Economic inequality in the United States has been receiving a lot of attention. But it’s not merely an issue of the rich getting richer. The typical American household has been getting poorer, too. The inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003. Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline, according to a study financed by the Russell Sage Foundation. Those are the figures for a household at the median point in the wealth distribution — the level at which there are an equal number of households whose worth is higher and lower. But during the same period, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially. The Russell Sage study also examined net worth at the 95th percentile. (For households at that level, 95 percent of the population had less wealth.) It found that for this well-do-do slice of the population, household net worth increased 14 percent over the same 10 years. Other research, by economists like Edward Wolff at New York University, has shown even greater gains in wealth for the richest 1 percent of households. For households at the median level of net worth, much of the damage has occurred since the start of the last recession in 2007. Until then, net worth had been rising for the typical household, although at a slower pace than for households in higher wealth brackets.
Many people have been moving into smaller homes for a host of reasons: it could be a conscious change toward a simpler lifestyle, it could be a way to avoid paying all the bills and taxes associated with a larger home, or for some younger people, tiny homes are a quick and affordable start for home ownership and an early lesson in independence. But choosing to live in a tiny home could also be done for selfless reasons, as this elderly woman did when she chose to give up her own house to her daughter and five kids, all of whom had recently become homeless. Instead of seeing her daughter go out onto the street, Monica Smith elected to move instead into a converted 8-foot by 10-foot shed in her backyard. Monica gradually transformed a tool shed into a two-storey tiny home. There is a kitchen, a sitting area and a bedroom tucked above the ground floor, accessible by a stepladder. Monica did much of the renovation work herself, keeping costs down.
How the recession turned owners into renters and obliterated black American wealth. In 2005, three years before the Great Recession, the median black household had a net worth of $12,124. Yes, this was far behind the median white household—which had a net worth of $134,992—but it was a huge improvement from previous decades, in which housing discrimination made wealth accumulation difficult (if not impossible) for the large majority of African-American families. By the official end of the recession in 2009, median household net worth for blacks had fallen to $5,677—a generation’s worth of hard work and progress wiped out. (The number for whites, by comparison, was $113,149.) Overall, from 2007 to 2010, wealth for blacks declined by an average of 31 percent, home equity by an average of 28 percent, and retirement savings by an average of 35 percent. By contrast, whites lost 11 percent in wealth, lost 24 percent in home equity, and gained 9 percent in retirement savings. According to a 2013 report by researchers at Brandeis University, “half the collective wealth of African-American families was stripped away during the Great Recession.” It was a startling retrenchment, creating the largest wealth, income, and employment gaps since the 1990s. And, if a new study from researchers at Cornell University and Rice University is any indication, these gaps are deep, persistent, and difficult to eradicate.
Several thousand people marched from Cobo Hall to Detroit’s Hart Plaza on July 18, decrying the destruction of democracy in Detroit. The rally, organized in part by theMoratorium Now! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs, took place after a week of actions against the disconnection of water service to households unable to pay their bills. People previously blockaded to keep Homrich, a private contractor employed by the city, from shutting off people’s water on July 10. Another blockade took place the day of the rally, lasting six hours before police arrested a pastor, a veteran journalist in her 70s, welfare rights organizers and others. . . . Acts of resistance and the creation of forward-looking alternatives are in their embryonic stages, and the various forms both take have implications for what democracy will mean in Detroit and elsewhere in the future. “So we have to restore democracy in order for us to be in a position where we can really control our own destiny,” she said.
It would be difficult to come with a more on-the-nose metaphor for New York City’s income inequality problem than the new high-rise apartment building coming to 40 Riverside Boulevard, which will feature separate doors for regular, wealthy humans and whatever you call the scum that rents affordable housing. The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development approved Extell’s Inclusionary Housing Program application for the 33-story tower this week, the New York Post reports. The status grants Extell the aforementioned tax breaks and the right to construct a larger building than would ordinarily be allowed. According to the Daily Mail, affordable housing tenants will enter through a door situated on a “back alley.”
