No job now,
Provides the pay,
To let me find,
A place to stay.

Many folks with big incomes are responding to the tensions of America’s growing economic inequality by moving into gated communities. This isn’t new, just growing more common. Ten percent of us are already gated in one way or another.

The recession has added further impetus to the nation’s housing challenges both inside and outside those gates. Foreclosures aren’t as common as they were a few years ago when the housing bubble burst, but they’re still converting more homeowners into renters. And the dwindling of the middle class keeps countless emerging young adults from ever gaining their own place.

Veterans, whom we once supported with yellow magnets, are frequently the worst off. The overall veteran homelessness rate declined last year, but the rate for Iraq and Afghanistan vets doubled between 2010 and 2012. Those former troops — many of whom returned with fearsome disabilities — are too often homeless and hopeless with no avenue into the commercial housing market

And commercial is exactly what our housing market has become. It aims mostly at upper-income buyers these days, since that’s where the money is. The old mass housing market that blossomed during the middle class’s 20th-century heyday is but a distant memory.



Federal housing subsidies, meanwhile, also smile more warmly upon the rich. The federal government spends more on housing programs that benefit households earning $100,000 or more per year than on people who make less than that — and presumably are the ones who really need help. That includes $35 billion right off the top that goes to families with over $200,000 in income just for their mortgage interest tax deduction. Renters need not apply.

The result of these various trends is that the prosperous are further isolating themselves physically, as well as economically, from the rest of us. And as more and more people lose their homes or fail to transition from renting to owning, they’re building up less equity. That will haunt them in later life when the chasm between haves and have-nots will continue to widen unless we change course.

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William A. Collins

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

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