Housing Is a Human Right

As increasing numbers of people take to the streets to protest Wall Street greed, late-stage capitalism continues to devour everything in its path—including whatever affordable housing may be left in New York City and elsewhere.

Landlord greed is nothing new; it probably dates back to the very first person to stake a property claim on someone else’s home. But as New York City moved from production of real goods and services to increasing reliance on the “FIRE” economy—finance, insurance, and real estate—city and state government, with votes purchased with our rent money, have enabled massive fraud and rent gouging. Predatory-equity companies have purchased buildings for amounts far higher than they were worth and then established wholesale displacement of rent-regulated tenants as a business model. As the supply of affordable housing shrinks, renters find themselves in the same position as defrauded mortgage holders: priced out of their homes.

Like health care and education, housing is a necessity, not a commodity. Treating housing like a commodity has been central to creating and maintaining wealth disparities since precapitalist times. That is perhaps why so many people are resigned to landlord greed, as if it were a force of nature. Many New York City tenants are paying over half their incomes in rent, placing them in much the same situation as medieval serfs—except that medieval serfs were usually tied to the land, while New York City tenants are evicted at an alarming rate.

Our history has shown us that this need not be so: Strong tenant protections made it possible for New York City to house a wide variety of diverse communities, until landlord-driven “reforms” of rent-regulation laws turned housing once again into fodder for late-stage capitalism’s insatiable maw.

As we join in the struggle against the financial sector’s toxic hold on our lives, we must make it clear that decent, affordable housing for all is a human right—and a demand that must be met!