Housing is a human right, not a privilege for those who can afford it. It connects us to our families, our communities, the services we need, and it gives us a place to feel safe, be healthy, and rest.
Given Los Angeles’s persistent housing crisis and capital’s return to the city’s urban cores, we do not view housing access and protections, rising rents, land speculation, environmental degradation, and homelessness as discrete issues. Rather, they are bound intimately together, each amplifying the others and creating stark, tangible manifestations of the ways capitalism displaces and dispossesses our communities.
Therefore, we demand 1.) an end to racist and speculative development that views affordable housing as nothing more than a density bonus; 2.) an end to gentrification as a means for the city official/developer complex to erode community power; 3.) an end to excessive and oppressive policing of every person’s right to public space; 4.) an end to the continued criminalization of poverty and homelessness; and 5.) the building of democratic means that will result in neighborhood power, community control, and the realization of the right for all people to be housed.
Ultimately, our vision of the future rests on fully socialized housing. The state must provide fundamental goods and services to people without concern for profit — including safe, affordable housing that is resident-controlled, well-designed and available to people of all incomes. Although we will fight for affordable housing policies under our current system, as socialists, we believe taking land off the speculative market is the only way to solve our current housing crisis entirely.
ACCUMULATION BY DISPOSSESSION
The dispossession of people from their homes is key to the accumulation of capital. There are many means to this end, including force, but most often people lose their shelter because of the cutthroat, capitalist marketplace itself.
These forces of dispossession amount to no less than modern-day colonialism. They don’t always require physical violence, but they do involve the invasion and wholesale takeover of communities — most often poor and nonwhite ones — under the guise of “revitalization.” Structures both physical and figurative (gated communities, hostile architecture, predatory mortgage lending practices) divide cities by race and class lines controlled by the ruling class. We seek to abolish these forces through true community control and the assertion that housing is a right, not a commodity.
Gentrification is often understood simply as the arrival of wealthier people in an existing urban district, and many consider the process to be “inevitable.” Within our current system this is true. Unfettered real estate speculation and the relaxation of rent control will always drive up property values, turning poor neighborhoods into “up-and-coming” markets and eventually into expensive ones. But that’s just one element of gentrification. The phenomenon not only characterizes the transformation of a neighborhood, but the displacement of current tenants.
Displacement is economic, via rent increases, and cultural. Amenities that cater to newcomers, such as art galleries and coffee shops, replace or preempt neighborhood necessities, alienate longtime inhabitants, and drive up property values. Good intentions on the part of artists and business-owners are irrelevant; these amenities are intrinsically linked to the banishment of original occupants, most often people of color. This cultural alienation transforms the entire character of a neighborhood — including whose needs are met by its businesses and who is welcome on its sidewalks. Gentrification is reinforced and aided by racist policing that responds, like the businesses, to the needs of newer, wealthier residents at the expense of the poor.
We therefore intend to not only curb the negative effects of gentrification through expanded rent control and tenant protections, but to build tenant power and take control of the future of our communities. As such, we support democratic control of neighborhoods through Community Land Trusts, allowing residents and the surrounding neighborhood to cooperatively manage land and property use.
Criminalization of Poverty
Neoliberal housing policies rely on policing to enforce and protect private property and the “quality of life” of its owners. This has contributed to a militarized police state that protects and serves the affluent while criminalizing and imprisoning the poor — a majority of whom are people of color. Gang injunctions are enforced by police in neighborhoods that developers seek to gentrify, with entire communities displaced based on loose affiliation.
Those who have no choice but to sleep in the streets, or even in their cars, are subject to criminalization in the name of “public health and safety,” creating insurmountable obstacles for those trying to climb from the depths of poverty. Through legal means, such as “quality of life” citations, towing, and arrests (most often for petty offenses), law enforcement pushes people without homes into a cycle of street to county lockup to shelter and back to the street. People who experience mental or behavioral health issues — in some cases due to chronic homelessness — are frequently denied proper shelter and services, and instead are subjected to more interactions with police and prisons.
Meanwhile, non-profit service providers meant to help the homeless are often compromised by their funding models, no matter how well-meaning they are. Beholden to foundations for a tiny pool of money, many charities are more accountable to the rich than to the communities they’re meant to provide for; the residents of Skid Row often refer to missions and shelters as “poverty pimps” for this reason. As socialists, we believe nonprofits are inadequate to solving the crisis of homelessness in a capitalist system. We reject the charity framework that uses means-testing to determine who “deserves” shelter and support. Instead, we must push to divest our resources from the police state and to reinvest in uplifting the lives of all people — ideally through self-organized community organizations. Unconditional housing for all and the decriminalization of people using public space are necessary to liberate and heal communities long oppressed by capitalism.
Enforcement of Borders
Housing injustice and immigration injustice are twin processes carried out in similar ways, by similar actors, and against similar populations. Borders are created and enforced to keep populations contained and easier to displace; to achieve this on a large scale, national boundaries are employed — on a small scale, zoning and redlining are common tools. Both types of border are enforced by economic and physical violence. On a nation-state level, techniques include ICE raids, border walls, trade treaties with unequal terms, and forced structural adjustments. On a local level, techniques include predatory mortgage lending practices, denial of city services, police sweeps, hostile architecture, exclusion from transportation corridors, eminent domain, surveillance, neighborhood watch, unofficial codes of who looks like they belong, and gated communities.
