Mirisch: If Housing is a Human Right… (Part 2)

This is the second part of a significant article on the housing crisis—caused by government policy.  You can read Part 1 here.

Affordable housing projects creates slums and forces the middle class out of the neighborhood and community.  Sacramento by trying to control zoning, permits and the end of single family homes is working to make California, Los Angle or Chico, into another Manhattan.  Please forward this article, including part 1, to those in your community, such as city council members.  Give them the information to stand up to the radical bullies who want to harm our communities.

If Housing is a Human Right… (Part 2)

By John Mirisch, Exclusive to the California Political News and Views,  2/25/21

See part 1 here. 

In Part 1 (link) I discussed the background of the state’s housing affordability challenges, fact and fiction, along with two suggestions for anti-speculation housing policies aimed at creating affordability and equity (limiting foreign and corporate ownership of housing and vacancy taxes).  Here are additional policy suggestions:

3)    Anti-flipping provisions.

If housing is a human right, then the main purpose of housing for people to live in.  While people may build up equity and even intergenerational wealth as a byproduct of fulfilling housing’s main utility – i.e. living in it – using housing primarily as an investment vehicle or as a means to profiteer is entirely another matter altogether, despite Professor Lens’s failing to acknowledge the difference.

Hot real estate markets often seem to encourage a kind of land-rush mentality, which give rise to a form of FOMOOP – fear of missing out on profits.  Yet purchasing a house, slapping on a coat of paint, making minimal upgrades, and looking for a triple-digit ROI can only contribute to a market which quickly spirals out of control and precludes more real people from having the ability to become homeowners.

In short, the practice of flipping homes, often the real estate version of a get-rich-quick scheme, simply fuels speculation and contributes significantly to increased housing costs. 

Placing limitations on flipping homes could take various forms, including progressive taxes. A sliding scale, for example, could be created which would reduce the levels of taxes due in accordance with the length of time an individual used the home as her primary residence.  Limited exceptions or exemptions could be made to consider real-world situations, like family emergencies, etc.

Anti-flipping provisions and taxes would encourage housing stability; aside from the beneficial role of stability in the creation of sustainability (the word – and concept – “stability” is literally embedded within “sustainability”), housing stability also furthers the public good of creating a higher level of citizen participation in community and public affairs.

If housing is a human right, then homes are for living in, not for flipping.

4)    Anti-hoarding measures.  Antitrust measures.

Within many societies, especially those that have pretentions to social equity or egalitarianism, the hoarding of scarce and precious resources is considered to be morally wrong.

At the same time, as a society, we tend to look upon competition as a public good.  Fair competition within the marketplace offers us choices, another public good (not to mention lower prices and, often, better value-for-money).  Competition within the marketplace of ideas offers us the ability to create dialogue and dialectic among varying conceptions of the good life.

If housing is a scarce resource and overcrowding is a result of there not being enough of it to go around, then   there should be limitations to preclude hoarding, there should be limitations on how many homes a person – or, perhaps even more importantly, a corporation — may own.  As with the suggested flipping provisions, this could also be regulated through the taxing of non-primary residence properties (in some cases the vacancy taxes would apply).

The goal is to avoid the total corporatization of housing, something which is only being accelerated with WIMBY policies touting “the magic of the Market.”  Thresholds could be established to differentiate between corporate and mom-and-pop landlords, who would themselves be subject to regulations designed to protect tenants and promote resident stability such as rent stabilization policies. 

Turning us into a nation of renters beholden to corporate interests and Wall St. means that financial values are necessarily placed before human values and market goods are prioritized over public goods when it comes to something which supposedly is a human right: housing.

Consequently, stronger and stricter antitrust laws should be developed and enforced in order to prevent the further corporatization of housing, as well as to end existing corporate ownership.  Corporations should be forced to divest their housing holdings, as housing trusts, co-ops and nonprofits should be put in positions (including being created within local communities, if necessary) to help assume the role currently held in many places by corporations.  Instead of a corporate takeover of housing, we would be looking at a community-based approach to housing, both in the creation and stabilization of a diverse variety of unique, inclusive, urban humanistic communities.

If housing is a human right, then we should remember that, despite SCOTUS’s warped and dehumanizing interpretation, corporations are not people.

5)    “Homes for homeowners.”

If housing is a human right, then housing should be owned and operated by humans and good housing policy would aim to allow more people to own their own homes.  Under the concept of housing as a human right, homeownership has numerous possible advantages over renting.  As an invested stakeholder with a sense of ownership, one might tend to feel closer ties to one’s own community and have a greater impetus to develop the civic virtues important in creating Community. 

