People rally for affordable housing in Columbus, Ohio on June 30, 2021.

People rally for affordable housing in Columbus, Ohio on June 30, 2021.

(Photo: Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

We Need Housing for People to Live In, Not for Corporations to Invest In

Unhoused people on our sidewalks, in shelters, in motels, in tents: this is our present and our future if we don't see some real, urgent action to legally protect the vulnerable and house us all.

Anyone who is active in our communities knows that housing insecurity and homelessness are rising fast, due in part to an ever-shrinking lot of affordable rentals and homes. Housing should be the rallying cry right now.

There are a number of structural reasons for this housing crisis, and the most truly terrifying fact is that while housing becomes less and less affordable, there is no plan to make homes more available. At this time, we have far-right bomb throwers running one branch of government whose wish is to make those who live on SSI or Social Security even more unstable than they currently are. Every day we see these corporate shills threatening to cut or even eliminate entitlements that millions rely on for survival. And it seems that workforce housing is rapidly disappearing.

One of the major problems that nobody is addressing is the huge number of rental properties and single-family homes that are being snatched up by nameless, faceless corporations in order to evict longstanding residents, slap a new coat of paint on the walls, maybe purchase a shiny new fridge, and double the rent to a new tenant. There seems to be no limit to the number of houses or apartments these huge corporations can own.

According to The Wall Street Journal in 2021, 200 corporations are aggressively purchasing tens of thousands of homes, and even entire neighborhoods, and jacking up the rents. For example, a Blackrock creation called Invitation Homes merged with another outfit and as of 2021, this conglomerate owned 80,000 rental homes. In 2012, this outfit, also known as Treehouse Homes, went on a buying spree where they were purchasing $150 million dollars worth of homes every week—up to $10 billion.

Some of these corporate acquisitions will be sold for well over market value. Often the smaller houses that might have been worker housing are considered tear-downs and will be replaced with a 4 or 5,000-square-foot monstrosity. Many others are used to create profit in the short-term rental market.

While housing becomes less and less affordable, there is no plan to make homes more available... We desperately need a legal framework to make affordable housing possible.

In my small town, a large corporation bought an apartment complex and is in the process of evicting a 90-year-old wheelchair-bound resident—in a town with a 0.7% vacancy rate. This resident just had his lease not renewed. The idea that you can evict long-term disabled tenants is just disgusting—but there is no law against it now. A local group is working on creating a law to prevent this type of corporate crime.

If we lived in a country that actually valued its citizens, housing would be a priority. Since the Republicans remade so much of America under Ronald Reagan, there is no federal housing being built. No money for states to build housing. A housing crisis would be almost impossible to avoid in a country where real wages continue to stagnate, and in some years even decline, and there is no legal challenge to the huge corporations who dominate the industry. For-profit developers are who is building now, and in some instances need to put a couple of token affordable units into a large project, but frequently the affordable units are too expensive for many who need homes. And sometimes they even revert to market rates after a certain period.

The amazing generation of people under 35 is speaking out about opportunity: many younger people will never have the chance to own a home. The stories are rampant: people who bid for a home get outbid by either the corporate buyers or by older people who have capital from having sold a home they were able to purchase when homes were far more affordable. People my age—in our 60's—have owned homes that we bought for $100,000 or less and often when we sell them they go for 5-10 times that price. But young adults have none of those advantages.

We desperately need a legal framework to make affordable housing possible. I am not a housing expert, or a lawyer. But some things are clear: corporate ownership of millions of units of housing has not been good for our country. Rent control is non-existent in the vast majority of towns and cities in the U.S. Homelessness has spiraled to numbers not seen ever before. The corporate ownership issue must be addressed nationally, but that does not seem to be an issue the Biden administration has been interested in tackling. There is a housing action plan put out in May 2022, but we haven't seen any of that money go into housing in my part of New England.

States could restrict number of houses used for short-term rentals, but federal intervention is needed in what I think is the biggest obstacle to bending the homelessness curve: limits to corporate ownership of housing. Unhoused people on our sidewalks, in shelters, in motels, in tents: this is our present and our future if we don't see some real, urgent action to legally protect the vulnerable and house us all. Housing is a human need, not a speculative purchase.