On Thursday October 13th, I’ll be hosting a fundraiser for the YIMBY Party at my apartment in San Francisco. I’m not much of the type to host parties, or really even go to house parties, but I care deeply about the issues the YIMBY Party is hitting head on. We almost hosted this at a bar, but I wanted a place we could actually talk about why were doing this, where everyone could hear. Also, we will provide the drinks. It’s on a Thursday, so it wont be that crazy, or go too late.
TL;DR Come to the party and talk about housing and maybe donate some money. If you can’t make it to the party, you can also just donate money. If you’re wealthy and want to donate larger sums of money, but want a real pitch before deciding, let me know, I can connect you with the right people (there are also tax deductible options).
Now the longer story.
Housing affordability is something I care deeply about, which is pretty obvious given that’s ~90% of my social media posts, and I always end up working it into any in-person conversation. I try to spare people, but it just happens! As recently as this spring, I was lamenting how I cared so much about these issues, but hadn’t actually done anything about it! Sure, I talked about it with friends, posted articles on twitter, and read a lot, but that was it.
That changed for me in July. The YIMBY Party is an umbrella organization combining the forces of several organizations. And they had just rented an office in SOMA, and I saw that they were having meetings. I showed up at one and immediately met Laura and Sonja and a few meetings later, Brian. We had supervisor and judge candidates come and pitch us on why we should endorse them. Backers and detractors of propositions on the November ballot. We voted on endorsements and the YIMBY Party produced this awesome slate card.
Sonja talked me into doing a crazy thing with the Sierra Club, and I’ll tell you about it if you come to the party.
What is the real issue here?
The housing affordability issues in the Bay Area are fundamentally a shortage that has been created by overly restrictive land-use regulations that have ratcheted up over the past 40 years. It’s most acute in San Francisco due to a number of factors, downzoning in the late 70s, the California tax structure, hard geographical boundaries (though we have tons of room if you look up), the fragmented nature of local Bay Area municipalities (there are 101 of them,) combined with a tendency for home owners to vote against density, and lots of other reasons. Its a complex issue that can be hard to explain, but its fundamentally a shortage, created by our laws. We want to change that.
Why do I care?
I care for several reasons. I rent in San Francisco, and I don’t have rent control. I make enough money that its probably fine right now, but if you look at historical rent increases, they’ve been around 6.5% year over year for 40 years! That’s an 11 year doubling time and well above inflation and well above most peoples income increases. I have friends who are teachers, psychologists, hell, nearly anyone other than tech workers, who really can’t afford to live in San Francisco, and the problem is spreading outward. Look at prices in Oakland lately.
I lived in Seattle for 9 years, and had 9 different addresses. I liked living in lots of different parts of the city, and it was super easy to just go look at another one and move right in. I’ve lived in San Francisco for 7 years at the same address. I’d have moved years ago if finding a place wasnt such a huge pain, and also likely a rent increase.
I want to see the San Francisco Bay Area take its place as a true world city, but maintain what made it interesting and great. We can’t do that if we displace everyone making less than $150K/year. Lots of solutions are talked about, and when I dug in, I realized the only real solution was to make it easier and cheaper to build a shitload more housing. As I write this, I realize I could write several more pages about why I care, income inequality, supporting business growth, the hypocrisy of the slow growth crowd, but I’ve alrready written way more than I set out to.
Why should you care?
Some reasons why you should care. Maybe you share some of the reasons I care. Even if youre a renter and in a rent controlled apartment, now youre stuck, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to move some day? Or at least not have to worry about an eviction?
Maybe you own your own home, so you’re good. Do you have friends who don’t? Coworkers? Do you ever want to move into another place? Will you be able to afford that?
Maybe you’re so rich that you’ll never have to worry about this. Do you have employees? Do they have long commutes, and come to work less rested and productive because of it? Do you have a hard time convincing talented people to move to the Bay Area because of housing costs?
Do you care about income inequality? Several researchers have suggested its partially due to the high cost of housing. Lower income people can’t afford to migrate to places with higher income jobs. Instead they actually migrate away. This keeps the lower income places low, and increases the cost of labor in high income places.
A few other things to quickly note. While this is most acute in San Francisco and the Bay Area, its a problem in LA, it’s a problem in most California Costal cites, but also we see similar issues in NYC, and really many American cities. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel quite a lot over the past few years and I’ve seen this isn’t even a US issue. It’s becoming a major issue in Vancouver BC, London, Stockholm, Sydney and Melbourne, these are just places I’ve been recently. I went to a housing affordability panel in Melbourne this last winter, it was the same story there, very similar concerns, and very similar arguments.
The details are subtly different, but the cause is always the same, too much local control of land use issues, leading to restrictions on developing enough housing. Interestingly, this is famously not an issue in Tokyo, where land use is done at the national level. Their housing prices have stayed flat for years, while they’ve seen the same surge of people moving into the cities.
The YIMBY Party is the most organized group taking on this shortage in the Bay Area and maybe nationally, but I expect we’ll see others elswhere soon. But it costs money to organize. They have an office now, paid staffers who organize hundreds of volunteers, and legal fees. They even have schwag now.
Volunteers will be canvassing for the upcoming election, which is highly effective in getting votes. Local elections are often won by just a few hundred votes, sometimes even less! YIMBY Party (CaRLA) is having some success with filing lawsuits against cities that violate the Housing Accountability Act by turning down zoning compliant housing projects.
No one behind the YIMBY party is getting rich off this (they are sometimes accused of being developer shills). Trust me, the way to get rich in this town is to have bought real-estate 30 years ago, or found a successful company. Community organizing and local politics are not it.
I know this seems like a hard problem, and the high cost of living in the Bay Area seems like an inevitiablity, but it doesn’t have to be that way! The Obama administration just released a paper arguing that restrictions on development cause these high costs. There is significant non-partisan agreement that land use regulations are the issue.
Just this week a group of us went to Brisbane to argue for housing in a proposed development there. We outnumbered the NIMBYs trying to prevent the development! This can work, but we have to keep showing up to these things, and YIMBY Party needs money to organize it all.
Wow this turned out to be really long!
If you’re interested, let me know, I’ll get you on the invite, and we can talk housing or just catch up. Some of the YIMBY Party founders will be there, so you’ll get to hear about this stuff right from the source.
Thanks for reading!