The Housing Crisis: A Review by Riley Weaver

The desire to create more, to be more, is one that has driven human civilization toward an ever-flourishing era of enlightenment: a source of fulfillment from developing centuries of new ideas. As William Shakespeare once stated, however, “Nothing will come of nothing” and once we have reaped all that the world has to sow, this years-long development must inevitably come to a halt. This concept and the idea of a metaphorical ceiling that we have spoken about in class exists to allow the United States economy to ebb and flow as it usually does is what led to the economic collapse and housing crisis that consumed many US citizens in 2008 and years following. During this catastrophe, the floor dropped and, with that, the walls buckled, causing the ceiling to collapse. The mighty dollar that our forefathers had built this country off of went up in flames and our financial system crumbled. No one could afford to live like they once did, and so, as prices rose, so did foreclosure signs, wiping the housing market clean of capable buyers and leaving many houses to be claimed by the wood-rotting capabilities of time. It was much easier to see that this series of events was bound to occur from the top of the totem pole, as money lenders signed away loans to people with little-to-no credit history and gave credit with outrageous interest rates. Corporate America was able to “hide the risk by complicating it” , as this top-heavy economic system failed due to manipulation from those who were fortunate enough to hold a certain expertise in the financial sector toward those who weren’t as lucky (Lewis 74). This divide in knowledge was caused by years of inequality based on a variety of unchangeable factors, such as race, gender and socio-economic status. At the end of it all, the least affected was the white, upper class man, with a government ever in his favor and the rest, especially low-SES people of color, were left to scrape by, many unsuccessfully. Though everyone was affected by this plunge in our economic system, those swimming in Benjamins found it less beneficial to cry over couch change. While the upper class had to cut luxuries, everybody else was cutting how they spent on necessities like gas, groceries, and housing. This crisis was entirely avoidable had those who had the knowledge had spoken up instead of bottom-feeding off of the already suffering lower class of the United States.

This same misfortune claimed many lives and future generations in Octavia Butler’s science-fiction novel Parable of the Sower, where the reader follows the main character, Lauren, through a future world where the United States fell into crisis. The dollar held almost no value and chaos burned in the souls of every human on the west coast. Though this story is quite exaggerated, it does paint an accurate picture of how fragile the “American Dream” became in such a short period of time: A glass bubble that inevitably burst. Lauren is heading into her early teenage years and is arriving at her own point of identity foreclosure, a term coined in psychology to signify the point in a pre-teen/teenagers life where they begin to draw from the personalities and beliefs of people around them to start to form their own sense of being, as they don’t yet have a specified definition of self. Lauren struggles to define herself outside of her parents, with her father holding a position of power within the church and her mother leaving her with the only thing she knows true: she can feel everything. As she is exposed to the world outside their walls, she is able to expand on her idea of Earthseed, both as a religion and a band of people. She takes note of characteristics that hold a heavier sense of importance, such as independence and unwavering stubbornness, and, with this, starts to become her own person. She is even able to leave behind this “safe” masculine persona that she embodied to make it when she first left home in order to pursue a sexual relationship with her partner, Bankole. This loss of identity is also what struck many households during the 2008 housing crisis, as jobs became sparse and people who once worked in fields that they enjoyed scraped by on paychecks from dead end jobs. Because of this, they took out loans, and as Michael Lewis states in his book The Big Short, the best way to make poor people wealthy is to “give them cheap loans” (14) These cheap loans came with astronomically large interests rates that stuck the everyday worker in a cycle of repayment and indebtedness to their lenders.

Another parallel within the real world and Parable of the Sower is the idea of the metaphorical bubble that kept the people within it naively safe. The things with bubbles are man-made: someone put it there to make things falsely glisten and shine, when, in reality, what’s outside of the bubble is crumbling. Lauren and her community felt safe. They had the wall and their community support group to keep watch, but things started to fail. People on the outside started to get the sense that this place with all of the things they needed wasn’t as safeguarded as one would have hoped. Simultaneously, those on the inside were getting restless. Keith runs away and is eventually brutally murdered Curtis climbs to the extreme of marrying Lauren and running away to a safer, or at least more promising, future. It took only a single vehicle to make it through those seemingly impenetrable walls and destroy the false sense of security those people held. People knew it was gonna happen, though, didn’t they? The Olivar’s left to go to another community and Lauren’s father put together safety bags for a quick emergency exit. If these precautions were being established, why wasn’t this fear brought up to the broader community then? This is because the human condition leads us to reach for this quicker satisfaction: this immediate sense of security. Sure there is going to be an attack eventually, just as the market was going to crash eventually, but that is the future generations problem. Better fortifications could have been built and the community could have been better educated. The same applies for the housing crisis; Better “fortifications”, in this case more loan denial and decreased unemployment, combined with a better understanding of even the bare bones of the crisis would have softened its blow.

In all honesty, there isn’t anything that blatantly connects Parable of the Sower to what we learned throughout the semester, but we were able to adjust our lens and “reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time”, as is stated in GLOBE’s expectations for Geneseo students. Words like bubble and faith hold much different meanings now than they did back in September, allowing us to surmount this learned apophenia (see what I did there). I am rather grateful for this course and all that it taught me, both directly and indirectly.