Monday, January 15, 2018
HOMELESS DEATHS SKYROCKET IN CANADA - BEGINNING TO LOOK LIKE LOS ANGELES
By Janet Browning
Homelessness levels have risen so sharply in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, that city officials have announced the creation of 400 new beds in shelters this winter. This move, which is entirely inadequate to deal with the spiraling crisis, came after Toronto reported a sharp increase in homeless deaths in the first nine months of 2017.
On any given night, 35,000 Canadians are homeless, including some 5,000 in Toronto and 4,000 in Vancouver. An activist with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty told CTV News last month that meeting the demand for beds in Toronto would require making a thousand more available immediately.
At least 70 homeless people died in Toronto in the first nine months of 2017, an average of approximately 2 per week. The city’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, reported that 57 were men, or 81 per cent, while 13 were women. The median age of those who died was 48.
Cathy Crowe, a street nurse, educator and activist who has worked in the area of homelessness since 1988, said the data doesn’t tell the whole story. A man decapitated by a train, another beaten to death in a bus shelter, others burned to death in a makeshift shelter or dead due to a drug overdose, women burned to death in a ravine or murdered on the streets--this is how Toronto’s homeless have died. “These deaths are violent. They are never natural,” Crowe told reporters.
The average house price in Toronto was $1.2 million in March 2017. There has not been a subsidized affordable housing program in Ontario since the New Democratic Party (NDP) provincial government stopped approving rent geared to income (RGI) units in the 1990s. The federal Liberal Chrétien government ended Canada’s subsidized affordable housing program in 1993.
With 176,000 people on the subsidized housing waiting-list in Toronto, anyone currently homeless in Toronto will continue to be so and that means their chances of living out their natural life-span could be reduced by as much as 40 percent, according to a study by Dr. Stephen Hwang, director of the Centre for Urban Health Solutions at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital.
Based on the most recent available data, at least seventy homeless people died in British Columbia in 2015, a 56 percent increase over 2014, reports Megaphone Magazine, a non-profit group that advocates for homeless and low-income people. That is the highest number on record going back to 2006 and compares with 45 homeless deaths in 2014 and 27 in 2013. These deaths pre-date the full-scale eruption of BC’s deadly opioid crisis and the figures, from the BC Coroners Service, are likely underestimates. Even so, this equates to over one death a week. The Coroners Service deemed more than half of the homeless deaths were accidental or preventable, as compared to just 16.5 percent of those it reviewed among the general population.
The Coroners Service found the number one cause of homeless deaths in 2015 was poisoning by alcohol or drugs, for a total of 34, up from 13 in 2014, and the number two cause was natural disease. In BC, the homeless die on average between 40 and 49 years of age, compared with the average person who can expect to live 76.4 years. The findings also show a 114 percent increase in homeless deaths in the Fraser Valley region, up from 14 people in 2014 to 30 in 2015.
The Coroners Service statistics includes deaths of those who were considered “street homeless” and “sheltered homeless,” but not those who were staying in temporary accommodations such as a hotel, a correctional institution or a residential treatment facility with no permanent home to which to return. Deaths that must be reported to the coroner include all non-natural deaths and sudden and unexpected deaths of those not under the care of a physician; homeless deaths that did not meet this criteria were not included.
The average house in Vancouver now costs $1.6 million, forcing people to seek shelter in the outer suburbs and beyond. “If you were to go to the Wal-Mart parking lot in Abbotsford at 2 AM, you would see about 20 vehicles there and every single one would have one or two people sleeping inside,” said Jesse Wegenast, minister at Abbotsford Street Church. “We’ve definitely seen a demographic shift away from the stereotypical, street-entrenched homeless … and we’re seeing more and more single-parent families. We’re seeing more people coming out here from Metro Vancouver, coming out here thinking they’ll find something more affordable.”
The Metro Vancouver Homeless Count happens every three years and on March 8, 2017, volunteers counted 3,605 living rough over a 24-hour period. Based on this count, it was estimated that the homeless population had increased by 44 percent to over 4,000 people, with more youth, those under 18, and seniors, those 55 and older, living on the streets or in shelters than ever before. In Surrey, a young girl who aged out of foster care recently died in a tent.
Just 51 seniors were identified in the 2002 count, and 371 in 2014 out of an estimated homeless population of 2,777. In 2017 the count found 556 homeless seniors out of just fewer than 4,000.
The number of homeless who identified as First Nations people rose to 746 from 582, although they make up just 6 percent of BC’s population and just 3 percent of Vancouver’s.
The report said five people become homeless within Metro Vancouver every week and 80 percent of homeless people in the region have a chronic health issue, 49 percent have an addiction and 34 percent suffer from mental illness. The report said the need for systemic improvements to “effectively manage the crisis is urgent” and requires action from all levels of government, though it specifically called on the province to do more. It said the region’s homeless population has steadily increased over the past 15 years and 60,000 households are vulnerable to homelessness because they spend more than half their income on shelter.
