#1559 Company Towns are a Bad Solution to a Real Problem (Transcript)

Air Date 5/13/2022

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast, in which we shall take a look at the history and resurgent idea of the company town, sometimes described by other names to obscure the reality, and the problem of affordable housing they're actually trying to solve.

Clips today are from Knowing Better, It's History, PBS, The Wall Street Journal, Breaking Points, The Young Turks, The Majority Report, and a TED Talk, with additional members-only clips from Knowing Better and CNN.

Un-American and yet, totally American Company Towns - Knowing Better - Air Date 1-23-22

KB - HOST, KNOWING BETTER: When we talk about company towns in America, there's a tendency to frame them as some quaint relic of the past, something that faded away a century ago because of how obviously undemocratic they are. But lately, the discussion has included a warning about how some corporations, like Facebook and Amazon, are trying to bring them back. You've probably also heard the news about Nevada's innovation zones, and we'll definitely talk about those later.

But I'd like to discuss company towns from a different perspective. They aren't making a [00:01:00] comeback because they never went anywhere. They still exist. These aren't some long forgotten quirk of American history. They are American history.

To illustrate this point, we're gonna start with the easiest elementary school history question I can possibly think of: How was America founded? Since we just celebrated Thanksgiving, your immediate answer was probably the Pilgrims and that fairytale we tell ourselves about religious freedom or whatever, and I want you to just set that aside for a moment. In 1607, the Virginia Company of London established a colonial settlement on the east coast of the New World, specifically to look for gold. This was a major plot point in that terrible Disney movie: "Gold! Mountains of it." They didn't find any gold, or food. And just when the colony was about to pack up and go home, John Rolfe showed up with a shipment of tobacco seeds. He's the one who ends up marrying/kidnapping Pocahontas. Not John Smith.

The point is, by 1614 Jamestown was a thriving tobacco plantation, and most of the [00:02:00] workers came from European countries like Germany and Poland as indentured servants, meaning that the company paid for their trip over to the New World in exchange for a few years of labor.

There was so much work to do on the plantation that they began importing African slaves in 1619, which is where the name of that infamous project comes from. The Mayflower and Plymouth Rock didn't happen until 1620. The first English city in America was not founded by the pilgrims; it was a tobacco company town built on the exploitation of immigrants and slaves.

This will be a recurring theme in America. And I should mention that this isn't necessarily unique to the United States. Cape Town, South Africa was founded in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company, and the Hudson's Bay Company, which would eventually control most of what we now call Canada, was founded in 1670. But because of America's early adoption of laissez faire capitalism, company towns really took off here.

When Britain first began industrializing, they focused on textile manufacturing. [00:03:00] So it really shouldn't come as much of a surprise that many of the first towns in America were textile mills. They often popped up near rivers and waterfalls, which were used to turn the giant water wheels. Throughout the 1700s, most of these mills were temporary. They'd operate for a season or two before freezing over in the winter and being abandoned. All that changed with the invention of the steam engine. Now these mills could operate year 'round.

The first large-scale planned industrial community was Lowell, Massachusetts, constructed in 1822 by Merrimack Manufacturing as a hub for the textile industry. The town incorporated in 1826, meaning they could elect their own local government. By 1850, the Boston Associates had moved in and there were 40 different mills with 33,000 workers living in hundreds of boarding houses around the city, all of which coordinated their policies and hours with each other.

The idea behind Lowell was to take single young women out of the nearby farms, where they were just seen as an extra mouth to feed, [00:04:00] and put them to work in the mills. Many of them saw the work as an escape from boring rural life. As the labor needs of the mills grew, they again turned to immigrants, focusing on women from Ireland and French Canada.

At its peak, half of the city was made up of foreign-born residents. In Lowell, they could learn a skilled trade, save up for college, or build a dowry, because apparently that was still a thing in the mid-1800s.

Since these were all single young women who needed to be protected from the evils of the outside world, a strict moral code was enforced across the entire city. Alcohol and dancing were prohibited, and church attendance was mandatory. Boarding housekeepers were often elderly women who would keep an eye on the workers, and anyone caught engaging in immoral behavior would be fired. Depending on the severity, they might also be blacklisted from working anywhere in the city.

Since all of the mills coordinated their hours, the entire town ran on a system of bells, which rang for the start of work, the occasional break, and the 10:00 PM curfew. This was really the first time in history that [00:05:00] people worked by the hour rather than on a daily production quota. Many of the workers suspected that the factory clocks were rigged, meaning that minutes were longer during the workday and shorter during off hours.

People didn't really carry around watches yet, so they eventually bought an independent town clock to keep the mills honest. To avoid any disputes, all of the Lowell mills paid their workers the same amount, about $12 to $14 a month, which was six times what a teacher was paid back then. They worked for 12 hours a day, six days a week, and were given three unpaid holidays a year.

During the Civil War, most of the textile mills in the North shut down as they were cut off from their primary source of cotton. When the war ended, most textile manufacturing moved to the South. And by the end of World War II, all of the mills in Lowell, Massachusetts were closed.

In 1877, just at the tail end of Reconstruction, a railroad strike began in West Virginia and quickly spread to the surrounding states, and eventually the entire country. It lasted two weeks and [00:06:00] included over a hundred thousand workers. It was at this point that the upper classes began to fear "the mob," which vastly outnumbered them and could rise up and destroy a city at any moment. Many of them suggested establishing police forces or maintaining a standing army to quell uprisings. But a few of the more innovative industrialists decided that they would fix all of society's problems by rebuilding it from the ground up.

The first of these men that I want to talk about was George Pullman. He was a believer in paternalism, where the initial vision for and daily existence of an ideal community was articulated and facilitated by a capitalist father figure who promised to share their bounty with workers and their families. His theory was immediately criticized as benevolent, well wishing feudalism.

