Tuesday, June 21All That Matters

Rent: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Rent: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

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  • plawate

    Really surprised the phrase “single family zoning” was not mentioned in this piece. The fact that in many cities it is illegal to build high density, multi family apartments is pretty critical to the rent problem.

  • ViskerRatio

    I find it fascinating that Oliver goes to such length to demonstrate how laws like rent stabilization has failed… and then proceeds to recommend… rent stabilization.

    The issue Oliver doesn’t seem to want to address is that there are people you just don’t want to live near if you can afford to avoid them.

    And, yes, these are usually poor people.

    It’s easy to have sympathy for people in the abstract, but no one wants to wake up at 3am because the police have gotten called to your apartment complex *again*. No one wants to be unable to park a vehicle anywhere near where they live lest it get damaged or stolen. If you have children? You don’t want the local schools to be ‘gladiator academies’ where the physical plant is constantly being destroyed and the bullying isn’t just passive-aggressive mean girls but incipient violent felons causing serious bodily harm.

    So when Oliver talks about making housing a ‘human right’, he’s failing to recognize that one person’s ‘right’ to safe and secure housing is seriously tested by another person’s ‘right’ to move in next door and destroy that safety/security.

    When you look at the problem of renting as a poor person, it’s entirely a game of “I’m not that guy”. If you’re making $30,000/year, landlords will be wary of you… until you tell them you’re a PhD student and they’re suddenly happy to know you. If you’re 65 years old and on a fixed income, you’ll discover that renting on the open market is a nightmare compared to renting in communities that specifically target the elderly.

    So, no, the problem isn’t that eviction follows you around. It isn’t that landlords are greedy and unscrupulous. It’s that we have no market designed for the people no one wants to be around – and those people are thrust into the general rental market where it’s impossible to discriminate between them and the people who merely have similar rough characteristics without being them.

  • Midnightrollsaround

    Eliminate exclusionary zoning and build more homes. Discrimination against low income tenants occurs because greedy landlords can rent to whoever they want in this environment.

    Oliver seems to imply that we shouldn’t be in favor of new market-rate housing because the real shortage is for affordable housing… I’m pretty sure if we just build enough fucking homes of any kind the prices will stabilize across the board.

  • ShuckieDuck

    It’s interesting when rich people offer their fake hot takes on real problems of normal Americans like they actually care.

    I’m sure John Oliver would be none too happy if section 8 housing certificates were used in the same building on the upper west side where he spent 10 million dollars for it using a Trump tax loop hole that he railed against. [source](https://observer.com/2017/05/john-oliver-property-tax-scam-trump/amp/)

    So let’s stop acting like this guy or any other elitist gives an actual damn about our median rent. Just like the homeless situation these people have severe NIMBY syndrome.

    While we are at it let’s also remember Dave Ramsey is the same guy who regularly tells couples in serious debt to still tithe. He should not be taken seriously.

  • icomma

    I see Reddit leftists shit on Oliver a lot because he’s basically a left leaning liberal, but I mean, he’s probably also the most left-leaning celebrity with a tv show. He’s not ideal, but he’s also not an enemy.

  • VegetableContract2

    This is so far off the mark and is a huge missed opportunity to educate the masses on the true cause of the housing crisis. You were so close with talking about NIMBY opposition to affordable housing, then went off the rails talking about greedy landlords, eviction records, and section 8 housing vouchers.

    We have a massive shortage of housing. In a shortage of anything, suppliers have the market power to charge more money. The solution isn’t to shame landlords into making less money, it’s to take away their power to charge so much. That is accomplished by increasing the supply of housing. There is an extremely direct relationship between vacancy rates and rent prices. During the pandemic when vacancies reached high single digits and low double digits in major cities, rents actually decreased by significant amounts.

