#Housing Debate Is Always Hopping on Twitter

There’s no scarcity of ideas or arguments on dealing with the crisis.

The Internet is broken, says one of the main people who made it what it is today. Online interactions are ever more polarized. Yet on Twitter, the folks plugged into SF’s housing scene make up a curious and lively subculture—polarized, to some extent, since we’re seeing every project flogged past the point of ridiculous, but still thoughtful. (I own up to some of the flogging.)

Of course, longer arguments can become awkward in the real-time roil of a feed. I reached out to many of the folks well known in our local #housing debate (and worth following) with three questions: What motivates you to engage in the housing debate? Why do you do it online, especially on Twitter? Where do you think SF’s housing debate is headed?

Here are their answers, edited for brevity.

Martha Bridegam @mbridegam
Lawyer, writer

Housing policy expresses how or whether a society values people. My subject matter as a writer is housing, homelessness, land use, exclusion, and detention. So what’s happening in San Francisco now is fascinating. […] I’d rather have a debate than be talking past each other. That’s one advantage of talking politics on Twitter.

Established tenant activists have been cornered into serving as defenders of rent-controlled and low-income tenants. They’ve been successfully cut off from the richer, more business-identified cohort of tenants who came in with Web 2.0. Newer tenants could have exchanged money, skills, and digital-native organizing style for the older activists’ institutional and social memory and tenant-rights expertise. This hasn’t happened enough.

‘Concessions to immediate human need amid the boom are simply necessary, even if they reduce developer profits.’

Instead, many young professionals new to the city, who are often tenants paying high rents, have bought the idea that market-rate building is the answer to the city’s problems. […] Many who have taken supply-side positions online are decent, smart people with genuine social consciences. But they seem to have given up on prior generations’ hope that housing-affordability guarantees and subsidies can do much good. Some are willing to believe the accusation, which I find dishonest, that advocates who ask for affordability up front are somehow “anti-housing.” Some hold back from repeating that slur. Some do believe that tenant protections are worth a real commitment.

But we have a problem with a “build-it-all” lobby that recruits public moral sympathy to cheer on the most profitable real-estate development choices as if they were a public service — not just alongside responsibly inclusive housing policies, but actually in lieu of putting energy and money into fighting evictions and reducing the pricing out of the city’s disinvestment-era population. Concessions to immediate human need amid the construction boom are simply necessary, even if they reduce developer profits. Such concessions aren’t “anti-housing.” They’re pro-housing.

Kim-Mai Cutler @kimmaicutler 
Operating partner at VC firm, journalist

I like talking to people. I also like it when people debate me. I learn a lot constantly and like being challenged by other people’s points of view.

I grew up in the Bay Area and my family’s been here for three generations or so. I find the region’s planning and infrastructure atrocious. It’s absurd that we have so much suburban sprawl and deteriorating transit infrastructure in one of the most creatively vibrant and technologically innovative regions in the world. Housing prices are also appalling at every income level.

It seems like we’re going in circles, especially in this strange NIMBY/YIMBY debate, when there are so many larger issues that we really need to unite around on property-tax reform and Trump’s proposed federal budget, which will severely undermine supports for low-income housing.

Mark Hogan @markasaurus
Architect

I’ve been involved in housing in San Francisco since before joining Twitter in 2009, so when #housing Twitter started up a few years ago, I was ready for it. I don’t get too deep into online arguments anymore; they aren’t likely to change anyone’s mind and it seems like a waste of time. I’m more interested in sharing stories and facts to help shape the debate and broaden the interest in housing to a larger number of people.

In the immediate future, I’m not sure [where the housing debate is headed]. Longer term, many of the most vocal members of the YIMBY movement have not been here long enough to experience a serious recession or downturn in the housing market. That will clearly shift the debate as construction typically grinds to a halt (and prices will go down). I’ll be interested to see how this “movement” re-calibrates.

Matthew Lewis @mateosfo
Communicator, storyteller

I’m interested in the housing debate for three reasons: First, I think housing is a human right, and that in a country as rich as the United States and in a region as wealthy as the Bay Area, we have failed if we can’t find places for people to live.

Second, I’m deeply concerned about climate change and don’t buy the hype that Elon Musk will save us with tunnels and magic cars. We need deep, deep cuts in carbon emissions and the fastest, cheapest, most reliable way to do that right now is by increasing urban density. […] We need to create housing that’s close to transit, or close to where people work, or we’re headed off the climate cliff.

‘The housing problem was 50 years in the making. We’re not going to wake up one morning and have it all figured out.’

Third, I believe cities are the greatest invention in the history of humanity and I believe efforts to wall them off for a select, privileged few is immoral. […] We need to be upping our game when it comes to a vision for our cities. Mine includes diverse, vibrant, mostly car-free neighborhoods that are open to everyone. We can solve all these problems; they’re not technical in nature; they’re all a matter of political will.

I use Twitter for the above reasons, basically. […] What I keep telling folks, which is frustrating but I do think it’s true, is that the Bay Area’s housing problem was 50 years in the making. We’re not going to wake up one morning a few years from now and have it all figured out. The inertia in our processes and politics is massive, and so even if everything goes perfectly it will, in fact, be years before future residents start to see the benefits. In that sense, I think the housing crisis is a lot like the climate crisis: The generations before us screwed up so bad that we’ll have to spend our lives fixing things so that future generations have a shot.

I’ve resigned myself to that and to showing up. What else can we do?

Jason McDaniel @ValisJason
Political scientist

I see the housing-affordability crisis as a modern-day civil-rights issue, and I am driven to help people see how not building housing has caused so much damage, furthering racial and economic inequality in the Bay Area in particular. I’m also motivated by my role as an educator, to help my students understand the enormity of the housing crisis and consider multiple analytical perspectives concerning it.

I actually have made a point of trying to stop debating housing on Twitter a few years ago, although I am not always successful at holding myself to that. Primarily because as a political scientist, I am aware of how difficult it is to persuade people to change their existing point of view — especially the type of highly informed and engaged people who are likely to be involved.

It feels to me like the YIMBY movement has gained some momentum and is being taken seriously. That said, it is very difficult to change the status quo, especially one that benefits core constituents of both major political coalitions in this city (homeowners plus established tenant groups). So I try not to get too excited about the potential for real change.

Follow Anthony Lazarus on Twitter: @Sr_Lazarus

Photo by Caelie_Frampton via Creative Commons.