Once upon a time, financing the purchase of a home with a mortgage loan, compared to today, was much simpler. After saving the customary 20% down payment, the borrower would meet with the local banker for a long-term, fixed-rate loan. Once income and character were investigated, qualified and then approved, the borrower signed a mortgage note, and gave a mortgage in exchange for a loan. A mortgage note is the personal promise to repay a loan. A mortgage (lien) collateralizes or secures the mortgage note. Foreclosure can force the sale of the collateral (home) to repay the debt. It was at the same local bank where the borrower made monthly loan payments for the life of the loan. If and when the borrower had a problem making a scheduled payment due to an unexpected expense or temporary hardship it wasn’t necessarily an earthshaking event.
The Occupy movement started on Wall Street and now its sibling, the grassroots movement to restore community wealth, has come to New York City. On Wednesday, a broad coalition of community activists joined with four allies on the New York City Council to draw attention to the epidemic of foreclosures and to call for immediate action to help rescue homeowners who are drowning in debt. At a press conference at City Hall, they released an eye-opening report, Thousands of Homeowners Still Drowning in Underwater Mortgages: How Toxic Loans Keep Fueling Foreclosures and the Need for Eminent Domain, designed to jump-start a campaign to address the problem. The report, sponsored by New York Communities for Change and the Mutual Housing Association of New York, reveals that tens of thousands of New York City homeowners are still at risk of foreclosure, because their mortgages are underwater and the banks aren’t providing any relief.
The Make It Right nonprofit founded by Brad Pitt is partnering with the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes of Fort Peck, Montana, to build sustainable homes, buildings and communities on their reservation. In addition to 20 LEED Platinum certified homes, the project will develop a sustainable master plan for the entire reservation, which covers thousands of acres and is home to more than 6,000 Native Americans. Make It Right was set up in 2007 to provide housing for people in need. All Make It Right projects are LEED Platinum certified, Cradle to Cradle inspired, and designed by renowned architects in collaboration with the community involved. For the current project, architects and designers from GRAFT, Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative, Architecture for Humanity, Method Homes, and Living Homes spent four days meeting with tribal members before developing their designs. Currently, more than 600 people are waiting for housing on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Overcrowding is a chronic problem, with multiple families commonly living together in two-bedroom homes due to lack of accommodation.
Only the steady flow of men, women and children through a rusted, grey door alert passersby that anyone lives inside the 22-story building. It’s covered in graffiti: a small house – bright yellow, with a brown door, window and roof – two women’s faces, and the number 911. With an abundance of unused buildings peppering the city, low-income residents of Sao Paulo occupy vacant structures, often with the help of local social and housing rights movements. This is one of them. “We occupy [buildings] to give a social function to the properties and give houses to people without houses,” said Maria Silva, one of the residents. In other cases, several families occupy large homes, and each family rents out a single room while sharing other facilities, like bathrooms and kitchens. These structures are known as corticos (boarding houses, or tenement buildings). Unlike the favelas, corticos consist of large, urban apartment-syle buildings shared by several families. In Sao Paulo, rapid urbanisation was linked to a shift from agriculture to more modern industries, and as labourers moved into makeshift communities to be closer to work. While most favelas are in the peripheries of Sao Paulo, many low-income families also moved into the city centre to be closer to basic services
As if their city’s failure to provide them with shelter weren’t bad enough, homeless people in London faced further acts of dehumanization recently when a property developer and supermarket erected spikes meant to deter them from sleeping there. A few weeks ago, spikes were assembled outside a grocery store called Tesco as well as in front of the entrance to luxury flats. “There was a homeless man asleep there about six weeks ago,” an anonymous resident told the Telegraph. “Then about two weeks ago all of a sudden studs were put up outside. I presume it is to deter homeless people from sleeping there.” In response to the inhumane construction, activists called the London Black Revolutionaries took to pouring concrete over the spikes outside of Tesco, leaving signs behind that read “Homes Not Spikes.”
