Author George Lakoff (Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate) unearths some troubling new legislation coming out of Housing and Urban Development. If PETRA passes, says Lakoff, it would be a big victory for onservatives and a huge blow to progressive values of fairness and good government. Taxpayers will be on the hook, tenants’ rights will be trampled, and private companies make out like bandits.
The Obama Administration’s move to the right is about to give conservatives a victory they could not have anticipated, even under Bush. HUD, under Obama, submitted legislation called PETRA to Congress that would result in the privatization of all public housing in America.
The new owners would charge ten percent above market rates to impoverished tenants, money that would be mostly paid by the US government (you and me, the taxpayers). To maintain the property, the new owners would take out a mortgage for building repair and maintenance (like a home equity loan), with no cap on interest rates.
With rents set above market rates, the mortgage risk would be attractive to banks. Either they make a huge profit on the mortgages paid for by the government. Or if the government lowers what it will pay for rents, the property goes into foreclosure. The banks get it and can sell it off to developers.
Sooner or later, the housing budget will be cut back and such foreclosures will happen. The structure of the proposal and the realities of Washington make it a virtual certainty.
The banks and developers make a fortune, with the taxpayers paying for it. The public loses its public housing property. The impoverished tenants lose their apartments, or have their rents go way up if they are forced into the private market. Homelessness increases. Government gets smaller. The banks and developers win. It is a Bank Bonanza! The poor and the public lose.
And a precedent is set. The government can privatize any public property: Schools, libraries, national parks, federal buildings — just as has begun to happen in California, where the right-wing governor has started to auction off state property and has even suggested selling off the Supreme Court building.
The rich will get richer, the poor and public get poorer. And the very idea of the public good withers.
This is central to the conservative dream, in which there is no public good — only private goods. And it is a nightmare for democracy.
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