Based on a 200-word statement featured in the Municipal Art Society's
1998 exhibition, "100 Great Ideas for New York."
HOUSING IN AMERICA: A BASIC HUMAN RIGHT
by Barbara Buehler
Housing in America is a basic right of every man, woman,
and child. It is heartbreaking and shameful that we have gone so far away
from our beautiful beginning purpose stated in the Declaration of Independence--to
secure for everyone "certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life,
Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." That today, in a country
with so much wealth, hundreds of thousands of people are homeless, live
in cardboard boxes on city sidewalks, sleep in doorways, on park benches,
look for food in garbage cans, beg for money on America's streets, and
have even frozen to death on some of the most expensive real estate in
the world, is a disgrace. I know I represent many Americans in my shame
that our government is so inhuman to the lives of the citizens of our land.
I am a planner with the New York City Department of Planning,
where I have worked for over 25 years. I have seen firsthand the shameful
results of the massive cuts in federal funding for housing programs--from
$46.3 billion in 1976 (HUD Budget Authority) to an estimated 1998 allocation
of $1.6 billion (1998 US Budget)--a 96% drop--while throughout the 1990s
corporations have been getting increasingly large tax breaks and subsidies.
Time Magazine's Special Report (11/98) "Corporate Welfare" put the
figure at $125 billion. Meanwhile the number of homeless families in New
York City has increased, from 1980 to 1995, over 500% (R. Nunez, The
New Poverty: Homeless Families in America).Currently, there is no money
for public housing construction in New York City. And programs that assist
people in being able to afford housing, including Section 8 vouchers and
certificates, so widely used in New York City, are pitifully inadequate.
None address the fact that housing is not a luxury, it is a basic human
right. No one should have to worry about whether or not they
can afford a home.
I have learned from Aesthetic Realism, the magnificent
education founded by the great American historian, poet, and critic Eli
Siegel, that the only reason homelessness is allowed to exist for a minute
in our rich land is because a person's need for a home is seen as a means
of someone else making profit. This is contempt, which Mr. Siegel defined
as "the addition to self through the lessening of something else." Contempt,
he showed, is the very basis of our brutally unjust economic system, where
the labor of men and women and their need for food and housing are used
to make as much money as possible for a few owners and stockholders. Beginning
in 1970, Mr. Siegel showed the profit system has failed and the only way
our economy can flourish is if it is based on good will, on respect for
the lives and well-being of people.
With beautiful honesty and tremendous compassion, Ellen
Reiss, Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, makes clear how contempt is
the cause of homelessness in America as she writes in the international
journal, The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known #1260:
question about housing…is: should a person make a profit from the need
of another person to have a home, shelter, a place to live? Should our
ability to have a home depend on whether we can provide a profit for somebody?
Does Marissa, age 5, have the right to look from her bed at night at walls
that are decently made, a floor that does not have rats running on it,
a home she can feel is hers; does she have the right not to be thrown out
onto the street, homeless and scared? Should anyone see Marissa's need
for this home as a means for making money for himself--as much money as
possible? That is the underlying question.It has to be answered honestly
before there can be any authentic reasoning about housing, rents, and human
lives in America."
once was so cold to the feelings of other people, it never entered my mind
that a person could worry about having an income and a home. Like many
Americans who grew up in affluent communities, I felt superior simply because
my family had money. I regret this so much, and am tremendously grateful
that through my study of Aesthetic Realism my contempt was criticized and
my hope to see other people fairly was encouraged. I came to see
that the insides of other people are as real as my own and I am proud that
now I have a passion about all people getting what they truly deserve--and
this includes a home.
is a practical solution to homelessness right now. The only thing stopping
it is contemptuous greed encouraged by our profit-driven economy. For example,
preliminary figures of the 1996 NYC Housing and Vacancy Survey show
there are 81,000 Vacant Available Rental Units in New York City. The 1999
Consolidated Plan states that in 1998 approximately 7000 men and women
and 4500 families sought a bed in a city shelter each night. It is clear,
there are more than enough apartments right now so that no one has to be
will end in New York City and across America when every landlord, legislator,
developer, and citizen in this land asks and answers honestly this emergent,
kind, ethical question asked by Eli Siegel: "What does a person deserve
by being a person?" For more information about Aesthetic Realism,
contact the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, a not-for-profit educational
foundation, 141 Greene Street, NYC, 10012; tel: 212 777-4490; website www.AestheticRealism.org.