About 3.5 million Americans sleep in shelters, transitional housing, and places not meant for living. Another 7.5 million Americans have lost their homes and are living doubled-up with family or friends. Over 580,000 people sleep on the street. Over eleven million households pay more than 50 percent of their income on housing, living on the edge of homelessness. At the same time, over the last ten years, the country has eliminated about 10,000 affordable housing units every year. There is no reason this situation should exist.
Any society that cannot guarantee housing to the people is a failed society. Under capitalism the housing situation is so twisted that the purpose of housing is not to provide people with a place to live safely. Under capitalism, housing is nothing more than a market for investors to make a profit. If it is more profitable to destroy public housing and convert it into high-end condos, or to deny millions of people any secure access to housing, or to keep properties vacant, waiting to be sold, that’s what will happen – whatever will generate a greater profit will be the ultimate policy.
Solving the problem of housing in the U.S. is not a complicated task. There is more than enough potential housing to meet the needs of the population. Currently there are about five vacant single-family homes for every homeless individual – about 18,600,000 empty single-family homes in total. That number excludes the millions of empty apartment units, motel rooms, hotel rooms, livable office spaces, abandoned warehouses, and buildings in general. Some renovation work would be necessary. But overall it is not a question of availability – there is currently more than enough available space to house those without homes.
At the same time in every big city there are thousands of low-income housing buildings that are in severe disrepair, needing extreme renovation. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, about $26 billion dollars in renovations could bring all low-income housing dwellings up to modernized comfortable dwellings. There is more than enough wealth in this society to cover these costs.
But the question of housing is more than simply having the available space. Housing is linked to employment and transportation. Under capitalism, where we work – even whether we have a job at all – is not a personal choice. If workers need to travel hours to work every day, we do it simply because the alternative is to not have a job at all.
The only way to fully address the housing needs in this society is to change this society fundamentally through a revolution. Housing is a necessity, just like food, health, education, transportation, social connection, and so much more. And it would not be difficult to guarantee quality housing for everyone in society. But under capitalism, the fact is housing will never be treated as a necessity for the world’s population, and the problem of housing will never be solved by capitalism. If we want to ultimately eliminate the problems of housing in our society, we need to fight for a society that is run by and for the majority of the population who do the work. Then housing can be organized to meet people’s needs, not purely for profit.