How should socialists view housing policy?

Councilperson Hans Reimer (D-At Large) was unanimously voted in as the next Montgomery County Council President last Tuesday. Councilperson Nancy Navarro (D – Dist 5) was elected Vice President. Reimer takes up the position from Roger Berliner (D-Dist 1) in what amounts to an annual changing of the guard.

Reimer has been on the Council since 2010. He styles himself as a progressive, however Takoma Park-based blog Left Hand View has spent years compiling his actual record as the people’s representative. Reimer may be on the right side of many issues, but readers should decide for themselves if Reimer is really all he claims to be.

All of this is not to say Reimer is not a good liberal. In fact, his latest liberal reform measure isn’t so bad. But in order to think as socialists, not social-democrats or “progressives”, we need proposals to push a liberal plan into the realm of socialist reforms.

On November 14th Reimer introduced Bill 38-17 to mandate developers build more Moderately Priced Dwelling Units (MPDUs) in High School Service Areas that have low poverty rates. The bill will judge poverty rates by how many students are enrolled in Free and Reduced Price Meals (FARMs) and bump the required MPDUs from 12.5% to 15% if less than 15% of the student population are FARMs eligible. Part of the goal is to mingle financially unequal families in one school district to close the infamous Montgomery County Education Gap.

This isn’t necessarily bad. Socialists should encourage liberal reforms that remove barriers put in place by unchosen social disadvantages such as where people are born or brought up. But Reimer’s bill presupposes a meritocracy where, as long as a child has access to quality education, inborn skills are nurtured and lay the foundation for a successful life. If that isn’t the result, the meritocratic view blames the individual, not on a society beholden to capitalists’ interests.

As socialists, we reject this liberal view and seek to eliminate any unchosen disadvantages resulting from formal structural oppression, social circumstances or inborn traits that affect enjoying a reasonable living. Socialist proposals would also emphasize solidarity and community such as providing social services, health services, and social gathering space as a right rather than a costly privilege. A socialist counterproposal to Reimer would be a “non-reformist reform”, a reform that doesn’t recognize capitalist needs, criteria, and rationales as its foundation.

One proposal is to replace Reimer’s bill with a housing program that more closely reflects the social housing program of Austria known as Red Vienna. Radical municipal-level projects that don’t just seek to provide shelter but also cultural revitalization and social services like child care, healthcare and education are the way forward for Montgomery County. And the county knows this, having hosted a discussion on the subject of Vienna’s social housing program just five years ago.

So we should challenge Reimer to reimagine what would truly relieve poverty and close the education gap. The potential for a radical change in the county is here and, as socialists, we are faced with the challenge of organizing a mass movement to make the potential possible, and the possible a reality.

640px-Karl-Marx-Hof_2009
A example of Vienna’s social housing project. The building pictured was built during the Red Vienna period and remains the longest residential building in the world.
The building’s name?
Karl Marx-hof (Karl Marx Court)

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