An illuminating portrait of today’s housing crisis.

STEALING HOME

HOW ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IS HIJACKING THE AMERICAN DREAM

A banker explains the rising inequality in the housing industry.

With nearly 40 years of experience in banking and as a member of the National Association of Realtors, Nelson has witnessed a frightening transformation in the housing industry. Despite the sacrifices he made for his kids, like many grandparents across the country, he sees his grandchildren “working harder than I did at their ages” and spending over half of their combined family incomes on housing. Central to America’s crisis (including a massive increase in homelessness) is that affordable and “low-income housing is simply vanishing from the marketplace” while apartments and condos at the other end of the spectrum are oversupplied. Moreover, racial discrimination has historically plagued housing, perhaps more than any single industry. The author fears that given the industry’s reliance on models generated by artificial intelligence, “discrimination will, over time, become the norm within the model itself,” as computers are fed data reflecting America’s systemic racial inequities. As reflected in the book’s subtitle, the author blames much of the current system on AI–driven technology. AI platforms treat humans as mere statistical data and allow for the widespread dispersal of tenants’ private information to a myriad of commercial entities. This makes it even more difficult for tenants with a history of missed rent payments to find affordable housing. The consolidation of property owners, property managers, and builders has also had a negative impact, leaving tenants and homeowners with fewer alternatives. Many property management companies have consistent “F” ratings from the Better Business Bureau and have defended themselves in hundreds of civil cases, but because they dominate a limited market, their tenants have few other places to go. Additionally, property managers have increasingly raised fees, particularly related to evictions, which disproportionately impact those who need help the most.

Though he paints a grim picture of a complex subject, Nelson’s righteous anger makes this book a must-read for not only those in the real estate and banking industries, but also for anyone who seeks to understand why, in the words of activist Jimmy McMillan, “Rent Is Too Damn High.” The author combines the indignation and passion of an activist with the technical knowledge of a seasoned banker. Rather than overwhelming readers, page after page of graphs, charts, and data create a damning case against the status quo. The volume also does a fine job of placing today’s housing industrial complex within a historical context. In addition to paying careful attention to the history of racial discrimination in housing, the work also looks to the past for solutions. Like many bankers of the 1920s, today’s property managers and lenders have not “broken any rules,” largely because there are no regulations to honestly hold them accountable. Just like bank customers of the ’30s needed systemwide financial reforms and regulations, today’s tenants and homeowners require empowered government agencies to stave off the worst abuses that plague the housing industry. But this will require difficult ideological and political shifts that prioritize “human rights before property rights.” Spreading public awareness of deep-seated problems in an industry that often hides its abuses in AI–generated models and binders of paperwork is a crucial prerequisite to that uphill political battle. This exposé is an admirable first step toward that goal.

An illuminating portrait of today’s housing crisis. (notes, about the author, acknowledgments)

Pub Date: May 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73464-180-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: BRC Publishing House

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

THE WAR ON THE WEST

A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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