Infrastructure, Not Platform

Housing has become an essential commodity in the global economy, specifically within platform economies, as is clear in cases such as AirBnB. Platforms both contribute to and benefit from the precarious housing situation worldwide, as digital platform technologies accelerate the financialisation of housing on all scales, as property – from whole real-estate portfolios to single apartments – are rented and sold in an automated way. Rather, in a supposedly automated way: when Facebook allowed ‘redlining’, it effectively excluded people from some neighbourhoods by not allowing them to see rental ads in places where they were not welcome. Platforms are not neutral or “just” utilities. With property technology and its investment market aggressing existing housing landscapes, this development is “likely to serve the interests of people and places already benefiting from property-led accumulation, undermining the interests of property-less subjects and marginalised places.”

Many of the practices of housing-related platforms is active privatisation of communal housing, thus appropriating the duties of the public sector. Indeed, shared ownership and communal housing become something which is reconfigured to benefit private interests, rather than to work as a mechanism for collective solidarity. Yet, as long as the customer is satisfied, she may not see a difference between renting from WeWork, or from a commune/non-profit institution, as this difference is not visible: you do not experience how you contribute to private profits at the expense of public infrastructures. Rather, tenants may even find individual advantages with platform living, which the housing institutions do not supply.

Platform capitalism is invading every part of the homes: Service platforms of care manage cleaning, nannies, home-shopping, and much more. Platforms such as Helpling render visible the need for cleaning by selling the commodity of a cleaning package, while the cleaners themselves are invisibilised (until they enter your apartment – where you don’t have to be present when the cleaning package is being delivered). Platforms are maintained by invisibilised labour, much like capitalism always has been. The platformisation of housing issues does not eliminate but rather intensifies existing injustices and exclusions. The persons affected by real-estate platform capitalism usually experience inequalities resulting from issues of race, gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status, which often intersect.