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 top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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