Friday, September 30, 2016

Did Trump Kill the American Dream?

“The American Dream is dead.” Donald Trump

First of all, the American Dream is not dead. The American Dream will never die. People will always, always dream of a better life – not always a materialistic dream, sometimes a dream of being healthy or free. People will always work hard to make that dream come true. I’m not even sure the dream is particularly American. I mean, who doesn’t want the girl/boy, the family, the home, the good life?

The year was 1979 and we were newly married. We lived in a small one bedroom apartment on Beacon Street in Boston. We paid about $580 a month. The apartment was simple, yet elegant. Three rooms, galley kitchen, non-working fireplace, walk-in-closet. In the bedroom, the view of the Hancock Building was stunning; the aged stone of Trinity Church reflected in the Hancock’s mirrored windows. The landlord kept it clean. We’ve been told that if we saw one cockroach, just one, we were to call maintenance. We didn’t see any bugs. But, we were freezing; we broke into the locked thermostat when our cat started to sneeze. The maintenance man came and re-locked the thermostat; I don’t know how he found out. “Do I have to say it?” he asked. “No,” we answered.

What does this have to do with Trump? Nothing. Yet. Unknown to us, at this time, he was busy buying up New York City real estate. Our life is Boston was lovely. People were friendly. I could hear real live piano music and students who would stop in the alley sometimes to play violin or cello; one opera singer who used to practice her scales as she walked. One day, after seeing me for years, she told me I had beautiful hair. Once, in the middle of the night, I heard a mysterious “clop-clop” sound. I woke to see a policeman on horseback slowly traveling down the alley in a light snow. I used to joke that the phone at the coffee shop on the corner was my office. I both made and received calls there, while sitting at a sidewalk table having coffee. You could buy fresh flowers on the street for $2.00 a bunch. I always had fresh flowers. The movie theater was a few blocks down, restaurants, art galleries, and museums abounded, all the wonderful things the city provides, including impromptu music. People will suffer a lot of inconvenience, even hardship, in order to live in the city.

And, crime. We were broken into while we were away at a book conference. That same week, on our street, a graceful main thoroughfare of brownstones in Boston, close to the State House, there were two horrific murders and my husband said we needed to get out now. We had to go anyway. Our building was “going condo.” We were offered to buy our own apartment for a price we couldn’t afford, $39,000, a ridiculous sum by today’s standards. Trump would say, “You should have bought it, you idiot! It would have been worth over $500,000 in 2016!"

But, in 1979, $39,000 was way out of our price point. We learned a new word that year – two new words, actually - “condo” and “homeless.”

We heard that New York City had gone condo or co-op. Rent control still existed, but, we were told by the media, it was doomed to die out with the folks who then occupied the apartments. More and more people were being kicked out of their homes as their buildings “went condo.” More and more people were becoming – horror of horrors – homeless! We had never heard that word before. Before 1979, homeless people were called bums. Now, we heard that some of the homeless were people who had "lost their homes" and "been foreclosed." Now, veterans were homeless. We were horrified! How could this be? Veterans? Men and women who had served their country in Vietnam, then, as time went on, the Gulf War, then Iraq, then Afghanistan were living out of cardboard boxes, pushing their belongings in shopping carts, enduring cold, malnutrition, and crime in a new war on the home front they had defended from those very horrors.

What had happened? I can tell you in one word, another new word then, one we’ve all heard too much of now – Trump.

I recalled a 1985 60 Minutes interview with Leona Helmsley. She would soon go to prison for tax evasion - hear that, Donald? This interview is seared on my brain. At least the image of that interview, this – Leona Helmsley standing next to Mike Wallace at the window of her NYC apartment. The view was a vast one, all park, edged with tall buildings on three sides. Leona was pointing, like a queen, ruling all she could see. She referred to her husband, Harry Helmsley’s, at the time, $5.5 billion dollar NYC real estate empire. “Harry owns this, Harry owns this, that building, all that down there,” she pointed and pointed again, “That too, that, and - she waved her arm - Trump owns the rest.”

Trump owns the rest.

In 1979, the Average Cost of new house was $58,100.00; Average Income per year $17,500.00; Average Monthly Rent $280.00 and the cost of a gallon of Gas 86 cents. A Toyota Corolla cost $3,698.00, a Mercury Cougar XR7 $6,430.00.

What happened?

Here’s my theory and it’s only a theory. It’s not a scholarly treatise; it’s not even journalism. It is, as Mel Gibson says in Edge of Darkness, "Just a personal observation."

Trump fucked the country. He fucked the American Dream. Maybe he didn’t kill it, but he certainly raped it. When the cost of real estate was artificially inflated, so was every other cost of living. When greedy landlords realized what people would pay, and what some of them could pay, they raised their rents and leases. How many people were homeless because their buildings went condo? Forced out of their homes so that the building could be renovated for condos? How many business failed - AND ARE STILL FAILING TODAY - because their leases went up to exorbitant rates they couldn't pay? How are we going to get a decent minimum wage if businesses cannot afford their leases, let alone pay a living wage to their employees or offer employees insurance?

The cost of New York real estate per square foot rose, and kept rising. And as New York City goes, so goes the country and, often, the world. The price of everything rose. Soon you couldn’t live comfortably without two incomes, after a few years, it took two six-figure incomes to live without the wolf at your door. I can hear some people laughing at this - for some, that still wasn’t enough.

