Suburbia

The Cruel Prank of Housing

The “American dream” of suburban home ownership is little more than a cruel prank pulled on the working class by capitalists. The obligation to pay for housing is the primary tool used by capital to enforce unnecessary labor.

While rent is preferable for capitalists in terms of maximizing profits, most vividly in the company towns of the 1880s, health and safety standards have cut into their profits. Rent presents another disadvantage for the capitalist in that the tenants have no obligation to stay. This has been somewhat addressed through lease terms and first and last month deposits, but even those will not stop a motivated tenant from leaving.

Mortgages resemble most closely the indentured servitude of colonial America. In exchange for the promise of one day becoming a capitalist landholder, tenants indenture themselves to 30 years (or more) of payments, which for most people means doing anything they can to hold onto a job. While the idea of making a fixed payment for housing every month for 30 years is bad enough, adjustable rate mortgages are even more pernicious; resets are designed to weed out unprofitable “owners” and return housing inventory to the banks, who can then sell the same piece of capital again for pure profit.

Let us, then, further examine the pros and cons of rentals and “ownership.”

The owners of rental units are called “landlords” because, like the feudal lords of medieval Europe, they hold near-absolute control over their small domain. No tenant may improve or alter their residence without the express permission of the owner. Painting a unit is considered taboo, yet landlords will often charge tenants exorbitant prices to repaint a unit after they vacate it. The same goes for flooring, appliances, and anything else that wears out with use. This lack of freedom, and the promised freedom of the “American dream,” creates pressure on tenants to “work harder,” save up, and “buy” their own housing.

But the American Dream is an illusion, like the sweet scent of a Venus flytrap. The “freedom” of “ownership” granted is little more than a way for the real owners of the land (the capitalist financiers) to pass off the cost of maintenance and improvements to the mortgagee. In the rare situations that a mortgagee actually manages to pay off their loan, for instance after a lifetime working at an auto factory in Detroit, they remain liable for paying the state property taxes based on the perceived “value” of the land in perpetuity. They also remain liable for paying for basic necessities such as drinking water, regardless of quality of service, as seen in Flint, MI. This places further pressure on the working class to push for higher wages and/or retirement benefits in anticipation, as well as forcing retirees to either re-enter the working class, or become landlords themselves by either renting out rooms or their entire house.

The alternative to this two-pronged capitalist system is communal housing. Communal housing operates under the fundamental understanding that land, which predated our brief existence, and will continue to exist long after we pass on, simultaneously belongs to no-one and yet everyone. Once we understand that land is a resource that we all must share and protect for future generations, concepts of exclusive ownership reveal themselves as exploitative and evil.

The danger of this realization for capitalists cannot be understated. If the hoodwinked working classes, or in Marxist parlance the petit-bourgeoisie, recognize the fundamental contradictions of capitalism and feel empowered to take up revolutionary action, the capitalists will undoubtedly lose. Thus they engage in a broad war of propaganda against any and all criticism of capitalism. They deliberately conflate underground communities – existing in capitalist-owned spaces like the “Ghost Ship” warehouse – with true communal housing to discredit the concept. Likewise, anarchist squatter communes are painted as health and safety hazards in an attempt to make people think that is the only outcome of communal living.

Capitalist landlords in areas like Oakland are looking for only one thing, which is profit. When a housing market like the Bay Area becomes obscenely imbalanced, it creates an incentive to add unsafe living spaces in an attempt to maximize rents. The Ghost Ship was not a self-organized collective: it was a profit-seeking scheme driven by a capitalist.

On the other side, squatters have little reason to care about the buildings they inhabit, as they are explicitly owned by capitalists. Operating under the fear that the police will kick them out at any time, they will do whatever they can to minimize the risk of detection. What good is having running water or electricity if it alerts the bourgeoisie State to your “illicit” existence?

Only by abolishing private ownership can we create true communities:

where shelter is guaranteed to all;

where all have the freedom to express themselves in their personal space;

and where we act for the common good rather than in the interest of profit.

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