Class Monopoly Rent, Property Relations, and the Rise of the Homeless Epidemic in Seattle, USA

Authors: Zachary Arms*, Eastern Washington University
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Legal Geography
Keywords: Urban, Political, Capitalism, Homelessness
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 4:00 PM / 5:15 PM
Room: Director's Row E, Sheraton, Plaza Building, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The rise of the “Homeless Epidemic” in major US cities has received much media and political attention over the last decade. Gentrification is also a primary agenda for what are often referred to as “urban growth machines.” Intimately associated with this gentrification are sharp spikes in housing prices and, consequently, homelessness. Ironically, the very presence of this homelessness serves to threaten the very growth machine interests that underpin its (re)production, especially when concentrated in areas targeted for gentrification. This study interrogates the tactics in which growth machine actors, collaboratively, work to spatially manage and contain this homelessness, thereby preserving their capitalist investments in the urban landscape. It is in this context that this study hypothesizes that it is not just the mobilization of property toward rent-enhancement that both produces and spatially manages homelessness populations, but in the neoliberal era, it is specifically the mobilization of property toward and through one particular category of rent: class monopoly rent. In the process, the study deepens our understanding of the political-economic drivers of contemporary homelessness by bringing these two bodies of scholarly literature into closer dialogue: land rent theory and the political economy of homelessness. Drawing on empirical evidence taken from a case study in Seattle, USA, it study illustrates the conceptual value of this category of rent in illuminating the specific economic relationships that have underpinned the past four decades of homelessness in urban America, and points policy in new and different directions of potential reform.

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