by Carol Denney

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s a hot, hot housing market. The same Wall Street that sent the world into global financial collapse, and then managed to avoid getting its style cramped by burdensome reforms, is now raking its fingers through the empty properties left behind.
Small buyers can’t compete with large investment firms with capital ready to buy — not just the house you wanted — but the whole block.
The wealthy buyer, of course, is not affected much. The Larry Ellisons of the world may huff and puff about having to outbid The Blackstone Group, but there’s always another island somewhere they can acquire if Lanai is no longer available. [Editor’s note: Larry Ellison, chief executive of the giant technology company, Oracle, bought Lanai, an inhabited island in Hawaii, for $300 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.]
Keep this backdrop firmly in mind if you hear anyone nearby whining about not getting “market rate” from a rental property. There is no honest market when most of us are priced out of having a simple roof over our heads by Wall Street investment firms with no stake in the neighborhoods, the local schools, the parks, or the community.
Berkeley’s empty storefronts are eloquent testimony to the indifference of corporate landlords who don’t mind leaving large holes in shopping areas as long as politicians allow them to write the property’s inflated rental costs off their taxes while the Berkeley City Council dithers about actually instituting a vacancy fee to someday reverse the emptiness incentive.
If housing stopped being the new gold for a while, it’s back with a vengeance today, taking huge swaths of the empty properties that once housed thriving communities of now-bankrupt people courted by banks into signing up for shaky loans dependent upon stable jobs and communities Wall Street couldn’t care less about.
Market forces? Let’s demand some. Let’s demand a law that protects us from the rapacious investment schemes of the rich, and limits investments in housing to (let’s be generous) five actual houses, condominium units, or places to live. The rich can go on speculating in the racehorse market, the art market, the market for big diamonds and fancy boats, but not our housing, which is a human necessity.

“Bread Line.” Wood engraving by Clare Leighton. Courtesy of M. Lee Stone Fine Prints, San Jose

Trust that if the rich were no longer allowed to disrupt the housing markets of real people with real children who need to keep their shoes out of the rain, they’d still find some crazy way to compete with each other for the silly things that people like Larry Ellison, the sixth richest guy on earth, seem to need to feel good about themselves.
Housing is too important to be the prize in a card game played by idiots.