In Pohl and Kornbluth’s brilliant, dystopic Gladiator-at-Law, one of the consequences of losing your job is losing your housing. The protagonist and his family have to move to “Belly Rave,” a hideous, gang-ridden slum.*
That chapter begins with a flashback to the construction of a new suburban development called Belle Rêve (that’s “beautiful dream,” if you were sleeping that day in French class). In an economic downturn, some of the houses become neglected and then abandoned, leading to a downward spiral in both physical and social conditions.
Looks as if the future may be now:
Pushing up against almond groves and dirt-bike trails, the row of homes on St. Salazar Circle marks the furthest advance of Modesto’s housing boom – and the start of its scorched-earth retreat.
Brown, unwatered lawns of foreclosed homes compete with the green grass of neighbors still hanging on. Some of the structures, although new, are missing outdoor equipment like air conditioners, taken by metal thieves. One in 4 houses of the neighborhood stands empty, and mortgage defaults are certain to push even more residents, mostly Hispanic immigrants, out of their homes.
It’s a sign of the home-loan crisis’ uneven impact: light in some areas, heavy in others – often those populated by minorities or the lower-middle class.
Yes, the banks and mortgage companies and appraisers all deserve to take their lumps for the subprime and Alt-A messes, but let’s not forget the Bush Administration, relentlessly hawking the “Ownership Society” (with the clear implication that somehow non-owners were less than full members) and pointing to pride with increasing homeownership rates driven largely by purchases of overpriced homes on shaky mortgages by people who couldn’t afford them.
* My sister Kelly reminds me that “Belle Rêve” was the name of Blance Dubois’s lost home in A Streetcar Named Desire, which appeared several years before Gladiator-at-Law. That must have been a deliberate allusion on the part of Pohl and Kornbluth.