Building a better system: ALAB

Last post, I asserted that in addition to police abolition and prison abolition, we should pursue several other goals in order to create a system that works for everyone. The first of those goals is Abolish Homelessness.

I will admit that as a progressive white lady from a suburban middle-class background, I was at first much more amenable to the principle of All Landlords Are Bad than to All Cops Are Bad. The difference is that I could already much more easily picture a system without landlords.

Go back to a few months ago when states were first setting lockdowns for the COVID-19 situation, and the emergency orders included “no you cannot evict your tenants for failing to pay their rent with the pandemic putting them out of work.” Which is pragmatic as well as compassionate for pandemic response; in the interests of not having so many people catching and spreading the Official Pestilence of 2020, it helps not to have them living on the streets.

And anyway, some of the landlording class didn’t like that. I remember some asshat’s Tweet got a lot of circulation because he was so indignant about the eviction moratorium impinging on his “right” to “make a living” from charging rent on his properties.

And that’s the part where I said: “Well, golly gosh, comrade, have you ever considered working?”

There are plenty of laws on the books concerning the way landlords treat their tenants. The laws vary from state to state and their enforcement is also variable. No matter how comprehensive the laws are and no matter how consistently they’re enforced, they’re ultimately a band-aid on the bigger injury, which is rich fucks buying up real estate they don’t need and charging as much as they can get away with for other people to live on their properties.

When I say “have you ever considered working?” I am dead serious that they’re not getting paid for work. Landlords do not “provide housing.” They control the supply of housing and profit handsomely from the general desire not to be homeless. Owning real estate you don’t need for your residence is not work. Maintaining property is work. Some landlords do a better job than others of maintaining their properties, and they expect to collect rent either way. I have sympathy for house-flippers who take properties that are structurally unsound and rebuild them into quality housing. That’s not how most landlords make their money.

Housing is among the most basic human necessities and landlords make that necessity into a profit generator. As long as there are homeless people and people-less homes, I do not recognize anyone’s inherent moral right to profit from their real-estate investments.

Landlords don’t just contribute to homelessness by evicting people in financial difficulties. (Or domestic violence victims. Or the current tenants pay their rent on time and behave like angels but there’s somebody else who’ll pay more for the same unit!) Landlords depend on homelessness to keep the rest of us paying through the nose to have any housing at all. We have to work our asses off and spend an exorbitant percentage of our take-home pay just to keep our housing, and we’re supposed to be okay with that because we see what happens to people who can’t meet those terms.

Any policy that will substantially and sustainably reduce homelessness is likely to piss off the landlording class. I say, let ’em be pissed off. No one should be priced out of housing.