Commentary by Food Not Bombs Collective
DESTROYING HOMES/CREATING CHEAP LABOR, THE UNDERBELY OF URBAN RENEWAL
Food Not Bombs Cleveland is enraged by the city’s recent announcement that Camelot, or the former Tip Top Bread factory on E. 5th St. and Chester, will be demolished on August 1, 2000. For nearly 30 years it has provided a haven for homeless people and represented one of the few spaces in the city where homeless people have been able to address some of their own problems without being institutionalized in the controlling and dehumanizing system of homeless shelters. This is yet another example of the city’s complicity with private interests at the cost of citizens of the city. For all of the city’s rhetoric about attempting to create a livable city, it has again become apparent that their image of a livable city, it has again become apparent that their image of a livable city is a city that is livable for and by the wealthy.
What does it mean to live in a “renewed,” “revived,” or otherwise “reinvented” city? If you are wealthy, it is the “right” to walk the streets without fear of being accosted by panhandlers, let alone forced to see what they are only a few paychecks away from. But for the majority of us, it means working several jobs just to be able to ay the rent.
Cleveland is no longer a city for the unemployed and working poor.
Through the onslaught of city planning policy, the city has become “up and coming, “meaning the cost of living is sky rocketing while wages are stagnating. Is this an accident?
And why would the city be spending $500.000 to destroy a dilapidated building in a dilapidated area?
Simply, it is but an aspect of the larger “urban renewal” plans of the city of Cleveland to re-invent the city. More accurately, it is an act of reinventing the city for the corporate interests of downtown Cleveland, at the expense of a burgeoning population of unemployed and working poor.
HOW TO CREATE VAST SUPPLIES OF CHEAP LABOR?
For those of who live and observe the underbelly of the renewed urban economy of Cleveland, the city’s decision to demolish what is known, as Camelot is not surprising. To build a new city, one must attract capital. How does one attract capital, how does one guarantee obscene profits margins for corporations?
The first step, as the city so blatantly and recklessly doles out, is through massive tax abatements that virtually give land and space to corporations, generating no revenue for local schools, infrastructures, art programs, and the like. Let alone an even modest attempt at addressing the rapidly and unevenly expanding divisions between the rich and poor. Not only do those abatements not provide any revenue for the neighborhoods they exist within, they quickly drive up rent, thus forcing those who have homes to either move to poorer, yet “renewed” neighborhoods, or go into the streets.
The Midtown corridor, where the former Tip Top Bread factory is located, has been specifically targeted for redevelopment. What does that mean? Does it mean that the residents are being assisted in reclaiming their neighborhoods and building working structures of community and social support? Does it mean that schools are being renovated, teacher’s salaries being increased, streets cleaned, etc.? No, It means that businesses are being given corporate welfare to set up shop there, to no real assistance to those living there. The only attempts at “reinventing” those communities have been the construction of outrageously expensive housing typically well over $100.00, again subsidized through abatements.
Meanwhile, the city builds large homeless shelters to house the Staggering number of people being forced out of their homes, despite working full-time jobs. And even those are not enough. The newly christened homeless shelter with 200-250 beds is already at nearly double its capacity.
The obvious way to get off the streets or out of the shelter system is to work. This is where we see the “beauty” of current city planning policy.
In a city so rapidly de-housing, one of the most profitable businesses to open is a temporary labor agency. These agencies, a significant number conveniently located near homeless shelters, prey on the homeless as a flexible and cheap source of labor. And they both win: the temp agencies and the business they cater to. Not only are these businesses provided with cheap labor that they can hire and fires at will they have threat of labor organizing and no responsibility to provide even the most basic of “benefits” to their workers. If they don’t like someone, they don’t come back.
The typical salary for a temporary worker is $5.15/hour, the federally mandated minimum wage. If one does her or his math, working full time at this rate will give you approximately $825/month. This is before taxes and social security is deducted, along with the daily $2 fee for transporting the worker to the site. Now, according to HUD, one’s monthly rent should be no more than 30% of one’s monthly income. This, however, is an extremely high percentage according to many agencies and researchers.
Most put the ratio of rent to monthly income closer to 10%. For the sake of argument, we’ll say 25%. At this rate, working full-time at minimum wage, one’s rent should not exceed $206.25. Have you seen housing for $200/month lately?
One may say the city has been laudable in relegating some of the newly redeveloped luxurious high rise and loft apartments built downtown to low income families. The city, however, defines a yearly income of approximately $22,000 - $25,000 as low income. Doing the math again puts the monthly rent at $521/month. Is this really low-income rent? Again, working full-time at the federal minimum wage (assuming you have no unpaid vacations and missed not a day of work) gives you an annual income of $10,712, or roughly $825/month. Living in such low-income housing will therefore eat up 60% of your income.
For those living check-to-check, like many people of this city, an unfortunate turn of events will leave you on the streets. Once there, one is funneled into the shelter system and maintained through various temporary agencies that provide a radically flexible labor force for a few dollars from free. And as rents go up, more people enter the streets, the cheap labor force grows, and manufacturing profits. Is the pattern apparent yet?
If not, no need only look at the nature of the global economy and how “underdeveloped” countries are force-fed “redevelopment” plans. The city’s strategy is in no way new. In countless examples, the answer for “underdeveloped” countries is to do all they can to attract trans-national corporations, something done through similar tax abatements and the suppression of labor rights. Their goal is to build their economics on corporate capital through the promises of cheap, unthreatening labor.
The oppression of people for the sake of a lousy buck, all in the name of economic renewal.
The workings of the Cleveland urban renewal policy thus becomes apparent. Provide welfare for the corporations, take it away from the poor, force them onto the streets, swell the pool of cheap labor, and make a great city.
URBAN RENEWAL FOR PEOPLE, NOT CAPITAL
Why should someone fully employed be living under a bridge? They shouldn’t. And people have started to address this problem by creating their own housing in old, unused buildings in the city. They have taken it upon themselves to renovate and create livable spaces in a city within which they cannot afford to pay for housing, despite working.
The city’s reply: Destroy.
We demand that the city stop their destruction of Camelot. Furthermore, we demand that the city halt its endless stream of corporate welfare and its love affair with the capital it relentlessly attempts to attract. We demand that the city address the real problems, and work with us to develop policy not for the corporations that set up shop only as long as the welfare flows, but for those that suffer at their foot – the people.
If they continue their currently destructive policies, action will be taken.
Copyright The Homeless Grapevine – Issue 44 September – October