Therefore, to truly fight for housing as a human right for all, we must work on two fronts: Fighting displacement due to gentrification, forced evictions, and rent increases — which disproportionately affect recent immigrants — and fighting the policing of immigrant populations, both on the local level from the LAPD and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and on a national level from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security.
Market-oriented infrastructure and housing development has left Los Angeles bereft of universal public transportation, while perpetuating sprawl, alienation, inequality, and homelessness. Current systems favor an owner/developer class with tax breaks, zoning loopholes, and massive government subsidies to privatize and militarize public space; construct and expand highways; maintain artificially low oil prices; encourage suburbanization, auto construction, and use; and make necessary housing and services inaccessible for the most vulnerable.
An anti-capitalist vision of the city rests on access to decommodified citywide transit, robust tenant protections, and community-oriented housing for all.
Affordable housing is a myth. Los Angeles is one of the least affordable cities in the nation for renters. For median-income workers to afford median rental prices they must devote 52 percent of their monthly wages to rent. Under federal assessments of affordability, they are considered “severely rent burdened.” For a worker earning minimum wage, affordability recedes into the realm of impossibility.
Socialism recognizes that the right to housing is universal and is guaranteed regardless of economic conditions. Until we achieve the elimination of private property, however, we will work to maximize housing access by making existing housing more affordable, protecting existing affordable, low-income and public housing, and pushing for the creation of dense new affordable units (if not entirely socialized housing) in proximity to essential facilities like transit, hospitals, groceries, and public schools.
A dense city ensures housing for all and reduces environmental strain. LA-Long Beach-Anaheim is already the densest urban agglomeration in the country, yet the wealthy, and thereby its governments, resist taller or denser building and truly accessible public transportation, while encouraging vacant luxury development.
We must prise control of zoning and development from the capitalist class, and in its place offer simple, effective solutions that foster density, provide public space for residents and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. These solutions include the elimination of parking requirements, banning single family homes, and devoting our resources to sustainable public housing.
Los Angeles has left its bus system to flounder and ignored the safety and needs of pedestrians and those with disabilities while pushing forward with multibillion-dollar legacy projects, such as the Purple Line subway expansion to Westwood. Moreover, the communities most reliant on public transit are often the ones pushed aside as it expands.
Furthermore, rail stations and trains are controlled by the LAPD, Sheriff’s Department, Metro police and private security officers, doling out expensive citations and tickets to people who cannot afford them, let alone fare. While contributing to massive development projects, the MTA is not merely a transportation agency — it’s a real estate company and yet another police force.
Comprehensive citywide solutions that will protect communities from the undeniable consequences of market-oriented transit development include strengthening renter protections, revising California eviction laws, dramatically increasing socialized housing and community facilities near transit hubs, and forming community-developed plans to govern transit-oriented development.
The parking system operates as a regressive tax that disproportionately affects the poor; parking permits and fake “no parking” signs function as a form of hostile architecture towards visitors and poor drivers; parking spaces are often built into rent; permit parking districts privatize public streets in neighborhoods privileged enough to be able to lobby for them, while sleeping or living in cars has been largely criminalized.
The city must move away from single-occupancy vehicles as the primary source of transportation. Breaking the link between housing and parking will move us all toward a cleaner, cheaper, more efficient, and more accessible city.
Shared, noncommercial spaces provide meeting places, access to nature in the city, and connections between neighborhoods — they should be numerous, robust, and truly available to everyone. More than half of Los Angeles residents live more than 10 minutes from a park; sidewalks are hazardous, narrow, or nonexistent; and policing and hostile architecture have made some parks unwelcoming and unsafe for many residents, especially those without shelter.
We must preserve, expand, and improve communal spaces, and champion them as the most democratic places in our cities. We must defend and promote universal access to these spaces, and reject all attempts to police, gate, obstruct, or privatize them.
People’s health and the health of the climate are also integral components of a just city. Although these concerns are being addressed more thoroughly by DSA-LA’s Healthcare and Climate Justice committees, we must note their undeniable relationship to housing.
Healthcare & Housing
Access to affordable, quality housing impacts numerous health outcomes. The long-term stress created by substandard or precarious housing situations is a reliable predictor of life expectancy and mental health; substandard building materials and zoning violations create dangerous and sometimes deadly living conditions (as with the Grenfell Tower fire in London or Oakland’s Ghost Ship disaster); proximity to industrial areas, highways, and airports can cause lifelong health problems; lack of access to fresh, affordable food correlates to chronic illness for children and adults; and finally, areas without accessible healthcare facilities result in poor health outcomes and significant cost burdens to the city’s most vulnerable.
We must embrace inclusive social solutions to these inequities and reject all efforts that rely on a for-profit health system that focuses on profit maximization.
Environmental Racism & Housing
Climate, housing, and racial justice all require that we end reliance on extractive industries and other practices that threaten or destroy our environment and our liberty. In the context of the city, low-income communities of color are disproportionately affected by reliance on extractive practices, often forced to reside and work in neighborhoods that are exposed topollutants, including waste and toxic waste dumps, natural resource extraction sites, highways, and industrial factories, while simultaneously having unequal access to environmental amenities.
This is unacceptable. We must fight to counteract and eliminate the deeply entrenched segregation which geographically places the poor and communities of color at greater environmental and health risks.
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Access to safe, stable housing and the network of services that surround it is key to realizing a city that works not just for the wealthy, but for everyone. By striving for these goals we can counter inequality and build the foundation for a deeply inclusive, radical, and democratic Los Angeles.