Can the Housing Crisis Be Solved?
(Here’s the sign-up, if you don’t already get California Today delivered to your inbox.)
If you read California Today (or just The Times) with any regularity, you’ll probably recognize Conor Dougherty’s name.
He is also the author of a new book on that subject, “Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America.”
Recently, we talked about the book and about what it might take to fix housing. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited:
So I figured I’d start by asking, for anyone who hasn’t read this excerpt: What’s your elevator pitch for the book? What is it?
When you think about why America was considered the richest country on earth, people often think of housing.
Throughout the past many, many decades, when foreigners came to America, they would remark how big our houses were, how full of creature comforts they were. So it has been a symbol of American prosperity that so many people — and especially a wide swath of the society — were able to live in a nice, roomy home.
You look at America today, and we have the housing crisis. We have a huge homeless problem. We have a huge rent burden problem. A quarter of renters spend more than half their income on rent. And so this uniquely American indicator of wealth has gone totally wrong.
This book uses California as a lens into what is happening now nationwide, and this diverse range of people fighting back against it.
I think such an important point that often gets lost is the idea that housing went from being a place for somebody to live to an investment and a primary wealth builder.
The book kind of talks about how that began in the 1970s, during the Great Inflation. It is a huge piece, because housing has kind of become our pension program, kind of become our inheritance program.
Property has always had a lot of wealth and inheritance tied up in it. So that’s not exactly new.
But in the Great Recession, there was a lot of talk about how people were using their home equity as an A.T.M. And so it’s really become this financial instrument. Not surprisingly, people defend that financial instrument the same way they defend themselves from higher taxes or whatnot.
What do you think is the most vexing takeaway from the book?
Whenever we think about a problem in America, for better or for worse, we always ask: What is the government doing about this or how can they help? And if the problem gets big enough, it starts to be talked about by presidential campaigns, schooling, health care — these pretty intimate things.
A lot of our housing policy is determined not at the federal level, but by a million city councils that, together, determine where, how and how much our shelter costs.
And this becomes something that resists solutions.
Many people who are interested in these big solutions don’t want to get involved in these very micro fights. Because you either have to pass laws that take power away from cities — which is upending a system that we’ve used since the beginning — or it’s getting involved in a fight one city council at a time, which resists any kind of dramatic solution.
So that kind of leads me to my last question: Do you have any hope for a broader fix?
What’s promising to me is that we are now having this conversation. Like all the Democratic presidential candidates have housing plans.
And we’ve seen a huge ascendance of tenants rights movements. Sometimes those movements are in opposition to each other.
But they’re all fighting for mixed solutions that we need. So I think there’s never been as much action and there’s never been as much conversation about housing as there is now.
Here’s what else we’re following
We often link to sites that limit access for nonsubscribers. We appreciate your reading Times coverage, but we also encourage you to support local news if you can.
A private prison company wanted to operate an immigration detention center in McFarland, a small agricultural town near Bakersfield. But residents protested. The mayor resigned. And the plan has been blocked for now. [The New York Times]
Adelanto, however, approved a similar plan by the same company. [The Desert Sun]
What is it like living under quarantine for 14 days? Blair Zong, a 33-year-old from San Jose, documented her experience after returning from visiting family in Wuhan, China. [The New York Times]
A well-known Hollywood therapist, Amie Harwick, who was fatally attacked at home on Saturday, had twice applied for restraining orders against the man arrested in her killing. [The Los Angeles Times]
Why does it cost so much to build housing in California? It’s on average three times as much as in Texas or Illinois. [The New York Times]
The University of Southern California said on Thursday that it would wipe out tuition for students from lower- and middle-income families. It’s the latest institution to take such a step amid skyrocketing costs of living and high student debt. [The New York Times]
If you missed it, read about why graduate students at U.C. Santa Cruz say they’re struggling under astronomical housing costs. [The New York Times]
About 40 million Americans across the West, including in California, rely on the Colorado River for water. But a new study found that climate change has caused more than a billion tons of water to disappear. [The Washington Post]
Need a weekend long read? Here’s one about the great Google revolt. [The New York Times Magazine]
Culture and community
“Gentefied” asks if a show about gentrification can be funny. And who gets to tell the story of Boyle Heights? “All we know is that we love our people and we don’t want them to be hurt.” [The New York Times]
On the edge of San Francisco, residents of the tiny, “forgotten” Ocean View neighborhood had a Mardi Gras parade to celebrate and to shed “a little light on this community.” [The San Francisco Chronicle]
Tacos, once seen as the lowbrow food of the working class, have made culinary stars around Los Angeles — almost always men. Meet three taqueras who are challenging that. [The Los Angeles Times]
And Finally …
One woman, the artist Bonnie MacLean, helped define the psychedelic scene — though she said she never took hallucinogens — with her colorful posters for rock shows in San Francisco.
Another, Alice Schenker, helped spread the counterculture by selling posters, comics and art prints at the Telegraph Avenue Print Mint, which she founded in 1965 with her late husband, Don Schenker.
In any case, I took it as a chance to learn about their legacies. Maybe you will, too.
Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.
Source : Link