I want to start on a personal note. During my early, formative years, my mother and I were homeless and then at-risk of homelessness. When I was an infant until I was almost 4, we lived in a shelter or on public housing assistance. That whole time, my mom worked 80+ hours a week to dig us out from the pit of being unhoused. Those first, formative memories of mine are of my Nana’s house, not of a family home of our own. And, I was a lucky one. I had a Nana who could take care of me while my mother worked and went to school. And I had a mother capable of the Herculean feat of full-time school and 80-hour work weeks.
I look out across Utah, and America, and I see a homelessness “problem” that’s about to explode when toothless stopgaps like the CDC’s eviction moratorium either end or start getting completely ignored by landlords. The “problem” of homelessness is framed as “hard and complicated” by public servants on the Ogden and Salt Lake City councils. It’s also completely ignored by a slacktivist Congress.
In this era of Congressional abdication, legislators on one side, including my opponent Chris Stewart hawk about the deficit and on the other run gaming livestreams to siphon working-class money as donations to non-profits. Both sides ask for money from the American working class in their campaigns while their parties and, often, the Representatives themselves take speaking fees, campaign contributions, and other legalized forms of bribery.
Do y’all know about the Constitutional power of eminent domain?
“Eminent domain refers to the power of the government to take private property and convert it into public use. The Fifth Amendment provides that the government may only exercise this power if they provide just compensation to the property owners.From Cornel Law School’s Legal Information Institute
Just Compensation Requirement
In Kohl v. United States, 91 U.S. 367 (1875), the Supreme Court held that the government may seize property through the use of eminent domain, as long as it appropriates just compensation the owner of the property. In Loretto v. Teleprompter Manhattan CATV Corp. 458 US 419 (1982), the Supreme Court clarified that when the government engages in a taking and implements a permanent physical occupation of the property, it must provide the property owner with just compensation, even if the area is small and the government’s use does not greatly affect the owner’s economic interest.
Public Use Requirement
In Kelo v. City of New London, Connecticut, 545 U.S. 469 (2005), the Supreme Court held that general benefits which a community would enjoy from the furthering of economic development is sufficient to qualify as a ‘public use’.”
In other words, the Federal Government has the constitutional power to seize private property, at any time, as it sees fit to benefit the public. This power has been used in infrastructure projects and for other uses throughout our American history.
Based on known homelessness levels, the Patriot Homes and Dignity Initiative, which I’ll explain more fully in a minute, would construct 1.5 million publicly owned and locally administered housing units with elected committees for accountability. This number of homes would immediately end homelessness in America, based on known numbers of our neighbors without homes. This number of units isn’t random. It’s roughly triple the number of known unhoused people in America.
The problem with homelessness is that it’s hard to quantify. The numbers I used to determine the 1.5 million number above are based on 2017 data, which was the newest data I could find publicly. The Patriot Homes and Dignity Initiative is designed to maintain more no-cost homes than unhoused people, so there’s always a home for those who need it.
Now, I’m a fan of markets. Productive market forces are used to generate a font of wealth the world over. The problem is, despite the establishment’s claims, we don’t have “free” markets. We have captive markets. All the excitement around $GME and #WallStreetBets should prove that. If it doesn’t, there’s also the accelerating monopolization of commerce by Amazon and media by Disney.
The housing market is inaccessible. This is in large part due to forced and artificial scarcity through vacant home holdings and foreign entities and domestic billionaires buying up properties and land. Instituting a public option within the private housing market isn’t radical, it’s economic sense. Giving housing a baseline would force capitalists to actually compete rather than holding the market captive by the indirect force of “there’s no other choice”. This, in turn, creates a fairer market.
“How do we achieve this ‘public option’ for housing?”, you ask? Enter the Patriot Homes and Dignity Initiative, PHAD for short.
Those 1.5 million homes I mentioned earlier would be constructed similarly to modern condos, multi-unit, multi-story buildings. In addition, since not everyone can afford a home, this first allocation of homes would be no-cost for the formerly homeless as long as they live there. I know that seems crazy, but let me explain the rest of the policy and you’ll see how that works.
In addition to the primary purpose of housing, these buildings would also have space for publicly funded educational facilities such as Head Start and afterschool programs, as well as retail and small business spaces. The monthly facility rents for each of those would be used to subsidize any costs to the municipality in which the PHAD facility was built, increasing local and state funding for other projects.
The operations, construction, and upkeep of the PHAD facility itself would be sovereignly funded by the U.S. Federal Government. Those who live in a no-cost unit may stay there indefinitely, however after they achieve income above the poverty line (which needs to be drastically changed upward), they’ll be encouraged to opt-in to a “rent” in an amount of their choosing. This “rent” will be redistributed to a non-profit or community action organization of that tenant’s choice.
