Dictatorship of the Propertied

Walking downtown today on my way back from the library, I ran into both my ex-landlady and my current landlord. While I was chatting with both of them, I thought it was kind of amusing that we use feudal terms to describe the people we pay rents to, especially since neither party is terribly autocratic or lordly. But when the topic of the previous night’s planning commission meeting came up, it did get me thinking about authority figures and people in power.

There is a pretty universal division in this country between people who own property and people who rent. Now, I know some people who own the houses they live in, because they lucked out or bought early or are busting their balls or just happen to have some cash. When I talk about people who “own property,” I really mean people who own homes and rent them out to people, often for exorbitant amounts. Sometimes this isn’t their fault, because they bought expensive property and now they need people to pay their mortgages. Of course…those tenants would be better served paying their own mortgages, but they can’t, because they cannot afford to buy property.

And it occurred to me that most of the City Council and Planning Commission seats here are probably held by people who own property. After checking with a friend on the commission, I found this to be true.

“Well, we’re all a bunch of old farts, that’s why,” she said.

And she does have a point. Older people are more likely to own property, because they were more likely to be able to afford it at some point in their lives. And, of course, they have been working longer, so it stands to reason that they could afford to purchase property. She was telling me about buying homes after the war with assistance from the government for sums like $50 a month. Which is…awesome…and totally insane.

And I wonder why it is that we renters are allowing the land owners to make our decisions for us. I mean…we would clearly have very different priorities than they would, since we are on different ends of the social and economic scale. In the case of the Planning Commission, those people are appointees, which means that the members of the City Council who appoint them make a conscious choice to appoint other landowners, presumably to maintain the status quo or what have you.

But why should we stand for that? I am really tempted to run for City Council, not because I think I would win (God help me if I did), but because I would like to throw some youth into the mix, and I would like to get people thinking about what it is like to rent property here. Not in the abstract like “oh, it must be hard for people,” but in the immediate, the hear and now. I want landowners to think about what it means when they rent a one bedroom house for $800 a month. I want to shake the old farts up with a breath of fresh air and differing opinion. I want, in short, to start some shit.

Let’s say you’re renting this one bedroom to a single person making minimum wage, which is now $7.50 in California. This person is making roughly $1,200 per month before taxes, or $14,400 per year. Are you seriously saying that 2/3s of someone’s income before taxes should go into your pocket, as a landowner? That someone should have less than $400 a month to pay utilities, maintain a car, eat, deal with medical problems, and handle incidentals?

Personally, I think that’s rather shortsighted. And it never ceases to amaze me that landowners do not think, really, about how much their rents actually represent. All they care about is getting the cash, which they can get in a market like this because people are desperate. I am fortunately no longer in the position of trying to live on minimum wage, which is good, because I don’t think that I could. But a lot of people are…and those people are not being represented fairly, due to a long chain of events which are largely out of their control.

Personally, I think it’s time to change that. I see some people on the Planning Commission and in City Council trying to make a difference…but it’s clearly not enough. Looking down the raw dirt of Franklin Street today, a voice shouted in my head:

“Whose streets? OUR STREETS.”

And, darn it, that voice was right. They are our streets, not theirs, and it’s time to remind them of that.

My hives and I are going to bed now. Oh, did I mention that I got hives? Yeah, I did. I have hives.