More than 70 homeless camps operate in BC’s Lower Mainland. “Advocates point to a lack of affordable housing, as well as limited provision of harm reduction and shelter services in asserting that people experiencing homelessness in the Fraser region experience marginalization that makes them increasingly vulnerable,” the report states.
When David Eby was the Opposition BC NDP’s housing critic, the NDP tabled private member’s legislation calling for a poverty reduction plan six times. Before the 2017 election he said in an interview, “I think you’re going to see this election contested on who has the best housing plan as one of the key issues for Metro Vancouver.”
The NDP has been in power in BC since July, yet no new plans were made to shelter the homeless this winter. Instead, the new government has focused on boasting that its spending commitments will comply with the austerity financial framework laid down by the big business Liberals, who slashed public spending to the bone and handed out tax breaks to the super rich during their 16 years in power.
The death rate among the homeless population also underscores how thoroughly cynical and insincere the federal Liberals’ national housing strategy is. Rolled out amid much media fanfare in late November, the plan pledged to cut the homeless population in half over the next decade. Most of the funds included in the much-touted $40 billion “strategy” will come from existing programs or must be contributed from the provinces, whose financial resources are already stretched to breaking point due to austerity measures pursued by successive federal governments, including cuts to transfers for health care, education and welfare.
The housing strategy will also provide billions to private companies to build “affordable” housing, which is considered to be housing available at 80 percent of the local median rent price. With typical rent prices in Vancouver for an apartment standing at $2,000 per month, that means an “affordable” apartment would cost $1,600, well out of reach for many working class people.
By Carl Bronski
Workers in Ontario and across Canada have expressed outrage at actions taken by employers seeking to cut the take-home pay and benefits of minimum wage workers in the wake of the Ontario provincial Liberal government’s implementation of new employment standards.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s misnamed Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, which became law on January 1, is a key initiative of the provincial Liberals to rescue their abysmal poll numbers in the run-up to this June’s election. A central provision of the new law boosts the minimum wage for most workers from $11.60 (US$9.33) per hour to $14 (US$11.26) effective immediately, with another hike to $15 (US$12.06) scheduled for next January.
Prior to its implementation, the law was effusively praised by the trade unions and pseudo-left groups as a tremendous step forward for workers, with the International Socialists proclaiming it “historic.” However, the Liberals made sure there were so many loopholes in the legislation that employers have been able, notwithstanding the minimum wage hike, to reduce workers’ paychecks.
Within days of the wage increase, workers across the province began to receive notifications from their employers announcing reductions in take-home pay and benefits, and changes to workers’ employment status.
In a particularly scandalous move that has received much attention in the Canadian media, Ron Joyce Jr. and Jeri-Lynn Horton-Joyce, the owners of two Tim Horton’s franchises, and heirs to billionaire Ron Joyce Sr., the co-founder of the Tim Horton’s coffee shop empire, ordered their workers to sign a document acknowledging their loss of paid breaks, paid benefits and other monetary incentives. Workers at their franchises have calculated that the cutbacks—entirely legal under Wynne’s new standards—will cost a veteran full-time worker $51 per paycheck which, despite the minimum wage hike, means an actual wage cut.
Other employers have sought to exploit the gaping loopholes in the employment standards provisions to maintain their profit levels. Rainbow Foods has eliminated paid breaks. Car dealerships have shifted drivers’ status from wage labourers to “independent contractors.” Department store workers have reported cuts to their scheduled hours of work. A province-wide, all-day breakfast chain, Sunset Grill, boosted their prices and ordered a 25 percent increase in tip clawbacks to “offset” a 20 percent minimum wage hike.
“With this increase, it’s like a double whammy for us,” one Sunset Grill server told Vice News. “It’s like we don’t even get a wage increase at all.” Another said, “We basically run the restaurant. At the end of the day, this is an insult. We work our asses off.”
Under Ontario law, servers and other staff in “tip intensive” industries receive a lower minimum wage—currently just $12.10 per hour.
The cutbacks reach into every aspect of low-wage work. In industries requiring uniforms, workers have now been ordered to buy their own.
These loopholes are not an unfortunate by-product of the legislation. The trade union-backed Liberal government bent over backwards to assure businesses that their bottom lines would not be impacted. Shortly before the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act came into force, the Liberals handed a 1 percent corporate tax rate cut to small businesses on the first $500,000 of profits to offset the cost of any wage increases.
Moreover, the government added outright exemptions for some employers. F or example, the new law gives workers in Ontario 10 days of personal emergency leave, two of which are paid. In a provision kept secret by the government in the run-up to enactment of the legislation, the act denies all workers in the auto sector those same minimal protections. Instead, autoworkers will be entitled under provincial law to seven days of sick or emergency leave and three days of bereavement leave, all unpaid. (“Canada: Ontario Liberals impose two-tier employment on autoworkers”)
Due to a decades-long marketing campaign to sell the Tim Horton’s coffee chain as a cornerstone of Canadian cultural identity (although, awkwardly for nationalists, its current majority owner is the Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital), media attention has focused on the cuts at those franchises.
