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This week: Monopoly on Music Venues; Congress Must Act on Climate Change; and Who Profited From Housing Programs?

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Monopoly on Music Venues

It is shameful that in our progressive community, there is a virtual monopoly on music venues. Eric Suher is the oligarch, and while he fosters a vibrant music scene, he also charges exorbitant fees on tickets. Those fees would be easier to swallow—in fact, I would gratefully pay them—if I knew they contributed to his employees’ earning a living wage [“Should the Iron Horse Pony Up?”, November 1, 2012].

To learn instead that his workers earn just above minimum wage is dismaying. Suher has a real opportunity here: to create a better business model, where workers are paid enough to make a life in the community where they work. He is well known for his love of music, and for being a self-made man. May he become better known for demonstrating that sound business acumen always includes economic justice.

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Congress Must Act on Climate Change

Hurricane Sandy may not directly have been caused by climate change—it’s hard to blame a hurricane on any one single cause—but climate change probably made the devastation we saw along the East Coast a lot worse.

Since 1900, the sea level in the area around New York, especially near Battery Park, has risen about one foot, thanks in large part to melting ice caused by a changing climate. That extra foot increased the size of Sandy’s storm surges, contributing to massive flooding along the coasts.

At the same time, the warmer seas that result when ice melts make it easier for hurricanes to form. This ice melt comes partly as a result of the carbon and other greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels.

Our communities are already paying the price for Congress’ failure to take action on climate change. It’s time for Congress to put a price on the carbon pollution that’s driving the climate emergency.

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Who Profited From Housing Programs?

Cathy Etheridge [Letters, November 8, 2012] is correct about Section 8 enriching landlords, but her analysis is incomplete, and her conclusions are therefore also incomplete.

Prior to the 1980s, rental housing was suffering from disinvestment, largely because the government-subsidized low-interest mortgages and tax deductions for mortgages had siphoned off young families, the traditional markets for rental housing, by making new suburban housing much more affordable. Rents in Western Mass were typically under $200 a month.

Then, with Section 8, owners of rental property could just about name their own prices, as Cathy described in her letter. The result of this was a rapid and drastic appreciation in the value of existing rental housing. Two-family homes that had been selling for $15,000 for many years were suddenly worth $150,000 or more. In addition, large firms like the ones she refers to began building large numbers of new units based on the inflated rents supported by government subsidies. The subsidies have enriched landlords, as Etheridge pointed out, but they also greatly enriched both speculators and mortgage bankers, who have made millions and millions on these many mortgages. The effects on poor families are less clear.

Since, according to one public official, there are only enough subsidies for 15 percent of those eligible, the programs probably create more problems for poor people than they solve. It is not clear that they have made housing conditions better, since 85 percent of the poor are probably less well housed than before as a result of the programs, and housing costs are broadly higher as a portion of income that they were in the 1970s.

Perhaps the solution is a genuine review of all of these programs, including the subsidies for construction of new suburban houses, to see if this is really a path to a sustainable future, or if perhaps there might be a better use of national resources than enriching landlords and bankers.

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