“Why rent? You have
nothing to lose but your landlord.” Residents of the New York
City metropolitan area heard these words in a series of radio
and television advertisements. The ads were directed at moderate
income Black and Latino workers who wanted to experience the
American dream of home ownership. Thousands found the appeal
irresistible and purchased homes in the Pocono Mountains of
Pennsylvania, more than two hours commuting time away from
their jobs in New
The reward for this
sacrifice was the discovery that the homes were often shoddily
built and worth far less than the prices paid for them. In a
flurry of lawsuits mortgage holders like J.P. Morgan Chase have
been charged with racketeering. Now homeowners face the choice
of hanging on to homes they can neither sell nor refinance or
becoming victims of a foreclosure auction. The sales-to-foreclosure ratio
in Monroe County, Pennsylvania stands at 29 percent, while the
national average is 1 percent.
median price of homes in the areas surrounding New York City
range from $300,000 to
$500,000. The so-called outer boroughs of New York City were
always considered a haven for the working class who could scrape
together enough money for a down payment. However, the median
price for a home in the borough of Queens was $350,000 in
2003. There is no longer any moderately priced housing refuge
for the working New Yorker.
The lure of home ownership
is easy to understand in a property loving culture that encourages
everyone with a job to think of themselves as middle class, regardless
of their income or amount of assets. We are constantly told that
renting is not only a waste of money but a sign of middle class
failure. Consequently many Americans buy homes who cannot afford
to do so with any margin of financial security. The corrupt practices
in the Poconos were a perfect trap for people who wanted to buy
houses and also everything the American dream represented.
The propaganda espousing
the superiority of property ownership is insidious enough but
it is inevitably intertwined with equally dangerous beliefs.
It is ironic that
Black people will often accept the notion that their plight
results from a lack of interest or willingness to work hard.
Other people know that we want the best for our families. One
of the corrupt Pocono homebuilders even produced a video depicting
urban murder, theft and drug dealing, as if the prospective
buyers needed to be reminded of the problems they wanted to
flee. The scammers certainly knew that Black and Latino New
Yorkers are desperate to improve their lot in life and provide
a safe environment for their children.
The willingness to
endure a daily commute of four to five hours would not be necessary
if anyone in a position of power provided housing for working
people. New York Governor George Pataki and New York City Mayor
Michael Bloomberg are always ready to preen for the cameras
to show plans for a new World Trade Center tower or a white
elephant stadium designed to attract the Olympics. There is
interest in helping moderate income workers find decent,
affordable housing within New York City.
median price of co-ops and condos in Manhattan is nearly
$1 million. Brownstones
in Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn are now purchased
by young white people who used to be known as yuppies. The
hapless but hopeful masses buying homes in the Poconos would
have been able to buy brownstones in years past if they were
thrifty enough. Now all of the thrift they can muster just
won’t do. The Governor and Mayor spend their time catering
to the wishes of millionaire developers and sports team owners.
Government workers who can’t buy houses don’t rate in their
list of priorities.
Bloomberg and Pataki
have bigger fish to fry. They have to lay a foundation for
the new World Trade Center site during the upcoming Republican
convention. Ironically, the revelations emanating from the
9/11 commission make the choice of New York City as a convention
site look less and less like a good idea. Perhaps there is
some justice after all. Maybe they will have to think about
voters if they want to be elected.
Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly
in . Ms.
Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City. She
can be reached via e-Mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more
of Ms. Kimberley's writings at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com/