Reacting to the firestorm of outrage at the cuts, Premier Wynne branded the franchise owners who had imposed benefits cuts as “bullies” and called on them to follow “the spirit” of the law. This is rich coming from a premier who has repeatedly outlawed strikes to force workers to accept rotten concessionary contracts, slashed social spending and presided over public sector job cuts.
Andrea Horwath, leader of the provincial New Democratic Party, which propped up the strike-breaking, pro-austerity Liberal minority government from 2012 to 2014 and campaigned to the right of the Liberals in the last provincial election, questioned “independent contractor” re-classifications, but otherwise simply called on employers to “follow the law.”
None of these politicians cared to address the fact that the employers’ offensive against low-paid workers is entirely legal under the Liberals’ legislation. Together with the unions, they seek to present the issues involved as purely local in character, even though there is a relentless drive by big business in Canada and around the world to gut workers’ social rights and accelerate the transfer of wealth from working people to the rich and super-rich.
The response of the trade unions has been equally cynical.
At a protest outside a Toronto Tim Horton’s, Toronto and York Region Labour Council President Jim Cartwright called on franchisees to seek permission for price increases from their home office to offset the wage hike. Ontario Federation of Labour President Chris Buckley, appearing at another protest, echoed Wynne’s remarks, while avoiding any criticism of the Liberal government. For good measure, Buckley added some bluster about stepping up pressure on franchise owners for “fairness.” Buckley, as autoworkers who got to see him up close when he was the president of Canadian Autoworkers Local 222 know full well, has a long history of delivering such blather while presiding over the imposition of concession contracts and the elimination of jobs, including the CAW’s the infamous scuttling of opposition to the closure of the Oshawa GM Truck plant.
The union bureaucrats’ studious silence on the Liberal government’s role in launching the latest round of attacks on workers in Ontario comes as no surprise. With a provincial election approaching, the unions have already opened their war chests to fund yet another multi-million dollar pro-Liberal election campaign, conducted on the bogus pretext of “stopping” the Tories. In reality, the unions’ consistent support for the Liberals over the past 15 years has enabled the ruling class’ preferred party of government to enforce right-wing, anti-working class policies that go far beyond those implemented by the Progressive Conservatives under Mike Harris and his Common Sense Revolution. These include the privatization of public utilities, brutal social spending cuts and further tax handouts to big business and the richest 1 percent.
What the unions want to avoid at all costs is a broad-based working class mobilization against the political establishment and the capitalist profit system, because this would undermine their cozy corporatist relations with Liberals and big business as a whole. As part of the unions’ open transformation over the past three decades into pro-corporate entities with interests diametrically opposed to those of the workers they claim to represent, top union bureaucrats have been integrated into tripartite business-government-union committees and Liberal-led government consultative bodies. A prime example of this was the months-long “independent” review that laid the basis for the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act.
A mass working class movement directed against the entire political establishment and their accomplices in the trade unions is precisely what is required. Recent events in Ontario have once again thoroughly exposed the rotten politics of the pseudo-left groups who have promoted campaigns such as “Fight for $15 and Fairness,” which are aimed at boosting the pro-capitalist unions’ much diminished authority and helping them to develop a new dues base among low-wage, service workers. It is not possible to conduct a struggle for better wages and working conditions in alliance with organizations which seek to prop up the political parties responsible for decimating workers’ wages, living conditions and public services.
Workers at Tim Horton’s and other companies must take the struggle into their own hands. Action committees must be formed, controlled by rank-and-file workers, to lead the struggle for a livable income, which in major cities like Toronto or Ottawa would be well above $20 per hour. This is above all a political struggle, requiring the fight to develop the independent activity of the working class in opposition to all of the capitalist parties. This can be accomplished only through the adoption of a socialist and internationalist program to connect the struggles of workers in Ontario and across Canada with their class brothers and sisters internationally.
By Christopher Davion and Matthew Verhoven
By Warren Duzak
Rent increases that have made life almost impossible for working class families nationwide are a serious problem in Nashville, Tennessee. The rise in rental costs, which out-distance incremental increases in wages, can be traced to the financial feeding frenzy of investors, hedge fund operators and real estate speculators following the 2008 crash.
“Locals complain that the rents are taking a bigger bite out of their paychecks,” the Wall Street Journal reported, as far back as 2014, on rent increases in Nashville.
The real human costs—homelessness, lack of money for food, clothes and heat—were trivialized under the headline, “Nashville rent increases have residents singing the blues.”
“While apartment rents are up 18% since 2009,” the newspaper reported, “median household income in the Nashville metro area has grown by 5%, to $53,671, according to Moody’s Analytics. More than half of renter households in the Nashville metro area are considered cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30% of their income to rent.”
