The tiny houses future for Black men, a “kinder” industrial complex, a homeless one

The tiny houses future for Black men, a “kinder” industrial complex, a homeless one

The homeless industrial complex will be the new sick and twisted exploitable labor institution that will trap the descendants of the enslaved Africans that arrived in what would later be the United States 400 years ago. Just in time for the prison industrial complex’s dismantlement, homelessness is being shaped as a new way to exploit Black labor.

Black people are disproportionately homeless in the United States. Black people are 13 percent of the U.S. population and 40 percent of its homeless. If you count people living rough on the street, it’s over 50 percent. 

And those Black people are mostly men.

Currently, Black women are trapped in domestic servitude in the welfare-to-work program of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). They work for small amounts of money in degrading conditions to feed their children. Studies have shown that the higher the proportion of African Americans is to the general population, the more likely it is for a county to minimize that cash assistance in favor of work programs and sex education classes. 

In 1970 Robert Clark, the first African American elected to the Mississippi state legislature in over 100 years, told Congress that in his district under the policy “welfare recipients are made to serve as maids or to do day yard work in white homes to keep their checks.”

2020, Washington Post

The partners of these women are often imprisoned and given harsh sentences for petty crimes. In prison, these men work as call center customer service representatives, firefighters, and even work jobs that used to always be union like sanitation workers. Thanks to the activism by many, the prison rates, according to the Bureau of Justice and Statistics, are going down

American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was instrumental in creating the horrific policies that made the United States number one in locking up its citizens. 

ALEC helped pioneer some of the toughest sentencing laws on the books today, like mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders, “three strikes” laws, and “truth in sentencing” laws.

2011, Nation “The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor” Mike Elk & Bob Sloan

ALEC has now appears to be taking on the task of “fixing” homelessness. 

“We at ALEC recommend private-sector-based solutions to the complex problems associated with homelessness. These solutions can empower people in poverty to take control of their own lives and help them escape from a vicious cycle. The culture of dependency needs to be addressed. If we can address the problem of chronic homelessness, we can lead America in the right direction.”

2019, ALEC “Tackling the Crisis of Homelessness in America” Alexander Hageman

The ALEC land-use division American City County Exchange (ACCE) has been looking at land-use policy. 

ACCE, in conjunction with SAJE and UCLA, did the “The Vacancy Report” a study discussing the inaccessibility of housing for the average person in Los Angeles. 

Housing unaffordability is a nationwide problem, but for ACCE the solution seems to be lowering the bar for the definition of a house. 

“The stories of people like Jay Austin are what drive the national movement towards greater housing freedoms in the United States. While the homes may be no bigger than 200 square feet, the promise they bring for a more affordable and sustainable future is anything but tiny.”

2018, “The Big Problem behind Tiny House Regulations” ACCE

Past actions are good predictions of future actions. ACCE is not pushing tiny houses for altruistic reasons. Like their parent organization’s prison policies, their aim is to exploit human beings for profit. 

The conservatives, corporate capitalists along with their propaganda wing of 5013s are pushing tiny houses and will in all likelihood at some point attach a mandatory work program as it is de facto U.S. custom with any benefit involving Black people. ALEC and others will support research and policy to “solve” the homeless problem like they “solved” drug problem. It is clear where this is heading. 

Middle-class white people are not going to be in tiny houses. Tiny houses are for homeless Black men. Many will be younger Black men, men that can lift heavy items and work in warehouses. Young Black men are 83 percent more likely to be homeless than young white men. These tiny homes will be for Black men who won’t be able to find permanent employment after they are released from prison, and are refused employment.

It is clear to me what the plan is for Black men after the dismantling of the prisons. The U.S. has never lasted long without the exploitation of Black labor. 

After slavery, it went immediately to prison labor as a replacement. 

In 1883, 10 percent of Alabama’s total revenue was derived from renting prisoners (convict leasing) by 1898, nearly 73 percent of Alabama’s total revenue came from renting prisoners.

And now, the kinder, gentler, prison industrial complex: the Homeless Industrial Complex. 

It will consist of living in a tiny house, working at Amazon for subsidized substandard wages, and being trapped there until you die. But before you die they’ll give a few nonprofits some grants to teach you how to be happy in a miserable situation and cook healthy meals in a microwave. 

We need to stop this narrative now. Tiny houses are inhumane. Welfare to work requirements are inhumane. The acceptance of both is rooted in slavery and anti-blackness. 

The solutions are enforce the Civil Rights Act, implement a universal basic income, provide universal standard housing, and create a federal housing agency. The U.S. has the funding to make all this happen. We can’t let racism do this to Black people again. 


Teka Lo, Public Intellectuals

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