Market homelessness

As I drive around the Pittsburgh area, there is a dissonance that I feel I should be able to do something about, but can’t.

I see more homeless people this year than last, perhaps because I’m more familiar with the area (I moved here less than two years ago), but also surely because more are homeless, due to severe economic conditions which our elite have refused to relieve,[1] largely due to neoliberal dogma.[2] Millions of people in the U.S. have lost their jobs. Millions have been pushed into poverty.[3] Millions are an average of over $5,000 behind on their rent.[4] And evictions—legal, not-so-legal, and outright prohibited but enabled anyway—have continued despite moratoriums against them and many, many more are expected.[5] Indeed, the apartment complex where I live is among the offenders.[6]

Fig. 1. Abandoned buildings in downtown Wilkinsburg, shot through the author’s windshield (hence the tint, especially at top), by author, December 31, 2020. Banners hung on street poles declare that Wilkinsburg is “good all over.”

I also see municipalities like Wilkinsburg (figure 1). Wilkinsburg has probably the highest concentration of blight, buildings left to decay, of any city, borough, or township in the Pittsburgh area that I’ve seen. Some parts, especially near Penn Hills and Churchill, seem to have escaped the economic catastrophe afflicting lower elevations. But like in much of the Pittsburgh area,[7] other areas are being gentrified, sometimes through a state law that enables richer people to take property from poorer people.[8]

Wilkinsburg is far from alone. There’s a townhouse complex in Clairton where entire buildings are condemned. In other buildings, people live in units immediately next door to condemned units. Something similar can be seen in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

In McKeesport, I can drive down entire blocks where it seems like every building has been abandoned. The downtown area is mostly vacant.

Capitalist libertarians and neoliberals, with most other conservatives in their thrall, insist that the market is the solution. People need homes. Homes, many now unfit for inhabitation, nonetheless remain vacant.

It is the market that says millions of people are now redundant, unnecessary. And it is the market that insists if they can’t afford housing, there can be no legal place for them to live, and it is thus the market that claims they have no right to life.[9] Even as buildings stand vacant. The market is not the answer.

At the same time, we spend incomprehensible amounts of money on endless wars, allegedly to defend the U.S. system, the system that leaves so many in such dire need, money that could relieve that need.

Even as I understand the malice of our elite,[10] and the dogma by which they rationalize that malice,[11] I cannot resolve this dissonance. I cannot defend this system.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Imagine a malicious elite,” Not Housebroken, December 30, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/12/18/imagine-a-malicious-elite/; David Benfell, “The mysterious expectation that elites give a damn,” Not Housebroken, December 30, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/08/01/the-mysterious-expectation-that-elites-give-a-damn/
  2. [2]David Benfell, “A piper needs paying,” Not Housebroken, December 30, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/12/19/a-piper-needs-paying/
  3. [3]Heather Long, “Nearly 8 million Americans have fallen into poverty since the summer,” Washington Post, December 16, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/12/16/poverty-rising/
  4. [4]Heather Long, “Millions of Americans are heading into the holidays unemployed and over $5,000 behind on rent,” Washington Post, December 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/12/07/unemployed-debt-rent-utilities/
  5. [5]Associated Press, “Tenants Behind on Rent in Pandemic Face Harassment, Eviction,” U.S. News and World Report, June 14, 2020, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/virginia/articles/2020-06-13/tenants-behind-on-rent-in-pandemic-face-harassment-eviction; Regina Garcia Cano and Michael Casey, “Wave of evictions expected as moratoriums end in many states,” Associated Press, August 4, 2020, copy in possession of author; Kriston Capps, “What Happens When the Eviction Bans End?” CityLab, May 29, 2020, https://www.citylab.com/equity/2020/05/pay-rent-eviction-ban-coronavirus-housing-crisis-landlord/612277/; Kriston Capps, “Landlords Challenge U.S. Eviction Ban and Continue to Oust Renters,” CityLab, October 22, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-22/landlords-launch-legal-attack-on-cdc-eviction-ban; Michelle Conlin and Christopher Walljasper, “Time’s up: After a reprieve, a wave of evictions expected across U.S.,” Reuters, October 19, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-housing-eviction-insight/times-up-after-a-reprieve-a-wave-of-evictions-expected-across-u-s-idUKKBN27415U; John Fritze and Nicholas Wu, “Trump administration announces nationwide eviction moratorium through end of the year,” USA Today, September 1, 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/09/01/trump-imposes-eviction-moratorium-because-covid-19-pandemic/5686402002/; Sam Levin, “California landlords are locking out struggling tenants. A ‘tsunami of evictions’ may be next,” Guardian, July 30, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/30/california-covid-19-evictions-landlords-tenants; Eric Levitz, “This Recession Is a Bigger Housing Crisis Than 2008,” New York, July 13, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/07/coronavirus-recession-evictions-crisis-congress.html; Renae Merle, “Evictions are likely to skyrocket this summer as jobs remain scarce. Black renters will be hard hit,” Washington Post, July 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/07/06/eviction-moratoriums-starwood/; Gretchen Morgenson, “Large corporate landlords have filed 10,000 eviction actions in five states since September,” NBC News, October 26, 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/business/personal-finance/large-corporate-landlords-have-filed-10-000-eviction-actions-five-n1244711; Will Parker, “Struggling Rental Market Could Usher in Next American Housing Crisis,” Wall Street Journal, October 27, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/struggling-rental-market-could-usher-in-next-american-housing-crisis-11603791000; Jenny Schuetz, “America’s inequitable housing system is completely unprepared for coronavirus,” Brookings, March 12, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/03/12/americas-inequitable-housing-system-is-completely-unprepared-for-coronavirus/; Kyle Swenson, “Renters thought a CDC order protected them from eviction. Then landlords found loopholes,” Washington Post, October 27, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2020/10/27/trump-cdc-eviction-moratorium-loopholes/
  6. [6]Ryan Deto, “Pittsburgh-area apartment complex The Alden South Hills seeking large-scale evictions,” Pittsburgh City Paper, October 21, 2020, https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/pittsburgh-area-apartment-complex-the-alden-south-hills-seeking-large-scale-evictions/Content?oid=18223682
  7. [7]Ryan Deto, “Pittsburgh is one of the most gentrified cities in the U.S.,” Pittsburgh City Paper, April 4, 2019, https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/pittsburgh-is-one-of-the-most-gentrified-cities-in-the-us/Content?oid=14381722; Ryan Deto, “The displacement of Anthony Hardison from his Lawrenceville apartment is a microcosm of a neighborhood epidemic,” Pittsburgh City Paper, January 15, 2020, https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/the-displacement-of-anthony-hardison-from-his-lawrenceville-apartment-is-a-microcosm-of-a-neighborhood-epidemic/Content?oid=16556108
  8. [8]Rich Lord, “House hunters: How an anti-blight law has become a tool for ambitious landlords in Allegheny County,” Public Source, November 24, 2020, https://www.publicsource.org/conservatorship-allegheny-county-wilkinsburg-east-liberty-garfield-taiani-chaney-cp-development/
  9. [9]David Benfell, “Not even a euphemism: ‘Houseless,’” Not Housebroken, October 27, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/10/18/not-even-a-euphemism-houseless/
  10. [10]David Benfell, “Imagine a malicious elite,” Not Housebroken, December 30, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/12/18/imagine-a-malicious-elite/; David Benfell, “The mysterious expectation that elites give a damn,” Not Housebroken, December 30, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/08/01/the-mysterious-expectation-that-elites-give-a-damn/
  11. [11]David Benfell, “A piper needs paying,” Not Housebroken, December 30, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/12/19/a-piper-needs-paying/