As he, Sabo and other tenants organized similar committees in other hotels, they all began to develop a greater sense of themselves as a low-income community. That victory was one of several partial ones at the Frontier from about 2003 to 2008. Together, the tenants also succeeded in getting Los Angeles to pass a hotel preservation ordinance that requires no net loss of low-income housing, covering 17,000 to 18,000 units citywide. That includes about 8,000 downtown. The final ordinance gained approval in 2008. Diaz, who now works for LA CAN, points out that at the Alexandria all the rooms are covered by Section 8, the federal government’s low-income rent subsidy program, and rents start at $56 a month.
Housing is a human right, but affordable housing nationally, is in short supply. There is a gentrification, displacement, and affordability crisis across America. Cincinnati author Alice Skirtz has identified it as “ECONOCIDE”. In over 90 US cities median rent is unaffordable and people struggle to pay for other expenses like food, utilities, healthcare, and childcare. Rents have been consistently on the rise since 2000, while wages stagnate. The housing foreclosure crisis has evolved into a renters’ crisis- pushing thousands of low-income families into the rental market. n June 6th, Homes for All/ Right To The City Alliance- launches a national report called-“Can’t Afford, Can’t Wait: The Rise of the Renter Nation”. In Cincinnati a panel discussion at SOS ART 2014, is The Peoples Coalition for Equality and Justice’s contribution to the national campaign- HOMES FOR ALL. We will explore the crisis in Cincinnati from boots on the ground of homelessness and displacement to the new national study.
High property prices will wipe out the British middle class within the next 30 years, according to a UK government advisor. He says society will be left with a “tiny elite” and a “huge sprawling proletariat.” “The really scary thing is if in the next 30 years house prices rise as much as they have done in the last 30 years, then the average house in Britain will cost £1.2 million (US$2 million),” said David Boyle, a British author and a government advisor who is a fellow of the New Economics Foundation. According to Boyle, who spoke at the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts, most representatives from the traditional middle class won’t be able to afford a house because wages will fail to keep up with huge price increases. “We won’t own our own homes, we won’t be able to afford it,” he said. “We cheered the rise of property prices not realizing that it would destroy, if not our own lives, but the lives of our children.” He added that in order to pay rent, representatives from the traditional middle class will have to take on several jobs. As a result, they won’t have time for any hobbies, Boyle predicted.
Previous theories of social transformation could be constructed based on the American Far West movies, where the stagecoach came through the desert with those who stole, guarded, and transported the gold. The revolutionaries waited to raid the coach. Revolutions – the October Revolution, all of them – were based on that image of the assault on power. This is an anti-Zapatista image, which instead is of building power from the community, from below. This image requires a new vision. Our problem nowadays is how to build power and a new economy from below. There are many factors to take into account in doing this, but first and foremost: human beings. There had been some social movements in the city: traditional movements as well as the union movements and so-called “housewife” movements; cultural and youth clubs that worked on popular art, popular education and sports; the literary movement… During times of dictatorship, the youth movement and the teachers’ movement were those that had the most staying-power.
Alternatiba is mobilising tens of thousands of European citizens on alternatives to climate change, with an upcoming COP21, the international climate summit that will take place in Paris in December 2015. Following Alternatiba in Bayonne, uniting 12 000 people on October 6th 2013, dozens of alternative villages are springing up in Paris, Geneva, Brussels, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Rennes, Strasbourg, etc. Plans are in motion in Spain, South Basque Country, Austria, Romania… and even in Tahiti ! Alternatiba’s film is featured on our website www.alternatiba.eu and are now available in English, German, Spanish and French. The call to organise 10, 100, 1000 Alternatibas is now available in 23 European languages. Solutions to climate change exist. Even better : they’re building a nicer, friendlier, fairer, more human society.