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May 10, 2018

Housing bill falls to class warfare, race baiting

A study, "New Homes and Poor People," found that construction of 1,000 new housing units (homes and apartments) made it possible for 3,545 households to move to better accommodation. Of the 3,545 moves surveyed 1,290 were low and moderate income families.

0510 sjr pattinson

By Mick Pattinson
Politics is an ugly business. We witness that every day from our nation's capital but a major housing proposal that came before our state legislature last month received some of the same treatment.

I imagine that Democrat Senator Scott Weiner saw himself as a potential housing hero when he submitted legislation, SB 827, which could have greatly increased the supply of new homes in our state. But after just one committee hearing Weiner had his tail between his legs and some nasty accusations ringing in his ears. His measure was defeated on a 7-4 committee vote with his own party members voting against him.

SB 827 was a major piece of legislation entered by the San Francisco Democrat that would have eaten away at California's housing deficit of four million units. The bill would have encouraged the construction of homes and apartments up to five stories tall within a half- mile of transportation hubs, while also eliminating parking minimums next to bus stops. By encouraging high density development close to public transportation, the bill's sponsors argued it would also help the state achieve its ambitious carbon emissions standards.

Instead of being considered on its merits, the bill quickly became a standoff between the supporters and opponents of the bill. In the backers' corner were powerful Silicon Valley CEOs (who tendered 120 letters of support), national housing figures and 17 law professors.

Also supporting the bill was California YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard), the grassroots movement led by Executive Director Brian Hanlon. And this is where the problems began. In the Bay Area the YIMBY's are seen (or were made to appear) as uppity, white collar, successful millennials whereas elsewhere they are simply pro-housing citizens.

At a raucous public rally in San Francisco supporting the legislation, boisterous YIMBYs shouted down some of the SB 827 opponents, who would soon take their revenge. Thanks to the Los Angeles Times investigation of the bill's defeat, we now know how ugly the accusations became.

According to Anya Lawler, lobbyist for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the YIMBY movement is about "white privilege". She claimed YIMBY's "Don't understood poverty. They don't understand what that's like, who our clients really are and what their lived experience is."

Shanti Singh, spokesmen for Tenants Together, a renters advocacy group, went a step further claiming YIMBYs "had a dismissive attitude towards communities of color."

I don't believe either of those statements are true. YIMBYism has nothing to do with color, race or income level. It has everything to do with getting government out of the way of housing supply and countering the voice of the selfish NIMBY movement that has held sway over our politicians for far too long. NIMBYism is one of the major causes of the severe housing shortage that affects us all.

The very groups that should be combining forces to bring about an increase in California's housing supply were instead falling in line with the usual suspects who oppose everything that smacks of progress. SB 827 should have been allowed to make its way through the committee process - taking amendments along the way, accepting improvements until it met with satisfaction from all sides.

I wish the advocates for low income people of all races and colors would read the University of Michigan study "New Homes and Poor People" before hurling insults at well-intentioned people. This study concludes that the construction of 1,000 new housing units (homes and apartments) made it possible for 3,545 households to move to better accommodation. Of the 3,545 moves surveyed 1,290 were low and moderate income families.

This is how the free market works with upward mobility allowing people to start out in older and cheaper housing and move up as incomes and circumstances allow. That's how I made my way along the housing ladder as did most of the people I've encountered as a home builder.

New home construction increases the availability of both new and existing homes. That is why building more homes is the only way out of the acute housing crisis we are suffering. Targeting only the construction of "affordable" housing is not the answer. As the Michigan survey demonstrates, you achieve far greater housing leverage by building across all market segments and bringing far more existing homes into play.

Let us hope Senator Weiner returns with his bill next year. Let us hope all these lobbyists who couldn't tell one end of a hammer from the other get out of the way. And let us hope this legislation is met with a more civilized and constructive response.

Mick Pattinson is past President of the California Building Industry Association and San Diego Building Industry Association. The opinions expressed here are his own.

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