YIMBYs Attacked from the (Far) Left

Pro-housing activists in San Francisco are blamed for displacement of vulnerable communities because they support luxury housing developments. A report from the independent progressive website, Truthout, ties YIMBYs to the "alt-right."
May 22, 2017, 9am PDT | Irvin Dawid
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email Comments
Anne Roth

The provocative article by Truthout reporters by Toshio Meronek and Andrew Szeto would have been less sensational had it been cast as an opinion as opposed to a report.

Presumably the editors' received an earful from readers on the report, particularly it's title, as this note appears at the end of the lengthy piece:

Editor's note: This story's original headline, "YIMBYs: The 'Alt-Right' Darlings of the Real Estate Industry," has been amended upon further review to be more accurate and representative of the story's contents.

For the record, the Southern Poverty Law Center defines the "Alternative Right, commonly known as the Alt-Right, [as] a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that 'white identity' is under attack by multicultural forces using 'political correctness' and 'social justice' to undermine white people and 'their' civilization...." The non-profit Media Matters for America defines it simply as "the white nationalist movement."

[The role of the alt-right in planning is described by Ohio State planning professor Jason Reece in this Planetizen feature, "Planning and the Alt Right in the Time of Trump."]

The target of the Truthout report is largely Sonja Trauss, founder of what Meronek and Szeto call the "pro-gentrification" SF Bay Area Renters' Federation, a YIMBY (Yes in My Back Yard) group profiled in The New York Times last year.

Members want San Francisco and its suburbs to build more of every kind of housing. More subsidized affordable housing, more market-rate rentals, more high-end condominiums.

Trauss is an unconventional housing activist, equally willing to offend all on the housing opposition spectrum: On the left, those who want to ensure that the all new housing is focused on the most vulnerable in the community, and the right, homeowners who often take on the more traditional NIMBY (not in my backyard) perspective. It's the response from the former that is the focus of the Truthout report. 

"YIMBYs accuse anti-gentrification activists -- those calling for affordable units instead of luxury ones -- of preventing the construction of new housing development, thus reducing the new housing supply and driving up rents," write Meronek and Szeto.

But while YIMBYism is championed as progressive urban policy, critics like activist Tory Becker of the anti-gentrification direct action group LAGAI, believe it's actually rooted in the same classist, racist ideologies it supposedly seeks to disrupt. 

Meronek and Szeto seize on the association of Trauss with PayPal cofounder, Trump advisor and philanthropist  Peter Thiel whom Trauss had met for fundraising purposes. [See one of Thiel's futuristic urban investments posted here.]

"What was Trauss doing aligning herself with a rightwing conservative like Thiel in the first place?" asks Becker, who believes Trauss espouses "social fabric-ripping" beliefs that are, in effect, "white supremacist."

Meronek and Szeto also take on urbanist fundamentals: Infill is called a "deadly neoliberal policy". Urbanist think tanks, such as SPUR, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, are attacked for accepting contributions from large development companies.

Seung Y. Lee, who writes "The Nexus" (intersection of technology, business and culture in San Francisco and beyond) column for the San Francisco Examiner, pulls no punches in his critique of the Truthout report. He also points to a term in the report that could have been used in a recent post describing the Sierra Club's position on a housing proposal in a San Francisco neighborhood.

The label “current San Franciscans” is a sight to behold, as if a technology worker who’s grown up in San Francisco or moved to San Francisco several years ago cannot be a true resident of The City

The Truthout report even made its way to New Zealand where it was reviewed by Peter Nunns in Greater Auckland, a blog on transport and urban issues.

The article is basically about a philosophical dispute between different types of affordable housing advocates in the San Francisco Bay Area. As the title suggests, it’s full of ad-hominem attacks and bad arguments. I ordinarily wouldn’t bother to write about this, but I think that it touches on some important principles that are worth exploring.

Full Story:
Published on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 in Truthout
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email