How to Be a Housing Ally (Or, Why I’m Not a YIMBY)
Erin Reeves

This piece is painfully sanctimonious and provides the kind of shallow analysis NIMBYs are famous for. Only libertarians are suggesting that market-rate solutions are a complete solution to the affordability crisis, and everyone understands that the filtering process which eventually results in affordable housing has been stymied for so long by artificial constraints on housing supply that it’s not a solution for current land use problems. It’s nevertheless important to talk about filtering in the context of how this affordability crisis occurred in the first place, because I often hear NIMBYs say things like “density causes housing to become unaffordable” or “all the new housing being built is for rich people only.” It’s important to understand that building housing for rich people can help affordability, as explained in the musical chairs video:

I like this quote from a frequently cited paper written by John Mangin:

Restricting development in high-demand areas also biases the market toward luxury development. If profit-maximizing developers can only build a limited number of units, they will build the units with the highest margins — for instance, luxury housing. Not until upper-end demand is sated will developers build lower-margin products that meet demand lower down the income scale. This dynamic has been at work in Washington, D.C., where an unusually large pipeline of “Class A” luxury development has driven down Class A rents and led to increased investment in the Class B and C markets.

The flipside of restricted supply is pent-up demand, and pent-up demand can create the conditions for development on a scale that hearkens back to the Urban Renewal era. A common NIMBY complaint is that a particular development is “out of scale,” or that it would change neighborhood character or disrupt an existing community. Large-scale development can certainly do these things, as the Urban Renewal era showed us. A city that keeps up with demand over time by allowing small-scale, piecemeal, organic development has no need for potentially destructive mega-developments.
Mangin, John. “The New Exclusionary Zoning.” Stanford Law & Policy Review, Volume 25, January 2014.

If housing supply doesn’t meet housing demand, there are only 2 possible outcomes: 1) the richest residents get all the housing or 2) you artificially select winners and losers. Neither of these options seems particularly appealing to me.

Addressing some specific comments:

> This while they fight efforts to demand more affordability from market-rate developers

Because these efforts are largely ineffective at creating much affordable housing while increasing housing costs for everyone else and reducing the overall amount of housing when developers decide to leave entitlements on the table because they don’t pencil out. What the fuck. If affordable housing is a community value, then it is also a community responsibility: don’t put it on the backs of people going through life changes, because this is exactly what things like density bonus points do. The developers just pass these costs on to the market rate consumers of this new housing or leave the added entitlements on the table if that’s not possible. This is not the correct way to address this issue. It’s a cigarette tax on someone trying to find a new home, and that’s bullshit.
Related reference:

And even when developers do meet these demands for onsite affordable units, SF supervisors shoot it down, claiming that it is inadequate and will result in gentrification. The Bay area is a place where a developer can meet all the zoning requirements and added conditions for a project, and still have it rejected by elected public officials. And you wonder why housing is unaffordable.

> Just like trickle down doesn’t work for taxes, it doesn’t work for housing in San Francisco — giving developers and investors more opportunities for profit doesn’t necessarily result in cheaper housing.

See the Mangin quote above for an explanation for why this is. If there are 2 houses and 3 home buyers, the housing is going to go to the 2 who can afford to pay the most.

> he highest income earner doesn’t even have to be someone looking for a real place to live in San Francisco, but could easily be an investor who sees that home as a good place to park some capital (like the billionaire investor from China who just purchased the multi-unit building next to mine)

Even if that Chinese investor is leaving the building empty (which I doubt), they are paying huge sums of money in yearly property taxes, and that property tax revenue can be used to subsidize affordable housing at another location; possibly even the lot next door. You’re thinking about this issue at the most superficial level possible.

> Learn about the work that is already being done and find out how you can best support that existing work.

The efficacy of the “existing work” in San Francisco is pretty self-evident, don’t you think? Most of the “existing work” seems to be aimed at preventing new development from happening. There is absolutely no reason to study or support ludicrously short sighted failed strategies for maintaining affordability. The Bay Area has a *regional* affordability problem caused by exclusionary zoning. Google employees live in San Francisco because they are unable to live in Mountain View. Are any of the so-called affordable housing advocates in SF talking about removing these regional barriers to more effective and sustainable land use? I didn’t think so. They’re clasping the leg of an elephant and calling it a tree, and you’re applauding them for their ignorance. Also, don’t forget about vested interests:

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