The home of the brave

What makes a house a home? Building shelter is a universal task found in all human cultures. From an igloo on the arctic tundra that keeps the elements at bay to a grass hut on the savannah that offers shelter from predators, protection is one of life’s most basic necessities.

Very few cultures in history have routinely built shelters where no one lives, with the United States being a notable exception.

In 2020, nearly one in ten residential buildings in the US was vacant — approximately 16 million homes.

In theory, the US should be more than able to accommodate its homeless population of nearly 600,000, but homelessness rates have risen sharply over the past decade. In addition, more than 11 million people were at risk of evictions last year.

What is this discrepancy about? Well, despite what you can infer from these statistics, the US does have a housing assistance program, the Housing Choice Voucher Program, or more commonly known as Section 8.

The program works by providing housing vouchers to people below a certain income threshold who match some or all of their rent by sending funds from the local housing authority directly to their landlord.

True to classic American fashion, Section 8 gives those in need the freedom to search for a vacant rental property rather than simply making one of the many surplus homes available to the needy in the country.

From there they are expected to pay rent to a parasitic landlord who adds no value to the property and only owns it because they had enough excess capital to buy a house they didn’t have to live in.

Haley Alvarez-Lauto | graphic designer

There are also additional deficiencies with Section 8.

Like things like medical care, housing is unlike many other consumer goods and services. Since it is a basic requirement for life, people are generally willing to pay as much as possible in order not to end up without a home. Therefore, landlords will raise rents as high as they believe the wealthiest tenants in a given area can afford.

This does not lead to a housing shortage, but to affordable housing.

Since § 8 voucher amounts are staggered with one’s own income and can cover these high rents, this shortage means that waiting lists for receiving vouchers are exorbitantly long.

The average wait for a Section 8 voucher is about two and a half years, while in some areas you may have to wait an average of over eight years for a voucher that will cover a fraction of your housing costs.

And here’s the kicker – when someone finally gets a voucher, finding a place to live can still be difficult.

After receiving your voucher, you typically only have between 60 and 120 days to sign a lease, and discrimination against people with housing vouchers is incredibly common. In some places, studies show that more than 75% of landlords say they refuse to rent to Section 8 tenants. Ultimately, 50 to 60% of the voucher recipients do not manage to secure an apartment with it.

Only 13 states have enacted statewide laws attempting to prohibit landlords from discriminating against Section 8 recipients, but such discrimination is very difficult to establish, and renters will seek workarounds, such as on housing vouchers.

With the staggering number of vacant homes, one might ask – why is the housing voucher system so inefficient and predatory?

The final key to understanding the so-called housing shortage is knowing the two categories that these vacant properties fall into.

The first category includes the countless abandoned buildings found mostly in the poorest inner-city areas. These buildings could house the homeless population, but considering that repairing and renovating them is unprofitable, this remedy is unlikely to be sought.

In the next category are the nearly six million second homes (or third or fourth, etc.) owned or rented by people who have the luxury of having multiple homes, while some have none at all.

We have the means to eliminate homelessness if the relevant authorities deem it beneficial, but why would they do it?

A homelessness crisis in spite of an abundance of homes and poverty in a country with more than enough money are not faults of the system – they are features of the rigid economic and political hierarchy at which they have perched themselves.

This system keeps the working class dependent on the very same state apparatus that protects those who exploit them in the first place, while also serving as a threat – keep working to keep someone else profiting, or someday it will be you.


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