The star architect Patrick Schumacher, director of Zaha Hadid Architects is trying to nudge us ever closer to the point where rent becomes the purpose of existence for a whole tranche of people contributing almost nothing to a better world. His intellectual bankruptcy would destroy communities built up over generations by abolishing social and affordable housing and replacing them by “people who have second homes….here for only a few weeks and throw some key parties, these are amazing multiplying events.”
Here is a blind man who does not see the elements required to make a city work - the streets cleaned, the water running, the lights on at night, the traffic flowing, the vendors plying their trade, the musicians strumming a tune – but instead everything is down to the price that can be paid for central real estate. What a cul de sac!
If we break down rent into its component parts – there is some for maintenance (repairs and renewal over time), some for service charges such as collective utilities, and then there is profit – a surcharge by the owner to take from the tenant’s pocket. Hasn’t the building been paid for? Weren’t the bricks and mortar already signed off? Haven’t the builders had wages settled? Why then does the financier, who takes the least risk of all and does the least amount of productive work, continue to gain from the labour of others, simply because he or she owns the building. Shouldn’t ownership be responsibility, rather than an opportunity to make a quick buck. This is an imbalance in our system that needs correction. Rent which is beyond maintenance and service charge, is a corrupt payment for a failing system.
If our social evolution wrings out high rents it will backfire and drive people away, or to despair. In the end the economy will go bust if too many people earn something for nothing. We complain about the corruption of other nations, where payments to make things happen are termed bribes, but at my own work place - a church, which you would think had a long-term view, they have quadrupled our rents over the past 12 years, and the last doubling in which profit was injected, was done with a forked tongue. We were told, because the market rent was 40% higher than what we would now pay, the church was actually giving us charity. So our rent doubled and we were expected to be thankful. This is despite the church being built with public money by a previous generation. There was no recognition that we were providing outreach for the church and bringing in new congregations, except when they use our charitable work for their fundraising drive. We could make the case we should be paid by doing the church’s work for them. The rent increase to the church means we lose an apprentice, which they say is their vision – finding employment for young people.
In England the family silver was sold off in the 1980’s and now the land is being flogged off to the highest bidder. It can only lead to land reform – where the people re-assert their sovereignty. We own the land. Or more precisely, we look after land for the benefit of future generations.
Examples of this shift in emphasis can be seen in parks which are expected to generate income, with the consequent loss of quiet green space, replaced by winter wonderlands, retail outlets, mega concerts and anything else which will turn some cash. The prisons in America are another example of where this way of thinking leads – let’s make money from prisons and fill them up with inmates. America now has one quarter of the world’s prisoners, with only 5% of the world’s population. When the bottom line is money, this is where we’re heading – another dead end, with all its consequent prejudices and injustices. The criminal justice system and our basic economic structures are implicated in crime and corruption. Let’s stop pointing fingers at others people’s bribes and clean up our own act.