    If the solution is to build more, and every individual landlord is better off by building more property, why don’t they? You glossed over this by saying “NIMBY opposition”, and ignoring the current status of zoning laws. So many cities (San Francisco/most Bay Area cities, Austin, Seattle, etc.) zone over 70% of their land for single family houses ONLY. This means in housing markets where it makes financial sense for someone to buy up four homes and put up a 20-unit building, they are forbidden from doing so by one of the over 10,000 local government entities (cities, counties, etc.) that enact stringent zoning laws. We see the effect of this in San Francisco Bay Area, where old, dilapidated, small (1,000 square feet) houses are selling for over $2,000,000. The state legislature of California has responded with very modest overriding of these zoning laws by allowing denser development near transit lines, by allowing anyone to build an accessory dwelling unit on their property, and by allowing people to split their lot and put duplexes (two houses) on each of the two lots. State and Federal level overriding of zoning laws is the only way to overcome NIMBY local opposition to the scale of housing development we need to once again have affordable housing.

    “But rents always go up! Housing prices always go up!” you might say. Well, just look at Tokyo, Japan. Japan enacted a national housing policy, banning the kind of American-style zoning used to veto housing. The average apartment in Tokyo, a huge city and growing city of over 13,000,000 people, HAS NOT INCREASED MORE THAN 10% SINCE THE YEAR 2000. The reason for this is that they simply build so much housing. Your landlord raises rents? Cool, there are plenty of other landlords who would rather rent their properties at around the same rent you’re paying now than leave their property empty. Every individual landlord is better off renting all of their properties. They’re greedy. There is no solidarity, no collusion.

    Why were zoning laws enacted in the United States? Believe it or not, like most issues in the US, the answer is usually racism. Zoning laws are no exception. When the 15th amendment was passed that forbid states from only allowing certain races to vote, they simply passed other laws with the same intent and effect. Hence the Grandfather clause: You can’t vote unless your grandfather did. Think many freed slaves could prove that? Then came the poll tax and literacy tests, applied arbitrarily only to persons of color. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act was passed that the right to vote was truly given to people of color. The same kind of thing happened when the Fair Housing Act was passed. NIMBY racists did not want to live near people of color. But how could they bypass the Fair Housing Act? With the same kind of Jim Crow method of simply passing laws that indirectly caused the same effect: they changed zoning laws to make it illegal to build more than single family homes in their neighborhoods, forcing all development to red-lined areas typically inhabited by people of color. Because it was the only land you could really develop, it caused displacement in these neighborhoods. Los Angeles used to be zoned for 10,000,000 people. New York used to be zoned for 40,000,000. But they both (along with the vast majority of American cities and suburbs) drastically cut the amount of housing you could produce. If you can’t make new units in an area, you effectively block new people from moving to your neighborhood. This also caused housing prices to rise. This kept poor people out of their neighborhoods, which, because of racism, was a good enough proxy for keeping people of color out and the neighborhoods white.

    In the case of “United States v. City of Black Jack (1974)”, it was held that the city had illegally denied people housing on the basis of race, “by adopting a zoning ordinance which prohibited the construction of any new multiple-family dwellings.” At the time of the ruling, the city of Black Jack was 99% white. The Federal Government literally has the right to overturn these racist zoning ordinances at any time, since housing markets are considered interstate commerce. Yet, it chooses not to. The reason is that homeowners are the most powerful voting constituency in this country.

    That John Oliver neglected to name any policy, any call to action is the most telling part that he doesn’t understand the problem at all. Let me tell you what that solution is: First, States and the Federal Government should preempt racial segregationist-era zoning ordinances, allowing density and missing middle housing to be built in all of our cities. Second, we need rent control and stronger tenant protections in place now to protect us from huge rent increases while the market (and hopefully governments!) build the millions of housing units we need to drive housing and rent prices down.

  • robbysaur

    Everybody in here talking about supply and demand. You can build more houses, which will then be bought up by corporations, to be rented out to poor people. My friend had to offer 15% over asking price for his house in the midwest, because he was competing against people on the coasts who would just buy cheap property in the midwest to rent back to us. This is more than a supply and demand issue.

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