The Atlantic right now has one of the world's great hell-no headlines, by which I mean a headline ending in a question mark whose only proper answer is a four-letter word followed by "no." Ready for it?
Jesus Christ on a (small-batch, organically hand-crafted) popsicle stick, what the living Fletch is wrong with you people?
The article focuses on a group called Right to the City, a "national alliance of community-based organizations that since 2007 has made it its mission to fight 'gentrification and the displacement of low-income people of color.'" These allies, inspired by French Marxist Henri Lefebvre, reckon that gentrification is
the result of a "systemic" effort to drive up profit margins for real-estate developers. Through rezonings, tax abatements for developers, and the privatization of public spaces, local governments and federal agencies often work to change low-income neighborhoods at the encouragement of developers, they argue.
It is the resulting displacement of people who can't afford increased rents that, in the eyes of these activists, amounts to a human-rights violation.
I mean, why not a war crime? Or perhaps some light genocide?
New York, like a lot of expensive progressive cities, has some of the most "systemic" pro-renter policies (or intended pro-renter policies) in the country, the results of which include artificially suppressed housing stock, sky-high rents wherever markets are allowed to set prices (to compensate for losses where government manages prices), and of course a whole lotta millionaire gentrifiers holding onto cheapo apartments. But forget the policy, can we talk about the language here? And the assumption that those who pay rents for shelter or commerce have an enforceable "right" to have those rents encased in amber? Here's how you arrive at such a fanciful place:
The UN Declaration of Human Rights already asserts that everyone has the right to be protected against "interference with his… home." Lenina Nadal, the communications director for Right to the City, says the group hopes to build on this idea. "It is an ideal time to expand the idea that inhabitants not only have a right to their home, a decent, sustainable home," she said, "but also to the community they created in their city."
Now I'm confused. Isn't rent control "interference with" the owner and sometimes inhabitants of that home? (Example: I rent a floor in a house owned and occupied by my landlords, in a rapidly gentfrifying Brooklyn neighborhood.) Isn't one of the characteristics of gentrifiers that they help "create" community and improvements thereof? Do they have a "right" to that community after a certain amount of time, or will they be shipped off to The Hague?
The best bits in the article, though, are the to-be-sure sentences. Like these:
The organization is up against the fact that there isn't even a consensus that gentrification is bad in the first place, much less bad enough to be classified as a human-rights violation. What some see as gentrification, others see as revitalization.
You don't say.
(Hat tip to Brooklyn human-rights criminal Scott Ross.)