One of the frustrations I’ve had over the last two years is the insistence that things go “back to normal”. From most people, this is understandable. None of us enjoyed the disruptions caused by COVID-19 and living within a system that has completely failed to deal with it, I can understand why someone would want to try to reclaim what was lost. Then I look at how just a couple months ago, the number of eviction filings in St. Louis had finally returned to its pre-2020 average, statistical proof that the eviction moratoriums are long gone. The rules we’ve been under for my entire lifetime, that if we let capital do its thing and leave it to property owners to efficiently distribute resources until the rest of us benefit, has gotten us in a situation where people are working longer for less money, the built environment is crumbling, bloated police budgets are no help on crime, and housing prices continue to inflate while so many families are already paying more than half their income on rent. Maybe it’s time we finally consider the question Javier Bardem asks in the scene where he kills Woody Harrelson in the movie No Country for Old Men: “If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?”
It’s over 90 degrees all week, and we live in a country with more homes than unhoused people. In what will be the first of many instances, the residents of Spanish Lake Townhomes are being evicted for profit. It has been especially frustrating through the rental assistance program to be working so hard to get landlords their bailout, just so that families can stay in their homes. Then again, doing all of this labor to pay landlords who expect to get it from us for doing nothing is a pretty good metaphor for our relationship to landlords in general. None of this is going to change unless we rethink the way we use our resources for the benefit of everyone.
This may seem like a pessimistic perspective, but I disagree. There are so many things we can do to build community wealth even while we wait for the federal government we elected to finally deliver. The people being evicted deserve to have an eviction moratorium now, and people using public assistance should not be subject to discrimination. Longer term, we could build municipal housing rented at cost, which can compete with developers expecting outrageous profit margins. We can give people the right to purchase their homes before they get flipped, sold, or redeveloped. Better yet, we can have collective ownership through community land trusts or cooperative housing to deliver homes for their actual purpose: places for families to live.
Even beyond housing we can think of investing sustainably in business models that are democratic and rooted locally. We don’t have to let someone else extract rents for poor quality services we can just as easily provide ourselves. All it takes is for us to use new strategies that have already made promising returns elsewhere that distribute the fruits of the community’s labor to their neighbors to better ensure that everyone can benefit. It’s a lot better than continuing to follow the rule that is getting us killed.