Pullman thought that if he built the perfect model town for his factory, he could create a new type of dependable worker who would always be loyal. Because if you provide for their every need, they'll never rise up against you. We saw the early [00:07:00] beginnings of this philosophy in Lowell, but it was the Pullman Palace Car Company which put it into practice.

Chicago's South Side Nightmare - The Rise and Fall of Pullman's Utopia - It's History - Air Date 10-22-22

RYAN SOCASH - HOST, IT'S HISTORY: The model industrial town of Pullman, Illinois saw its beginning on May the 26th, 1880. This town was the physical expression of an idea born and nurtured in the mind of George M. Pullman, president of Pullman's Palace Car Company. Although his primary manufacturing plant was in Detroit, Pullman was a longtime Chicago resident. His plan was ambitious. You see, by developing a total environment superior to that available to other working class areas, Pullman hoped to attract the most skilled workers to build his luxury rail cars and attain greater productivity due to his employees better health and spirit. It was Pullman's philosophy that happy workers would make more productive workers. So we hired the best in architecture and landscaping to help him realize his vision. The 4,000 acre track selected [00:08:00] for the factory and town lay in open prairie and marshland along the western shore of Lake Calumet, approximately 12 miles south of Chicago. The site was perfect, as the town would have accessibility to the big city markets and railroad connections throughout the country. It was linked to Chicago and the southern states by the Illinois Central Railroad, and then onto the world by Lake Calumet's connection to Lake Michigan and the St. Louis River.

Even before Pullman's first resident settled there in 1881, visitors came to admire its beauty, which stood in stark contrast to other working class areas in industrial cities.

Pullman employees executed the construction of the town. Structures were made of brick fashioned from clay found in Lake Calumet. A brickyard was built south of the town for this purpose.

Furthermore, Pullman shops produced parts used throughout the building of the [00:09:00] town. This project was perhaps one of the first applications of industrial technology and mass production in constructing a large-scale housing development. Amazingly, the town of more than 1000 homes and public buildings was completed by 1884.

Most Pullman employees lived in houses containing two to seven rooms. Foundations and some ornamentation were made of stone. And pitched roofs were made of slate. The homes produced in blocks of two or more provided an economy of construction and maintenance. Each dwelling was supplied with gas and water, access to complete sanitary facilities, and abundant quantities of sunlight and fresh air. Every home had direct access to a private yard, woodshed and paved alley. Front and backyards provided personal green space while expansive parks and open lands provided larger shaded ones. Maintenance of the [00:10:00] residents was included in the rental price as was daily garbage pickup.

So Pullman workers lived in brick houses and had access to schools, parks, a library, theater, educational programs, and many other activities provided by the town. When the state labor commissioner visited in 1884, they proclaimed it was a successful venture, especially for the women and children who seemed protected from the worst aspects of industrial America.

Pullman's architect was incredibly proud that he had met the worker's needs within the neighborhood and designs. Some even say that the distinctive rowhouses were comfortable by the standards of today.

The concept of a company town like Pullman was not new or even unique. However, it can be argued that the execution of the idea in this case was perhaps the most successful in history. The total cost to build the Pullman town was $8 million.

The first [00:11:00] permanent residents, the Benson family, moved into the town on January the first, 1881 at Lauren Street. By April, the Pullman car shops were in operation. By May, more than 350 people lived in Pullman.

The original town of Pullman was completed in 1884, with an average rent for a three-room apartment costing about $8 per month. The rent for a five-room row house with a basement, bathroom and water faucet on every two floors was $18 per month. Larger homes for professionals and company officers began at $25. Rents were calculated to achieve a 6% return on the cost of housing. However, the investment never reached more than four and a half percent. Housing in Pullman was somewhat more expensive than in other parts of the city, but it's important to note here that the housing quality was far superior to that available to workers elsewhere. All Pullman homes had indoor toilet facilities and [00:12:00] running water, which was unheard of for the working class in the area of the city back then.

By 1885, 30,000 trees bordered the streets and parks, primarily white elm, maple, ash and linden. To supply enough landscaping materials for the entire community, six acres of land on the shore of Lake Calumet between 113th and 114th Streets were used for a nursery and a greenhouse space. Various housing types can be found from block to block. The architectural differences were designed to meet varying incomes, status and family makeup, but there was also a visual aspect as they suited variation in the general streetscape. Such variations are evident in the level of ornamentation in the roof lines, chimneys, and finished materials. Continuity was maintained by the similarity of proportions, repetition of crucial details, and setbacks from the street. [00:13:00]

In many ways, the Pullman District was an amazing climax to an amazing success. You see, towards the end of the 1850s, George Pullman began remodeling passenger coach railroad cars. The Pullman Palace Car Corporation was incorporated in 1867. Its first manufacturing shops were in Detroit and New York State. By 1877, it operated about 460 luxury passenger cars, supervised by Caucasian conductors and African American porters. By the early 1890s, nearly 6,000 of the company's 14,000 employees nationwide worked in Pullman, where annual output stood at 12,000 freight cars and 1000 passenger cars.

But as you've probably noticed by now in our tales of urban decay, nothing lasts forever.

After an economic downturn in 1893, the company laid off thousands of workers. Pullman employees responded in [00:14:00] 1894 by going on strike. This strike soon had national effects, because tens of thousands of American Railway Union members showed their support for Pullman workers by launching a boycott of trains pulling Pullman cars.

So in response to a drop in orders for railcars, the company lowered its workers' wages, but not the rents that charged those workers for the company housing. When a delegation of workers tried to meet with Pullman to present their grievances, he refused the meeting, and ordered them fired. Ultimately, the board voted to strike and Pullman workers left the job on May the 11th, 1894.

The Coal Town System - PBS - Air Date 1-13-16

ROSEMARY FEURER: Coal Town really is almost an instruction ground for exploitation. Mine workers, they can see it very directly, and their families see it very directly. They take all the risks, they [00:15:00] bring out that coal, and it's producing wealth for people who don't live there.

FRANK KEENEY - NARRATOR, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The coal towns were almost always unincorporated.

