Affordable Housing Is A Problem Of Hypocrisy
As is true with much of life, income and wealth inequality — not some dreamy thought of everyone being absolutely equal, but a reasonable expectation that groups shouldn’t bear up under pressure so others can have an advantage —is an issue of hypocrisy.
Millions of middle-class people will go march, put signs up on their lawns, and bravely post on social media about various things, like baristas at Starbucks
How much more a year should baristas make? $15,000? That would be $3,720,000,000, leaving the company in the red and nothing left for the shareholders, including all the employee pension funds that likely own shares and depend on income to help pay benefits to the retirees to whom they have fiduciary obligations.
The point isn’t that Starbucks workers, or anyone, should make a pittance. They feel they deserve more, and given inflation and even the cost of living before it, why shouldn’t someone have a job that lets them pay for what they need? But there’s a balance. What would make it possible? Either a lot less going to the employees, a lot less going to those shareholders like the pension funds, institutions, and individuals — or a lot more coming from consumers via the costs of what they purchase at a local Starbucks.
It’s not often that the average person says, “Go ahead, charge me a lot more, I understand,” and actually means it. Look at the complaints about the burdens of inflation and rising costs, when one of the factors (not the biggest contributor, by the way) is rising wages. Look at how quickly people will shop for slightly cheaper gas even though lower prices tend to increase pressure on the individual station owners who have to pay their employees. (The irony is that for the typical car, an extra 10 cents a gallon probably means an additional $1.00 to $1.20 for a fill-up.)
That brings the topic to a recent report from the NHP Foundation, a non-profit focused on preserving affordable housing. The title: Battling Hypocrisy to Build Popular Support for Affordable Housing, a report on two surveys. One was of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) providing services in the housing space and the second of the general population.
Of that general populace sample, 89% said that they unconditionally believed housing to be a human right. But then, 40% turned out to have reservations about that statement and almost half of that portion was concerned that treating housing as a human right “may cost me money” or “take resources from me, my business or my family.” And many weren’t convinced that homelessness becomes a business problem with a broad economic impact. (As someone who has studied and done market research, I’ll separately point out that some portion of the more positive answers might well have been feel-good responses that people give to have others think better of them, even though their true feelings could differ greatly.)
Next, according to the professionals in the NGOs, “Places that are predominantly liberal or progressive do not necessarily have more YIMBYs (Yes In My Backyard) rather, people may support the idea of building affordable housing (and are often comfortable raising taxes to do so), as long as the housing is not located in their own neighborhoods.” And only 44% of Americans reported that they felt “comfortable” with the idea of affordable housing coming to their community.
Too often, our views of problems and reactions to them — like the Biden administration’s Renters Bill of Rights — are not focused on others but ourselves. They are performative and not an attempt to solve a problem regardless of personal discomfort.
Because the people who worried that a right to housing would cost them money or redirect resources from them and their were absolutely correct. It would. There would have to be investment in building. People would need to not just allow but welcome affordable housing into their communities. Those without housing then need jobs that pay enough so they can afford a place to live, which means having prices rise on consumer goods to cover the additional pay and benefits necessary. Because demanding lower profits for corporations isn’t going to be enough. Think of the millions who depend on small businesses for their pay. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, more than 46% of workers are employees of small businesses. Those companies aren’t the ones raking in billions a year in profits.
It’s easy and comforting to point at the “evil” corporations, investors, and landlords. Looking into the mirror isn’t anywhere as pleasant, although it ultimately is accurate.
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