We are in a new era of housing.
Cities, rightfully, are becoming more popular. Single-family home production has dramatically dropped, and people are seeing that suburban sprawl is not ideal – for human connection, or for the environment. We’ve learned from the past, and are starting to prioritize smart, infill development. But these positive changes are happening in context: income inequality is increasing, housing speculation is rampant, and building in cities (as opposed to expanding to undeveloped land) means we are building where people (often low-income and people of color) already live and potentially disrupting existing vulnerable communities. All of this has combined to form our current housing crisis, with more and more of us finding we can’t afford to rent or to buy homes, evictions rising, and low-income, primarily folks of color, being pushed out of their homes to the far suburbs.
So how can we do it better? How can we adapt to a new era of housing, where we build the dense, sustainable, affordable housing that we need, without displacement and gentrification? How can we develop equitably?
Our policies have always prioritized profit-based housing. This type of housing can be a part of the solution, but we need to prioritize affordable housing and policies that are based on community need, not profit or speculation.
This isn’t a pipe dream. This is possible, with political will.
We need a movement to change the American housing system just like we need a movement to change the American health insurance system. And we can make that movement, together.
We can move to seeing Housing as a human right.
Housing should not be treated like a commodity or simply as an investment. Housing is a home, and in the wealthiest country in the world, all people should have a safe, affordable, stable home. Period.
We can Build more affordable, dense, non-speculative housing.
Our policies can prioritize building the affordable housing we need NOW, not depending on deregulation or trickle-down policies to meet our needs in an indefinite future. We can build a range of housing for the range of incomes we need in our diverse city (we think Jobs-Housing Fit is a great framework for figuring out what we need). Profit-based housing is one part of this story, but, to meet the real needs of the Bay Area, we should be building about 60% affordable, non-speculative housing. We can get there.
We can Think locally and regionally.
The housing crisis is regional (and statewide and national) and housing markets work at a regional level. At the same time, displacement and gentrification operate on a neighborhood scale, the impact of profit-based housing is different in different communities, and the solutions for a neighborhood facing those pressures need to be different from a high-income, stable neighborhood. We can think simultaneously about the region as a whole and about the specific needs of local neighborhoods to develop effective, targeted solutions and ensure every community is building its fair share of housing.
Displacement and gentrification are real and devastating. We can prioritize expanding tenant protections and policies that keep people in their homes and stabilize communities. We can think smartly about where and what types of development to prioritize so as to best meet our housing needs and take pressure off of vulnerable communities. This does not need to be an either/or – we can and should fight against displacement and gentrification AND add more housing to communities that serves the needs of current and future residents.
We can Fight displacement & gentrification AND build new housing.
More equitable development won’t occur on its own. We can move towards housing justice by prioritizing an equity framework in our local and regional planning and by centering the voices of marginalized communities. Community-led planning is possible and is happening, and can lead to more just, inclusive cities and neighborhoods.
We can Plan for equity.
We can address the root cause of the housing affordability crisis by developing and winning housing policies that discourage speculation, and move us closer to a cultural and political framework where housing is treated as a right and a need, not simply as a source of profit.
We can Stop speculation.
Housing equity is at its base about economic justice and racial justice. By naming racism and classism as forces in our current profit-based housing system, by standing with communities fighting gentrification and displacement, and by prioritizing housing that meets need not profit, we can help create a more racially and economically just city and region.
We can Stand for racial and economic justice.
We can Become environmentally sustainable and just
We re-create the same monster of segregation and the same devastating impacts of suburban sprawl if we push the most vulnerable to the far suburbs. Environmental sustainability can be paired with racial and economic equity (and is, in fact, only sustainable and effective when paired with equity!). We can focus on infill development and make our smart growth smarter by incorporating a justice lens and anti-displacement policies.
We are lucky to have such a long history of community activism and affordable housing advocacy in the Bay Area. We can connect with those activists who have been fighting for affordable housing in their communities for decades, listen to and value their experiences, and learn from their work. We can practice allyship, following the lead of the most impacted by the housing crisis. And we can welcome new ideas, approaches, and allies in the fight for housing justice.
We can Prioritize community experience and welcome new voices.
Housing is an issue that is quickly impacting more and more people. From low-income folks whose needs have never been met by the for-profit-market, to middle-income folks who are suddenly finding housing they once could afford out of their reach, we are all fighting against the same forces. This is a huge opportunity to join together and address the underlying causes of our housing crisis. We can bring together newcomers and born-and-raised Bay Area residents to join forces for more affordable housing. (And YAH!’s goal is to do this!)
We can Bring folks together.
These terms oversimplify, tell an inaccurate story of housing and resistance in the Bay Area, erase community struggle against displacement and gentrification, and divide. We can move past the binary, to a better understanding of the housing crisis and how to move forward as pro-housing and housing justice advocates.