There were no elected officials, no independent police forces. Owners hired private detective agencies to watch over their workforce. Company towns were also untethered from the free market competition owners usually championed. Operators often paid workers in company currency called script. They forced mining families to shop exclusively at the company store, which they stocked with food, fuel, and clothing. Even the tools and blasting powder required on the job.

They set the prices of all those goods to assure a profit, a hedge against operating losses in the mines themselves.

CARL STARR: They paid you with their money, you bought your food off of them. Unless you wanted to take a [00:16:00] dollar script and sell it for 75 cents government money, and lose a fourth of your wages. They was oppressed all the time.

ELLIS RAY WILLIAMS: If they give the miners a raise, then they're going to raise the rent and raise everything. The cost, the food, and the company store, and raise the clothing, and everything. So you actually, you were right back where you started from.

JEAN BATTLO: When a miner went to pick up his check. They had what was called a checkoff list.

Your house belongs to the company, would check that and it's off. You bought your groceries here this month at the company store, we checked that off. By the time they finished the checkoff, there was very little left.

UNKNOWN SPEAKER: The only options that you have once you're trapped in that system [00:17:00] is to keep your head down and do what you're told, or stand up and fight.

Why Elon Musk Is Planning Towns for Tesla, SpaceX and Boring Co. Workers - Wall Street Journal - Air Date 5-8-23

HARDY GREEN: People tend to think of about a town where the company owns everything. Where the the company has built all the housing, there's a company store. Many of these coal mining towns, people were not paid in American currency. They're paid in company issued money, that's really only good at the company store.

NARRATOR, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Author, Hardy Green has written extensively about the history of company towns.

HARDY GREEN: There is no strict definition of company town. A company town, there's really only one company that dominates. Beyond that, there's a wide range. Some towns are more restrictive, more exploitative, and others are more caring and paternalistic.

NARRATOR, WALL STREET JOURNAL: The more exploitative company towns, like the one referred to in [00:18:00] Travis's song, tended to be communities based around a single resource.

HARDY GREEN: Coal towns, or extractive industry towns tend to be a little bit like prison camps.

NARRATOR, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Like Snail Brook and Starbase, many of America's oldest and best known company towns (like Pullman, Illinois, and Hershey, Pennsylvania) were created by wealthy industrialists who envisioned idyllic communities for their employees.

HARDY GREEN: Utopian ideals have figured prominently in a number of company towns.

NARRATOR, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Milton Hershey built his chocolate factory complex in rural Pennsylvania to attract employees to what was then a remote location. Hershey constructed a town.

HARDY GREEN: Workers were allowed to buy the housing. They're fairly well paid. The houses come with central heating and plumbing.

NARRATOR, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Milton Hershey's relationship with his employees soured. In 1937, Hershey's workers organized the company's first labor union and went on strike. That's a common theme in the history of many company towns. Like Hershey, Pullman, [00:19:00] Illinois was a paternalistic company town that had housing, stores, a library and churches. Pullman, like Hershey, eventually ran into trouble. In 1894, Pullman cut jobs and wages sparking a violent worker's strike.

HARDY GREEN: It started off being an experiment that the founders thought would be a kind of paternalistic place, but it didn't work out.

NARRATOR, WALL STREET JOURNAL: According to Green, Musk's towns somewhat resemble the paternalistic company towns of old.

HARDY GREEN: You could argue that Musk is employing a kind of a throwback idea of starting from scratch in an undeveloped area.

NARRATOR, WALL STREET JOURNAL: An undeveloped area that is being developed quickly, even as it is under the close watch of Chap Ambrose.

CHAP AMBROSE: We're not anti-growth. We're not anti Elon. We are pro clean water and unfortunately those opposing forces seem to be coming to head for some reason .

NARRATOR, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Wether Snail Brook or Starbase will avoid the pitfalls of previous company [00:20:00] towns remains to be seen. Neither have yet been incorporated, so technically neither exists in a legal sense. If Musk does decide to incorporate either town, that shouldn't be too difficult. In Texas, as soon as a community has 201 residents it can petition to incorporate.

Un-American and yet, totally American Company Towns 2 - Knowing Better - Air Date 1-23-22

KB - HOST, KNOWING BETTER: After World War II, the automobile and the suburbs gave birth to a cousin of the single enterprise community known as the "corporate campus." These are gated office complexes, usually located a few miles outside of town. The first of these were built in Summit, New Jersey by Bell Labs in 1944, and were soon followed by IBM in 1957 and PepsiCo in 1958.

But nowadays, we typically associate these with tech companies in Silicon Valley. Google's complex in Mountain View, California was built in 2004, and Facebook built their campus in Menlo Park in 2011. These campuses offer numerous [00:21:00] onsite amenities to attract talent. These include free food, gym memberships, laundry service, daycare centers, massage parlors, and even isolation pods where you can take power naps.

Both of these companies have announced plans to build worker housing in the next few years. Facebook in particular wants to expand their Willow Village campus to include a grocery store, pharmacy, hotels, gyms, and even a school. This would transform them from a corporate campus to a full-blown company town with a white collar twist.

But somewhat more recently, in February, 2021, the governor of Nevada announced his plans to create innovation zones within the state.

NEVADA GOVERNOR SISOLAK: Following the passage of my innovation zone legislation, Blockchains LLC has committed to make an unprecedented investment in our state, to create a smart city in northern Nevada that would fully run on blockchain technology, making Nevada the epicenter of this emerging industry and creating the high-paying jobs and revenue [00:22:00] that go with it.

KB - HOST, KNOWING BETTER: The plan was immediately criticized by labor unions and the general public. In order to create an innovation zone, a company must own 50,000 acres of uninhabited, undeveloped land within a single county, and make a $250 million initial investment with a pledge to invest at least a billion more over the next 10 years.

But the real kicker is this would allow them to create their own government separate from the county to pass laws favorable to the company. The Innovation Zone Fact website specifically mentions Disney's Reedy Creek as an inspiration for how they "re-imagined the traditional division of local regulatory powers."