State Senator Nancy Skinner authored SB1079 last year, which she called the “homes for homeowners” bill, and which the governor signed into law: The new law gives owner-occupants, tenants, local governments, and housing nonprofits a level playing field to purchase such homes, helping retain owner-occupied home ownership. SB 1079 also authorizes higher fines that a local government can levy on corporations or other property owners who leave homes vacant or blighted, in order to incentivize refurbishing and renting or selling such homes.

While this bill is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t go far enough, as the existing system itself doesn’t allow owner-occupants, tenants, local governments and housing nonprofits to compete on a level playing field with Wall St., major corporations and global capital.  The suggested measures that are the subject of this piece are, of course, designed to address the inherent structural problems and the impossibility of a “level playing field” that the commodification of housing itself creates.

Homes for homeowners should also be real estate for real people.

Programs should be set up and funded which empower and enable people to become homeowners, particularly first-time homeowners.  Programs should be broadly designed and should include aid to help deal with many of the various aspects of homeownership.  A recent bipartisan (sic) proposal in the Senate, which would provide tax credits to revitalize distressed homes and neighborhoods, may be a step in the right direction. 

Any tax credit program needs to be designed with the express understanding that the “objectives of private enterprise” almost never include equity, inclusion or community; their objectives always involve the maximization of profits.  Policies need to create more homes for homeowners, but they also need to ensure that there are broad housing/lifestyle choices for community members.  

Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves the following question: do we want to be a society of renters and ultra-wealthy landlords, corporate or otherwise?  If housing is a human right, shouldn’t the focus be on ensuring that homes are owned by humans?

We need policies that strengthen neighborhoods, create sustainable communities, and avoid devolving into neo-feudalism.

Unfortunately, most of the recent housing bills from Sacramento, both those that have been enacted and those that have been proposed, are real estate bills rather than housing bills.  They will do little to make housing more affordable, but will serve the Urban Growth Machine’s goals at a time when growth levels in California are at historic lows.

People in California are voting with their feet and cars. The exodus of corporations and people is not necessarily a bad thing from a human goods perspective.  In some ways, it represents a course-correction from the impacts of having overconcentrated opportunity in a few “winner” megacities, something that has occurred to the detriment of other areas.

Instead of doubling down on policies which both ignore and deny real people’s choices of housing and lifestyle, Sacramento should be placing a greater focus on  choice, affordability and sustainability, while strengthening communities, employing the kinds of anti-speculation policies outlined above. Of course, strong pro-housing policy could include a number of other measures: expanded subsidies for affordable housing; expanding broadband access throughout the state to increase opportunities in less expensive areas; meaningful rent stabilization policies; and using public banks to work in tandem with housing trusts and land banks to create community-based affordable housing. 

These are approaches that can help address  the underlying social and moral ills of racism and income inequality, two of the major root causes of housing and spatial inequality. In contrast, policies advocated by WIMBY-supply siders would make things worse by attacking local democracy and fueling ever more speculation.

Instead of scapegoating cities in an attempt to justify state preemption, Sacramento should acknowledge that homes with gardens are not inherently “immoral,” “racist,” or “evil.” Living in a single-family neighborhood is a lifestyle choice, one of many that people make and one of many we should allow Americans of all stripes, colors and dancing skills to make.

If housing is a human right, then let us do what is right for human beings rather than for corporations and speculators.

If housing is a human right, then let us reject WIMBYism and, remembering that the word “by” means “town” or “village” in Swedish, instead focus on being CIMBY’s, those whose goal is to create “Community In My Back-Yard.” If housing is a human right, then let us also recognize that, beyond housing, we need to create homes for people and we need to understand just how sacred the concept of “home” is. 

John Mirisch has served on the Beverly Hills City Council since 2009, including three terms as mayor.  He is currently a garden-variety councilmember.

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.

Comments

  1. “FOMOOP – fear of missing out on profits.” What a great term. I am watching an incredibly prejudiced, 100% Democrat controlled council in Santa Barbara. What is disheartening, is to watch former rational bankers, developer, and business owners crumble to the desire to build 4 story or higher apartments / condos in the heart of Old Town, an shutting down streets.

    I used to believe that the a mentioned above “movers and shakers” would stand up to Sacramento and local “weiners”…… When the Chamber of Commerce bends the knee for density stupidity, and the one last daily paper runs from the controversy things are bad. There are plenty of people who have had it. They are moving because the media refuses to report what this two part article proves.

    “Sacramento should acknowledge that homes with gardens are not inherently “immoral,” “racist,” or “evil.”…

    The Radical Democrat Party does not care and that is who running the State on down. The greedy with their hands out begging subsidies, and property / business owners who refuse to subsidize rational governance might as well put a pistol to the head of this state.

  2. Grandmasays says

    Invitation Homes Inc. is the largest owner of single-family rental homes in the United States, owning approximately 80,000 homes.

    There are many other corporations that are bidding against our people for single-family homes.

    Housing for individuals should be a right

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