The Housing Question a century and a half later
Notes from New York City
Keywords: Housing crisis, rent regulation, housing justice, social movements, New York City
New York City serves as an entry point for a brief reflection on today’s housing question. Drawing on Friedrich Engels’ inspiring work in the late 19th century, it is argued that some issues he pointed out are still present and have become endemic to the capitalist city, while others have emerged amidst recent economic and health crises. In the US economic growth machine and in one of the global capitals, working-class, vulnerable, and unemployed populations still suffer precarious and unworthy dwelling conditions, and finding a place to live is gradually becoming more complex. With many people struggling after the pandemic, homelessness is also growing. The situation comes after decades of defunding public housing, dismantling rent regulations, and neglecting welfare protections in an increasingly financialized housing market that privileges profits over human rights. However, these issues are not unique to NYC; similar accounts can be found throughout urban geographies worldwide. We need to think locally and globally about the current housing question, improve cooperation across housing justice groups and social movements, and prompt a debate about ways to rethink the tenancy regime alongside the capitalist system that has proven incapable of providing housing for everyone.