Jonathan Tarleton | Book

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Homes for Living
The Fight for Social Housing & a New American Commons

Forthcoming from Beacon Press in early 2025

Housing is enjoying a moment in the social and political consciousness of the U.S. not seen in decades. An affordable home in New York, San Francisco, or even Kansas City is more difficult to find today than ever before. The rent is too damn high in city after city. AOC and other progressives promote housing models beyond the market while Black millennials wonder if they’ll finally get to build wealth through the commodified homeownership behind their White peers’ intergenerational ascent. Once emblematic of the promise of the American Dream, homes are now the site of its reckoning.

Meanwhile, the 3,000+ residents of two housing co-ops in New York City, where median rents exceeding $4,000 a month set record after record, have it quite good. They won the lottery in a lauded government program originally designed to give middle-income folks a chance to own a piece of the city. Some bought their homes for as little as $3,000 in the 1970s and now live comfortably amid $1 million apartments in Lower Manhattan and Brownstone Brooklyn. But the co-ops are not alright. A debate over whether to “privatize” these publicly subsidized homes cuts communities and families in two. To vote “Yes” in a referendum means residents could reap tremendous profits by allowing homes to be sold to the highest bidder—further shrinking future generations’ access to quality shelter on modest incomes. To vote “No” would continue to insulate the co-ops from market speculation—the key to many residents’ ability to purchase their homes in the first place. With votes marred by supposed fraud, twisted facts on ubiquitous flyers, lawsuits galore, and the occasional death threat, the collectives are awash in polarization mirroring the country’s at large.

Homes for Living tells the stories of the lives and places at stake in these fiery debates. It interweaves the struggles of co-op residents with dispatches from movements—for tenant rights, indigenous sovereignty, and communal land stewardship—to illuminate competing notions of ownership in American society. Why some residents forgo riches to maintain a public good while others choose profit offers tools to confront our housing crises and that fundamental American tension between collective and individual interests.

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