This past Sunday the Right to the City alliance kicked off a nation-wide affordable housing campaign, Homes for All, in Washington DC (disclosure: I serve on the national steering committee for the alliance). The launch took place in conjunction with an initiative by The New Bottom Line to get rid of Ed DeMarco, Acting Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). FHFA was created in 2008 by President Obama to oversee Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and, in particular, to stabilize the secondary mortgage market.
New Bottom Line and the Right to the City alliance see DeMarco as a major roadblock to reforming the housing market and to economic recovery more generally. Writing for The Hill, Tracy Van Slyke, executive director of New Bottom Line, argues,
“For the last few years, DeMarco has obstinately and ideologically opposed principal reduction/correction — resetting mortgages to fair market value — even though it’s been documented by FHFA, Fannie and Freddie themselves that this would be a good policy for homeowners and taxpayers. Principal reduction is the bold and fair policy we need at Fannie, Freddie and through the banks to fix the housing crisis, rebuild our communities, create jobs, and reset the economy.”
DeMarco’s unpopularity extends beyond housing activists. Over 45 members of Congress are urging the Obama Administration to replace DeMarco, and recently eight Attorneys General, including New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sent a letter to President Obama asking him to do the same. AG Coakley said of FHFA under DeMarco, “It is inexplicable to see a federal agency set up to help borrowers doing the opposite.”
Right to the City and New Bottom line joined forces in Washington to draw attention to the ongoing housing crisis, culminating in the disruption of DeMarco’s testimony in front of the House Financial Services Committee this past Tuesday and the arrest of five protestors.
For Right to the City, the actions against DeMarco are part of the broader Homes for All campaign. The campaign was launched earlier this month in eleven cities across the country and is aimed especially at drawing attention to low and very low income renters, public housing residents, and people who are homeless. These populations, disproportionately women and people of color, are often overlooked in the national debates around affordable housing. The Homes for All campaign also frames the campaign in terms of a right to housing and resistance to displacement, whether through foreclosure, public housing demolition, or gentrification.
Listen to Mark Liu, Deputy Director of the Chinese Progressive Association (a member of the Right to the City alliance), talk about the campaign here.
The Homes for All campaign is a long term one that seeks to change the terms of the debate around housing. While the trend in the United States (and elsewhere) has been to rely on the market to provide housing, the recent crisis has only underscored the dangers of this approach. More fundamentally, the market has never been able to make housing accessible to lower income residents of cities, and has in fact served to put decent, affordable housing out of reach.
Even the definition of affordable has been crafted in such a way as to leave many poor residents out in the cold, further marginalizing them through what appears on the surface to be a progressive discourse.
The Homes for All campaign is concerned with winning concrete fights around the protection and expansion of affordable housing, but it reminds us that to do so we need to change how we think about housing, and what it means to view housing as a commodity rather than a right.