by by Ajoke Williams and Kei Pritsker, Published on Mint Press News, June 18, 2019
The United States economy is organized such that all commodities, including both weapons and housing, drive the lion’s share of profits upward, into the pockets of a wealthy elite class, at the expense of the masses of working people who generate those profits through their labor power. The functioning of this system in the interest of a tiny few at the expense of the many is made equally apparent by the orchestration of war against Venezuela by the U.S. ruling class and the orchestration of a massive housing crisis within U.S. borders by wealthy developers.
The smallest minority in the United States, the super rich, are waging a war against Venezuela with the help of Venezuela’s own class of elites. The corporate-owned press has tried to sell this war to people in the United States by spinning an elaborate web of lies. President Donald Trump claims that the United States will bring prosperity, democracy, and freedom to Venezuela. However, the reality on the ground is a CIA-backed coup against a democratically elected socialist government, for which government there is widespread support among the Venezuelan people. In fact, in acting against the democratic structures and voting processes within Venezuela, Trump and the U.S. ruling class are exposing the true motive behind their drive for war: theft of oil for profit.
Meanwhile, in the cities of Washington and Baltimore, a small minority of wealthy developers are the controlling force in making housing policy — a function carried out with the assistance of banks and political administrators like Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, whose office released a press statement earlier this year titled, “Bowser Makes Historic $138 Million Investment in Affordable Housing.” However, the reality on the ground is thousands of homeless families and children — with 19 percent of the total D.C. population living in poverty, while the city boasts a $14.5 billion budget, with $2.4 billion in reserve. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, approximately 7,000 families get evicted yearly for nonpayment of rent.
Clearly, problems like the affordable housing crisis or underfunding of schools and hospitals could be alleviated if our country prioritized the needs of the masses of working people over the needs of weapons manufacturers and oil barons. To make clear the contradiction between the United States’ stated values and actions, let’s consider the function of the U.S. economy and U.S. foreign policy, whom these policies are intended to benefit, and whom these policies leave out of the picture.
What does the war economy have to do with the housing crisis?
The war economy is the last stage of a capitalist empire. It is when the rich resort to using war to violently force open new markets so they can invest the surplus value (profit) they’ve accumulated to continue making new profits. The U.S. military serves as a battering ram for U.S. corporations seeking to exploit a foreign country such as Venezuela or Iran. Non-military industries like the U.S. oil industry, banking, fast-food, soda, car manufacturing, or technology industries have historically leaned heavily on the U.S. military’s ability to overthrow governments and install puppet leaders who create a favorable environment for investment and profit making.
When governments, such as the Venezuelan government of President Nicloas Maduro, enact policies to protect their natural resource wealth from foreign exploitation, the U.S. military, as well as soft-power instruments like the US Agency for International Development, engage in espionage and war to knock down the existing government and replace it with a compliant government that allows U.S. corporations to exploit the country’s resources.
Throughout this process, the military-industrial complex makes massive profits by selling planes and missiles, and building military bases for the U.S. government and its junior partners in NATO. The United States is the world’s largest weapons manufacturer and arms dealer. While we may never know all of the monied interests that pushed the U.S. to intervene in Cuba, Korea, Colombia, Haiti, or currently Venezuela, we know these interests can range from banana crops to rare earth minerals. War is a payday not just for the military-industrial complex but for several sectors of the U.S. economy, which lap up the stolen wealth that trickles down from U.S. regime-change operations.
Domestically, the masses of working people have little say in what should be funded with tax revenue. So just how badly has the war economy impacted the U.S. working class? Trump’s latest budget proposal calls for an additional $33 billion to be added to next year’s war budget while cutting a mind-boggling $1.5 trillion from healthcare, welfare, housing, education, and environmental programs over the next 10 years.
The budget reflects how out of touch Trump and his aristocratic cabinet are. While Trump claims the economy is doing better than ever before, today, the three richest Americans own more wealth than the bottom 160 million Americans. While the unemployment rate is low, adequately paying jobs are so scarce that 78 percent of people in the U.S. find themselves working paycheck to paycheck and 70 percent are in debt. Some 57 percent of Americans are unable to save $100 a month.
Despite worker productivity reaching historic highs, wages remain stagnant. Coinciding with massive increases in living costs, particularly the cost of rent, the war economy has displaced over 20,000 people, primarily native Washingtonians right here in Washington, D.C. No amount of tweeting will convince working-class people that the war economy, under both Obama and Trump, hasn’t failed them.
