American inequality is chronic. But just ranting about it will not create a fair balance between profit and common good. Today’s landlord-tenant system leaves the landlord with the money and the renter penniless. Here are the systemic changes we must make to guarantee good homes in good communities for all.
The End Rental To Birth The American Promise
It is way past time for all people of society to be treated just, fair and equal. We need good housing for people of all ages in safe communities. In America, over half of young people and minorities do not own their homes. Only 36 percent of those who do own their own home have no mortgage.[%] In a nation of so much wealth, this is appalling.
Humans have put themselves above the plants and animals. Similarly, the Landlord puts themself above other humans. The landlord feels entitled by ownership to demand money and one-sided leases in return for generally minimal services and insecurity.
Modern rental housing is like the classic plantation; everything is managed by those in charge to benefit the owners. Workers are forced to buy their necessities at the company store. Since the entire town and plantation is owned by the corporation or the wealthy, there’s no affordable ownership of land or housing: everyone is a serf; beholden to the owners. Since costs are artificially high at the company store, due to the lack of competition, the serfs have to go into debt to survive: they become debt or credit card serfs. The core ability of accumulating capital in our economy is in the hands of the state-corporate elites.
How We Distribute Land Is The Problem
Guaranteeing housing for all used to be easy. Everyone used to own their own home until civilization invented private property and locked up the land. Then things like this started to happen: Irish landowners found it more profitable to keep sheep on their land than peasants. Peasants whose culture had been destroyed by wealthy landowners and famine, emigrated to America and stole the land of Native Americans; which destroyed their culture.
In a way, a new class of property or common good ownership has to be created for all to be guaranteed a home. As long as there is only private property there will be inequity. Privatization is an expensive pay-to-play system that most cannot afford. Inheritance ensures generational wealth concentration.
A Good Home For All is About Society’s Values
As I write this, cities across the U.S. smolder from a night of chaos, destruction and sporadic violence over the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The tinder for this unrest is the disenfranchisement of minorities and youth in America lit by the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. I can hear the shouts from the Black Lives Matter march in my city of Ashland, Oregon now.
There are no riots in Cuba because Cuba is the revolution.
Cuba has probably done the best job in recent times balancing common good, sustainability, local organic food, great health care and the environment. It is interesting that counties with no standing army seem to be the most in balance.[*] Insecure elites feel they need standing armies to ensure access to resources and protect their wealth. Cuba’s very successful rejecting privatization is a threat to American elites. While the U.S. has 2 million COVID-19 cases, Cuba has 2,000 and exports doctors and anti-viral medicines to countries in need.[)]
Importantly, home guarantee is one-sided unless it is equitable for all species, not just humans. Humans must give back much of what we have taken from other ecosystems to support our overpopulation. Our communities must be separated by greenways and wildlife corridors. Our cities must be broken up and no longer be large contiguous grids. No matter our cause, it is a lost cause unless we reduce human population.
Resolve The Moral Dilemma: Landowner vs. Payer Rights
Today, landowner rights trump tenant rights. One of two things need to change to meet society’s common good. Either ownership is transferred to payer’s or landowners are removed from the equation. Here is our dilemma:
- Given a common good and security for society, it is then immoral to enslave any part of society to a life of insecurity. Rental is a wealth transfer from those who can least afford it to wealthy landowners. Rental is no guarantee of housing. Tenants live at the mercy of the landlord under owner-favored leases. Once one has no work, the floor is literally pulled out from under us. Low wages means poor housing in food, education, cultural, and job deserts. There is no hope when there is endless work for endless rent. Very few cities have enlightened rent control like New York City does. Or…
- Given a landowner owns the property, they should receive the capital accumulation and tax shelter providing housing as a service.
It comes down to: society’s’ greater good, the right to a good home and who’s paying for it.
Where does that leave society? The bottom line is: landlords have become the modern slave owners while almost half of young and minority tenants pay for the dwelling for the landlord’s benefit. This leaves society in an insecure state because inequity is institutionalized. We have to break this cycle if we are to have a stable and just society. The wealthy will benefit from an expanded financially independent middle class; this is a win-win for all.
The Goal: End Rental And Guarantee Good Homes For All Americans By 2030
Huge – this is a shift of about 150 million, about 40 percent of Americans, to guaranteed right to housing.[%] This is a moral evolution of society for the collective good and reverses centuries of economic disparity.
