The prevailing social contract — let corporations do what they will, and they will make us all rich — is looking increasingly threadbare. It was only ever built on the flimsiest of foundations — selective misreadings of discredited 18th- and 19th-century economic hypotheses.
Locally, it has failed to supply the affordable housing that is so desperately needed. Succeeding Councils have fallen under its spell — resulting in precious few affordable homes in exchange for gifts of our future tax payments to assorted legal entities set up solely to speculate in property.
So, what is to be done ? We can start the long journey by asking why the supply of these homes falls so far short of the demand.
So long as profit-driven property speculators are involved, we must face the fact that the beating heart of their business model is that there must always be a shortage; given the nature of housing as an asset, were supply and demand ever to match, the worth of their holdings would fall to zero — for evidence, look at Detroit and East Berlin. And the greater the shortfall, the greater the worth of their holdings.
On the demand side, look in the mirror. Paraphrasing JFK: Nothing just happens, it is made to happen. Demand for affordable housing is high because of the sum of our individual actions. As employers, we don’t pay high enough wages. As employees, we put up with this abuse for nonfinancial reasons and will struggle to work two or three jobs to survive. As commuters and tourists, we require that the infrastructure needs of a daytime population of 150,000 be funded by the 85,000 residents. As incomers, we choose Asheville, knowing that the city’s economy is wildly unbalanced. As residents, we stay even if we can’t afford a decent home.
City Council’s attempt to find ways to build hundreds of affordable homes on land they already own is, at least, a start. But thousands more are needed, and that larger problem could only be solved by a much larger effort. One that starts with a simple question: Do we see the people who need those homes as prey or as fellow human beings worthy of our support?
— Geoff Kemmish