This plan would also allow Blockchains LLC to pay their employees using their own cryptocurrency, which is just a digital version of company scrip. If you think this is shady AF, you're not alone. After public outcry at this obvious attempt to bring back company towns, the governor withdrew his support for the bill only two months later.

[00:23:00] And therein lies the fundamental misunderstanding. They weren't trying to sneakily bring back company towns, because company towns never disappeared in the first place. The 1999 movie October Sky tells the true story of the Rocket Boys, who after learning about Sputnik in 1957, decided they'd rather become rocket scientists than toil in the mines of Coalwood, West Virginia, a real town in McDowell County, owned and operated by the Olga Coal Company until 1986.

I was alive when company towns existed in America. I realized that a lot of you are now trying to do the math to figure out how old I am, so I'll just come out and say it: I was today years old because they still exist. Newhalem and Diablo Washington are two company towns owned by Seattle City Light that are located near the hydroelectric dams, which provide power to the Seattle area. There are only a few hundred residents and they're mostly a tourist destination, but they still count.

There have been over 2,500 company towns in America over its history. They're an [00:24:00] integral part of our past and present. And if we're not careful, they'll be part of our future too.

Company towns have always existed for the sole purpose of exploiting their workers and keeping out unions. That's been the point since the very beginning.

In June of 1619, Polish workers at Jamestown began the first strike on American soil over not being given voting rights in the local assembly. To avoid any further labor issues, Jamestown began importing African slaves just two months later. It kind of changes your perspective on American history to learn that our original sin was actually just a scheme to avoid collective action by the working class.

And when the American worker gained too many rights, we began exporting this idea to other countries. While many manufacturers have outsourced their jobs overseas, white collar companies are converting their campuses into self-contained cities, or building entirely new ones in the desert. More forward thinking companies have their eyes on space.

Blue Origin was founded by Jeff [00:25:00] Bezos with the vision of enabling a future where millions of people are living and working in space for the benefit of Earth. Do you wanna live in the Expanse? Because that's how you get the expanse.

If Elon Musk gets to Mars before any actual country, that incredible moment for humanity won't be regarded in the history books with the same reverence as Apollo 11. It'll be Jamestown all over again. A distant backwater corporate colony founded with some extreme opinions on capitalism that'll probably declare independence the moment it becomes self-sufficient.

Keep in mind, it took Jamestown 170 years to get to that point. I'm not saying this will happen in our lifetimes. But future generations will be living in the worst versions of science fiction if we don't stop corporations from repeatedly reinventing the idea of company towns, calling them everything from colonial plantations to technological innovation zones.

Elon Musk Wants To Build DYSTOPIAN Company Town - Breaking Points w James Li - Air Date 5-6-23

REPORTER: If you'd like to live in Elon Musk's proposed Utopia Town. Get a job at one of his companies, and you could become the newest resident [00:26:00] of Snail Brook. Musk employees have described it as a Texas utopia.

JAMES LI - HOST, BREAKING POINTS: What do you think? Does Elon's new utopia represent a form of benevolent paternalism, where the company is there to take care of its employees' needs and provide them with a good quality of life? Or is this just another incarnation of modern day serfdom?

Reporting from the Wall Street Journal—

"In meetings with landowners and real estate agents, Mr. Musk and employees of his companies have described his vision as sort of a Texas utopia along the Colorado River, whereas employees could live and work.

...the Boring company employees could apply for a home with rent starting at about $800 a month for a two or three bedroom...

If an employee leaves or is fired, he or she would have to vacate the house within 30 days..."

Depending on your background, your opinion of company towns can probably go one of two ways. Forbes Magazine writes, Affordable Housing: Corporate America Can Be Part Of The Solution.

"As housing prices continue to rise across the [00:27:00] nation, developers, local governments and major corporations have an opportunity to work together in the 21st century as partners rather than adversaries to help address the inequities of housing affordability on numerous fronts."

This would be the most generous interpretation. I'll just put it that way. It's kind of perfect that Forest Magazine, a flagship corporatist publication, was the one to actually put forth this take. A take that I'm very familiar with because it's the world where I come from. This is gonna be a slight to my alma mater, but day one of business school we were indoctrinated with this notion that we weren't in it for the money.

We were in "the business of doing good." Then we took classes about how to make money through private equity, how to union bust, how to personify a brand in a way to manipulate consumers to buy, buy, buy. That was somehow good, that was okay because it obfuscated the realities of what we were doing.

This is just my opinion. The genesis of a lot of society's [00:28:00] problems, that the business community purports to want to solve, are oftentimes byproducts of private industry's blind pursuit of profit.

LOCAL RESIDENT: Okay, so I saw this tweet the other day about Elon Musk reportedly building a town in Texas for his employees to work and live in.

I saw up here that they were like, "oh my gosh, the history of company towns." I was like, "oh no, we're back on this."

JAMES LI - HOST, BREAKING POINTS: Now, this is the other take, the take that I think is more honest because it's based on history. The old adage that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.

LOCAL RESIDENT: Company towns were popular in the US from the 1880s to the 1930s.

The company would own all the buildings and businesses in that town. These companies tried to build a "utopian workers society."

JAMES LI - HOST, BREAKING POINTS: Coincidence? I think not. This is the exact pitch that Elon Musk is making, a Texas utopia. What does history tell us about such utopias?

NARRATOR: I'm in Ludlow, Colorado. Where in 1914, Colorado National Guardsmen killed upwards of 20 plus citizens, including women [00:29:00] and children for striking against Colorado Fuel and Iron's extremely unsafe and exploitative labor practices.

At the time, Colorado Fuel and Iron built company towns to house their workers. Providing them with healthcare, education, and basic amenities. However, these towns were wholly owned and operated by the company. They were created to control their workers, exploit their labor, instill loyalty, and to prevent unionization.

