The Ghosts of the Housing Crisis – a Critique of State-Housing


Which ghosts have been folded into life and through the effacing of which ghosts concurrently, erased, forgotten and folded out towards death? A spectre is haunting Aotearoa… The spectre of colonization. The housing crisis is an assemblage hooked into the enduring paradigms of colonization, capitalism, heteronormativity, patriarchy and xenophobia. On the one hand we have long been haunted by a crisis of housing through the liveliness of colonialism. Yet on the other it is these ghost whose memory is never registered through the ostensible solutions to crisis. Why have these ghosts not only been forgotten but actively repudiated by the logic’s which reproduce through intensification the very terrors that haunt us – colonialism, capitalism, heteronormativity, patriarchy  and xenophobia. Can what haunts us in the way of land and housing be attended without the courage to confront these ghosts? How does the memory of colonization live through the lifelessness of ghost homes? And how does the political aspirations for decolonization give life to a path moving towards our desires for secure housing for the ghostly apparitions of those who are folded out of life – who stand between life and death, living and dying, health and illness, security and insecurity, memory and erasure.

The calls of crisis have worked through a confession of the terror of these logic’s. Yet paradoxically also simultaneously through calls for their intensification over and against the knowledge of the requisites for life outside of crisis and not slow-death within. Like the ghost homes who haunt the unitary plan and supply and demand logics which function as the optics for imperial centers to accumulate surplus value through the cancellation of the value of life, the use value of homes, the ghostly figures of the colonized confronts us to remember the ghosts of the past which live as crisis in the present. Our city is haunted by empty homes, dispossession and the division of populations into grievable and disposable, valuable and worthless, the same forgotten memories of colonization and our colonial present. Discourses of housing are nonetheless dominated with concerns for the heterosexual monogamous middle-class couple – the image which is continuously evoked through the ‘first home buyer.’ Indeed, while blockading state-housing being stolen from communities such as Glen Innes, one may hear construction workers repeating the line ‘these houses will be going to first home buyers.’

Which voices are heard in the debate surrounding housing and which voices, which screams, are never registered – the ghosts whose effacing retains them within the inbetweens of living and dying to haunt the ongoing discussions surrounding the housing crisis. How do we confront the unequal distributions of life and death? Furthermore, how do we confront the unequal distributions of representability, of recognition, of the suitability of housing for different communities (queer or racial). Which ghosts are never heard and are erased into ghostly figures through this effacing?

Clearly, the assault on state-housing despite the increasing house prices points towards the very erasure of working-class and low income people. Yet thinking about postcolonial memory in this way may trouble state-housing as an end goal of housing activism. The state is clearly an illegitimate one, established through coercive and colonial violence rather than the form of radical democracy where we share within power rather than ticking it away or needing protection from it. Whatever benevolence we may ask of the state threatens not only to portray the state as legitimate but as a legitimate site of benevolence. Yet furthermore it also retains the (neoliberal) capitalist and colonial state with the power to take whatever it may give – the very situation we find ourselves within. The fight for state-housing is a valuable one, and those engaged deserved to be applauded. Yet when we end there, do we not also empower those same forced which we resist? Do we not codify within the law and within the very fabric of society powerless for those who we aim for power to be returned? Do we not further legitimate and empowering the state rather than stand against capitalism and colonialism?

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Posted in All Posts, Postcolonialism

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