In its January 8 story, “Rising rents put low income US renters in severe jeopardy,” the WSWS outlined the plight of renters nationwide. “A December report on the housing crisis that appeared in a publication of the Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve, called FEDS Notes, reports on the distress for families in the lowest US income quintile brought on by a squeeze in monthly income from rising rents and stagnant or falling wages.
“In general, these families earn under $25,000 annually. The lowest-paid fifth of US households includes workers making more than minimum wage (and) rent increases have rapidly and relentlessly outstripped stagnant or declining annual wages for workers at the lowest income levels.”
Written by researchers from the US Federal Reserve and the Brookings Institution, the December report notes that the portion of monthly income that low-income households must spend on rent has been rising through the last several business cycles. “Rent burdens have increased over the past 15 years, due to both increasing rents and decreasing incomes,” the WSWS reported.
In Nashville, the rent increases have been most dramatic. For instance, according to online RentJungle.com, rents in Nashville (with minor fluctuations each month) rose from about $648 a month for a one-bedroom apartment and $872 for a two-bedroom apartment in 2011 to $1,214 for one bedroom and $1,460 for two in December 2017.
Compounding the problem is Tennessee’s regressive tax system .
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported in 2015 that it was the poor and working class who were paying for the “business friendly” atmosphere state and Nashville officials love to tout.
A study by the Federal Reserve Bank found that Tennessee had the most regressive tax system in the nation, forcing “poor and middle-class taxpayers, in most instances, to pay a bigger share of their income than do wealthy individuals,” the Chattanooga newspaper reported. “Tennessee boasts some of the lowest overall tax rates of any state, but its heavy reliance upon the sales tax for the biggest share of the state revenues means that a disproportionate share of the taxes paid comes from low and middle-income taxpayers.”
Nashville has seen an incredible boom in residential development in and around the downtown area. For months, on any given day, the Nashville skyline was dominated by dozens of giant 200-foot construction cranes. What is being built are not affordable apartments for the working class who wait on tables, clerk the high-end clothing stores, teach school, or provide patient care in one of the many Nashville hospitals.
Even in 2014, the Wall Street Journal focused on the upscale nature of “Music City’s” development. One building, at 1505 Demonbreun, the Wall StreetJournal reported, “advertises amenities such as a saltwater pool and ‘Zen Courtyard with FirePit Lounge.’ Monthly rents for one-bedroom apartments in the building range from $1,450 to $2,000; two-bedroom apartments range from $2,200 to $4,000 a month.”
According to a 2015 Brookings Institution analysis of Census Bureau data, Nashville ranked sixth out of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the US for income disparity. Residents in the 95th percentile have an average annual income of around $170,000, 7.9 times more than those in the 20th percentile, who earn little more than $21,000.
But Nashville is a town whose leaders love to give money away to business.
The ABC television program “Nashville,” before it was cancelled, received more than $33 million from the city and the state over four years in tax incentives and outright grants.
When Ryman Hospitality Properties Inc. announced plans last summer to build a $90 million, 217,000 square-foot water park at its Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center north of downtown, the city provided $13.8 million in tax breaks for a facility that will only be open to hotel and resort guests.
The city will likely spend more than $477 million over the next two decades to renovate Nissan Stadium, home to the NFL football team, the Tennessee Titans, and Bridgestone Arena, used in part as home to the NHL hockey team, the Nashville Predators.
Nashville’s Democratic Mayor Megan Barry, a former corporate official and darling of liberal and pseudo-left circles for her promotion of gender and identity politics, is prepared to spend $225 million on a soccer stadium to get a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise here.
At the same time, Barry is proposing turning Meharry General Hospital, traditionally the city’s “charity” hospital for the poor, into a day-patient clinic to save money; no doubt for further tax breaks and grants for rich corporations.
While the well-to-do prosper, Nashville’s homeless population only seems to increase year after year. This past year in the “It” city—for previously being named “one of best cities to live in” by various national media outlets—more homeless died than ever before. As rents go up and many homes are snapped up by investors, so will the homeless population, one advocate for the homeless said.
“The lack in affordable housing, I think, is the main reason we’re seeing this,” Samuel Lester, street outreach and advocacy coordinator for Open Table Nashville, a nonprofit that assists the homeless, had said previously.
In Williamson County, the richest county in the state, which borders on Nashville/Davidson County, the lack of affordable housing has been a chronic problem. Workers in service, restaurant and hospitality jobs could never afford to work and live in the county. Even some of the upper-middle class people who hoped to inhabit the county with the highest median income in the state are finding it a struggle.
That can be traced to institutional investors buying up homes and turning them into rental property, Lisa Wurth, president of the Williamson County Association of Realtors, told the Tennessean newspaper.
“The challenge becomes the people renting those homes many times would have bought homes if they hadn’t been competing with these investors. They end up renting from the investors who bought the homes.”
The percentage of renters nationally has climbed to a 50-year high, with more than one in three Americans (37 percent) renting, while home ownership is the lowest since 1967, according to a 2017 Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.
Investors and hedge fund parasites have gleefully noted that the process will only pick up speed as they pick up property and take homes off the market.
“Across Middle Tennessee, Progress Residential has bought at least 1,200 homes and converted them to rentals. A handful of other out-of-state investment groups—American Homes 4 Rent, Starwood Waypoint Homes, Streetlane Homes and Main Street Renewal—have also targeted the Nashville market.
“Together, they own at least 4,900 homes in Smyrna, Murfreesboro, Antioch, Spring Hill, Mt. Juliet and several other fast-growing neighborhoods,” the Tennessean reported in August last year, under the headline, “Investors scoop up Nashville Area Homes, add to competitive market.”
In a recent report on the investment groups’ growing presence in middle Tennessee and nationally, the Tennessean reported “the tally of homes owned by the four largest investment firms was close to 700 homes in Spring Hill alone.”
American Homes 4 Rent owns 2,500 homes in the Nashville market, which comprises more than 5 percent of the market, according to the company’s financial statements. Its national portfolio includes 48,000 homes, according to the Tennessean.
“On Hardwood Drive in Murfreesboro, the company owns three homes and Progress Residential owns three. On Calderwood Drive in Antioch, American Homes owns five, and Progress has three. The scenario plays out on cul-de-sacs, courts and drives throughout Davidson’s neighboring counties,” the Tennessean concluded.
By Emanuele Saccarelli
In spite of a series of initiatives carried out by the local political establishment in response to a recent public health crisis, the city of San Diego continues to remain in the grips of a homelessness crisis.
Official reports indicate that more than 9,000 homeless people live on the streets of San Diego, with over a thousand of them being concentrated in the downtown area. According to these latest figures, which are widely believed to underestimate the problem, San Diego has the fourth largest homeless population in the country.
In 2017, the total number of homeless people nationwide reportedly increased for the first time in seven years. While the national number increased by about 1 percent, the number of homeless people in San Diego went up significantly, by 5 percent.
The number of homeless people dying in the streets of San Diego has also been steadily increasing. While 56 homeless people died in San Diego County in 2014, the number spiked to 90 in 2015, 115 in 2016, and 117 last year.
The local political establishment in the city routinely proclaims that a solution for the problem is at hand. As was the case for his predecessors, current Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer professed a great deal of concern for the problem.
Stating that his administration would make homelessness its number-one social service priority, Faulconer promised swift action in his 2017 state of the city address a year ago. These initiatives included a new hotel tax hike to provide financial resources, the creation of a centralized intake homelessness center hub, and hundreds of new shelter beds.
By the summer of last year, none of these promises had been fulfilled.
However, a serious outbreak of hepatitis A in San Diego began to make national, and even international news, at the end of the summer, threatening among other things the standing of San Diego as a desirable tourist destination.
While the outbreak, the deadliest in the US in many decades, was centered in San Diego, other cases were reported in other cities in California as well. To this day, the hepatitis A outbreak has infected more than 500 people and led to the death of at least 20 individuals.
More than half of the infected, and the majority of the victims, are homeless people, as the disease tends to spread under poor sanitary conditions.
The outbreak compelled the local political establishment to suddenly snap into action.
Three large severe weather shelter tents were put up in different locations of the city by the end of the year.
Given the quantitative scope of the problem, the response by the city is totally inadequate. The three new tents together can only host a total of 700 individuals, leaving several thousands more in the streets. Inside, they consist of tightly packed-together bunk beds, thus hardly alleviating the issues that have led to the hepatitis A outbreak in the first place. Finally, the tents are temporary, meant to operate for seven months from December 1.
The tents have been established by the city as a form of “bridge housing.” That is, the homeless can remain there for no longer than 120 days. The stated goal of this arrangement is for 65 percent of those leaving the tents to find permanent housing afterward.
In reality, the Regional Task Force on the Homeless indicates that only about 25 percent of homeless people who enter shelters in San Diego are then able to move into permanent housing. The agencies that win multimillion-dollar contracts to set up temporary shelters have to prove, by various means, that a certain percentage of inhabitants transition to permanent housing; however, many tenants are then unable to remain housed and keep up with increasing rents.
What this snap initiative has accomplished is to secure a total of $6.5 million for various service-providing outfits, including $2.8 million for the Alpha Project and $1.9 million for Veterans Village of San Diego.
The hepatitis outbreak is now apparently subsiding; a handful of cases per week are currently being reported, less than at the peak of the outbreak. The health emergency that had been officially declared on September 1 of last year may be called off by the end of this month.
This means that the city’s paltry response to the homelessness crisis that was triggered by the hepatitis A outbreak, far from constituting the beginning of a serious effort to solve the problem, will be a temporary and inadequate band-aid.
