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Rent control would be good, controlling corporate and hedge fund landlords would be better

Despite much ballyhoo around Thanksgiving Day in the United States, and other celebrations around the world, the eviction and housing news of the past week has been relentless. In Oklahoma, where “it’s easy to be evicted,” evictions and rent are skyrocketing, thousands are being or recently have been pushed out of their homes into an environment where affordable housing is either unavailable or dangerous to your health. In Quebec, those hoping to flee domestic violence find, again, no available affordable housing. Faced with home-based violence or the violence being unhoused, many are forced to remain in perilous situations. In Florida, residents, often long-standing residents, of mobile home parks are being evicted by new landlords who, upon possession, jack up the rents. In Virginia, mobile home park residents are suffering the same fate. In Charlotte, North Carolina, new landlords are doing the same, taking possession, raising the rents precipitously with the intent of forcing the current residents out into, again, a hostile and even impossible local and regional housing environment. And then there’s the United Kingdom.

According to new government data, between January and March, the United Kingdom saw a record high number of no-fault eviction filings. From end of March last year to end of March this year, the United Kingdom saw a 76% rise in no-fault eviction filings. At least 20% of those receiving evictions ended up being forced out, often onto the streets. In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis and the approach of winter, the situation is expected to worsen. In June 2019, the United Kingdom government promised to end no-fault evictions. In the intervening three years, they have done nothing, actually less than nothing, given the rise in housing costs. Meanwhile, on Thursday, Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, announced that tens of thousands of homes across the United Kingdom are unsafe because “they have not been looked after properly”, not by the landlords and not by the State, that has consistently looked the other way. Tens of thousands of homes do not mysteriously, suddenly become unsafe. So much for levelling up.

Across the United States, and beyond, the fact that the rent is too damned high and even worse, that it’s rising faster than ever before is perhaps finally becoming `newsworthy’. Yesterday, NPR reported, “After gutting local newspapers, hedge fund Alden Global is going after mobile home parks.” Today, The Roanoke Times editorial headline says it all, “Wealthy corporate investors prey on vulnerable mobile home park residents”. What is that preys on the vulnerable? A predator. This weekend, the news focused on Alden Global, a hedge fund that has bought a slew of mobile home parks across the country, including Massie’s Mobile Home Park in Christiansburg, Virginia. Alden comes in, does nothing about repairs, raising the rents impossibly, evicts residents, or just comes in and evicts residents, depending on the local laws. But the thing is, Alden is typical of hedge funds and corporate investors. This is what they do. And they are doing this, as never before, across the United States rental housing market. Rent control is good, essential even, but it won’t stop hedge funds. What is also needed is renter controls. There are tests for real estate agents, why not for landlords? How much is too much? Remember the housing market collapse of 2008, engineered by corporate interests in collusion with banks? Remember “too big to fail”? For some, the lesson was if you get big enough, you’re untouchable. It’s not too late to control the corporates from seizing the housing market altogether. Housing is a human right. Protect it.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit 1: Bill Bragg / The Guardian) (Image Credit 2: Elizabeth Olds / Smithsonian American Art Museum)

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