The national headlines emerging from San Francisco’s current rental crisis paint a picture of wealthy landlords pushing old ladies out of units they’ve inhabited for decades in order to quadruple their profits housing techies. While that happens, a sizable portion of the city’s rental stock exists in landlord-occupied buildings like the one I grew up in. In many cases, these landlords are like my mom: teachers, carpenters, small business owners, etc., who bought their homes before prices exploded. Now, they’re suddenly presented with the opportunity to make a profit on their homes’ extra units. For my mom, like many of my friends’ parents, this opportunity presents an ethical quandary: is it right to charge what the market will bear, even if that price seems absurd?
For years, my mom’s answer to that question was no. She rented to friends of friends, charging between $500-$1000 a month below the market rate.
It’s easy to bag on people for being followers, for blaming “market forces” or “changing tastes,” because using those excuses allows them to escape blame for shitty situations. Here’s what else it does: It denies them credit for creating good things.
Acting like the society we live in is like the weather, and we have no power over what rent is any more than we have power over whether it will rain on circus day, erases the agency of people who are NOT assholes, who DON’T do the terrible things everyone else is doing, who REFUSE to victimize people just because it’s cheap and easy.
It makes their stories absurd.
I can’t think of anything we need less right now.