The homelessness problem, moreover, is more than simply a matter of having a sufficient number of beds available for those who live in the streets.
In San Diego, as elsewhere, the homeless crisis is the concentrated expression of all the manifold problems that exist intractably under capitalism. These include housing availability and costs, but also the lack of jobs, low wages, public health and addiction problems, lack of resources for mental health problems, and inadequate education.
This is all capped by the corruption and indifference of the political establishment and the unwillingness on the part of the ruling class they represent to make the slightest economic sacrifice in order to address the pressing social problems confronting the poor and working class.
Reporters from the World Socialist Web Site spoke to homeless individuals in downtown San Diego last weekend about the conditions they face and the response by the government.
Rachel, a young woman who has spent time homeless in her hometown of Seattle, Washington, then in Tijuana, Mexico, and finally in San Diego, reviewed her experience living on the streets in the Southern California city.
“I was really surprised when I came here to see how many people are in the streets here. I’ve never seen anything like that before,” she said. “There is a minimal amount of shelters for women. I was turned away from three shelters because there wasn’t space. I finally got into the Alpha Project tents, where I’ve been for about two weeks now, with 300 other men and women. They feed us there once a day, at 5 p.m., so it gets really crazy, there’s fights, drama.”
Rachel explained that the tents “changed things a little bit, but they change the rules daily in there, they don’t really know what they are doing.
“Ever since the hepatitis A outbreak, [the city] wanted to deal with the problem really fast. They promised us there were going to be housing coordinators helping us get into long-term housing. The Alpha Project is supposed to be a bridge to something else, but not permanent housing. There has to be something after that. We are supposed to talk to housing coordinators, but nobody’s talked to me about it. No one really has an answer.”
Debra, 61, originally from Colorado, worked for a hospice for 13 years, then as an in-home caregiver.
“I became unemployed, then homeless three years ago,” she explained “When I lost my job I took two trips to Alaska to try to make that work, that was the last shot I gave it. I couldn’t do the minimum of 16 hours per day they required there. I am just not that young anymore, so I had to come back. No matter how many applications I put out here, due to my age, they wouldn’t hire me. They never gave me a chance.”
“I’ve been out here homeless about three years. I’ve seen it go from bad to worse. The city doesn’t provide much for us. We don’t have facilities to go to the bathroom. I am surprised they actually brought out stations to wash our hands after the outbreak of hepatitis,” she said about the hepatitis outbreak in the city.
“They stopped giving out tents and started setting up big ones. Now everybody’s got to live close to each other, and nobody knows what the other guy has. Tuberculosis could possibly break out. You are talking close quarters, you know? Feet-to-feet, head-to-head bunk beds. Who wants to live like that?”
Debra also addressed the possible upcoming visit of President Trump to San Diego, explaining her attitude toward the political establishment: “The last time we had somebody big like that they started cleaning up the streets, made it look like there’s not a problem here, and I think that’s sad. This is government covering up the real issues. Why cover up the streets? You can’t sugarcoat it, paint it another color.
“I think we are going to end up in concentration camps, because that’s what those tents look like. This is supposed to be America, the land of the free, where you can come and live the American dream. ... I don’t think the government really cares, I really don’t. If they did, things would have been changed by now. It’s getting deeper, and it’s getting worse.”
By Debra Watson
The recent severe cold spell in large parts of the US will be remembered most due to the frequent reports of homeless citizens freezing to death, because they could not find housing, or even emergency shelter. Half a million homeless are living on the streets of major US cities this winter, according to official counts.
Millions more face a precarious housing situation, threatened not only by a lost job or illness, events that often lead to a foreclosure or eviction, but a general decline in living standards related to widening income inequality in the US.
Precipitous increases in rent and stagnant and declining wages are creating an unsustainable squeeze on lower income households. The number of those who must spend the majority of their monthly income on rent is rising and along with that the portion of the monthly income they spend on rent is rising too.
A December report on the housing crisis that appeared in a publication of the Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve, called FEDS Notes, reports on the distress for families in the lowest US income quintile brought on by a squeeze in monthly income from rising rents and stagnant or falling wages.
In general, these families earn under $25,000 annually. The lowest-paid fifth of US households includes workers making more than minimum wage. In Michigan a minimum wage job for a worker employed every week for the whole year yields about $18,000. Rent increases have rapidly and relentlessly outstripped stagnant or declining annual wages for workers at the lowest income levels.
Written by researchers from the US Federal Reserve and the Brookings Institution, the December report notes that the portion of monthly income that low-income households must spend on rent has been rising through the last several business cycles. “Rent burdens have increased over the past 15 years, due to both increasing rents and decreasing incomes,” they say.
The squeeze is relentless. Families at the bottom end of the pay scale have not been able to get out of the squeeze in the business recovery after a recession. They note: “This increase in rent burdens over the past 15 years occurred through each business cycle period including both the period prior to the financial crisis (2000-2006), the economic downturn (2006-2009) and the subsequent recovery (2009-2015). Although rent-to income ratios are greatest among low-income households, the share of income spent on rent also rose among higher income renters.”
