Poor People - How to Push Them Away
People who are poor are more likely to live in ugly homes.
Thus when we seek to ban ugliness in our communities, we are
attacking the poor whether we - or they - realize it. Even worse,
it is possible that many people realize it on some level, and
that their laws are meant to push lower-income residents away.
Getting Rid of Mobile Homes
The most typical example is the legal process which happens
in almost every community at some point in its development. As
home values go up and a town grows, residents become more worried
about property values, and so less tolerant of "ugly"
housing. More specifically, almost every town eventually bans
There is a reason for mobile homes, of course. They are cheap
housing for poor people, or those who just want to spend less
on housing. This is true whether they are bought or rented. But
to many who do not live in mobiles, they are considered eyesores.
They must be kept out of town.
The first step then, is to ban mobile homes (and sometimes
modulars) from the city. This results in mobile home parks and
neighborhoods in the townships on the outskirts of a city. As
the area grows economically, these outer townships eventually
want to get rid of the mobiles as well, so they stop allowing
new parks. Then, the law stipulates something like you can only
replace one or move a new one in if it is less than five years
old. Eventually they just outlaw any mobile homes from entering
the township. If your existing one burns down, it has to be replaced
with a frame house.
As this process goes along, of course, it is often represented
as good for the community. It is seen as getting rid of "substandard
housing," as though this helps the poor people who use such
housing. Of course, the real result is those with lower incomes
are pushed further and further away from the city and jobs. In
other words, they have longer commutes and a lowered standard
This clearly isn't about helping the poor. In fact, when one
watches the process, it almost seems that the unspoken goal is
to get rid of poor people. It certainly is at least to get get
rid of their "ugly" homes.
Hurricane Andrew devastated Homestead Township in 1992. At
that time, I told people that they would soon hear a call for
a law banning mobiles there, in the name of public safety. Within
weeks, lawmakers were suggesting this. I'm not sure what eventually
happened, but I doubt that they were as concerned about people's
safety as they were about the potential value of that land if
they could get rid of the poor people and their ugly houses.
After all, the safest homes might have three-foot-thick cement
walls, but nobody was calling for that standard. Those in all
home types get a lot of warning in any case, and so can avoid
being there when hurricanes hit. The reason people lived there
in mobile homes was because they are affordable. Once again,
if they are banned, the lower income folk have to move further
Regulating rental housing standards is another idea that is
supposedly about helping the poor. After all who wants unsafe
living conditions. Look closely at how the process works, though,
and you see a different picture. When the Northern Michigan town
where I lived years ago instituted a rental code, I went and
picked up a copy.
Among the many new regulations was one which specified the
required square inches of window space to allow light into each
room. Note that this was not about having a usable emergency
exit (that was already covered by other laws). Another rule required
that there be no peeling paint - without regard to whether the
paint was dangerous. Myriad other rules were about all the niceties
most people might like in the place they live.
Now, think about this rationally for a moment. Why did people
rent the places with peeling paint, small windows and old stoves?
Because they could afford them! Naturally, when a landlord is
forced to spend thousands upgrading his house with new windows
and paint, that cost has to be passed on to the renters. The
result? It is another way to make it too expensive for poor people
to stay in town. It pushes them out to where the free market
still provides affordable housing. It lowers their standard of
Remember, if they wanted and could afford the new paint and
large windows, they would have rented a place with these features.
Such apartments and houses were available. The only thing that
such laws do is reduce their options.
When one watches the reality of these legal processes, it
truly appears that they're intended to push the poor away. Laws
banning mobiles and forcing the upgrading of houses make a town
prettier, and increase home values. But one wonders if this attack
on "ugliness" isn't in part an an attack on those who
are seen as "ugly people." At the very least, it shows
that residents are comfortable banishing the poor people and
making them even poorer for the sake of a rise in property values.
The free market mostly works, and people will rent nicer places
when they can afford them. If you pass laws preventing them from
renting "ugly" homes, you make them move away or pay
more - either way you make poor people poorer, while the rest
get wealthier from the resulting rise in property values.
Read the whole series:
The Redistribution of
Wealth to the Wealthy