2017-06-02 (Updated June 12)
By Richard Marcantonio, Public Advocates Inc., for CarsonWatch
If you’ve followed CarsonWatch over the past few weeks, you’ve noticed a few related themes:
- Housing is a human right, not an investment commodity.
- The biggest culprits in the “financialization” of housing and profiteering from the housing and displacement crisis are Trump’s real estate cronies.
- And the devastating HUD budget cuts Trump wants to impose will worsen the crisis for the many while increasing the profits of the few.
Here’s a quick summary of how we’re connecting up those themes.
Housing as a Human Right: It’s not just communities fighting to survive in the housing crisis who are calling for recognition of housing as a basic right. The United Nations Special Rapporteur Report on financialization and housing concluded: “rather than treating housing as a commodity valued primarily as an asset for the accumulation of wealth [governments must] reclaim housing as a social good, and thus ensure the human right to a place to live in security and dignity.”
Yet all around us, we are seeing the commodification of housing as an investment asset. Who’s to blame?
The UN Report doesn’t mince words: “Corporate finance … profits from housing crises.”
No kidding. In the last week alone, important revelations have come to light that unveil the role of close associates of President Trump. Jared Kushner and other Trump allies are profiting off the rental housing crisis at the expense of literally hundreds of thousands of their own renters. Here’s a recap, plus some new developments:
Jared Kushner: This week, we brought you our analysis of the Sunday New York Times magazine’s investigation that uncovered Kushner’s purchased of 20,000 apartments in 34 complexes in Baltimore, Toledo and Pittsburgh (and in New York and New Jersey – a complete listing is here so you can take action on any near you). Kushner’s company viciously attacks lower-income renters and Section 8 tenants, while failing to maintain decent, safe and sanitary conditions.
At the other end of the housing market, we’ve also reported on Kushner’s luxury condo developments in Jersey City, and the successes of local residents organizing as Evict Trump-Kushner in denying Kushner another tax abatement for those developments.
The Washington Post broke the Jersey City story open wider with its investigative report about Kushner’s past and ongoing abuse of a federal program “designed to benefit projects in poor, job-starved areas.” It turns out that he profits to the tune of millions of dollars by drawing gerrymandered maps that connect his gentrifying condo towers to “blighted neighborhoods miles to the south while excluding adjoining neighborhoods that have lower unemployment rates.” Evict Trump-Kushner leader Arlene Stein summed it up: It’s “clear” Trump and Kushner have made themselves rich “stealing from the poor.”
Thomas Barrack: The billionaire who helped raise $35 million for President Trump’s campaign and chaired his inaugural committee, is co-chair of Colony Starwood Homes, which has bought up 30,000 foreclosed homes in 10 states (map here). As a corporate landlord renting those homes, Barrack’s company has capitalized on evictions and preying on poor people of color. We brought you public radio coverage of Barrack’s financial predations against — and disregard for the health of — one Oakland tenant, a member of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, who fought back. ACCE, a leader of Housing Now!, has launched a petition calling on Barrack’s Colony to stop the rent increases.
A new report just published in The Nation focuses on Barrack’s holdings in the Atlanta region:
“In the heart of Colony’s largest market, however—Fulton County, Georgia—the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta found corporate landlords were much more likely to file eviction notices than mom-and-pop landlords. And Colony was the most aggressive of these corporate landlords, the report’s data show; in 2015, Colony moved to evict one-third of its tenants.”
The article adds: “the Fed’s analysis in fact found one factor that seemed to predict whether a tenant would get an eviction notice: ‘the concentration of blacks in the neighborhood.'”
Geoffrey Palmer, “whose company owns 10,000 units of housing, was identified as the country’s largest individual Trump donor, giving $2 million to the Rebuilding America Now super PAC. Palmer … was relatively unknown in political circles, and had become involved in the Trump campaign through his friend, Thomas Barrack, a Santa Monica real estate investor.” Read more about “Trump’s California Henchmen” here. The story provides evidence that “The core of Trump’s business support in California comes from real estate developers,” and includes examples of several other Trump donors who profit from turning homes into investment capital.
How does this connect up to Trump’s proposed HUD budget cuts?
Trump’s budget proposes to cut $77.2 billion in housing programs over 10 years.
As Prof. Jason Hackworth notes in The Neoliberal City: Governance, Ideology, and Development in American Urbanism (Cornell 2006), “Because of the reduction of national interventions in housing, local infrastructure, welfare, and the like, localities are forced either to finance such areas themselves or to abandon them entirely.” That has forced cities to chase private capital, and to cater to wealthy residents who will contribute to the local tax base.
This federal-local dynamic is part of what is driving energy all around the country to oppose the cuts, and call for full funding of HUD. As one Op-Ed writer noted in refuting Carson’s statement that “poverty is a state of mind,” “Bad policy, like Trump’s budget, not only hurts the poor but inequitably gifts the rich.”
Keep your eyes on CarsonWatch for updates on how you can engage with your neighbors and community organizing groups to take action in July.