By : Grace Raih
7 min read
Under late stage capitalism, rents have increased faster than worker’s wages for over four decades. Full time minimum wage workers cannot currently afford a two bedroom apartment in any state. The pandemic exacerbated the housing crisis, compounding evictions that have further displaced poor and working class communities. Beyond stagnant wages and corporate greed, there are other structures contributing directly to the decimation of affordable housing and the rapid gentrification of American cities – the police and big tech.
Development-directed policing refers to the practice of a premeditated police presence in areas of “urban renewal” for the monetary benefit of potential white residents and real estate elites. Between 2010 and 2020, the historically black Bed-Stuy neighborhood in New York lost 22,000 Black residents, while gaining 30,000 white residents. A study entitled “Policing Gentrification'' analyzed neighborhood-level data in New York to capture policing’s relationship with three key components of gentrification: class, race and property value. The researchers found that “for every 5 percent increase in property values, neighborhoods experienced a 0.2 to 0.3 percent increase in discretionary arrests''. Low-level policing does nothing to reduce crime, but enables police violence and carceral trauma. The enhanced surveillance and criminalization of these potential “trendy” neighborhoods are aided through the use of Silicon Valley technologies.
In 2018, an aggressive redevelopment effort by the city of Louisville known as “Vision Russell” ignited increased police surveillance in majority black West Louisville. The city implemented a “Place-Based Initiatives Squad” policing model based on the removal of crime through the heightened enforcement of “nuisance” offenses, typically drug possession. In March 2020, Louisville police officer Kelly Goodlett falsified a warrant to conduct a no-knock raid of Breonna Taylor’s home, leading to her murder by officer Brett Hankinson. This raid was a direct result of place-based policing meant to target her ex-boyfriend Jamarcus Glover whose home was located at the center of the renewal project. A month later Glover house was repossessed and bought by the city for $1. Development-directed policing hyper-criminalizes Black personhood to push racist urban renewal projects, removing entire communities for the benefit of new white residents.
Gentrification can be driven by policing models that target communities for removal, as well as profitable algorithms. The housing crisis has presented an opportunity for developers and property owners to drive up market rates aided with the illusion of unbiased technology. ProPublica reported a global technology platform that provides the real estate industry with data analytics called RealPage has enabled property owners to drive up rents. Their YieldStar software uses an algorithm to analyze client data, as well as private data on competitor’s prices to determine rent, to which the company states it can help clients “outperform the market 3% to 7%.” According to ProPublica, "Experts say RealPage...invites scrutiny from antitrust enforcers because of their use of private data on what competitors charge in rent and creation of work groups that meet privately and include landlords who are otherwise rivals, a red flag of potential collusion." The rent optimization software that prices leases presents a mirage of a techno-democratic determinate hidden under collusion.
Both the tech and policing industries have contributed to the housing crisis by overlapping means, through the incarceration of communities and the complicity in soaring rents. To end homelessness in this country would cost $20 billion, an affordable price tag for the US. To the core capitalism is not about freedom alone, but importantly, the freedom to be free from others suffering. There should be guaranteed housing for all and a radical pivot from a system that would leave anyone with no shelter.
Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #152 November 2022
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