Homeless Camp in Oakland, CA

Housing Crisis in California: Socialist Policies Needed!

In recent articles in Socialist Revolution, we’ve covered the rising symptoms of capitalism in its epoch of senile decay. From the opioid epidemic to rising rates of depression, to food insecurity, to climate change, the dystopian aspects of the system continually beggar belief and underscore Lenin’s famous adage about the system representing “horror without end.”

But the housing crisis in the United States bears a unique distinction of dishonor: it is verifiable by any would-be extraterrestrial onlooker. Since we last covered the question of California’s housing human rights atrocity in 2016’s “A Socialist Solution to the California Homelessness Crisis,” the situation has continued to fester with no capitalist politicians able to put forward and enact any meaningful solution. Homeless camps are now visible from space.

In These Times recently published a series of statistics that highlight the depth of the crisis, including:

  • 24.7%: US renters who spend more than half their income on rent.
  • 552,830: People experiencing homelessness on a single night in 2018.
  • 7,400,000: Americans forced to move in with friends or family.
Homeless Camp in the Bay Area
Homelessness in the Bay Area has jumped a massive 30% in just a few years, with the current count at close to 10,000. / Image: Thomas Hawk, Flickr

Dozens of major cities in the United States are dealing with housing crises, but California exhibits some of the most acute symptoms, with the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California leading the fray. Approximately two-thirds of the major metro areas with the highest median home values are in California, with those in Silicon Valley topping the list at $1.2 million. The Golden State—the most economically powerful in the most advanced country—provides yet another glaring example of how capitalism increasingly drags humanity into barbarism.

Northern California: Ground Zero for Gentrification

Homelessness in the Bay Area has jumped a massive 30% in just a few years, with the current count at close to 10,000. This is, in part, connected to the massive tech bubble; more than half of all homes purchased in San Francisco in 2018 were bought by software tycoons, according to The Atlantic. Another 10% were purchased by individuals working in finance. Those who cannot afford thousands for a studio or one-bedroom are invited to live in “pods.” What is a pod, you ask? According to Podshare, the company with the solution on offer, “A pod is a hand-built, high-end bunk bed complete with your own flat-screen TV and night light.” The starting price for these boutique artisanal offerings? $1,200 per month.

The situation is so out of control that The Washington Post recently highlighted the dismay of the ruling class at what the United Nations has called “a violation of multiple human rights”:

Real estate is the nation’s costliest. Listings read like typos, a median $1.6 million for a single-family home and $3,700 monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment. “This is unregulated capitalism, unbridled capitalism, capitalism run amok. There are no guardrails,” says Salesforce founder and chairman Marc Benioff, a fourth-generation San Franciscan who in a TV interview branded his city “a train wreck.”

This is indeed capitalism “running amok”—but that is precisely what capitalism does—smashing through any “guardrails” in the pursuit of higher profits.

According to reports by the Associated Press, homelessness is hardwired into the long-term plans of San Francisco’s city planners. According to a recent article:

A family of four earning $117,400 a year is considered low-income in San Francisco, where the median sale price of a two-bedroom is $1.3 million. Every night, the city of 885,000 also has about 4,400 people sleeping unsheltered, in alleys and doorways and tucked away in Golden Gate Park.

San Francisco opened its first homeless “navigation center” in 2015 and currently operates six throughout the city. Unlike traditional shelters, the centers allow people to bring pets and don’t kick them out in the morning. The proposed navigation center in the Embarcadero is a critical part of the mayor’s campaign pledge to open 1,000 new shelter beds by the end of 2020.

Seniors are especially at risk, as detailed in a recent exposé by The New York Times. But seniors are by no means the only age demographic dealing with the crisis. As with every aspect of capitalism’s crisis, the youth are hit disproportionately hard. According to The Mercury News, one in five California community college students has experienced homelessness, including approximately 4,000 attending San Jose State alone.

Homeless youth under a bridge
One in five California community college students has experienced homelessness. / Image: Public Domain

In light of the housing insecurity, more and more people have tried to move into RVs or even into their cars. But town councils are reacting against this. In June, Mountain View City Council voted 6-1 to ban oversized vehicles from parking on city streets during morning hours.