They also explain the main economic sources of the plight of low-income renters: “Of the overall decline in residual income since 2000, around two-thirds came from declines in income among renters and one third resulted from rising rents.”
The FEDS Notes release in late December used statistics from the US Census Bureau American Community Survey. Their report provides a window into the desperate circumstances working class families, especially those at the low end of the income scale, now face when seeking housing.
They note the deterioration of renter families’ ability to cope with the ever-rising rents. “The median renter in the lowest income quintile pays 56 percent of monthly income on rent,” exceeding HUD’s standard for rent burdened, paying more than 30 percent of income on rent and severe rent burdened, paying more than half of income for rent. “Though the rent burden has increased at every income level, it is especially acute at the lower end of the US income scale,” they say.
“Such renters have little left for paying everything else,” according to the report. “In the lowest income quintile in the US a family has just $476 left after housing costs for all other basic needs,” noting Census bureau estimates that a family needs nearly three times this—$1,400—for these basic needs.
Last fall Freddie Mac Multifamily presented detail that throws light on the trend of rising rents. Researchers there noted how rapidly rents in multi-family units they finance are going up. Increases on rents on existing properties in apartments were squeezing low-income renters, following a general trend in US rental housing reported elsewhere by housing advocacy groups.
The Federal Mortgage Home Loan Corporation (FMHLC) or Freddie Mac, is one of two major US housing finance entities, along with Fannie Mae.
Some sixty to eighty percent of affordable rental apartments in privately owned multi-family apartment buildings financed by mortgage lender Freddie Mac have been eliminated in the US since 2010.
Very low income households, used in the Freddie Mac report, are defined for various US government agencies as families making half or less than the median income in a particular geographical area. This is a step above HUD’s Extremely Low Income designation, and falls in the same range as the lowest quintile households covered in the FEDS Notes report.
In the Detroit metropolitan area in 2016, very low income was about $24,000 for an individual renter. By comparison, extremely low income individuals have annual incomes of about $14,000.
Along with a dearth of building in the low-income rental market—most new apartments are built and command rents only affordable to the much better off—the report notes that housing construction costs are also a factor and have been exacerbated by the hurricane destruction in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
Freddie Mac researchers compiled figures back to 2010 on lending to multi-family projects, that is apartment buildings they financed twice during that period: “[W]e analyzed the affordability of the exact same units at two different, but close, points in time.”
Families denoted as VLI necessarily had not moved out as rents increased year by year. Instead the same population living in the buildings ended up paying what amount to unsustainable housing costs, paying rents exceeding the HUD affordability benchmark.
The Freddie Mac researchers used two sets of data to look into affordable housing for very low income renters. The first used internal numbers on a relatively small set of data to examine how it compared with overall trends in rental housing adversely impacting lowest income renters being reported elsewhere.
In the 97,000 rental units in multi-family buildings Freddie Mac financed in 2010 and then again in 2016, the percentage of units affordable for very low income households dropped by more than half, from 11.2 percent to 4.3 percent nationwide. These were refinances of the exact same units.
Some states were hit hard. For example, in Colorado in 2010 about a third—32 percent of the 5,100 rental apartments financed with Freddie Mac loans were affordable for very low income households. By 2016 the same buildings were re-financed by the agency and only 7.5 percent of the very same apartments were VLI affordable.
An expanded part of their analysis looked at all multi-family housing projects they originated from 2010 to 2016 and found an even greater decline of 78 percent between 2010 and 2016 of apartments deemed affordable to very low-income renters when Freddie Mac lent to the owners. Rent increases had wiped out affordability at tens of thousands of units by 2016.
It is remarkable that warnings usually heard from housing agencies and advocacy groups—that is groups dedicated to advocating for the vulnerable—are the subject of earnest reports advanced by financial entities at the commanding heights of the US economy. The Federal Reserve is a key player in fueling the general investment frenzy leading to the stock market rise and contributing to driving up rents.
The few solutions being offered are less than inadequate. Freddie Mac indicates in its report that one approach to addressing the problem is to look to financing manufactured homes—that is, into one of the most dangerous housing options one can find! This parallels the sclerotic federal and state efforts, often advanced by sections of the Democratic Party, to provide funding for assistance. Even existing programs, woefully underfunded, face decimation under the Trump administration to pay for tax cuts to the wealthy.
By Niles Niemuth
The inaugural World Inequality Report published on Thursday by economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman, Facundo Alvaredo and Lucas Chancel documents the rise in global income and wealth inequality since 1980.
The report covers through 2016, leaving out the previous year, in which the stock market has soared on the expectation that the US will enact massive tax cuts, providing yet another windfall for the rich.
The report found that between 1980 and 2016 the world’s richest one percent captured twice the income growth as the bottom half of the world’s population, contributing to a significant rise in global inequality.
Top 1 percent vs. Bottom 50 percent national income shares in the US 1980–2016
The data shows that the world’s top 0.1 percent alone captured as much growth as the bottom half, and the top 0.001 percent, just 76,000 people worldwide, received 4 percent of global income growth. Meanwhile those in the 50th to 99th percentiles worldwide, which the report refers to as the “squeezed bottom 90 percent in the US and Western Europe,” encompassing the working class in the world’s advanced economies, experienced anemic growth rates.
The report is based on tax data and other financial information collected for the World Wealth and Income Database by more than 100 researchers in 70 countries. It shows that income inequality has either risen or remained stable in every country.
Additionally, the report found that concentration of wealth in the hands of the top one percent has risen sharply, particularly in the US, Russia and China. In the US, the wealth share monopolized by the top one percent rose from 22 percent in 1980 to 39 percent; in China it doubled from 15 percent to 30 percent; and in Russia it went from 22 percent to 43 percent.
In terms of income, the top ten percent captured 37 percent of national income in Europe, 41 percent in China, 47 percent in the United States-Canada, 54 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa, 55 percent in Brazil and India, and 61 percent in the Middle East.
Top 1 percent wealth shares across the world, 1913–2015
Notably, Russia, when it was still part of the Soviet Union, had the lowest level of inequality in 1980, with the top ten percent accounting for 20 percent of income. There was a sharp spike in inequality following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990-91, with half of all national income going to the top ten percent in less than five years. Russia has now reached parity with the United States, returning to levels of inequality that prevailed a century ago under the rule of the tsar.
The report also shows that there has been a significant divergence in inequality levels between the United States and Europe since 1980, when the top one percent claimed 10 percent of income in both regions. As of 2016, the top one percent in Europe claimed 12 percent of income, while in the United States its share had doubled to 20 percent.
The top one percent and the bottom half of the American population have essentially flipped positions. While the bottom 50 percent received 20 percent of national income in 1980, that figure declined steadily to just 13 percent by 2016. Conversely, the top one percent steadily increased their claim on national income, from 10 percent to 20 percent in less than two generations.
Average annual income for the bottom half of the US population, adjusted for inflation, has remained at $16,500 for the last 40 years, while the top one percent have seen their average income triple from $430,000 to $1.3 million.
Top 10 percent income shares across the world, 1980–2016
The report’s authors note in an op-ed published in the Guardian that the United States is an outlier among the advanced economies, with a surge in income and wealth inequality over the last four decades that has developed into a “second Gilded Age.”
The authors attribute the dramatic difference between the US and Europe to a “perfect storm of radical policy changes” in the US. They argue that the growth of inequality in the US has been exacerbated by a number of factors, including a tax system that has become less progressive over time, a federal minimum wage that has not kept up with inflation, shrinking unions, deregulation of the finance industry and increasingly unequal access to higher education. They warn that the Republican tax cuts will “turbocharge” the further rise of inequality.
Despite its explosive content, the latest report on inequality was buried by the media, relegated to a small headline in the Business Day section of the New York Times and posted well down the Guardian’s front page in the world news section. The vast and ever-growing level of social inequality around the world is not what the ruling classes in the US, Europe and elsewhere want to talk about.
Social inequality in the United States is being ignored and covered up by the political system. The Democrats are entirely focused on issues of sex and the anti-Russia campaign, even as the Republicans are pushing to finalize tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy by the end of the year.
However, under the surface of official life, class conflict is growing. The World Inequality Report reveals that the contradictions of the capitalist system find expression in every country.
In concluding their report, the authors refer to policy decisions that could be adopted to reverse the growth of social inequality, promoting the illusion that a fair distribution of resources can be achieved under capitalism through various liberal reform measures and appeals to capitalist governments to enact progressive tax measures.
There is, however, no “reform” faction in the ruling class. The growth of inequality in the US has been carried out under both Democrats and Republicans, aided and abetted by the trade unions. In Europe, the ruling elite is moving rapidly to catch up to the United States through the implementation of labor “reform” measures, the destruction of social programs and the redistribution of wealth to the rich.
The response of the ruling class to growing social opposition is not reform, but repression. A movement against inequality requires the building of a socialist movement of the international working class on the basis of a socialist program to appropriate the wealth of the corporate and financial oligarchy, transform the banks and giant corporations into democratically controlled public utilities, and reorganize economic life on the basis of social need.
AMERICA: ONE PAYCHECK AND TWO ILLEGALS AWAY FROM HOMELESSNESS!
A dashcam video of downtown Los Angeles on Christmas day reveals a stunning sight: hundreds of tents and lean-tos on the sidewalks that serve as shelter for the homeless. The scene is reminiscent of a third-world country. RICK MORAN / AMERICANTHINKER com
Posted by The Mexican Invasion & Occupation at 8:00 AM