Will Pope’s encyclical expand Housing Justice Movement?


Homeownership rates are falling in Massachusetts and across the nation, and housing is back in newspaper headlines and nationally syndicated talk shows.  Here’s one perspective, that knowingly or unknowingly, points to the Pope’s encyclical on the environment and the prospect of a grassroots movement for housing justice:

Greedy spec builders want the most bang for their buck so the put oversized houses on undersized lots and then cannot sell them. A more modest house would have moved. There are only so many Mr. and Mrs. One Per Cents.

There are only so many 1%’ers if there is no external demand / pressure on local housing markets from global real estate investors. An annual update just released by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies lists rising home prices as one of the culprits for the homeownership decline, but the words “investor” and “speculators” do not appear in the Boston Globe’s coverage of the document. Contrast that coverage in the New Yorker and inventory snapshots from the former People’s Republic of Cambridge and it’s neighbor, DelusionVille (formerly Somerville):

Cambridge MLS inventory snapshot 6/16/15:
26 listings last year priced $900K+, now 42 or 49% – up from 28% in one year – Unsustainable? #AffordableHousing

Somerville MLS inventory snapshot 6/23/15:
Active single-family listings in Somerville have DOUBLED compared to 2014, 7 of 9 price over $800K remain unsold

Excerpt from New Yorker article, Real Estate Goes Global:
“The challenge for Vancouver and cities like it is that foreign investment isn’t an unalloyed good. It’s great for existing homeowners, who see the value of their homes rise, and for the city’s tax revenues. But it also makes owning a home IMPOSSIBLE (emphasis added) for much of the city’s population.”

Would be homeowners who have been priced out of the market should pay attention to what’s happening in other cites where ordinary citizens are beginning to push back against real estate speculators: SF, Toronto, and Vancouver are setting the pace, see images from #DontHave1Million campaign:


Writing in Boston, one angry reader blurted out, “Since when is home ownership a right?”  His question is a good one, one that has not escaped the Pope’s new encyclical on the environment and the Catholic teaching on the social mortgage, the debt we owe each other as members a just society:

94. The rich and the poor have equal dignity, for “the Lord is the maker of them all” (Prov 22:2). …This has practical consequences, such as those pointed out by the bishops of Paraguay: “Every campesino (definition = peasant farmer) has a natural right to possess a reasonable allotment of land where he can establish his home, work for subsistence of his family and a secure life. This right must be guaranteed so that its exercise is not illusory but real. That means that apart from the ownership of property, rural people must have access to means of technical education, credit, insurance, and markets”.

Contrast that ideal to the reality of what’s happening in housing markets across the country, homeownership is down to the lowest levels in two decades, and “Every Single County in America Is Facing an Affordable Housing Crisis.”


With 4 out of 5 New Big City Rental Buildings targeting the rich, is it any wonder that just yesterday, a Huffington Post article asked, Is It Time for a Housing Justice Movement?


EXCERT: So the question arises, can the housing justice movement that is taking off in Seattle spread across the nation?

My hope is that the Pope’s encyclical will help expedite that movement and lead to a tangible reordering of priorities and policies to address the gross inequities in too many housing markets in the US and around the globe:

93. Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone. …“the Church does indeed defend the legitimate right to private property, but she also teaches no less clearly that there is always a SOCIAL MORTGAGE (emphasis added) on all private property, in order that goods may serve the general purpose that God gave them”. Consequently, he maintained, “it is not in accord with God’s plan that this gift be used in such a way that its benefits favour only a few”.

95. The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all.

Full encyclical text: http://bit.ly/CommonHome

Posted in Affordable housing, Bubble Hour, Great Senior Sell-Off, Housing bubble, Housing Justice, iCovery, Luxury housing, Pope's Encyclical, Price trends, Real Estate Bubble

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