The Plan: How It Works
What do we call it? Good Homes For All or Home Guarantee For All. Society has used terms such as Affordable, Deed-Restriction and Section 8 housing. A term that denotes Inclusivity is the ultimate goal.
Incentives Are Everything
One of the jobs of the government is to create and protect markets. Housing is a market. Markets are created through legal frameworks and incentives for a system to self-perpetuate.
Bitcoin is a recent innovative example created without government involvement. In 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto wrote the Bitcoin whitepaper which described a, “A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.” Individuals called miners run computer nodes that verify transactions and are rewarded with more Bitcoins to keep the network safe.
We need a new self-perpetuating model to guarantee future good homes that does not add to government deficits, but shifts enough of the housing money stream to guarantee housing. This solution tweaks capitalism for the benefit of all.
Qualifying For Deed-Restricted Housing
Good Homes are deed-restricted for those who meet a set of low income residence, wealth, employment, and income qualifications. The San Miguel Regional Housing Authority (SMRHA) near Telluride, Colorado is a good model. Here are links to the their website and deed-restricted housing application process.[@][#]
Paying For It: Two Parts
I suggest two mechanisms to pay for Good Homes For All today and in the future. Both revenue sources are ongoing and do not add to government debt.
- First, Create a 3% Real Estate Transfer Tax (RTT) paid by buyers of residential and commercial property to pay for purchase of land and the building of locally adapted housing. Nonprofits are exempt. Revenues are to be proportionate to local real estate prices. The higher the local real estate prices, the greater the revenues to create housing in expensive markets. Telluride, Colorado has used this model successfully for decades. 80% goes to fund deed-restricted affordable housing, 20% to fund open space.[!] I suggest shifting this: 10% to schools and 10% to parks. Charge this tax locally; not federally. Require that every municipality or county charge RTT and create a regional housing authority for deed-restricted housing similar to Telluride’s. I included 3% RTT on commercial property to create local jobs by funding commercial rental for small businesses owned by those who qualified for deed-restricted housing. Note, 3% probably should be 6% or 30%.
- Similar to the process of Social Security, we pay in as we go to guarantee future housing. The monthly home payments we make today pay for maintenance and create a fund to give us housing during retirement or unemployment. One of the strengths of indigenous communities is cradle-to-grave security. Like an insurance policy, the fund also softens the impact of economic downturns like the COVID-19 emergency. For example, when the Soviet Union collapsed, people did not become homeless because they owned the right to their home. And they planted a lot of potatoes – which is a lesson from which we could learn.
Phase Out Rental: Tenant’s Sole Right to Opt Out
We also need a path to make landlords whole from their investment and transfer housing to the community for the common good. This idea comes from Detroit’s effort to make their city safer by fixing, demolishing or boarding up 22,000 abandoned homes.(-)
The ability to opt out allows renters to transfer their home to the Good Homes For All system from landlord at fair market price. Renters are the defacto owners by funding the mortgage, taxes, etc. Opt out is the sole right of the tenant and may not be blocked by the landlord in any way. Everybody wins, the is landlord is made whole by peing paid for their property. Landlord-tenant rental is to be phased out in 5 years. In this phase, apartments would be converted to condominiums.
Adjusts to Life’s Changes
Good Homes For All provides cradle-to-grave security for youth, adults, families, retirees, seniors and the elderly. It helps us easily transition as life changes and we age.
Participating in the systems requires flexibility on our part. When a couple with children becomes empty-nesters, they move from a multi-bedroom to a one bedroom home or bring in roommates. An individual can move anywhere in the country and receive a home.
Good Communities: Good Schools, Food, Health Care, Jobs, and Wild Space
Good Homes are woven into a community like threads of a quilt. Communities cannot expand outward without thought of open wild places. Where are people going to work? Where and how far is the food going to come from? Good Communities have cradle-to-grave security from young families to nursing homes. If one cannot walk or ride a bike to work, have easy access to organic food and open space, there is a community design failure.
Having guideline formulas balancing all of the above would be useful to direct community master planning. Important tangent, master planning must be binding, and only be done by the local citizens every 10 years. Planning commissioners may have no conflict of interest with the building, real estate, or utilities trades. It must be illegal for a planning department to include a plan from private developer as part of a master plan.