The grand irony of Trump’s war on Venezuela is that while Donald Trump is trying to defund the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he is spending billions of taxpayer dollars attacking Venezuela, a country that actually has a robust public housing program. The Great Venezuelan Housing Mission has built over 2.5 million affordable homes for working-class Venezuelans, despite the crippling U.S. sanctions regime. Venezuelans who lost their houses to storms, lived in violent communities, or simply couldn’t afford housing on the capitalist market, have been given dignified homes made affordable through government
The United Nations recently recognized the Great Venezuelan Housing Mission’s achievements and stated that Venezuela was one of the top countries in the world for guaranteed housing. Donald Trump is trying to overthrow a government that could serve as a shining model for public housing in the United States.
Simply put, the United States cannot invest the money needed to meet the affordable housing needs of its own people, because its profit-driven war economy requires the commodification of housing and maximum exploitation of the resources and labor power of working people at home and abroad.
Working class under attack in D.C. and Baltimore
Working class residents in both Washington and Baltimore have been caught in the throes of the carnage wreaked by wealthy developers, including slumlords operating with little accountability. In both cities, tenants and organizers have been fighting back through grassroots organizing campaigns that have exposed the practices of elected officials and developers working together closely to oversee the displacement of working-class people and the rapid gentrification of both cities.
Brookland Manor, a 535-unit affordable housing complex in Ward 5 of Northeast Washington, has some of the few remaining affordable family-sized apartments left in the city, including three-, four- and five-bedroom units. It is also the site of a $600 million proposed luxury redevelopment project pushed by developer MidCity Financial. The project will reduce overall affordability in the historically black working-class neighborhood, and eliminate almost all of the multi-bedroom size units. The plan? To replace 535 units of affordable housing with over 1,750 luxury apartments; tripling density on 20 acres of land.
Despite a Washington Post investigative report that exposed a massive eviction campaign at Brookland Manor led by MidCity, and despite an existing affordable-housing crisis in the nation’s capital, the District’s Zoning Commission, Mayor Bowser, and the entire City Council have backed the developer’s gentrification plan with public money. The District Council, including Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, unanimously voted to approve up to $47 million in Tax Increment Financing to subsidize MidCity’s displacement plan. The Brookland Manor/Brentwood Village Residents Association has continued to fight for development without displacement in the community.
Meanwhile, across the Beltway, the city of Baltimore is on the cusp of being massively gentrified. Baltimore, similar to Washington, has given private developers free rein, to the detriment of the health, safety and well-being of Baltimore residents.
Tenants of Bolton House in West Baltimore are engaged in a recently launched public organizing campaign, challenging Urban Atlantic, a multi-billion dollar real estate developer, over what can only be described as slum conditions in which tenants are currently living. For years, tenants of Bolton House have dealt with insect and rodent infestation, water leaks, sewage backup, trash pile-ups, broken elevators, and black mold, which is potentially lethal if inhaled.
The newly formed Bolton House Tenant Coalition is working with community organization LinkUp and the political organization Party for Socialism and Liberation to demand accountability from Urban Atlantic and Edgewood Management for overseeing the deterioration of the building. But the list of unaddressed health and safety hazards in the building continues to grow, while Urban Atlantic continues to collect monthly rents from tenants and subsidies from the government.
With plans looming for a $1.5 billion renovation of the nearby State Center — a state government building where thousands work — Urban Atlantic is incentivized to profit while neglecting building repairs, as it waits for the influx of investment capital into the neighborhood, at which point it can sell or redevelop for even greater profits.
This is not Venezuela, it’s the United States of America. The profit-over-people practices of developers, and the resulting affordable-housing crisis impacts working people across the country, with 11 million Americans spending over 50 percent of their income on rent.
Fighting gentrification requires a single, mass housing movement because we’re all in the same ship, the ship of rising rents — and it’s sinking. With America’s wealth flowing to the war machine and corporations, Americans have no reason to support yet another war, this time against Venezuela, when our own domestic needs — including housing, the most basic of all — are far from met.
Feature photo | Proposed Demolition Cluster, Photograph by Melissa Archer, Preservation Officer, Maryland Department of Housing Community Development, 2018 February 28.
Kei Pritsker is a journalist and activist located in Washington DC. Kei focuses on international politics and economics. He previously worked as a producer at RT America.