JAMES LI - HOST, BREAKING POINTS: Ah, I get it, and I think you get it too. It will be a utopian worker society in the sense that it will be optimized for the company to extract the most amount of value that it can out of the worker. Key tenants of such utopia; productivity, efficiency, centralized control.

Is it possible that it is not a coincidence why in America healthcare is tied to your employer? Vacation days, if you get any at all, are set by the company. Sick days, parental leave, all tied to your employer. I think this is done by design to increase the corporate sphere of influence [00:30:00] and limit your recourse against potential exploitation. Do you really want to add housing to that list as well?

LOCAL RESIDENT: I took a job that was ran by a billionaire. How the housing was set up is that you could either live in the housing, or you could find your own like apartment or house. These homes were nice. They were mini mansions. They were really nice, but it was terrifying cuz that job was so abusive. I didn't want to leave because that meant I did not have housing.

JAMES LI - HOST, BREAKING POINTS: This is serfdom. — I kind of get it. The housing is gonna be below market rate, but with every basic human need tied to your employer, are you really truly free? Think about it, all the downstream effects. Imagine, if you're being discriminated at work by your boss, or if you spot a safety issue, or you simply have a different viewpoint than Elon...

If you're in constant fear of losing your job and your shelter in one fell swoop, do you actually have any freedom at [00:31:00] all? We're talking about Elon Musk here, a hardcore kind of guy, one who really likes to test the boundaries of the law. Case in point, his Tesla gigafactory was purportedly built on wage theft and safety violations.

The Housing Crisis Is So Bad Disney Is Building Housing For Workers - TYT - Air Date 11-26-22

ANA KASPARIAN - HOST, TYT: You know that politicians are really failing their own constituents when those same constituents need to rely on corporations like Disneyland and Disney World to create affordable housing. And that's what's currently transpiring in the great state of Florida, which of course, I wish people would stop referring to as a purple state because it is not a purple state. It is a red state. Let's be clear on that.

Now Disney is planning to donate 80 acres of land in Orlando, Florida for the project to build affordable housing for its employees. Okay. And look, this has been a problem all across the country where people cannot afford to live in the same area that their place of work is at. That's certainly true in Los Angeles, [00:32:00] in San Francisco. You see it everywhere. And obviously we're seeing it in Orlando as well. And so Disney thought maybe we need to step in cuz we need workers and if they can't afford to live here, that's gonna be a problem.

The Michaels organization will build, own and operate the 1,300-unit development meant to ease the housing market for service workers in metro Orlando. The units will be available to qualified applicants who are Disney employees or members of the public. So everyone.

JOHN IDAROLA - HOST, TYT: Yeah. I guess there are some other qualifications baked into ""qualified," but it's if you're an employee or if you're not an employee. I'm assuming there are other qualifications.

ANA KASPARIAN - HOST, TYT: Yeah. Now let's get to some more details. The development is about 15 minutes away from Disney World, which is great. Banger. Love that. The project was announced in April of this year, but Disney just announced their collaboration with the Michaels organization today, so that's why it's getting a little more attention.

[00:33:00] Now, sadly, the project may be a little more than a, what, measuring contest? Because there have been other companies, competitors to Disney specifically, that have done something similar earlier, including Universal, which announced its affordable housing plans in March of this year. But whatever. I don't even care. If this is the kind of what measuring contest that corporations got involved in, more of it. Please! Keep measuring. Okay? Because it's sick that we have to rely on corporations in this case to build affordable housing. But they're not doing it out of the kindness of their own hearts. They're doing it because it's gonna benefit them. And they want people to get off their backs about the employees not being paid enough to live in the communities they're working in. Maybe you could pay them more. I don't know, but whatever.

JOHN IDAROLA - HOST, TYT: That's a good point. Seems like that'd be cheaper in the long run.

ANA KASPARIAN - HOST, TYT: But you know what? We do need more affordable housing because look, think about it this way. More affordable housing, even if only Disney [00:34:00] employees can take advantage of that affordable housing, still increases the inventory of housing overall, and that could lower rent, possibly, in other cases as well. We'll see.

JOHN IDAROLA - HOST, TYT: Yeah. No we obviously need a massive influx. 1300, that's a drop of the bucket nationally, but for that area, for their employees, probably quite a bit. I don't know how many total employees they have. I assume in that area probably still a lot, but this'll help. I don't love it though. Not only because it signals that, as you said, we can't rely on the state or federal government to do a better job of this. But also I don't like the idea of corporate towns coming back and stuff like that.

I know that Disney already has a version of that.

ANA KASPARIAN - HOST, TYT: Disney is definitely already a corporate town.

JOHN IDAROLA - HOST, TYT: Yeah. Look, Universal is doing it too. I know that a company like Tesla will move into an area and create a whole area of its own. I don't love the stuff that's happened in examples of this in the past.

So we'll see. It would be possible that they could set up a thing like this and if there were the right sort of regulations, either state or federal regulations, that it could just be [00:35:00] housing. We'll see if that's what ends up happening. Obviously Florida's governor has had a pretty adversarial relationship with Disney. I don't know how that affects the housing thing potentially. Maybe they're doing the right thing. I don't know. I don't love the idea that they would need to get involved in this.

ANA KASPARIAN - HOST, TYT: Yeah, I totally agree with you. But I just think in this case corporations have more of a vested interest in building the affordable housing as opposed to our politicians. Which again is gross.

Seattle’s Social Housing Initiative Camille Gix - The Majority Report - Air Date 3-14-23

CAMILLE GIX: Yeah, so I-135 is a community-led citizens initiative that would create what would be called the Seattle Social Housing Developer, which would be a new public development authority in the city of Seattle to build, create, purchase and maintain social housing, which is defined as permanently affordable, publicly owned cross-class housing that is led by the residents who live in it.

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Would this initiative not only create the [00:36:00] agency, I guess, would it provide funding and would it create some type of parameters for how much housing it should build, and if so, what would those parameters be?

