Friday, March 27, 2009
FRESNO--Bereft of inexpensive exurban real estate, reckless mortgage lending and woefully uninformed homebuyers, speculators have begun to approach residents of modern-day Hoovervilles in an attempt to ply their trade.
The makeshift tent cities, which have sprung up in states across the country, might strike some as a sobering testament to the severity of the global economic downturn. Others, however, see nothing but opportunity in these syphilitic shanty towns.
"This here is one of the last untapped real estate markets in America," beamed Andre Galveston, an analyst for the Chuckling Righteousness division of Bain Capital Ventures, as he strolled through the New Jack City encampment in Fresno. "A modest investment at this crucial juncture would net a stellar return once the economy really collapses and more people are forced from their homes. I'm telling my bosses that scrapyard tin siding, tent poles, and abandoned lumber piles are the boom markets to leverage."
Despite the unconventionality -- and some say complete and unflinching soullessness -- of his tactics, Galveston is not alone in seeing profit where others see poverty, despair and staggering insensitivity on the part of the world's wealthiest nation.
"I'm gonna clean the motherfuck up!" explained entrepreneur Sonny DiNezza, who has taken to speculating at Taco Flats, a small encampment northwest of New Jack City populated predominantly with unemployed agricultural workers. "Shit, yesterday I invested $40 in this guy Raul who dispenses heating oil out of an old Poland Spring water jug. If he doesn't pay me back with interest inside of two weeks, I can foreclose on his whole damn shack."
Still, others are taking a more nuanced approach in their efforts to fleece society's most vulnerable.
"I know a guy in South Korea who can get me brand new Yurts at-cost," said Doug Flores, who spends his time around Seattle's Nickelsville, a ramshackle setup named after mayor Greg Nickels. "A little mark-up for my trouble, a weekly installment plan for people who obviously can't afford to put together $100 all at once, and in a few months I've tripled my investment."
However, Flores' plan pales in comparison to Guillermo Steinberg, also known as Fort Lauderdale's "Terror of Terrortown." Since arriving from New York City's Upper East Side a mere four months ago, Steinberg has taken a virtual stranglehold on all speculation and racketeering in the area's tent cities. Though unavailable for comment, Steinberg did issue a statement through his lone employee, Irda Steinberg, 98, of West Palm Beach.
"Those who call the methods used to monitor my investments 'cruel' or 'exploitative,' simply have no idea what it takes to be here, day after day, with these poor overlooked people. I seek only to provide a safety net and, if circumstances warrant, a series of wires leading from that net to a car battery."
While individual entrepreneurs are having great success, some of America's largest corporations have encountered a surprising amount of trouble adapting to the new reality of the Hooverville economy.
"All of this has really taken us by surprise," remarked Timothy Boyle, CEO of Columbia Sportswear, whose tent division has caused the government to reclassify his company as a construction and home building outfit. "Last year we were making quality sportswear and sporting goods, camping equipment and jackets. Now we're the nation's fifth largest home builder behind the North Face, Coleman Outdoor, Amalgamated Tarp, and Frigidaire. I'm subject to housing regulations and I've got HUD officials over here yelling about housing discrimination in Nickelsville and low-cost loan programs for Bum Park. I make sleeping bags!"
But others note that these are just the stark new realities of protecting vital new markets.
"New regulation and oversight is needed, especially for those companies like Columbia who will be the linchpins to the future viability of these tent towns," observed Randy Barnett, Deputy Secretary of Emerging Shanty Economies at the Treasury Department. "If Wall Street is already making inroads into these emerging unregulated markets then Government needs to follow, lest bankers destroy or poison the tent economy before it even fully emerges, removing our last bulwark against a complete backslide into the Dark Ages."
Regardless of the final outcome of these tent cities, Mr. Flores is just happy to have found his niche. "I used to work at AIG financial products division, now I'm putting people in housing fit for Mongolian nomads and stripping copper wire from abandoned houses. It's nice to have some dignity and purpose back in my life."
Flores finished, "America truly is the land of opportunity."