Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made history as the youngest member of Congress ever elected, and there were so many amazing stories about her campaign. One story was about the shoes that she wore through while canvassing for her election, finding out issues and declaring her socialist ideals to challenge the dominant narrative. Another story was about her utter surprise that she made it through the primaries because being from the Bronx borough of New York City, she knows about socioeconomic expectations. Her most recent story, however, is about how, even though she made it through primaries and elections, surmounted almost impossible odds and made history, she might have extreme difficulty moving to Washington, D.C. because she cannot find affordable housing.
Most renters understand that we have to have money for an application fee, a deposit, and–more frequently–first month’s rent to acquire an apartment. Many of the younger population smirk derisively at the notion of buying property to get out of “throwing money away on rent” because too much market manipulation has made homeownership impossible for all but the very wealthy. Some idealists recommend living in the country, but the national constituency is well aware that there are great social costs associated with living far away from where decisions are made. All of these issues have combined to make a legitimate debate about how those in the every-growing working classes are supposed to function without substantial shifts in housing policy.
Throughout the debate on affordable housing, many people have come up with multiple methods of addressing the problem. Homelessness is increasing due to cost of living, and many politicians on the federal level have suggested vouchers as one method. On the local levels, however, the government is considered accountable to the people, and many cities are beginning to develop ordinances that punish those who take advantage of the affordable prices for personal profit. While renting homes has long been thought of as another method for increasing income, community groups and researchers are finally recognizing the hidden liability in an unbridled market that only works for those with extensive resources.
The first and last approach to fixing the housing problem is understanding that if homelessness is considered a crime–and it is in many areas–then local governments are responsible for providing housing. Homelessness is not an issue in a vacuum; it exists as a response to society’s behavior. If rents and property taxes have increased due to tax incentives to major corporations, then local governments have the responsibility to reign in those programs and/or cancel them altogether. Putting people in homes must again become the priority, along with granting more agency to those without the income to purchase. Decision makers cannot simply kowtow to the private market when there are direct consequences to one’s inability to participate.
If people are disinterested in streamlining the voucher process, then rent control needs to be reinstated and strictly implemented. While some people may complain about interference with private property, it is time to recognize that too many people are making choices based on avarice and the notion of an “inalienable right to profit.” Students graduating from college are heavily in debt, and many high school graduates who chose not to attend college are still encouraged to “leave the nest.” These populations cannot simply be told that landlords have the right to charge “what the market will bear” when most landlords have failed to consider the income of the local markets.
Finally, there need to be consequences for people who buy up affordable property, raise the rental rates, and have no intention of living in the property. Communities need less turnover and more neighborhood stability to thrive against marginalization, and investors deprive distressed communities of that agency just by throwing around their money. There needs to be a consequence for investors who distort the local markets just to ensure hefty profits when cities already have high homeless populations. Local governments need to do more to grant agency to residents instead of people who can afford to outspend residents.