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Demanding rights for the homeless in St. Petersburg, Fla., earlier this year.
PHOTO/CAROL SCHIFFLER
Across the country, in many forms, people are fighting about housing. They're struggling to escape the curse of homelessness, or get better housing, or cheaper housing, or against gentrification, or to keep public housing, or return to their homes after being forcibly displaced. A national movement around housing is steadily developing, a reflection of the housing crisis we face. But what is at the root of the crisis?

Mortgage and rent payments keep rising while incomes keep falling. A Harvard study found that a family with only one full-time minimum-wage earner can't afford a standard two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country. Millions who own their homes are threatened with foreclosure. The growing poverty is the major cause of the housing crisis, but what is causing the spreading poverty?

Every time humanity finds a faster, easier way to produce the things it needs, that way of producing becomes the standard. It replaces all other forms of production. The wooden plow gave way to the iron plow. The steam engine replaced the horse. Electrical and oil-driven machinery gave rise to modern mechanical industry and the assembly line, eliminating manufacturing by hand. And now human labor itself is being replaced -- by the robot and the computer.

This is creating a crisis, because we live under a system where human labor power is exchanged for wages, and we use our wages to buy what we need, including housing. Now the employers have less and less use for human labor power. That means fewer jobs, and falling wages for those still working. This is the ultimate root of the housing crisis.

The simple truth is, the corporations that own and control the economy won't pay for labor they don't need, and they won't pay to house that labor, either. This is clearly seen in the cuts in federal housing assistance and the portion of federal money devoted to it.

Those trying to get into the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, the nation's primary rent assistance program for low-income families, face a two- to three-year wait because program funding hasn't kept pace with demand. Housing assistance only accounts for a little over 1 percent of the federal budget.

The ultimate root of the problem, of course, is a system based on private property. One area where you can see this is in the private ownership of most of the land and the housing the private developers build on it. If the developers want to gentrify a neighborhood and displace people, they can -- if you can't pay, you can't stay.

But the broader, deeper question underneath all this is, how can you continue to have a system based on exchanging wages for labor power, when the computer and the robot are eliminating labor? The short answer is, you can't. We either have to have a new system or starve.

The housing crisis brings this into stark relief. Here is a system that can no longer do the most fundamental thing a human society must do: shelter people. This has set the stage for the struggle we're now seeing develop. On the one hand, the corporations who own this country cannot give up the system of private property, where people are forced to pay for housing or do without it. On the other hand, the people who are either homeless or being pushed toward homelessness are forced to fight for housing.

We can only win this fight by uniting all the various housing struggles under a common demand: we all have a right to decent, safe housing, regardless of our ability to pay for it, and we must demand that the government guarantee this.

This article originated in the People's Tribune
PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654, 773-486-3551, info@peoplestribune.org.
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