Recently during a Democratic Socialists of America Reading Group hosted by my local we discussed the introduction to the book In Defense of Housing. One of the first topics we leaped upon was the nature and use of the term “Housing Crisis.” Housing across the nation, and arguably the world, is one of the number one issues regarding the negative effects of capitalism.
Something that stuck out to me from the reading was how the author pointed out that so long as their has been a working class something related to shelter has always been synonimous with their troubles. In the medieval times it was the lack of an ability to own land, in the age of industrialization it was the living conditions of the proletariate, today it is about affordability and accessibility. There is no shortage of housing, but there is a shortage of cheap cars and public transportation to get to and from where these overpriced and over developed houses tend to be. The point is that so long as there has been capital, there has been a “housing crisis” of some kind.
As such I expressed concern in the reading group about even using the word “crisis” to describe our situation. I felt that the word ‘crisis’ connotates that the issue of housing is one that can be solved with simple policy or electoral change alone. Clearly that is not the case when one sees how issues regarding shelter and housing are constant to the times and places where capitalism has existed.
A comrade pointed out that strategically it makes sense to use the term “crisis” in our time and place. In Sacramento we are enduring a spike in poverty that ranks among the highest in the nation. Our rent is rising at the fastest rate of any city in the nation, and our homeless population has doubled, even tripled in the last year according to some statisticians. In regards to all that, I concede the term “Housing Crisis” is both applicable and a matter of fact.
Yet not long after this discussion I had one of those, “aha Eureka!” Moments. This may be unimpressive to most of you but for me I am proud to have finally connected these dots.
Numerous readings talk about how capitalism is always in crisis, i.e. the boom and busts of unregulated markets which escalate this false dialogue about scarcity. This idea of scarcity is inherent to capitalism, we either never have enough money, food, medicine, or shelter to go around, as such the capitalists spike the prices to profit from our own labor and our fear of this scarcity. Then it hit me, the housing crisis, both my local one and the international one, are capitalism themselves. This new housing crisis is another manifestation of capitalism in order to keep us at the mercy of those who own the means of production, including shelter. Capitalism is a crisis, and the housing crisis is capitalism.
As such, I think I am now much more comfortable using the word “crisis” when I talk about capitalism, especially the Housing Crisis of Sacramento, CA.