Public Comment

Commentary: Affordable Housing And the Redistribution Of Wealth in America

By Frances Hailman
Tuesday July 18, 2006

The redistribution of wealth upward is proceeding apace in the Bush/neo-con America. What has been a lower class, is rapidly transforming into an under class, while the middle class is becoming the lower class. 

Through the nationwide action of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in this Bush era, the standards for low-income housing are changing accordingly, so that soon the lower class will be too poor to be eligible for “affordable housing.” This will create more available housing for the crumbling middle class, which they certainly deserve.  

But has anyone asked what happens to the lower ranks that are being pushed off the totem pole entirely? Does anyone seriously challenge the super rich at the other end of the spectrum and their hiding and hoarding of the nation’s wealth? 

Recently the mayor of my city is said to have commented that the neighborhood I live in is “blighted” and therefore subject to radical transformation, including the powers of eminent domain, to support the slipping middle class and provide them a safety net. But I have heard no plan whatsoever for the displaced persons who will thereby lose their housing—the former lower class now going under. 

I was walking the other day in a richer part of my city. It was lovely. There were big beautiful houses everywhere. Suddenly I wondered, how many people live in those big houses? How many empty rooms are rattling around up there unused? Is this not also a kind of blight? An unwise non-use of resources? 

Here, on one end, people are being shoved into some urban hinterland, dirty, dangerous, undignified. And on the other end, people have wealth that is basically superfluous. 

Remember that old concept of humankind—human kindness and compassion? Are we not still on this strange and mysterious home Planet Earth together? Are we not all equally her children? Are we not all equal at heart? What happened to noblesse oblige? Do we not have a simple ethical obligation to include everyone in our purview, in our planning? 

Being myself part of this lower class rapidly going under, I am not personally asking for untold wealth. I am not asking for three mansions on three continents. I just want an adequate living space in a safe and decent environment. 

The American medical system is already all but lost in this mad chaos of redistribution of wealth upward. If you take our housing too, small and shabby though some of it might be, we won’t even have a place where we can go to rest and heal, 

For city planners to plunge into fancy strategies for increasing the tax base without raiseing taxes on the mega-rich is insanity pure and simple. It necessarily demands exiling the lower classes. Demonize them first, call their neighborhoods “blighted,” and chase them off. But off to where? That’s the big question no one is asking. Where is this new underclass supposed to go?  


Frances Hailman, Ph.D, is a Berkeley resident.