CAMILLE GIX: Yeah, that's a great question. So the initiative itself only sets up the developer. There were a number of Washington state laws that prohibited us from including funding directly in the initiative. While we initially set out to attach a progressive revenue source to the initiative, we learned fairly early on in the drafting process that we couldn't do that for a bunch of legal reasons. So our coalition intends to stay together as we move forward after this is hopefully passed so that we can create a new progressive revenue source that would help to fund it. And then there are no specific parameters of how much housing this should build. The idea is that this is being set up and it will exist in perpetuity. We hope that it can, over time, begin to make more of our housing stock a [00:37:00] public good. Taking housing off of the private market when it goes up for sale and putting it into the social housing market so that we can have housing more as a public good in Seattle, so that more people can afford to live here.

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Does it have mandated goals? So if I understand correctly, you're setting up the entity that will execute this program of housing and I'm gonna ask you in a minute to explain the housing a little bit more. And then part two is getting the funding for this entity to execute these things.

Does it have a mandate as to how much it should at least endeavor or aspire to create? And so that the funding matches that? Or is it the funding creates the mandate, essentially, as to what its aspirations and goals are?

CAMILLE GIX: Yeah. So there's no mandate on how much it should create. It will be set up very much under Washington State's Public Development Authority rules. It'll be look a lot like [00:38:00] the Pike Place Market, which is our most nationally famous public development authority. The Pike Place Market has been around for a long time and over time they've developed more and created more of a community resource in the Pike Place market.

And so the development authority will be set up and then we're going to go after a progressive revenue source. And then the amount of housing that the developer creates will be dependent on what revenue it ends up getting if we're able to pass the revenue source that we have in mind.

And also the other thing that we couldn't mandate specifically how much housing because much like a lot of the country, Washington State and the city of Seattle have really restrictive zoning laws. And so our coalition is actively working on changing those as well on a parallel manner. But until we're able to change zoning laws across the city of Seattle, it's hard to say exactly how much housing we can build because there only about 30% of Seattle's land mass is available for multifamily housing. And so we have to [00:39:00] change our zoning laws to ensure that this can be built across the city.

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: How much of these guardrails and these kinds of hurdles that you've had to overcome to put this together influence the way that this is structured, specifically? Because my understanding is that this housing project would be a mixed income and it's different than a lot of other public housing developments throughout the country. So can you expand on that?

CAMILLE GIX: Yeah. So the mixed income component, as I think what a lot of people are confused by, but it's also one of the most exciting components of this. So in the United States, historically our public housing has been dedicated to only people making below 50% of the area median income for their city, which makes it really difficult to maintain in the long term, because our federal government does not frankly put enough funding into public housing. And because 50% of the area median income, those rental rates are not able to [00:40:00] provide enough to operate. And it's super reliant on the federal government to provide subsidies, which it doesn't really do, and it hasn't done since the eighties. And this model of housing income component, it first of all makes housing more as a public good, like they do in other countries around the world.

Myself and a colleague of mine had the pleasure of visiting Vienna in September to learn about their social housing. And the fact that they're available across the income spectrum both creates housing as a public good, but it also provides the financing that is necessary for maintenance and operations of the buildings, because you have people on the higher end of the income spectrum who are paying higher amounts of rent, they're able to help to cross-subsidize the lower income people that are in those same developments and maintain and operate the housing in the long term.

So it does these two different things, both providing housing as a public good and creates a more financially self-sustaining housing mechanism than [00:41:00] what we've historically done in the US.

Vishaan Chakrabarti A vision of sustainable housing for all of humanity - TED - Air Date 2-20-22

VISHAAN CHAKRABARTI: What we can do today, what we have existing technology for, is to build net zero single family homes. In sunny climates in particular, solar panels work very well because it's a lot of roof area relative to very few occupants.

These things, they're hardly a panacea. In part because they're very expensive to build, but more problematically because they induce car oriented sprawl. I don't care if the cars are electric or autonomous, sprawl is sprawl and it leads to a loss of wetlands, a loss of forests, a loss of farms, and a loss of community.

Maybe you're thinking the right answer to house our coming building boom are towers. Look, I've actually been called Professor Skyscraper. I love a great tower, but the reality is we are very far away from developing carbon negative [00:42:00] towers. The reason is; towers are energy intensive to build and operate.

They house a lot of people, which is great, but they have very little roof area to effectively use solar. Similarly, like wind turbines at the top, all of that stuff barely makes a dent. On top of that, most skyscrapers are built out of steel and concrete, which have a very high degree of embodied energy.

Now I hold out a lot of hope for a technology known as mass timber construction. Which would allow us to build tall towers out of environmentally friendly, and fire retardant, wood that's actually a carbon sink.

We are a ways away from widespread adoption of that technology. I also hold out hope for the idea that windows could harness solar power. The idea that we have effective and affordable solar glass in the near future, that's even more nascent than mass timber.

For towers to really be sustainable, we need those clean energy grids that we spoke about, but we don't have them available to [00:43:00] us today. We have a paradox, how do we house all of these people?

How do we build urban, carbon negative housing in a means that's technologically attainable, broadly affordable, and do that today? Because I'm tired of talking about 2050,

I believe that the answers hiding in plain sight. That there is, what I call, a goldilocks scale that sits between the scale of housing and towers. Two to three story housing, that should actually look very familiar to most of you because we built the most beloved parts of our cities with it. The row houses of Boston, the Hutong Districts of Beijing, most of the fabric of Edinburgh. What we now build in this scale are largely cheap suburban townhomes.

They're banal. They're not sustainable. They're not walkable. [00:44:00] They're certainly not beautiful. Could they provide a hint of a framework for a human scale way of solving this problem that is great for both the climate and our societies? This Goldilocks framework hits the sweet spot between the number of people it can house and the amount of roof area we need to provide them and their community's power.

It can be built out of simple local materials like wood or brick, both of which have relatively low embodied energy and can be built by local workers. The solar panels up above could be supplemented with state-of-the-art battery systems that level out solar supply and user demand.

