has deemed low-income workers, immigrants and those with mental disabilities or substance-abuse problems expendable. Low-income workers, for instance, help move production along – whether it is picking lettuce in the fields, assembling small parts, packing boxes or flipping burgers – but the work they do is not valued. They get paid less than subsistence wages and the impacts – their inability to afford health insurance, food, shelter – are then born by the larger society in the form of the safety net paid for disproportionately by the middle class.
It is, as the right points out, an unsustainable model and it is, at least in part, what fuels the anger of the Tea Party.
The problem, however, is not that we offer a generous safety net – we don’t. It’s that we have allowed corporate capitalism to run amok. Rather than holding big business to account for the damage it does to the larger environment – meaning the planet and its inhabitants – we offer incentives to the business community to continue its rampage.
Rather than using government as the extension of the populace – which is what it is supposed to be – we vilify it and neuter it; rather than using it as the counterweight to corporate power, we pretend that democratic government is the problem.
So, we fail to impose the kind of strict environmental and financial regulations needed, fail to require the corporations to pay workers a livable wage or to fund the kinds of mitigating measures that protect people from the vicissitudes of the market. Instead, we give big business money. We spend on the tools of empire, expanding our reach – if not our real influence. At home, trillions are spent propping up the banks, Big Oil and big Pharma, and billions more are wasted in tax breaks given to people whose only job is to move money from one account to another.
We can – and should – expand the safety net and put aside money for housing for the poor, but we also need to stop thinking about small-bore solutions. Corporate capitalism is the problem and larger systemic change is required.
Human beings should not be treated as commodities. We deserve a minimum of respect and a chance to more than just survive.
Hank Kalet is a poet and journalist in New Jersey. He writes for NJ Spotlight and teaches at Rutgers University and Middlesex County College. Email firstname.lastname@example.org; see www.kaletblog.com; Twitter @newspoet41. Facebook.com/hank.kalet.
From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2013
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