Since leaving the trees, our ancestors have utilized the world around them to be used as shelter from predators and weather. Some found homes within caves while others fashioned houses using the resources around them.
Bricks were formed from dried mud or sand, depending on the surroundings. The sturdy lignin within trees made wood excellent building materials, especially for insulating heat. We use minerals and metals from the earth like calcium, from limestone, to form concrete or iron to form steel. Some shelters were made partially or totally out of ice! Our ancestors were resourceful, using the materials around them to work for them.
For much of human history, houses were usually made by the people who would live in them. Sturdy houses could be passed down through generations of a family. The wealthy had the means to pay, or use slave labor, to build nicer houses with better materials. Homelessness was often a problem in these communities, especially when there was an unequal distribution of wealth.
As governments began to recognize land as property, sections of land were donated to high ranking officials or bought by the wealthy. The Roman Empire, for example, often gave conquered lands to military officials as a means to allocate responsibility as well as propagate the ideals of the empire. The land owned by individuals could be used for agriculture or houses could be built upon it.
Many landowners allowed residents to live on and work the land in exchange for a regular payment called rent. In an agrarian system, rent could come in the form of food from the harvest while in a capitalist system, it almost always means money. To understand the foolishness of rent, we must look at the situation in terms of resources.
A landowner claims property of an area of land and any buildings on it. While buildings might need eventual repair, the land will basically stay the same. To pay food or money in exchange for living on land that someone else claims as theirs is to exchange resources for permission. Once the land is claimed, the landowner sees nothing but profit without having to give away any additional resources.
The necessity for rent meant that tenants now needed to come up with enough money so they didn’t lose their homes. Residents are now forced to work jobs just to earn enough money to pay the landowner for permission to live. A place to live is one of the necessities of societal life and landowners knew residents would always choose shelter over money.
Housing, like all markets, is susceptible to competition. One landowner might have better houses or more fertile land than another and could charge more money for the added perks. Because of the necessity for shelter, landowners could increase the price knowing the residents will pay. Competing landowners could agree to raise their rent together so neither loses customers. If you’ve ever tried to live in an expensive city you have heard the phrase, “I know rent is a lot but it’s about average around here.” Just because everyone is charging too much doesn’t make it acceptable.
Industrialization allowed for houses to be built following the same basic mold, commonly called cookie-cutters. Neighborhoods popped up with nearly identical houses that advertised to a specific demographic. Meanwhile, poorer quality homes were built in separate neighborhoods that were deemed low-income housing. The separation of classes, caused by separate neighborhoods, is designed to keep certain demographics together while allowing each group to explore different niches.
With neighborhoods separated by class, often translating to race or age, the residents began to mirror each other making their behaviors more extreme. In cookie-cutter neighborhoods, this meant neighbors competed to show off who had the nicest new gadget. In low-income neighborhoods, this meant violence which caused more violence. With separate communities, crime and violence in one could be more easily ignored by the other. With little media coverage of low-income communities, these poor people could remain out of sight and out of mind from wealthier people.
Maintaining separate communities helps further the idea that each group is vastly different from the others, especially when they often have different political representation, education, and infrastructure. When we see each other as different, we treat each other as different. Where you grow up, even the difference of a few blocks, can have a huge effect on who you are and how others treat you.