^^ Mayor Wu : lots of government activity, none of it of the least effect and some of it aggravating to the problem. What else is new ?

—- —- —-

This week a Commonwealth Magazine column proposed doubling the State’s transfer deed excise tax. The writers claimed this would raise $ 600 million, which — so they said — could be used, in part, to build “affordable” housing.

Who they kidding ? Themselves ?

I don’t care if you raise $ 60 billion. As long as Boston is the hub for bio-technology, and for the vastly over-priced educational behemoths that school the bio industry’s gluttonous salaries, housing in Boston will be way, way out of price reach for ordinary grunts — which comprises at least 80 percent of us. For us, there is no future except to leave.

As long as the bio boom goes on — and who would even think of wanting it to stop ? it brings to our City money so vast that even Long John Silver and his pirates would stop dancing on dead men’s chests and start buying leather yachts, $ 800 tomahawk steaks, $ 500 concert ticket goers, casino guests with unlimited credit, and buyers of grapefruit-colored designer sneakers — the cost of having a place to live will be veddy veddy pricey, mate.

That these instagram influencers and “content creators” of whom I speak — singles all, of course — might only stay here for a couple of years till they transfer to the next G start up, or to a trendy application shop of the moment, is no bar to $ 4000 to $ 8000 apartments: because as one class of glamor smarties leaves, another class comes to town. Call it the university-ization of Boston : move to town, earn barrels of money, live in dormitory-sized “units,” rent out another to air bnb, and then sail on — heck, even I, a local stiff who can barely pay my bills, know several lovelies who have done exactly this, or who will be doing it.

Perish forbid that our city might be governede by those who were born here, want to work here and stay here. that’s old fogey, man ! No one does that any more, only those biased old ethnics who micro-aggress people of color; who are glued to the old ways (such as honoring the murderer, Christopher Columbus); who are all racists anyway, right ? So why not price them out of the city they and their forbears came to, worked to exhaustion in, but could at least call home ? They’re obsolete, man ! So buy them out if you can, price them out if you can’t. See ya !

(Fun fact : it isn’t only the old ethnics who are being pushed or bought out. Most Bostonians of color also cannot afford the new prices. Many of these folks also have families, and the parents aren’t very happy, to say the least, with Boston’s schools. If they can’t get a kid into “Latin,” or a charter school, the suburban schools, with their better reputations, look most appealing; and so families of color — lots of them — are leaving Boston as well.)

But back to my main point:

As long as the university lifestyle– here for a couple, party and shop and live “off campus” : for what is a “unit” but an off-campus room, the “campus” being the app shop or bio lab in which the $ 250 k-a-year kids do their post-Ph.D researching ? — continues, real estate guys with banked money looking for action will buy up our old fashioned homes, and either renovate and condo them at vast profit, or else demolish them and erect “units” made of featureless crap. And as long as these real estate guys have impatient money — often using greed-sized lines of credit — to bet, sellers, being no fools, will demand insane prices — and get them. Wouldn’t you do the same ? I sure would.

So the land acquisition cost, which has quadruped since 2010, goes up more. likewise the cost of buying a working family’s house and demolishing it. And then ? Do you suppose that the developer will now build ordinary housing ? Hell no ! He’ll build for the most expensive audience he can afford to target. Heck, even in the suburbs, where actual families still live, the builders build elephant-size houses with twice the room space any ordinary family would ever want. You see them everywhere : vast piles with zero style devoid of grace but plump with gabled avoirdupois.

Meanwhile, the small homes — complete with lawn and driveway — built after World War II have passed into history. No one builds them any more. The only small houses that get built today are the micro-apartments favored by zoning reformers.

Climate zealots love the micro-apartments. They use little fossil fuel energy, and in keeping with the climate folks’ abhorrence of cars, they don’t have driveways.

Zoning codes ? No problemo, man ! Zoning rules were devised in the small home era, Not for us, right? We are PROGRESSIVE ! So city zoning boards dismiss zoning rules out of hand. Besides, how could you honor a zoning code that no builder will build to ?

But I digress.