Similarly, we can have electric, state-of-the-art air conditioning and heating systems, this exists today, that can create thermal storage. What that means is it can [00:45:00] produce ice or hot water off peak for use on peak. This housing could compost food scraps and solid waste and turn it into usable soils, or protein for animal feed. I think most importantly, this kind of housing can provide affordable, communal, equitable housing for communities in dire need of it.

I work with a lot of these communities, and I know how much demand there is for this out there. Speaking of communities, I want to emphasize that this is not a one size fits all solution. This is a framework. It's a template. We can work with communities to make this housing appealing visually and socially, make it socially and racially mixed.

Integrate it into the lives of existing communities. When it's built into our cities, what it means is that it's dense enough to support mass transit, like light rail, express buses, bikes that are [00:46:00] networks that plug into jobs, schools, parks, and other daily destinations in our cities.

This housing is compact enough that it leaves room for lots of trees and ground cover. That means that we can lower storm water impacts, we can reduce the heat island effect. We can lower the demand for air conditioning. For every family that lives in an apartment like this, it's one less house destroying farms and forests. Our collaborating engineers at Thornton Thomasetti assured us that this is the lowest carbon footprint per person means of habitation, while also providing a sustainable use of land on our planet.

BONUS: Un-American and yet, totally American Company Towns 3 - Knowing Better - Air Date 1-23-22

KB - HOST, KNOWING BETTER: Any discussion on company towns would be incomplete without mentioning the largest one ever built in America: Gary, Indiana. It was founded 30 miles outside of Chicago in 1906 by the US Steel Corporation. In a testament to industrial [00:47:00] efficiency, the entire city is plotted out as a perfect north-south, east-west grid, and all of the streets are named after presidents or numbers.

Initially, they didn't want to build worker housing, offering up empty lots in much the same way Hershey had, but none of the workers could afford it. And even though US Steel eventually put up apartments and single family homes, most of the workers still commuted from Chicago.

Eventually, slums and tent cities were built on the south side of town. Just like every other company town we've talked about so far, they initially tried to restrict the sale of alcohol to keep their workers sober and healthy. But by 1911 there was one saloon for every 88 residents.

US Steel had become quite infamous for starving out unions by shutting down plants which had any membership. Like most company towns, the idea behind Gary Indiana was to keep out unions. During World War I, workers had to sign a pledge of patriotism, vowing to oppose any disruptive actions and participate in flag days and parades. You [00:48:00] see, going on strike would hurt the war effort and was deemed unpatriotic. Prior to this, these were known as "yellow dog" contracts, where workers would permanently sign away their ability to ever join a union. But the World War offered an opportunity to rebrand unionization as un-American. Once the war was over, workers assumed things would go back to normal and they'd be allowed to organize.

One of the things workers wanted was an eight hour workday. Gary, Indiana operated on 12 hour shifts and US Steel said they would need at least 60,000 more workers to keep the same level of productivity if they switched. The resulting steel workers strike in 1919 was the beginning of the first "red scare". The strike involved over 350,000 steel workers and wasn't broken until General Leonard Wood arrived with 4,000 federal troops. Over 10,000 labor organizers were arrested and many of them were deported.

The industrialists had successfully tied capitalism to [00:49:00] patriotism in the public's mind, and any union activity was seen as foreign and disloyal. It was either German propaganda or worse: Bolshevism. US Steel called this scheme the American Plan, and between 1921 and 1923, they cut union membership by at least 25%. 1923 was also the same year they adopted the eight hour workday, without needing the extra workers or losing any productivity. Go figure.

When the Great Depression hit, immigration restrictions forced US Steel to look within the United States for a cheap labor force. By 1930 there were 24,000 workers in Gary, 37% of which were Black or Mexican. In 1967, the first Black mayor was elected, which triggered a phenomenon known as "white flight", where all of the White people in town moved out to the suburbs, communities on the edge of town that didn't really exist until World War II.

The original point of company towns, aside from making money and keeping out unions, [00:50:00] was to provide workers with housing near the job site, because you had to live within walking distance of work. All that changed with the invention of the automobile, and specifically when Henry Ford made them affordable to the average consumer.

The Ford Motor Company was founded in 1903. This was actually Henry Ford's third attempt at creating a car company but since I already made that joke about Hershey, we won't get into the details. Ford was even more of a paternalist than Hershey. He created a sociological department within his company to keep tabs on workers' private lives, including their sex lives, and helped Americanize his mostly immigrant workforce. His employees were required to live a "wholesome life". They were encouraged to follow Protestant values like cleanliness and take up hobbies, like gardening over vices like tobacco, alcohol, and dancing. He quite famously began paying his workers $5 a day in 1914, which was double the industry standard. While this might sound like a really benevolent thing to do, he was actually creating customers for his [00:51:00] own product. Ford's muscle man, Harry Bennett, regularly pressured employees into buying Ford vehicles. Bennett was the head of Ford's "service department", which was his private security, keeping out unions and enforcing the moral code.

BONUS: Arizona schools build tiny homes for teachers - CNN - Air Date 5-1-23

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, Arizona is trying a different approach, a new approach, to help fill a teacher shortage, ones that we've seen across all the United States, but in Arizona, they're now trying to offer housing. It's a combination of low salaries and high living costs there that has made it very difficult for educators to live where they teach. CNN's correspondent Gabe Cohen has our report.

GABE COHEN - CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Like so many teachers, Louisa Gamboa is sacrificing more and more for the job she loves.

LOUISA GAMBOA, TEACHER: Give me one word that starts with the letter Q.

GABE COHEN - CORRESPONDENT, CNN: That's why she lives with three other teachers in a three bedroom home...

LOUISA GAMBOA, TEACHER: We're on our way home to Prescott...

GABE COHEN - CORRESPONDENT, CNN: ...and carpool's 30 minutes to her special ed classroom in Chino Valley, Arizona. [To Louisa] That was the closest affordable house?

