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December 2018, Week 5

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 		 [According to Berkeley author Randy Shaw, skyrocketing prices for
all three forms of housing have created a generational divide, with
major political implications for progressive city governments and
advocates of affordable housing. ] [https://portside.org/] 

 THE HOUSING AFFORDABILITY CRISIS AND WHAT MILLENNIALS CAN DO ABOUT IT
 
[https://portside.org/2018-12-31/housing-affordability-crisis-and-what-millennials-can-do-about-it]


 

 Steve Early 
 December 12, 2018
Counterpunch
[https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/12/12/the-housing-affordability-crisis-and-what-millennials-can-do-about-it/]


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 _ According to Berkeley author Randy Shaw, skyrocketing prices for
all three forms of housing have created a generational divide, with
major political implications for progressive city governments and
advocates of affordable housing. _ 

 , 

 

When millennials head home for the holidays this month, many who are
city dwellers will be hosted by parents or grand-parents whose housing
is far more spacious and financially secure than their own. Even
guests with well-paid jobs in relatively stable rental markets will
cast an envious eye at the benefits of baby boomer house buying
decades ago.

That’s because these holiday visitors belong to a “generation
priced out” of America’s hottest urban markets for single-family
homes, condos, and rental apartments. According to Berkeley author
Randy Shaw, skyrocketing prices for all three forms of housing have
created a generational divide, with major political implications for
progressive city governments and advocates of affordable housing.

On one side, we find older Americans, of varying income levels, who
were able to take advantage of past market conditions, local zoning
practices, or home ownership incentives to secure affordable housing
that’s now in short supply for their own off-spring. On the other
side are growing numbers of younger people—poor, working class, and
even professional middle-class–who struggle to put a roof over their
head that’s not on top of someone else’s garage. (As we saw
in _Sorry to Bother You, _Boots Riley’s ode to millennial life in
rapidly gentrifying Oakland, its better, in a rent-paying pinch, if
the garage owner is your uncle!).

Left-wing activists who are part of the housing precariat, in the East
Bay or elsewhere, should put Shaw’s new book at the top of their
holiday shopping list—for themselves. It’s full of informative
history on urban housing policy, plus useful political advice from a
longtime foe of landlords and developers in the much-contested and
increasingly unaffordable terrain of San Francisco. _Generation
Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in The New Urban America
[https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0520299124/counterpunchmaga] _(University
of California Press) also provides detailed community organizing case
studies that show how we can keep urban neighborhoods from becoming
further devoid of racial, class, and ethnic diversity due to
market-driven gentrification.

Shaw’s marching orders are simple and sensible: “cities must
preserve and expand housing for low-income residents, the working and
middle class….strengthen tenant and rental housing
protections…change zoning laws to allow multi-unit buildings in
single-family-home-zoned neighborhoods and join groups like the
National Low-Income Housing Coalition to demand more federal housing
assistance for those unable to afford market rates.”

LONGTIME TENANT ADVOCATE

All that is easier said than done, as the author knows well because
he’s been an affordable housing advocate for 40 years.  Shaw is an
attorney involved in San Francisco housing issues since his graduation
from a local law school. He helped found and now directs that city’s
Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC), a key defender of low-income,
foreign-born renters faced with gentrification-driven eviction.

In the San Francisco neighborhood most directly impacted by the author
and his staff of several hundred, the THC has also become the city’s
largest provider of permanent housing for homeless single adults.
These once endangered tenants live in Single Room Occupancy (SRO)
hotels managed or leased by the THC, which provides supportive
services; Shaw’s non-profit has also led the fight for SRO tenant
protection and against conversion of their buildings to
non-residential purposes. (For more on past struggles to keep the
Tenderloin economically diverse and affordable, see “Lessons of the
Tenderloin.”
[https://www.counterpunch.org/2015/05/04/lessons-of-the-tenderloin/])

In the early 1990s, Shaw helped win city-wide ballot initiatives that
strengthened housing code enforcement, as a tenants’ rights tool,
and curbed rent hikes. The latter measure, he reports, “slashed how
much landlords could annually raise rents by more than half,” thus
saving “tenants tens if not millions of dollars” and accomplishing
“the biggest transfer of wealth from landlords to tenants in urban
history.” Shaw has been forceful advocate for broadening rent
regulation throughout California, most recently via Proposition 10, a
ballot measure that industry groups spent $80 million to defeat last
month. (Much of the “Vote No” advertising targeted single family
home-owners with the message that rent control would reduce their
property values).

The author of _Generation Priced Out_ is thus uniquely equipped to
survey the current national housing landscape and demonstrate how it
could be—and, in some places, is being—reshaped more equitably.
While Shaw’s book draws heavily on his own Bay Area experience, it
also takes us on a tour of affordable housing fights around the
country, starting in southern California. In Los Angeles, Shaw
reports, tenants have paid a heavy price for the “enormous political
power” wielded by the city’s prominent homeowner associations and
landlord organizations. Until recently, local politicians did not make
“tenant and rental housing protections a top priority” even as
surviving working-class enclaves like Boyle Heights and Highland Park
were “targeted by speculators for upscale transformation.”