So faced with the inability to own, rent, or even live in a mobile home, what are Bay Area residents to do? Weigh anchor and take to the water? According to The Wall Street Journal, that’s exactly what some people are doing. According to the article, the solution is far from a glamorous “pirates’ life”:

The homeless population floating off the coast of wealthy Marin County, just north of San Francisco, has doubled in recent years to about 100, according to authorities. The ragtag collection of some 200 barges, sailboats, and other mostly decrepit vessels in which they live and store their belongings is a sign of an affordable-housing crisis in California that is being felt particularly acutely in the San Francisco Bay Area … Local residents complain that boats sometimes break away from anchor lines in storms, endangering the occupants as well as the properties of waterfront homes into which they can crash. Many aren’t securely anchored and are attached to smaller vessels in which residents store gear and other belongings.

But even this “solution” may be short-lived as “anchor outs” have been targeted since 2013 and are increasingly provoking the ire of some of the Bay Area’s more affluent shoreline residents.

Southern California

The situation in Northern California is nothing compared to the suffering experienced by the homeless just a few hundred miles to the south, which would not be out of place in Friedrich Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class In England. As he wrote in 1845:

The houses are occupied from cellar to garret, filthy within and without, and their appearance is such that no human being could possibly wish to live in them. But all this is nothing in comparison with the dwellings in the narrow courts and alleys between the streets, entered by covered passages between the houses, in which the filth and tottering ruin surpass all description. Scarcely a whole window-pane can be found; the walls are crumbling, door-posts and window-frames loose and broken, doors of old boards nailed together, or altogether wanting in this thieves’ quarter, where no doors are needed, there being nothing to steal. Heaps of garbage and ashes lie in all directions, and the foul liquids emptied before the doors gather in stinking pools. Here live the poorest of the poor, the worst paid workers with thieves and the victims of prostitution indiscriminately huddled together … and those who have not yet sunk in the whirlpool of moral ruin which surrounds them, sinking daily deeper, losing daily more and more of their power to resist the demoralizing influence of want, filth, and evil surroundings.

CBS News reports that Los Angeles residents need to earn nearly $50 an hour to afford the median monthly rent of $2,471, according to the California Housing Partnership Coalition. As a result, the population living on the streets, in vehicles, and in shelters climbed 16% in the past year, putting the number of homeless people at nearly 60,000. And they’re dying in record numbers, with 918 deaths last year and a 76% rise in the previous five years, according to US News & World Report.

Lonely homeless
In LA alone, the homeless population rose to nearly 60,000—and they are also dying in record numbers. / Image: Public Domain

As of this writing, there is a draft plan to rezone skid row, ground zero for the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles. The details are vague at best, but in all likelihood, it will further displace those in greatest need. And as with the plans that preceded it, it’s quite likely that the state’s Democratic supermajority will find another way to kick the can down the road. The Los Angeles Times recently published the article “Rats at the police station, filth on LA streets—scenes from the collapse of a city that’s lost control”:

I didn’t have to travel far to find more streets just as badly fouled by filthy mounds of junk and stinking, rotting food. Then there was the news that the LAPD station on skid row was cited by the state for a rodent infestation and other unsanitary conditions and that one employee there was infected with the strain of bacteria that causes typhoid fever. What century is this? Is it the 21st century in the largest city of a state that ranks among the world’s most robust economies, or did someone turn back the calendar a few hundred years? We’ve got thousands of people huddled on the streets, many of them withering away with physical and mental disease. Sidewalks have disappeared, hidden by tents and the kinds of makeshift shanties you see in Third World places. Typhoid and typhus are in the news, and an army of rodents is on the move. (our emphasis)

And typhoid fever may be just the beginning of an impending public health catastrophe. Some think there is a very real possibility that the aforementioned army of rodents (which has triggered a 60% rise in pest control calls) may carry with them the bubonic plague. Moreover, homeless fires have increased 211% over the last year, with firefighters addressing nearly seven fires daily, which all risk spreading to nearby buildings.

Unsurprisingly, against this horrific backdrop of Iron Age disease and decay, more than 13,000 left Los Angeles County between 2017 and 2018 according to US Census data. And just as in the Bay Area, thousands more are living in cars, vans, and RVs—over 16,000 of them. The city then failed miserably in its experiment to provide “safe” parking spots for the homeless. One “vanlord” cashed in by renting space in vans for $300 a month outside the local multimillion-dollar mansions.

So at the end of July, Los Angeles City Council voted to ban overnight sleeping or living in a vehicle at any time in proximity to parks, schools, preschools, or daycare facilities. In a tacit admission of impotence in the face of the crisis, Democratic City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson said: “When you have 30,000 people living on the street, there are no good choices.” Indeed, there are no good choices—under capitalism.

Are you a communist?
Then apply to join your party!