Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

John Oliver warns homeowners about the perils of the "hippie capitalism" of PACE loans

Viewers under 35 can go on paying rent until they die, however

John Oliver
John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

With the former guy spinning his golf cart wheels crashing memorial services like a white supremacist Bill Murray and embarking on a cultist-fleecing barnstorming tour alongside a fellow accused sex offender, John Oliver has had some free time to focus on other things. This first post-Trump Last Week Tonight season has seen the relieved but no less acerbic host taking on and taking down such backlogged societal evils as sketchy companies infiltrating your local news content, the human rotisserie that is the sweltering American prison system, and the predatory hucksterism of personal bankruptcy firms. For, as much as it’s tempting to lay all the blame for every evil, racist, and blatantly fraudulent thing at the feet of the admitted fake university conman and mail-order steak pitchman who inexplicably became president, there’s plenty of money-grubbing chicanery to go around.

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Take the PACE program. And here, in keeping with Oliver’s up-top disclaimer before his main story on this “well-meaning” but “fundamentally flawed” home improvement loan program, we’ll just go ahead and give readers born after 1985 a free pass to skip this one. You’re going to be renting forever, while the once-ubiquitous dream of American home ownership recedes further and further into the mists of capitalistic caprice and unforgiven college loan payments. Anyway, now that it’s just the oldies still in the room, Oliver ran through all the reasons why those 35-plus homeowners should slam the door on PACE just as hard as their osteoporotic hands will allow.

Noting that the “well-intentioned” part of this push to have homeowners improve the energy efficiency of their heat-leaky abodes is undeniable, Oliver explained that, in actuality, the program (touted by both former President Barack Obama and current President Joe Biden) represents “A cautionary tale about how good intentions, when not paired with careful, smart design, can end with disaster.” You know, like losing that house you’ve lived in comfortably for thirty years while your liberal arts-educated kids sweat out monthly rental payments alongside their college loans.

That’s because, as Oliver lays out with only a single interruption from a startled and annoyed George Clooney (Oliver can summon The Midnight Sky star with an errant finger-snap, as shown all season), PACE relies on an unholy snarl of largely unregulated independent contractors to install all those expensive solar panels and such. Noting that PACE is the brainchild of self-described “capitalist hippie” and guy whose name sounds like “he’s about to gentrify jazz,” Cisco Devries, Oliver went on to trace the many ways that, when capitalism and good intentions team up, it’s the ’roided-up capitalist grifter that ultimately takes the victory lap.

There’s the way that high-pressure contractors speed homeowners through a process whose “no money down” promises conveniently obscure potentially crippling property tax hikes, and the fact that enrolling in PACE automatically puts a priority lien on your house. And that fact that, as is always the case, these firms like the oh-so-cleverly named Ygrene (“energy” spelled backward, in an unintentionally telling self-own) habitually push hardest in low income, minority, non-English-speaking, and elderly and/or mentally infirm communities. Or how, when pressed on camera by reporters asking just who’s responsible for, say, and elderly gay couple losing their home thanks to a contractor’s escalating estimates for home improvements, everyone from the PACE companies to the contractors themselves shunt the blame onto the consumers for not seeing the potentially disastrous deal they were being rushed to accept.

Oliver stressed once more that investing in renewable and responsible clean energy is something we as a nation should definitely be focused on. But, since a functional human mind not addled by screeching Fox News talking points and “owning the libs” on Twitter can keep two inconvenient truths operating at the same time, he also said that PACE ain’t the way to go. Especially since, as he put it, “We shouldn’t be putting vulnerable people in a position where they are losing their homes.” As Oliver concluded (after a customary, HBO-mandated protest from Ygrene that they’re totally blameless in this mess, etc), the most loving thing his transiently housed, under-35 viewers can do is to advise their parents that, when a PACE-peddling contractor knocks on the door, a simple “KCUF FFO” is the wisest response. The people from Ygrene will be able to translate that just fine.