In Austin, Texas, Shaw finds that a “beacon of progressivism in a
deeply conservative state” has a dark underside of “tenant
displacement, neighborhood gentrification, and rising social and
economic inequality.”  Fifty-five percent of Austin residents are
renters. But the African-Americans, Latinos, and whites who can’t
afford to buy a home have few rights and protections. Fortunately, a
younger generation of political activists, including 29-year old city
councilor Gregario “Greg” Casar are helping low-income tenants get
organized so they can challenge and change land-use practices that
restrict housing supply and increase home prices.

In Seattle, Shaw reports on greater progress building new units. This
has made housing cheaper than it would have been otherwise in both
places, at least compared to San Francisco. Shaw attributes
Seattle’s more “pro-housing path” to a comprehensive city
hall-driven Housing Affordability and Livability plan, voter approval
of regular measures to fund new construction, a faster new building
approval process, and factors like local environmentalists’ being in
favor of infill housing to reduce Bay Area-style suburban sprawl. In
addition, Shaw credits former Seattle mayor, Ed Murray, for his
willingness to clip the wings of neighborhood councils dominated by
older white home-owners hostile to greater density in single-family
neighborhoods.

A TEN STEP PROGRAM

Shaw concludes his book with a ten-step program for “high cost,
politically progressive cities” that want “to preserve economic
and racial diversity.” These include the well-known greater Bay Area
cities which added 546,000 new jobs between 2010 and 2017 but only
76,000 new housing units, thereby contributing greatly to what Shaw
calls “the nation’s worst statewide housing crisis.” To rectify
this imbalance between supply and demand, the author wants larger
projects built along transit lines, housing of increased height and
density, and curbs on exclusionary zoning that limits the growth of
rental housing in homeowner communities.

“Cities that support racial and economic diversity must walk the
talk by ending exclusionary zoning laws that promote inequality. These
include single-family home zoning, restrictive height and density
limits, large minimum lot sizes, and overly stringent occupancy
restrictions. Such measures are the pillars of a ‘neighborhood
preservation’ agenda that has transformed affordable communities
into luxury neighborhoods.”

The author believes private developers of market-rate housing should
be required to include a percentage of affordable units in their
projects (an approach called “inclusionary housing”).“Where
state law bars this strategy, cities should impose a development
linkage fee to raise funds for affordable housing” constructed
elsewhere. He favors “upzoning deals” in which cities would
“offer height and density bonuses to developers in return for
affordable units,” arguing that this approach has helped “expand
working and middle-class housing opportunities in Seattle without
triggering gentrification.” He notes, however, that in New York
City, a Bloomberg-de Blasio variation of the same strategy merely
“accelerated the upscale transformation of once-affordable
neighborhoods.”

Within the constraints of “the federal government’s nearly
give-decade failure to fully fund affordable housing for those who
need it,” Shaw urges cities to make greater use of ballot
initiatives to raise funds for such housing, make more unused public
land available for its construction, and help create non-profit
community land trusts to acquire privately owned buildings in
neighborhoods facing displacement and gentrification.

Existing renters can be better protected in several ways, he argues.
Stronger code enforcement would prevent more landlords from letting
their properties deteriorate to the point where tenants are forced
“to vacate affordable but unhealthy units, thus paving the way for
renovations that bring in far more affluent tenants.”  For similar
reasons, city officials should restrict demolitions, unit mergers,
condominium and SRO building conversions into tourist hotels—because
all have the effect of depleting available rental housing for poor and
working people.

THE STRUGGLE FOR RENT CONTROL

Last but not least, Shaw stresses the importance of more rent control
victories, both in states where legislatures have prohibited local
rent regulation ordinances and in others, like California, where their
scope has been restricted. As Shaw notes, “statewide rent control
bans were passed in a much more affordable housing environment” but
now “deny cities like Austin, Boston, Portland, and Seattle a tool
that localities need to address their affordability crises.”

Today, among those priced out in these “progressive cities,” are
their own unionized teachers, nurses, firefighters, hotel workers,
janitors and other downtown workers, whose negotiated wage increases
are eaten up by local rent hikes and higher mortgage costs, or the
expense of commuting from outlying areas where housing is more
affordable. Despite the lopsided Nov. 6 defeat of a ballot measure
that would have enabled cities like Oakland, Berkeley, or San
Francisco to extend rent control to single-family homes and apartments
built since 1995, Shaw remains optimistic that the stage has been set
for future victories.

In part, that’s because California unions were more unified behind
tenants in the Prop 10 campaign than ever before. In the author’s
post-election view, Prop 10 organizing “has done more to build local
and statewide tenant activism that any other measure since an earlier
Prop 10 in 1980 unsuccessfully sought to repeal all local rent control
laws. Mounting local political pressure led LA’s mayor, city
council, and county supervisors to back Prop 10 and their city, is
“now a hotbed of tenant activism,” Shaw reports.

An “influx of young activists associated with the Los Angeles
Tenants Union and LA chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America
have brought new energy into renter campaigns. Both groups have been
heavily involved in using confrontational tactics to prevent tenant
evictions and Prop 10 gave activists a bigger canvas upon which to
make the case for increased tenants’ rights.”

As tenant struggles become a bigger focus of activist recruitment and
training throughout the country, Shaw’s book will be in much demand
as an essential organizing guide for people, of all generations,
“priced out” of affordable housing.

_STEVE EARLY has been active in the labor movement since 1972. He was
an organizer and international representative for the Communications
Workers of American between 1980 and 2007. He is the author of four
books, most recently Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money and The
Remaking of An American City from Beacon Press. He can be reached at
[log in to unmask]

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