No-cost housing solves the primary factor driving homelessness: lack of a home. However, to promote fair rents and competition in the housing market, PHAD would create a base of 15 million homes with the additional benefit of preventing people from becoming homeless. This is five million more homes than even former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called for in his 2020 campaign.
I know you’re probably thinking: “Sounds great, but how do we pay for it?”
Have you heard of monetary sovereignty? It’s the concept behind the collection of economic science referred to as “Modern Monetary Theory“. Basically, as long as there are real resources to be purchased in US dollars and some form of unemployment, Congress has the sovereign, constitutional power to spend our currency into existence. While State governments must tax every dollar they spend, Congress is the issuer of the dollar and must spend in order for there to be any money flow.
Congress uses this power whenever it funds existing programs or appropriates new spending. Back to ending homelessness, shall we?
Under the proposed PHAD model, these low-cost housing units will have rent indexed to local minimum wage and household size, ensuring that rent is never more than 15% of the primary income-earner’s income. The low-cost housing facilities will also have hybrid spaces for businesses and community or educational facilities, with incentives for small businesses to set up shop in a PHAD building, just like the no-cost housing buildings. The result of this competition would be the driving down of artificially high rents in privately-owned rentals, ending the false scarcity driving the housing market bubbles and crashes.
Honoring the concept of accountability, the Federal Government would establish an independent review board to evaluate homelessness and poverty levels, in addition to the housing market to determine when new units need to be built on a rolling basis. The PHAD facilities would be federally protected against privatization and repurposing, ensuring that, once built and implemented, these homes are always available. In other words, the PHAD program can only expand, and never shrinks.
Of course, other services will be necessary in many cases to help the formerly unhoused become stable members of society. Two examples:
- Veterans will need a fully funded and operational VA for things such as treating PTSD, illness, and disabilities.
- Those who have addiction issues will need full, no-cost access to rehabilitation programs and healthcare.
The Patriot Homes and Dignity Initiative would be mandated to preserve individual freedoms and privacy. Social workers or other agents wouldn’t be allowed to operate like abusive landlords. There would be no mandate allowing them to force a certain lifestyle on tenants, nor regulation prescribing them to invade tenants’ homes. Any legitimate reason for a social worker or other person to enter the tenant’s house is easily covered under existing social work and criminal justice programs. However, those programs also need to be reformed.
The point of my policies, in this case the Patriot Homes and Dignity Initiative, is to ensure that human needs are human rights, freely accessible to all. In this context, the need for shelter and a place to call home is readily covered by the proposed PHAD model. Not everyone can afford housing, so not every house should require money. It’s that simple.
I consider my position on this to be the moderate one. You go left and you’ll find people advocating for the direct seizure and redistribution of existing vacant homes. You go towards what most of my fellow Americans think is the “center” and you’ll find people moralizing about homelessness being a problem while bureaucrats hide behind “it’s a very complicated problem to solve” and nothing ever gets done except police raids. If you go further right than that, you’ll find hostile, anti-homeless architecture and a non-profit industrial complex encouraging donations going to the “right” organizations rather than directly helping those who are unhoused.
2022 Washington Congressional Joshua Collins, a member of the 2020 Rose Caucus candidate slate, truck driver, and open socialist who ran for publicly advocated for using that constitutional power of eminent domain to seize environmentally destructive golf courses for his proposed Green New Deal infrastructure.
I similarly advocate for the eminent domain seizure and repurposing of golf courses but propose they be used for the construction of multi-unit hybrid housing structures in the “Patriot Homes And Dignity Initiative”.
Coupled with the Patriot Jobs Act, often referred to as the “Federal Jobs Guarantee,” these two policies would provide homes and jobs for every American. Furthermore, the maintenance, construction, and operation of PHAD buildings will require workers. This means these two policies feed into each other in a positive-feedback loop. PHAD makes housing accessible, affordable and competitive while providing jobs. The Patriot Jobs Act provides jobs, making housing and other needs accessible and affordable while making wages competitive in both the public and private sectors. Here’s a graphic describing the fundamentals behind the Patriot Jobs Act:
To reiterate: Neither the PHAD nor the Patriot Jobs Act are compulsory. They add an option. In other words, they grant people opportunity, but they don’t force anyone to take it. The personal choice, the free will, remains the driver behind the decisions made.
Dignity is a word thrown around a lot but rarely considered. I believe every human life has an inherent dignity, and that dignity should be honored by a society that becomes increasingly better, with a baseline of every human need being a human right. CEOs, billionaires, and bosses rent our bodies and minds in exchange for a pittance of wages while they keep the lion’s share of the wealth generated by our productivity. By ensuring fair wages and housing to all in America, every American will have a greater ability to access their inherent dignity throughout their lives.
Everyone deserves a home to call their own. Full stop.
A highly similar version of this Policy Paper will be published on RealProgressives.org. See it and my other articles for them here.