The world needs more billionaires like George Lucas.
George Lucas, worth $3.2 billion as of 2011, may have ruined his reputation with his fans by creating Jar Jar Binks and making a travesty of a film like Episode 1, but his latest move may be the finest moment of his career.
At first, Lucas intended to use his property at Old Grady Ranch in Marin County, CA, to build a 300,000 square foot movie studio. The plan, according to Lucas, would generate $300 million in economic activity for the area. His neighbors resisted him every step of the way, insisting that the constant construction and extra traffic would be a blight to the community.
Now, the filmmaker has abandoned his efforts to instead build affordable housing for low-income families and elderly people living on fixed incomes. Here's an excerpt from his official statement:
We plan to sell the Grady property expecting that the land will revert back to its original use for residential housing. We hope we will be able to find a developer who will be interested in low income housing since it is scarce in Marin. If everyone feels that housing is less impactful on the land, then we are hoping that the people who need it most will benefit.
There are literally five vacant buildings for every homeless person in America. And the latest US Census data shows that half of America is either poor or low-income. After the housing bubble burst and the recession hit, homelessness jumped 32% between April 2008 and April 2009, undoubtedly exacerbated by all the new foreclosures. And according to the National Low income Housing Coalition, 40% of those facing eviction from foreclosures are renters. An additional 7 million low-income households are at risk of foreclosure. Despite all this, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, whose bank has been accused of fraudulently foreclosing on the homes of veterans, haughtily defended his bank's practice of risky Wall Street speculative trading that sent a whopping $2 billion down the drain.
If anything has changed in the last ten years since the first Star Wars prequel was made and today, it's been a greater redistribution of wealth from the bottom 90% to the top 0.1%, like Lucas. And while the billionaires at Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Chase are allegedly fraudulently foreclosing on needy families, one billionaire filmmaker is making housing more accessible for people who need it the most.
While Lucas' gesture is a good one, it shows the complete lack of attention being paid to low-income families by elected officials, whose job is supposedly to uphold the rights of their constituents when they're being victimized by predatory banking, lending, and deceptively fraudulent mortgages. If President Obama was bold enough to stand up to the Jamie Dimons of the world, he would declare housing to be a human right, make more low-income housing a national priority, and give every American adult who owns a mortgage a $100,000 principal reduction to keep mortgages more in line with the actual value of their home.
Poverty has gone up just as dramatically as the wealth amassed by the 1% and the .01%, like George Lucas. And the amount of available low-income housing for needy families has gone down just as dramatically as the value of millions of homes owned by those victimized by the reckless greed of Wall Street executives like Jamie Dimon.
Until George Lucas and his fellow multi-billionaires find it in their hearts to build affordable housing for everyone who needs it, we must hold our elected officials accountable if they continue to side with their Wall Street campaign donors over the 99%.