If you’re wondering why you were foreclosed on, you can blame Trump, and Helmsley, but Trump is the one who kept the crisis going. He started real estate inflation and a lot of other very greedy people followed suit.

When you own half of Manhattan and a good part of other boroughs in New York City, you can raise the price per square foot to whatever you want and I think that’s what Trump did. According to a 2004 study by Harvard University, “Why Is Manhattan so Expensive?” “Manhattan condo units have been selling for around $460 per square foot over the past two decades [that would be the ‘80s and ‘90s], with recent values reaching above $600 per square foot.” That was 2004.

The average price pre square foot of Manhattan real estate, according to the Douglas Elliman report report released in July of 2016, is $1,759. Luxury units cost a lot more per square foot. If you ever watch Million Dollar Listing, New York, you know that the real estate agents on that reality show and the sellers of the units try desperately to get the price per square foot up to $2,000 or more. Trump is no exception. Quoting CityRealty Daniel Goldstein writes in MarketWatch that “in 2016 sales prices for Trump-brand condo units in Manhattan averaged $1,974 a square foot, compared with $1,873 a square foot for all other units, a 5% premium advantage…” In April, Donald Trump, Jr. bragged that the 63-story Trump International Hotel & Tower in Vancouver had sold all 214 units at “a higher price a square foot than any other property in Canada.” Clearly, getting the cost of living up is a good thing to a Trump.

As for rents, in 1979, the average rent in the country was $280, let’s double that for NYC and say, $560 a month, the average rent in NYC today, in 2016, according to a recent Douglas Elliman report – a whopping $3,280!

Trump fucked the country. Because as New York City real estate goes, so goes the nation, so goes the world. As NYC real estate became more and more expensive, so followed every other city in the United States all the way to San Francisco, still one of the most expensive places to live in the country. According to Zillow the median list price per square foot in San Francisco is $948…The median price of homes currently listed in San Francisco is $1,112,500.

It wasn’t long before these two six figure incomes and the price of real estate imploded in the crash of 1988. But, recovery was inevitable and the survival instincts of New Yorkers kicked in.

How are people living right now in New York City? What is the human cost of enjoying all the amenities the city has to offer? Sure, landlords have always had the reputation of being greedy and unfair. In the 1800s, there were cold water flats and shared bathrooms for tenants – these continued through till after WWII. The good old days. But what about right now?

The young woman in the photo above pays $1,945 a month for this tiny (looks like approx. 150 sq ft) 3rd story walk-up little north of Delancey Street on the Lower East Side that is clean, roach-free, and well-lighted. The landlord insists that he rents at 15% lower than the normal rate and his apartments rent quickly because of that edge. In other words, no time to think about it! You can see from the image that her bed couldn't be closer to her stove without being in it, but in glowing 2016 NYC real estate terms - she has a window! When I commented on this story I wrote that NYC should be ashamed of stories like these, not proud, not entertained, I got over 430 likes from other people reading the same story.

The Worst Landlords in New York City is a list released each year by a public advocacy group. According to CBS, "Landlords of buildings with 35 units or more are placed on the Watchlist if their buildings have an average of two or more serious violations or active complaints per unit. Landlords of smaller buildings — 35 units or less — require three open, serious violations or active complaints."

The nightmare stories, including hidden cameras, walls between apartments made out of plastic tarp, the usual rats and other vermin, weeks without heat and hot water, are too numerous to tell. But, here's a very similar one from San Francisco -

"…Take for example the programmer who lived in my closet: Every night he’d come home around 9 p.m. He’d sit on the couch, pour himself a bowl of cereal and eat in silence. Then he would grab his laptop and head directly into the closet — a so-called “private room” listed on Airbnb for $1,400 a month. It was the only time I’d ever see him. The only way I could tell he was home was by the glow of his laptop seeping out from under the closet door. Hours later, deep into the night, the light would go out, and I would know he had to gone to sleep. By the time I arrived, he had been living there for 16 months, in a windowless closet with a thin mattress placed right on the floor. During the day he codes for Pinterest. Yeah . . . that Pinterest." To me, Airbnb is a gut reaction to the living situation everywhere.

You might say that Trump isn't responsible for the behavior of these bad landlords. But, I think, in a big way, he is. He had every opportunity to do things right. He didn't. He took advantage of everyone in his path and called it good business. And, now, he wants to be President on the platform that he is for the common man - that he will take care of the wants and needs of the common man. 

Let's see how Trump treats the common man -

Besides all the vendors and individuals (including veterans) he has weaseled out of paying for work and services from which he benefitted, let’s see what he did in Aberdeen, Scotland. You can see the whole film here You've Been Trumped. Witness for yourself what he did to a small coastal eco-system in Aberdeen, Scotland and the average people who lived on it in order to build a failed golf course that no one goes to. There’s a special place in hell for anyone who destroys an ecosystem for profit. There’s a special place in hell for anyone who pulls up whole trees by the roots and buries them upside down in the ground.

America, please don’t allow Trump to fuck the country any more than he already has. His name, if it isn’t now, will be synonymous with getting fucked.

Don’t Get Trumped!

©PatriciaGoodwin, 2016

Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation.