Pandemic Brings Up Questions of Housing Rights

Last week, rent strikes broke out in New York and a few other states, where thousands of people gathered around during the height of the virus pandemic to protest for free housing, among other things. Although it was simply labeled as a “rent strike,” the protests, which were spearheaded by the Democratic Socialists of America, were actually calling for free housing as a human right, as well as a waiving of student loan debt and even wage hikes for the oft demanded “living wage.”

Wherever one falls on the spectrum here, it’s plain to see that having 12,000 people in groups in New York City is a pretty dangerous thing to do, for the world’s foremost affected area of the coronavirus. Though as many politicians claim, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the crisis is the “perfect time” to illustrate that there has been a bigger, ongoing crisis of human rights, in that charging people rent is a cruel, inhumane and immoral act of greedy capitalism. All housing should be free as a human right, argue some politicians and protesters.

Just earlier today on May 7, 2020, an MIT professor of Law and Development, Balakrishann Rajagopal, argued in the Washington Post that housing needs to be a human right, given rent free, as housing is “the front line in the fight against covid-19.” His reasoning is that if people are expected to shelter in place, they must have a home in which to shelter. Therefore, it goes beyond an economy in recession and people not being able to pay rent as easily now, some not at all; it’s more about entirely doing away with a for-profit system of private ownership and having the government seize all properties to turn them over to the public for free.

These sorts of ideas are often espoused, particularly from those who consider themselves socialists. Though when they’re coming from a professor of an institution as prestigious as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, more people do stand up and take notice.

Ocasio-Cortez is perhaps the most vocal proponent of such things. Her opponents, however, point out that her plans for the Green New Deal, combined with universal healthcare, will have a price tag of anywhere between 30 to 50 trillion dollars, an unfathomable number. Economists opposed to the idea of free housing cannot even calculate how high the number would be for the expense and destruction that eliminating private property and associated rights would be. They just know that it would cost exponentially more.

What a lot of people are missing here is the crux of their argument. It’s one thing to say that every American should be entitled to have a home. These people go beyond that, and claim that every human should have that right, while never having to pay for it. So not only do they wish America to offer housing to the entire planet, if they wish to come over, but they also insist it must be given free of charge, at taxpayer expense. And, for this, thousands of people gather at the height of a global pandemic and risk virus spread to make demands.

The Odd Nature of Popular Politics

What’s so odd about this to millions of Americans is how mainstream media are treating the rent-free protestors. They’re being described as stunning, brave, and even necessary for justice. These labels, of course, given to socialist protestors by the exact same media who called another set of protestors “Trump’s puppets” and “racist monsters,” claiming they want all black people to die, and that’s why they were protesting in the streets.

For what was that other group of protesters fighting? A right to go back to work.

That’s how starkly the division is in America between popular politics of which the media approve, and everything else. People who cannot afford to buy groceries or pay their rent are protesting so that they can go back to work. They wish to return to a life where they wake up at 5 a.m. every morning, work tiring jobs for little pay, just so they can make money. They’re considered evil and said to have nefarious purposes. Meanwhile, protesters who are gathering in groups of thousands just to demand free entitlements are being treated more kindly than civil rights protesters of the 1960s.

As of May 7, protests on both sides of the spectrum continue to happen, though only the rent-free crowd is considered to be exercising a Constitutional right. The other group is being called criminals.

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