Friday, July 6, 2007

Shabbat Ideas - July 6, 2007

It is hot and sticky in the city and I got dress up for work on a Friday so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for July 6, 2007.
Woman Rabbi Preach Alyiah...and it isn't the beginning of a joke
Besides the fact he isn't running (yet) he could be the first Jewish President
Log Cabin Republicans Outing California Cities
Boy-chicks of summer

I watch a lot of DYI and HGTV; it is relaxing and mindless. My favorite shows are the Flip This House and Real Estate Pros. The point of the show is to take a dilapidated house in a crappy part of town and make it really nice and flipping it for a huge profit in a very short amount of time. It is good fun and very much formula television.

Perhaps I like these show because in an hour (or 44 minutes if you set the DVR) you can see a piece of junk transformed into a work of art. It is so simple: investors invest a few hundred thousand dollars in the property, spend ten-thousand more than they wanted to on renovations and then sell the house for a about twenty-thousand less than they wanted to still making a profit of about fifty to a hundred thousand dollars in the span of a few weeks or months.

But something irks me about these shows as well. You never see who owned the home before the flippers buy the place. Many of the houses were bank owned foreclosures or police seized property. You don’t see the negative aspects of the gentrification of a neighborhood. Hundreds of hours of TV every week are spent on showing real estate to people around the country and a majority of these shows focus on the “up and coming” neighborhoods in major cities like Seattle, Chicago or Atlanta.

One person in particular really fits the mold of the issue of exacerbation of localized poverty. His name is Armando Montelongo. He is the owner and president of the Flip Team in San Antonio. His story is very compelling; pulling himself up out of poverty, Armando built a business and wrote a book about making it work. But what we don’t see is how his business in pseudo-rural areas around the city has relegated poor folks to the middle of nowhere. But he made it so there is a message of hard work and getting paid, which is good for the kids.

I was in Oakland last week on the BART on my way to the airport, when I noticed some new buildings below of the Coliseum/Airport stop on the train. I was shocked to see this because the last time I was on this particular piece of public transit, the entire area near the BART in Oakland was rusted warehouses. This is a sign of both economic strength in the East Bay but also more housing in an extremely competitive market. But that wasn’t the entire story.

I am sure someone made a boat load of money on creating this relatively affordable housing. While I have NO problem (really I don’t for the three rightwingers who read this) with people making boat loads of money. But when people are making money on the backs of poor folks, possibly by the creation of dept and the threat of foreclosure I care a lot.

In January 2005 President Bush called for the creation of an “ownership society” during his second inauguration. I was standing on Capital Hill on the frosty winter morning when he uttered those words. As a guest of a family friend, who is a recovering (I hope) Republican, I kept my mouth shut for most of the nauseating speech. However at this point I was a visibly upset. When asked I said what was wrong, I said this is going to be a huge problem and kill all kinds of public housing programs.

I was right then and I believe I am right now. The idea of an ownership society fueled the increase in sub-prime and predatory mortgage loans leading to the crash of these markets and increase in foreclosures on low and moderate income families. Even today the news agencies are a buzz with news of foreclosures and near foreclosures.(sorry got to pay for that one)

These shows, while entertaining and full of the do-good messages, seem to miss the darker side of an ownership society. Having every American own his or her home is a wonderful goal, but we will need to insure that there are sustainable incomes for people to pay for their investments and that we do not destroy every last bit of affordable housing in favor of good TV. Tradition teaches us that the highest level of Tzedakah is to provide the opportunity for someone to be able to take care of him or herself. Allowing for predatory loans and false promises of sustainability is not an ownership society; it is a society of debtors and collectors.

Shabbat Shalom


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