What, then, could the $ 600 million excise tax revenue build ? The Commonwealth writers don’t explicitly say — though I can guess what they are thinking of — but it’s not hard to figure : they would channel that money through City and town governments to allot to builders via some sort of building permit covenant, such as what already are in place, where a builder would be required to offer a percentage of his “units” at ‘affordable” prices, whatever that night be. The current requirements range from 13 percent of units to 20 percent. I would imagine that the $ 600 million would push cities to require maybe 33 percent.

(Or we could hve “rent stabilization,” if Mayor Wu can fool enough legislators, who ought to know better.)

But back to my point.

Either that or cities would build entire quadrants of subsidized housing. Being subsidized, these units would be rentals only — or, if available for purchase, how would the City do so without bestowing upon the buyer a huge immediate value profit ? I have heard that some cities are offering buyers only a portion of the equity so as to negate the prospect of an immediate value profit at taxpayer expense. But how can such a device be legal ? And if it is legal, by what right does a city have the authority to own private, for sale housing and to withhold from a buyer value to which she is entitled ?

But let’s not go further down this guessing game road. I’ll tell you what’s going to happen, whether planners and reformers like it or not. The ordinary working stiffs of Boston — and cities as captured as ours — are going to do one of the following : ( 1 ) double and triple up in what’s left of wring class housing ( 2 ) move far far away, like to Fall River or Holyoke, where housing costs one-third to one-fifth of Boston prices or ( 3 ) demand much, much higher hourly wages for the exhausting, vital grunt work that they do and without which the university researchers and instagram dolls could not exist for more than 24 hours.

My own guess is that there’ll be a little of all three. And that the concerns and living arrangements of those of us who must decide between these three options will be of no account to the politicians who cannot fund their increasingly overpriced campaigns except from those who have it (and we now now who they are, don’t we ?); but what we WILL get from the politicians who want our votes is a blizzard of tipsy promises and contradictory devices.

It ain’t pretty, and it ain’t going away.

I’ll also make another prediction : rents and buy prices will continue to get MORE expensive. Why ? Because they can.

—- Mike Freedberg


George Soros

George Soros, international investor and bugaboo of Trumpist autocrats because he funds liberal causes. But he is hardly the only political billionaire, and big money people and institutions now buy all of our nation’s successful politics.

This will be a rather distressing column by me. I am a pessimist these days when contemplating the future of American democracy. But please hear me out :

You can’t have a democracy if the voters who actually democratize have no money in the game. As things go in the age of Citizens United, almost all the money in political campaigns comes from the well off and institutions. Ordinary wage workers cam barely pay their bills. They don’t have money to donate; or, if they do donate, its small beer. Meanwhile, vast pools of parked money form PACs with millions of dollars that flood the field.

Ordinary wage workers earn better pay now than ever before, but even the current $ 15/hour to $ 17/hour pay that’s available pales before the costs of housing, food, car loans, kids’ clothes, utilities, and credit card debt. I mention credit cards because in America these past 50 years, credit cards have enabled consumers to spend forward — spend money before they actually have it — thus expanding the economy beyond what actual money in it would otherwise permit. The use of forwarded money has turned once free people into indebted servants whose waking hours become lashed to the need to pay debts: and yes, you pay that carded debt because in our economy, if your credit is taken away, you are truly screwed. It’s bad enough that a wage earner can’t save a dime. And if his access to loans is lost, he is the helpless if a bill comes due before he gets his next paycheck. (I speak of paychecks here because at least those who work can foresee a payday. Those who live on public assistance are even worse off and an entirely different condition beyond the scope of this column. We are here discussing those who at least do generate money.)

The higher-paid can save at least a retirement account — against which they can borrow, of course; those who generate money in our economy are always able to borrow their futures — and of course can obtain much larger borrowings than can the average wage earner. Yet even they are not fully free. If they ca take on larger dollar forwards, their obligations likewise become bigger. The monkey on their backs is a gorilla. We like to think that the buyer of a $ 750,000 home is a very lucky person. But in our economy, with a good credit score he or she need pay in actual money as little as $ 37,500 of that $ 750,000; the rest is borrowed i what usually these days is a 40 year mortgage — a lifelong indebtedness which becomes a financial death sentence if the borrower loses his or her job. And if that job requires a 70 or 75 hour work week — because the pressures of venture capitalized start ups create almost unbearable competition ? Well, you grab hold of your cubicle ad you work those 70 or 75 hours.

