When Homeowners Smear Pro-Housing Advocates As “Corporate Tools”

nimbyThere’s a legitimate debate to be had about housing growth in California.  On the pro-housing side, you generally have millennials and smart growth environmentalists who are concerned about a long-running housing shortage and its effect on the environment and economy.

On the other side, you often have homeowners concerned about changes to their neighborhoods, as well as pro-sprawl conservatives who see the suburban lifestyle as a symbol of the good life.

Count me as firmly on the pro-housing side.

But increasingly in these debates, I see the homeowner types smearing pro-housing advocates as simply corporate tools.  They charge the few brave elected leaders who champion more infill housing as politicians “bought” by large developers.  Here’s an example from the San Francisco Chronicle’s new columnist, author David Talbot, about a pro-housing group in San Francisco:

[“31-year-old, bow-tied, corporate public relations man named Justin”] Jones’ club is part of a network of young, corporate-backed activists who see themselves in opposition to the city’s progressive establishment. One such Jones comrade is 29-year-old Laura Foote Clark, a vice president of the RFK Club and the founder of Grow SF, a pro-development group that attracts funding from some of the same sources as the RFK Club [“Ron Conway and his Big Tech friends, and from the real estate industry”].

Clark is spearheading a campaign to wrest control of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco chapter from its traditional, sustainable-growth leadership. She is one of four pro-development candidates running for the chapter’s executive committee.

And this from a longtime San Francisco homeowner, a self-described “progressive” who is fortunate to live in a neighborhood where low supply has pushed average house prices north of $3 million.

Of course, Talbot’s smears about “pro-corporate” policies and funding from the “real estate industry” are meant to distract from the merits of the underlying argument, which he is unable to clearly articulate or rebut. For him, it’s all about the takeover of his beloved city by wealthy interests — nothing about how to address the chronic under-supply of housing and what it has done to further inequality, economic stress, and environmental degradation.

Furthermore, Talbot exhibits no sympathy for a millennial generation that has been priced out of major job centers and urban areas by first-in-the-door homeowners who refuse to allow new housing to stabilize prices.  To add insult to injury, these longtime homeowners then get to watch their home values skyrocket.

The pro-housing movement among this new generation is blossoming in San Francisco but now spreading to places like San Diego.  As the New York Times reports, a new group there is successfully harnessing millennial frustration with housing:

Many of San Diego’s Yimbys [yes-in-my-backyard] are millennials who say they’re fed up with spending upward of 40 percent of their income on housing.

“The older people, they already have their house,” said Chance Shay, 28, who became a father last year. “Now that they have their homes, they’re saying, ‘Hey, I don’t want a bunch of other houses built. I like my green space.’”

Sounds like another corporate tool.


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