Good Morning, Dinerzens. Today’s topic is domestic servitude, but it has international implications.
Some months ago, our County Commission gave a 32-year tax credit to a proposed “workforce housing” development in my neighborhood in Albuquerque. We didn’t have much information about the project in advance, but at one of the neighborhood meetings, the developer told those assembled that the financial partner for the building was Berkshire Hathaway. “You may have heard of them,” he said with a chuckle.
The project renderings available at the time did not appeal to many neighbors, but what rankled us the most were the tax credits and the lack of parking. The project is located in an area of downtown that has no parking requirements for any building, something the developer was totally hip to, but not the neighbors who will be impacted by the re-development of the former motel site. My county commissioner would not give me the time of day, and another said, “You progressives like transit-oriented development until it’s in your neighborhood, and then you say ‘Not In My Back Yard.’” The developer says the mostly young people who will live there “want to be green, so they’ll ride bicycles.”
“Workforce housing” is a euphemism for “low income housing” for workers earning 60% of median income. This project has 151 units, mostly studio apartments with just a few one and two bedroom options. There are 21 parking spaces that the tenants will pay extra to use. For 32 years, the property will contribute Not One Cent to fund streets and buses, schools and hospitals, among many services the residents will use. The citizens of Albuquerque and small business property owners will foot the bill for Warren Buffett’s financial investment. Low income workers will funnel more than a million dollars each year into the developer’s pockets. There are 4 employees needed for the completed project and construction jobs for some months, but most of the money generated from this operation will be electronically transferred to the home office in Portland, OR.
What I have been investigating since this project popped up is national housing policy and student loan debt, how they are interconnected and what this whole concept, cynical and planned or a result of on-going structural economic issues, portends for the generation of people who are projected to live in human filing cabinets under construction across the US.
This is where we talk about “micro-apartments.” Because it sounds so, um, urbane. And it is happening world wide, to the same young people. Every effort is being made to make it palatable. Of course 1% of the young will have it easy, but “workforce housing” will absolutely be needed.
Sallie Mae/the US Government, is making a handsome profit from a widening circle of people through student loans, and there are a variety of actions to square that off. Elizabeth Warren has taken a stab, perhaps insufficient, at the problem. Strike Debt is another option. David Dayen describes the result of student borrowing as indenture, but this is a global trend, the likely outcome of continued policies reinforcing the economic inequality and injustice our next generations face, coming of age in a time of economic hopelessness.
Student loans and “workforce housing” are structured government programs that may have broadly benefited previous generations but have now been re-written to create profits for a few by gouging the young. The government has outsourced debt-collection on student loans, and the squeeze is on. Increasing numbers of the elderly are still paying their student debts. (Dayen’s article has many of these same links.)
Perhaps this next generation of workers will rise up. Maybe they will go back to the methods we used before social media, once so powerful in the hands of the many but now another government program gone so very wrong. It’s tragic: all the work of organizing for better living and working conditions was so 19 c.; a long time ago, and yet we are apparently doomed to repeat it.