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Housing Is A Human Right? Yes, In Many Countries... But Not This One

I used to watch John Oliver on Amazon's Prime but now they make you pay for it if you want watch. What else would you expect from Amazon? So now I have to watch it on YouTube and you can only see what they allow you to see and when they allow you to see it. This morning I was looking for Oliver's opening bit about the select committee's insurrection investigation and I couldn't find it. Instead I found the video above-- even better-- about rent. I'll come back to that in a moment but first let me share a bit about the video not available. Kimberly Nordyke reviewed the segment for the Hollywood Reporter last night.

She began by noting that Oliver began by showing a clip from the hearings of former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann reacting to Trump lawyer John Eastman advising Trump to just have Pence steal the election. Herschmann told the investigators that he said "Hold on a second," to Eastman. "I want to understand what you’re saying. You’re saying that you believe that the vice president, acting as president of the Senate, can be the sole decision maker as to…who becomes the next president of the United States? And he said yes. And I said, 'Are you out of your effing mind?'" No way that isn't going to elicit a comment from John Oliver.

Said Oliver: “I will say, at this point, you can just say ‘fuck.’ Democracy is hanging on by a thread, and you had a front-row seat. You said it then, you can say it now. Because what he was suggesting to you there was bonkers. The idea that a single person can decide the president is completely against the ideals of this country, which is why the Constitution starts with ‘We the People’ and not ‘Mike.'”
Oliver went on to note that more than 100 Republican primary winners back Trump’s claims of election fraud, including a number of candidates for Secretary of State, which is “concerning,” Oliver said, “because they could end up in a position to directly influence the next presidential election.”
Oliver pointed to Jim Marchant, a Republican candidate for Secretary of State in Nevada, who said in a public forum that “the people of Nevada have not elected anybody since 2006. They’ve been installed by the deep state cabal.”
Said Oliver: “Wow. The people of Nevada have not legitimately elected anybody since 2006. That is a pretty bold claim, especially coming from the guy who himself was elected to the State Assembly there in 2016.”
Oliver noted that one of several candidates who are part of the America First Secretary of State Coalition, including New Mexico’s Audrey Trujillo, who has said: “A lot of people, whether we can prove it or not, feel that this election was stolen.”
Said Oliver: “Whether we can prove or not? That’s a pretty big loophole, isn’t it, Audrey? We all believe plenty of things we can’t prove but we shouldn’t base major life decisions on them.”
Oliver also showed a clip of Kristina Karamo, who is running for Secretary of State in Michigan, who’s accused the Democrats of having a “satanic agenda.”
“Obviously Democrats don’t have a satanic agenda, mainly because that would require having an agenda in the first place,” Oliver quipped.

I just found an unauthorized YouTube clip with the opening bit so... you can watch what we just described for yourself (and much more)... if you get to it before Last Week Tonight makes YouTube take it down:

And then, the main story of the episode: rent is skyrocketing. In the '80s I had just started a small business-- an independent record company-- and I rented a large flat for myself to live in on 16th Street in San Francisco, about a block from Mission Dolores, the oldest building in San Francisco (1776). It was considered a sketchy neighborhood at the time and I was paying something like $90 when the new landlords came in and raised it to $105. I was in shock that I was, for the first time in my life-- and I had recently turned 30-- paying 3 figures for rent. When I moved to L.A., the landlords did two things: they painted over the place on the wall that was artistically autographed by The Clash and they raised the rent to several thousand dollars a month. Today a young entrepreneur just starting out could never afford to rent anywhere near there, unless their wealthy parents were underwriting them.

"The median monthly rent surpassed $2000 for the first time last month," reported Oliver. That's 15% since last year, "well above the rate of inflation." And it's not just San Francisco-- it's above 30% higher in Cincinnati, Seattle, Nashville-- and up nearly 50% in Austin!" Miami became unaffordable for renters in 2001, New York in 2004 and Chicago in 2012. L.A. has been unaffordable since 1979! Rent is growing faster than wages. "Right now," said Oliver, "there is not a single county in the U.S. where a worker earning minimum wage can afford a modest two-bedroom rental home."

After delineating how "the system" screws renters-- poor renters primarily, Oliver mentions some small-bore partial solutions to the problem:

  • passing rent stabilization laws

  • passing laws that prevent discrimination against rents who use housing choice vouchers

  • passing laws that mandate the sealing of eviction records

  • give people a right to a lawyer in housing court

The real solution, though, has to do with societal mindset and coming to a social/political agreement that housing is a human right. And then doing something about it. Oliver didn't mention it, but raising the minimum wage might help solve the problem for several million people as well.

UPDATE From The Puget Sound

Progressive candidate Jason Call reacted to Oliver's show last night with an e-mail to his supporters, noting that "Real estate companies and hedge funds (both foreign and domestic) are buying up neighborhood family homes, often tearing down older houses still in good condition so they can put up condos and apartment buildings to demand exorbitant prices. These leeches don’t care if the multi-unit buildings don’t fully sell or rent out because they know that the values will continue to appreciate as long as our government caters to the industry’s wishes. And their lobbyists pay handsomely to make sure they do. My opponent, Rick Larsen, recently boasted about attending a fundraiser held at the swanky private home of a major Washington-based real estate lobbyist, which he described as a gathering of his 'dedicated grassroots supporters.'"

He continued: "Solving the housing crisis will require engagement from every level of government-- and the political will to stand up to the real estate vultures getting rich off the backs of working people right now.

We could start with a vacancy tax on empty units to cap rental prices in an affordable range. But with city councils often on the side of developers and realtors, passing such measures is a hard sell. We could expand the availability of Section 8 subsidized housing with additional housing units and funding. Currently, waitlists for Section 8 in Washington state are two to three years long, and that’s only IF you can get on the waitlist through the housing lottery. The last Seattle Housing Authority lottery was in 2017. Five years ago Only one in four eligible households actually gets in. Now real estate speculators are invading the suburbs, with corporations buying entire residential neighborhoods and converting single family homes into rentals. Giant property management firms continue to spike these rents to maximize shareholder profits-- and they’re bragging about it. Here’s what the CEO of Monarch Investment Group, Bob Nicolls, recently said to his corporate board:

"Is it any wonder why 23 million low income people spend OVER HALF their income on rent and utilities? This is not just unsustainable, it is frankly immoral and should be criminal. We can and must take immediate action to rein in real estate speculation to curb rising rental rates and skyrocketing property values. And the one thing we absolutely must do is build more affordable housing, mandated, funded, and organized by the federal government. When I’m in Congress I’ll fight for federal investments in green-built affordable housing, national rent control, and the repeal of the 1998 Faircloth Amendment (which restricted construction of new public housing)."

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