This doesn’t feel a whole lot like freedom, at least not to me.

But there is worse to tell. The lender of that $ 712,250 forty-year debt servitude doesn’t have to wait for his money to be repaid. In today’s America he sells the promissory note to a investor — actually, he packages the $ 712,250 note with hundreds or even thousand more like it and sells the bundle to a huge hedge fund or other owner of uselessly parked money who earns a “management” fee for buying and selling 440-year promissory notes. Such fee can tally a billion dollars or more, out of which the recipient can fund one of those vast PACs which control what is said, and to who, by our big political campaigns. Which campaigns thus become mouthpieces not for the ordinary worker — barely even for the borrower of a $ 712,250 mortgage — but for the buyers of hundreds of huge promissory notes.

It works both sides of the campaigns, by the way. Investment managers have differing views, and they buy the political purveyors of each such view. Said buyers spend vast amounts of campaign time begging for this sort of money — much, much more time than they spend campaigning to ordinary voters. Oh sure, they’ll film a scene at a wage earners; diner, maybe, just to show that they do care about voters, but though we used to be fooled by these, we no longer are. We know the deal now. We know that we do not count.

Which is why voter turnout has trended downward. Recently this has changed, but the reason is different. In the past six years or so, culminating with the rise of Trump, a bitter, angry, and increasingly intolerant opposition as arisen to the above scenario, a movement of the left out, of those who do not share the corporate, institutional view of what our politics should be doing. We choose to call the arisen situation “culture wars” because the new angry opposition tends to focus on the libertine preferences of those who back he corporate wish lists: but actually the left out are, mostly, being left out of the money trends. The views espoused by the corporate, and mostly urban money elite come with actual changes fueled by money. : development and demolition in the name of “housing crisis”; billions for public transportation and vast new impediments for the autonomous automobile — the most vital instrument of personal liberty to come along in the last 200 years — in the name of climate crisis”; and “diversity, equity and inclusion” demands, in the name of “marginalized” people, assumed to be people of color, when the actual marginalizeds are the old line, mostly ethnic (but also of color) wage earners who stocked the old, pre-credit card economy.

The authoritarian tactics of this angry opposition, and its antipathy to our old Constitutional order, are intended to threaten the bases of the big money, urban “progress” interests. It would be a true people’s movement, of a kind our nation has seen before, except that it isn’t. Big money fuels this autocracy too. Why ? Simple : it’s a ;profit opportunity for media moguls who have grabbed (and helped voice) a customer base. That the means by which these “hate profiteers” (as my cousin Chris Mugglebee calls them) put our Constitution in jeopardy doesn’t seem to worry them. Maybe they know something we should know about the power of big money to override political devices meant to protect the average voter ?

Let me add one more observation. The angry autocrats of Trump world often view people of color as their enemy because people of color overwhelmingly vote for those whom the rump world hates. But the angry opposition is more and more attracting wage earners of color who see that the well off and corporate demolishers and developers, new economy industries and work from home consultants are coming for them as well as for the old ethnics. We would be celebrating this gathering coalition of the financially crushed, a coalition envisioned by Bobby Kennedy 60 years ago, except that those who fund the movement’s candidates (and its media) want only the angry people’s votes. As for money, they want it all. They envision, even openly propose, draconian decreases in wages and benefits including the phasing out of social security. Under their autocratic rule, where bought legislators overrule popular votes in elections, the ordinary wage voter has even less chance than she has under progressive crisis rule. At least the progressives have yet to propose overriding popular votes or to stymie the installation of duly elected Presidents. Yet what comfort is this seeming adherence to Constitutional order, when the progressive crisis coalition has the money to buy campaigns which employ racial fears, climate doomsdays, and housing chimeras — not to mention the profit opportunities in each — as a sure means of marshalling urban votes even from the financially crushed ?

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere