The Progressive Disinformation Machine
Boy oh boy do I hate the word “progressive”.
Self-labeled Progressives are considering imposing a $450 per year fee on affordable housing units in Berkeley, plus an initial $10,000 fee. When you move in to a below market rate unit, you’re subject to annual income verification to make sure you’re still low income enough to say, and the city also verifies that your landlord is charging the right rent. In California, we pay everything with a fee because taxing the rich is a politically difficult question.
In short, these Progressives are asking that the poor pay for their own means testing.
My YIMBY organization, East Bay Forward is organizing against this. If you’ve got a hot second, please sign up to join us.
A recent disinformation piece widely circulated by these same Progressives paints me as a white supremacist villain intent on turning our cities into playgrounds of the rich by legitimizing the idea that luxury condos are the only acceptable form of housing.
Truth be told, I am unsure how to best respond to these allegations. Their vision of me is radically different from the me that shows up to city council meetings and planning commissions across the East Bay to speak up for desegregation, inclusionary zoning, and increased affordable housing production.
I’m a public figure these days. East Bay Forward and Victoria Fierce are two names known by many in the game of housing policy today. I’m known personally by many of those same people and the consensus I get from them is “That is definitely not you”. Go on, ask around. I’m quite prolific.
I was interviewed on the phone by Toshio for his piece; I wish I’d recorded it or took notes, but thats a lesson learned. Toshio asked me if I was funded by developers, to which I answered truthfully: No.
My rent is $2,000/mo plus utilities. East Bay Forward is unincorporated with $300 owed to me for our squarespace site, and YIMBY Action doesn’t pay me either. I don’t even like avocado toast, having tried it for the first time last week. My only income right now is what I get through my patreon. Please kick a few bucks my way if you can; I want grassroots funding, not to be forced to turn to deep pocketed benefactors.
Ultimately though, Toshio isn’t concerned with my specific actions or even my bank account. Toshio and his co-author wrote a piece about YIMBYs and used me as a symbol of the movement. The piece draws a broad fantasy where YIMBYs are perpetuating a political vision centered on tech-inspired disruption as applied to the built environment in communities that are predominately not privileged wealthy white landowners.
Here, I argue that this vision quickly falls apart under application of intersectional critical thought.
To start, I want to lay out some common ground. I identify as a YIMBY. Sonja Trauss identifies as a YIMBY. Most people in East Bay Forward and SFYIMBY identify as YIMBYs. But what does YIMBY mean? Broadly speaking:
- Housing is a human right
- More housing is better than less housing
- Density is good
- Housing is a home, not an investment
- Our cities have room for more housing without displacing existing residents
- Long-term planning is a pretty great idea
If you ask any specific YIMBY about their YIMBYism, you’ll get a spectrum of answers. Some YIMBYs want to abolish property in its entirety, implement price controls, outlaw evictions, and have The State operate public housing. Others see private-public partnerships as the future, that having newcomers subsidize affordable units is a compromise, zoning infringes on natural property rights, and preservation ordinances were the original sin of land use.
There are, of course, some who have raised the YIMBY banner with bad intentions. These YIMBYs, often through lack of self-awareness rather than malicious intent, see anti-gentrification protests in the mission as reactionary xenophobia, feel that the word equity only relates to land ownership, or openly call for immediate abolition of rent control.
Fuck that noise, right?
As a leader in the YIMBY movement, let me be clear: fuck that noise. That isn’t YIMBYism by any stretch of the word. Provocateurs can thrive in any movement that allows them to and YIMBYism isn’t the first to be afflicted.
Also as a leader in the YIMBY movement, its my responsibility to address this. So I do. I call out these people in public. I confront their terrible ideas. I educate and teach my fellow wypipo the gospel of intersectionality. I push back, and encourage other YIMBYs to do so. Vocally and forcefully.
I’ll be completely honest: I was a terrible housing activist when I got started. I downplayed concerns of gentrification, refused to listen to Black people, thought I had all the answers. Racism is a wound that afflicts all of us; I don’t have those same experiences to draw from when figuring out what policies are good and bad.
In time since starting out, I’ve learned to shut up, listen to, and amplify oppressed voices. There’s no argument to be had in stating some YIMBYs are bad at this and even antagonistic at times.
East Bay Forward is embarking on a mission to upzone the shit out of wealthy, white, exclusionary neighborhoods like Rockridge, North Berkeley, and so on. Neighborhoods like these — where NIMBYs bought cheap homes in the 80s and haven’t experienced housing insecurity since then — have been wildly successful at keeping other people out for decades. They’ve spent decades organizing against housing, resulting in no housing developments ever being proposed there. When NIMBYs block housing, it takes the path of least resistance: through our Black, Latinx, queer, and poor communities. The overwhelming majority of new housing development happens in a continuously shrinking fraction of the city.
That ain’t fair, no matter how you slice it.
Housing is a human right and we must employ every tool available to secure it. That means building more housing, adding density everywhere, keeping people in homes, expanding everyone’s options in housing, treating it as infrastructure not investment, democratizing the way we design our cities, and taxing luxury single family homes to pay for it.
The disinformation piece put out by “Progressive” news organization Truthout has only a tenuous basis in reality. Yes, YIMBYs are imperfect and have a handful of bad apples ruining it for everyone. What political movement doesn’t have that? Its important for us to acknowledge and address this; I’m not alone in doing just that. What the piece erases is the very real, impactful work YIMBYs are doing.
- Senator Scott Wiener, who is working to accelerate development of affordable housing and also implement non-binary gender markers on state IDs, rode our support to land in office last year.
- Temescal came out to support building 40 units of affordable housing in a 22 story tower on a dirt pit next to BART. Organized by YIMBYs.
- Oakland revised its parking regulations to eliminate parking maximums in downtown housing developments with YIMBY support.
- We’re aligned with labor unions fighting to demand affordable housing and well paid union jobs in the proposed Oak Knoll development.
- When 100% affordable senior housing was proposed at forest hill in San Francisco, who showed up in support? YIMBYs. The usual affordable housing activists couldn’t make it, apparently.
- The Rockridge Community Planning Council held a town hall to talk about housing. The room was packed to the gills with pro-density pro-housing YIMBYs demanding desegregation and plentiful housing.
It is difficult to articulate a response to a clear disinformation piece such as Toshio’s article. The platform suggested in it is not representative of YIMBYs. The facts reported are done so with radical spin intended to perpetuate a grudge and stoke the fires of reactionary politics. It describes a hopeless fantasy where YIMBYs are simultaneously weak, yet unstoppable.
Actions speak louder than words, so I’m going to continue to organize for housing while peeling back decades of segregationist and classist urban design. I only ask that other YIMBYs join me in continuing to push our fellow YIMBYs to do better.