LOUISA GAMBOA, TEACHER: Yes. Yes, and that's the only available one.

GABE COHEN - CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Has it been difficult making it month to [00:52:00] month?

LOUISA GAMBOA, TEACHER: It's very difficult. Almost nothing to spare.

GABE COHEN - CORRESPONDENT, CNN: The combination of low salaries and increasingly little affordable housing has worsened the teacher shortage in states like Arizona. So, desperate to attract educators, Chino Valley Unified School District is breaking ground on a teacher housing project, also known as a "teacherage", building 10 tiny homes behind an elementary school, where teachers will pay well below the market rate for rent.

SCHOOL REP: If they can save a couple hundred dollars, I think that ultimately that could make the difference. It's a matter of money.

GABE COHEN - CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Jason White, a 50 year old high school English teacher living with his parents near Phoenix, heard about Chino Valley's project and applied for a job. [To Jason] Do you think you'd take a job there if you didn't get that housing?

JASON WHITE, TEACHER: I wouldn't, um, and it's not a think or not think, it's I simply wouldn't because I couldn't afford to live there.

GABE COHEN - CORRESPONDENT, CNN: At least eight Arizona districts are creating their own teacherage, with some help from a federal grant. This vacant school near [00:53:00] Sedona will be turned into 11 apartments. In Prescott...

SCHOOL REP: I think this could be a game changer for us.

GABE COHEN - CORRESPONDENT, CNN: ...six modular homes will sit behind an elementary school.

I hate to compare it to this, but in some ways it's kinda like the Hunger Games.

SCHOOL REP: Having something like this available, maybe gives us a leg up on the competition, so to speak.

GABE COHEN - CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Teacher housing projects are popping up across the country, from California to West Virginia, but some are skeptical of teachers.

MARISOL GARCIA: I mean, I think our concern would be that a professional educator would not only work for the district, but the district would also be their landlord.

GABE COHEN - CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Marisol Garcia heads the Arizona Education Association, the union that represents public school teachers, and she sits on the Governor's new Educator Retention Task Force.

MARISOL GARCIA: We're treating a symptom and not the illness, and that is we don't have enough educators who want to enter the profession, who want to stay in the profession.

GABE COHEN - CORRESPONDENT, CNN: A recent study found more teachers than usual left the classroom last year at a time when students are still recovering from steep pandemic learning loss. Advocates blame a range of issues like workloads, student behavior, [00:54:00] politics in school, and most of all, salary.

MEGAN BROWN, TEACHER: It shouldn't have to be a vow of poverty to be a teacher, and that's what it feels like.

GABE COHEN - CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Megan Brown is leaving her special ed classroom next month after 12 years of teaching. She and her husband, a firefighter, live with her parents, struggling to save money to buy a home and start a family.

MEGAN BROWN, TEACHER: We can't both be in helping professions. So, I decided to leave.

GABE COHEN - CORRESPONDENT, CNN: What is walking away from that like?

MEGAN BROWN, TEACHER: I'm a really proud public school teacher and it's hard. It's hard to know that I can't do it anymore.

GABE COHEN - CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Now, a lot of districts have given out pay raises during the pandemic to retain teachers, but a new report found that the national average public school teacher salary has only gone up about four and a half percent over the past two years. Four and a half percent, Caitlin. That's well behind the high inflation that we've seen. And so, financially, life as a public school teacher really hasn't gotten better. If anything, based on this report, it's gotten worse.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah. It's just amazing to see how we treat our public [00:55:00] educators.

Final comments on the right to repair and why we all live in a company town

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today starting with Knowing Better, laying out the history of company towns in the US. It's History told the story of the town of Pullman. PBS explained the exploitation inherent in company towns. The Wall Street Journal looked at Elon Musk's plan for a company town in Texas. Knowing Better dove into the Silicon Valley version of white collar company towns. Breaking Point looked again at Elon Musk's town plan. The Young Turks described Disney and Universal's plans for affordable housing and pointed out that's the real problem that society needs to be addressing. The Majority Report spoke with a Seattle activist working toward affordable housing policies in the region, and finally we heard a TED Talk describing the Goldilocks building style for dense, energy-efficient community-supporting housing.

That's what everybody heard, but members also heard bonus clips from Knowing Better diving into the notorious example of Gary, Indiana, and CNN reported on a school district in Arizona building teacher housing [00:56:00] to address the teacher shortage.

To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly to the new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support, or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information.

And now I just wanna leave you with this last thought, that is simultaneously completely unrelated and shockingly parallel. So, while doing regular research, thinking of topics to do, I came across a description from a recent CounterSpin episode about the "right to repair" movement. And, at first glance, that has nothing to do with company towns or anything like that. But given everything we've heard today about the rationales and arguments in favor of company town utopias, listen to this description from the show about the right to repair.

CounterSpin writes, [00:57:00] "The right to fix things you buy is the sort of thing you wouldn't think would be controversial here in the land of the free. Corporations attempt to prevent people from fixing their cell phone or tractor or wheelchair ought to be seen as the overreach it is. But for years, news media have presented the right to repair as a voice in the wilderness up against benevolent companies' efforts to do best by us all". And when you put it that way, and you've been thinking about company towns for several days, all of a sudden you start thinking about how when we allow what used to be simple unquestioned freedoms to be quietly traded away in favor of companies' arguments, that they are doing what's best, yes, for themselves, but also for everyone else at the same time, it turns out we all end up living in the company town.

As always, keep the [00:58:00] comments coming in. You can leave us a voicemail or text message at 202-999-3991, or you can send me an email to [email protected].

That's gonna be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Dionne Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show, and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to our Transcriptionist Trio, Ken, Brian, and LaWendy for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple Podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good and funny bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content, no ads, and chapter markers in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player. And you can join the discussion on our Discord community. [00:59:00] There's a link to join in the show notes.

So, coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.

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