by Mark Meed
Clash Daily Guest Contributor
Editor’s note: This is a continuation of “ObamaHut — A Future History of Housing in America (Part 1)“: an imagining of Obamacare leading to ObamaHut – guaranteed, government housing for all.
Into the buyers’ market helpfully created by ObamaHut came its principal beneficiaries, those individuals who now couldn’t be refused mortgages and whose financial circumstances made them eligible for infinitesimal loan rates and reciprocally large government subsidies.
It is clear that many of this bill’s supporters really hadn’t thought through the implications of such munificence, especially who the “they” were who would pay for all this. The answer, not long coming, was delivered with cruel clarity in tax bills with rows of zero’s that resembled sticky-key typos and mortgage refinance offers that resembled nothing at all since they had all but ceased to exist.
This, in turn, prompted a second great wave of home sales, effectively transferring property from tax-payers to net tax-receivers. For many neighborhoods this was the beginning of a predictable death-spiral of disintegrating tax-bases and social blight more or less inevitable with the influx of a transient, largely unemployed population with little or no investment in the properties they now occupied. As an increasing number of these new owners defaulted on even their modest commitments, an obscure and completely unnoticed clause in the ObamaHut law kicked in and ownership of the property reverted to the federal government.
The ensuing flight from these neighborhoods was quite unlike any other, since the escapees had nowhere to go. There were no inexpensive homes waiting in the suburbs or small towns, or anywhere else for that matter. Those with incomes above the subsidy threshold, especially working poor and those on fixed incomes, were locked out of the home ownership market, probably forever, and obliged to throw themselves onto the rental market. This in turn created an immediate and severe shortage in rental properties, which caused rents to sky-rocket.
President Obama, immediately perceiving the problem, leaped into action and embarked on another speaking tour wherein he castigated greedy landlords and promised immediate action to regulate rents.
The very threat of more regulation effectively halted new apartment construction and prompted many rental property owners to get out of the business altogether.
President Obama, immediately perceiving the problem, leaped into action yet again and embarked on another speaking tour wherein he cited the failure of the private sector to provide reasonable housing of any kind to Americans and announced that only the federal government was big enough to take this problem on.
The big solution Obama had in mind — which seemed curiously detailed and well-advanced for something that had just occurred to him — was large blocks of government housing, built along the gray, monolithic, Soviet model, often built over bulldozed lots once occupied by individual dwellings. Given the density of people they could accommodate they held out the promise — at last — of truly energy efficient environments powered by glass roofs and windmills in the front yards (better referred to as people’s common squares).
Apart from periodic failures and brownouts (spawning events variously known as “The Big Chill of 2015”, “The Black Hole of 2016”, “The Heat Wave From Hell of 2017”, etc.) while the government fine-tuned the technology, these efforts were judged modestly successful, by their authors. For their part government leaders let it be known that they were as upset about these glitches as anyone else and were working overtime to get them fixed. (This ultimately became a recurring part of the president’s annual message on the day formerly known as Christmas.)
Despite these speed-bumps, ObamaHut was pretty much a fait accompli within a few years of it inception. Even when the environmental and energy efficiency promises failed to materialize, it didn’t matter. Nor did the fact that a new normal had been established — in direct opposition to the bill’s stated purpose — wherein rich people lived in houses and everyone else didn’t.
It didn’t matter because there was now nowhere else to go. The homes weren’t going to rebuild themselves. The housing, financing and ancillary industries weren’t going to spring up out of the ground to the strains of the 2001 theme.
Politicians might run on platforms promising to spread the block-houses a little farther apart, or reduce the incidence of power outages, or even stop the windmills from decimating the bird population, but nobody seriously thought it could ever be the way it once was.
Accordingly, to thoughtful people surveying the new landscape, Humpty Dumpty become more than just a nursery rhyme, and the term “ObamaHut” deeply ironic.