Tech, Class, Cynicism, and Pandemic Real Estate


It didn’t take long for the coronavirus pandemic to inspire both cutting-edge architectural design solutions and broad speculation about future developments in the field. Many of the realized innovations have been contracted by or marketed to the real estate sector. But as firms compete to provide pandemic comforts to rich tenants, the COVID-19 technology that directly affects working-class communities is mostly limited to restrictive measures that fail to address already-urgent residential health hazards or administrative conveniences for developers that allow them to circumvent public scrutiny. These changes had been long-planned, but they have found a new license under the pretext of coronavirus precaution. In terms of “corona grifting,” this sort of thing takes the cake.

The idea that these grifts constitute progress is a notion conveyed in headlines such as “Covid Pushes Real Estate Into the Future.” But the real estate industry does not belong in the future. It doesn’t belong in the present, either. Especially in light of fierce ongoing battles over expiring eviction moratoriums, community rent strikes, and displacement by gentrification, when imagining an ideal location in history for professional real estate, “the dustbin” comes to mind.

It’s gotten easier to defend this stance. In The New York Times, Stefanos Chen describes newly available residential sanitation measures — like UV light disinfection or ionized particle treatments to neutralize germs in elevators ($3,500 to $4,000 per elevator). Owners whose buildings contain amenities like gyms and basketball courts have invested in “Ghostbusters”-like electrostatic disinfectant sprayers and reservation software to enforce capacity restrictions. There is also furniture for those looking to maximize their work-from-home space, often marketed directly to luxury property managers to boost the value of their units, such as robotic contractible desks ($5,000 to $10,000) or beds and storage suspended from the ceiling ($10,000 to $40,000). Sankarshan Murthy, CEO of Bumblebee Spaces, which designs several such items, noted that when “people spend more time at home…[they] realize that traditional architecture is broken.” This is a strange idea of a fix, as people who can afford to work from home are far less likely to live among broken architecture.