Families must have easy access to Good Schools. This is why part of the Real Estate Transfer Tax goes to schools. Without good education it is more difficult for children to succeed. “Denial of access to education, which is a primary driver of accumulation of income and wealth, is a wealth transfer.” — BET founder Robert Johnson [(]
Great Design Reduces Costs and Is More Durable
We need to take a huge leap forward in sustainable and efficient design; high standards far past LEED Green Building Certification. LEED should be just the minimum. Today’s for-profit rentals use the lowest common denominator to maximize profits. If we continue to mass-produce uncomfortable, low quality, high-maintenance, energy-sucking cheap homes, long-term housing for all is pointless.
Housing is not about profits, it’s about Good Homes.
Most modern homes built today are wastefully inefficient in the areas of building, heating, and cooling. We need to set a standard so high that it brings the cost down so low that everyone can own a home. Setting exponentially higher standards will pay for the dwelling many times over through a much longer lifespan. A home does not have to be expensive to be comfortable, easily maintained, and last hundreds of years.
Homes Of The Past Are The Future
A Natural Home Is a Healthy Home
Someone once said, “Great design is hell.” I agree with them. It is very challenging to find architecture that is low-cost, easy to maintain, natural built, healthy for people and the environment, extremely efficient and durable. Low cost can be under $1,000 self-built. Easy to maintain is mudpie building a child can do. Natural built homes use local materials. Brilliantly designed homes are in communities where a forest still stands and on a prairie that still waves in the wind. Extremely efficient is a home heated by a handful of sticks in the winter or cooled by a light spray of water with no fan in the summer. Durable is a building that lasts for 400 years. Great design like this is probably 10x better than most modern dwellings.
My dear friend and an early permaculture teacher John Cruickshank once told me, “A good home is one that you can push over when you’re done with it and grow a garden.”
Not all homes can be naturally built, but many can be. The most comfortable and efficient dwelling in all Oregon is The Myrtle at The Cob Cottage Company in Coquille. If you have been in this simple, passive solar, architectural masterpiece in the winter with the Rocket Mass Stove burning, and the benches heated, you know what I mean. The Myrtle should be measured for energy efficiency and made the standard all other dwellings must meet.
Ianto Evan and Linda Smiley, founders of The Cob Cottage Company wrote, “Our inspiration comes from direct observation of Nature, and from the wisdom of traditional cultures. We are committed to deconsumerizing, to reducing the flow of cash, resources and waste, and helping others to do the same.”[^] A must read for anyone want to build their own natural home is, The Hand Sculpted House, A Practical and Philosophical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage.[&]
Let’s Get Started
Start Now Locally. Work The Bugs Out. Scale By Repeating Small Scale.
Communities around the country can start piloting Good Homes For All today. Contacting municipalities like Telluride that are already doing part of this is easy. This will build interest and tweak the model for the better to succeed in communities of varied incomes, housing costs and climates. This is a long-term solution to eventually be rolled out nationally mandated by Federal law, but not administered nationally. Like Social Security, it will not be modified by the changing whims of politics.
Local Scale To Prevents Corporate Takeover
Guaranteeing housing to 40 percent more Americans requires a new distributed local housing ecosystem.[%] A large centralized solution is prone to be controlled by large corporate builders and managers. National is the wrong scale. Corporations are legalized looters. Builders and managers must be locally owned and 80 percent of materials are from within 100 miles.
It’s About What Really Matters: Our Homes, Our Values, and The Character of Our Society
If we as a society cannot guarantee equitable homes for all of our citizens, we need to remake our society. Equitable housing is in good communities with good education, organic food, healthcare, open space, wild places, jobs and futures.
The changes we need to make for fairness are simple but they go upstream to common thought. When we think about it though, the river turns around. If we are going to take up a cause, this is a good one. The need is great for Good Homes And Communities For All.
[Image 1] Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
[Images 2-6] The Cob Cottage Company. My dear friends Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley.
[Image 7] The Dreamer by Mark Henson. Online Art Store: www.markhensonart.com.
[@] San Miguel Regional Housing Authority. (SMRHA)
[#] San Miguel Regional Housing Authority. Deed Restriction Application Process.
[$] Bitcoin.org. Bitcoin Whitepaper.
[%] Wikipedia. Home-ownership in the United States.
[&] The Cob Cottage Company. Products.
[*] Wikipedia. List of countries without armed forces.
[(] CNBC. Robert Johnson. BET founder Robert Johnson calls for $14 trillion of reparations for slavery. June 1, 2020. By Matthew J. Belvedere.
[)] Johns Hopkins University. COVID Dashboard. Cuba.
[-] MLive. Detroit aims to fix, demolish or board up 22,000 abandoned homes by end of 2019. Updated January 30, 2019.