Dear YIMBYs: The brutal, unfettered market won’t stop displacement

July 21, 2017

Dear YIMBYs,

Lobbying for market-rate development without a strategy to keep low-income, senior and disabled tenants in their neighborhoods is pro-displacement, not pro-housing, as your platform implies. Calling for housing deregulation won’t solve our housing crisis; it will simply make rich people richer — look at what deregulation and privatization have done to other basic needs like water and health care.

 

Developers trade housing on the stock exchange as a means to commodify, not provide for, our basic needs. The thousands of residents facing eviction and homelessness every day throughout the Bay Area need you to prioritize their rights to a roof, to their homes and to The City. Their lives and futures can’t depend on brutal, unfettered market forces.

Your “Legalize Housing” propaganda suggests that folks in the real estate industry, who are making billions of dollars off a crisis of their own design, are somehow victims now. Yet, this is the industry that funds the creation of laws like the Ellis Act and Costa Hawkins, which facilitate evictions, outrageous rent increases and the displacement of tenants throughout the state. As one of the biggest lobbies in the country, with a long history of buying our politicians and policies, they don’t need your assistance in controlling what should be democratic processes.

 

Each week, you show up to San Francisco Planning Department meetings to promote market-rate housing despite these facts: The City has more than 30,000 vacant units, according to the American Community Survey/US Census, and the most recent housing dashboard shows that it is overproducing luxury housing (at 217.2 percent of the Regional Housing Needs Allocation) and underproducing low-income housing (at 40 percent of the RHNA). Saying build, baby, build can add pied-à-terres, vacant investment properties and Airbnbs, but there is no data proving this tactic will provide real homes for people who actually need them.

Your platform, which relies on the filtering theory, states, “Today’s new, expensive housing becomes tomorrow’s inexpensive housing.” This theory doesn’t hold true for San Francisco, nor likely any other city strangled by the current global speculative market. When the California Legislative Analyst’s Office misused UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project data to advocate for the construction of market-rate housing as an anti-displacement tool, the researchers responded, in summary, by saying:

 

1. Producing tons of market-rate units to lower rents may take generations and may never actually work to relieve displacement pressures.

 

2. Subsidized units for low-income folks have more than twice the impact on reducing displacement pressures.

 

3. Housing development in the short term in San Francisco can’t create a dent in affordability or displacement.

 

4. At the regional scale, producing more market-rate housing will decrease housing prices in the long term. But at the local scale, new luxury buildings could send signals to the market that such neighborhoods are desirable for wealthier residents, resulting in new demand.

 

Tenants come to us every week with debilitating health issues brought on by the stress of being evicted, losing their communities or becoming homeless. Families have to pull their children out of school mid-year, seniors have to move far from their doctors and workers who once lived here now have to commute from extreme distances. If your goal is to house people who need housing and stop rents from going through the roof, we need you to fight the real estate industry. Fight to repeal Costa Hawkins and the Ellis Act. Fight for vacancy control — real rent control on all units. Fight to take land off the market and preserve it forever via community land trusts and co-ops.

It is much more humane to save someone’s affordable home than to hope they are housed in a generation or so, if an affordable unit happens to trickle down. Our most vulnerable residents may never live to see that unit. Fight to take the profit motive out of housing because housing is a human right not a commodity.

 

Sincerely,

Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco

 

Leslie Dreyer is an interdisciplinary artist, educator and anti-eviction organizer for Housing Rights Committee of SF. Joseph Smooke is director of Housing Rights Committee’s tenant counseling and community organizing program for the Westside of San Francisco. Sarah Sherburn-Zimmer is executive director of Housing Rights Committee, who has been organizing for economic justice for the last 20 years.

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