The Housing Debate Shows How Meaningless Political Descriptions Are

Last week, Farhad Manjoo of the NY Times had an article which was given the online headline of “America’s Cities Are Unlivable. Blame Wealthy Liberals” and a print headline of “Nimby Liberals Make Cities Unlivable.” Interestingly, Manjoo himself doesn’t use the word liberal at all in his piece, instead referring to “wealthy progressives” and “wealthy progressive Democrats.” (are there wealthy progressive Republicans? Dunno).

Around the same time, the Washington Post published an article in a similar vein, which was given a headline of “Berkeley loves its sanctuary label, but a housing crisis is testing its liberal values.” Here too, the writer never used the word liberal. Both articles are worth a read, especially since the articles are more subtle than the headlines would suggest (clickbait is not a Buzzfeed-unique phenomenon).

As you might imagine, discussions online quickly referred to the perfidy of liberals–even though, in 2019, it’s absolutely unclear what that term means anymore. At the risk of entering No True Scotsman territory, I think this demonstrates just how screwed up our political landscape is (if Il Trumpe weren’t enough evidence already). When Republicans have become a theocratic, white nationalist, hyperlibertarian party, Democrats become the party of ‘everyone else.’ While we can laud ‘big tents’ all we want, the reality is some people who are voting Democratic, and who currently might even be identified as liberal–largely because they aren’t overtly racist Christian evangelicals–are fairly moderate or conservative on economic issues. A friend who grew up in wealthy and very Republican Orange County, California, was shocked when he visited in 2016 and Democratic signs, something that would have never happened ten, never mind twenty years ago.

I realize economic class is The Identity That Shall Not Be Named™, but it is still relevant to how people vote and what policies they support. If we had a healthier politics, where one party wasn’t the Blud und Boden Party, we would see a different sorting of ‘political descriptors’ by policy, including NIMBY policy.

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4 Responses to The Housing Debate Shows How Meaningless Political Descriptions Are

  1. coloncancercommunity says:

    NIMBYism is far more complex than left or right. I’m about as far left as they come, but some would classify me as a NIMBY? Why?

    My reasoning is simple. You are trying to address a crisis made by the monied elite by taking advice from….the monied elite. Namely big developers with an agenda. I can promise you that that agenda does not include providing housing for the huddled masses. Instead, it is being used as a cudgel to tear down what they made soooo much money building up in the first place – the suburbs and single-family housing in general.

    You see, since we can’t yet beam each other around the globe to get us to our places of employment (Star Trek was set two centuries in the future) in order to make any real money, developers have to tear down what already exists and the new builds have to be MUCH denser and the rent has to be much higher. But there is nothing in this agenda that supports affordable housing. In my city, “market rate rentals” are increasingly out of reach for almost everyone. That’s because developers are actually SETTING these market rates and jacking up rents far faster than inflation. All of a sudden 450 sf studios are are $2k a month? In what world is that affordable? The set-asides for affordable units is a paltry 10% and most developers make payments to wriggle out of much of that.

    Meanwhile, the myth that if you overbuild, the rents will magically collapse like a house of cards isn’t really panning out in the real world. Instead of building for the current market, they are building for a new breed of more affluent residents. They are also getting PILOTs (Payments in lieu of taxes) and property tax breaks galore. I think one development alone is asking for $50 million in property tax breaks.

    So who deals with the shortfall? Where is the funding for all the infrastructure and service increases going to come from? It’s going to fall squarely on current homeowners who are already being pushed out by high property taxes. Basically, the middle-class homeowner is supporting the gentrification of their own neighborhoods. They are being forced to support the development and maintenance of luxury housing that they themselves could not afford to live in.

    When they fight back, liberals call them NIMBYs and sneer in disgust.

    This has nothing to do with solving a housing crisis and everything to do with lining the pockets of the already rich. I’m not sure if this is the situation in every city, but from what I’m reading nationally and internationally, it’s pretty typical. I will add that the city government that we have is dark blue. Every member of the Common Council is a registered Democrat including the mayor. The two Democrats that dared question all the giveaways to developers – no matter how inane the project, got forced off the ticket in this election cycle. They were replaced by what I believe to be two rubber stamps for whatever the powers-that-be want.

    Be very careful here. NIMYB’s have become the new “Deplorables”. Easy to make fun of and dismiss as out of step. But in reality, they are the ones who are being left behind and are demanding some agency and some say in the future of their communities. Instead of representing their needs, we just dismiss them as a bunch of whining losers. This is how Democrats LOSE ELECTIONS.

  2. Marie says:

    To add to coloncancercommunity: This is why competitive primaries and voter turn out for local government elections are so important. Here in Fairfax County, we’re having a primary election on June 11th for the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, alongside member seats on the Board. Practically every candidate claims to be willing to fight developers, build more affordable housing, fix traffic congestion, etc. Obviously they know what’s on citizens’ minds (or least the depressingly few who vote in primaries). Whether they are willing to do what takes to accomplish these goals is difficult to tell.

    • coloncancercommunity says:

      We are having a primary this year. The city’s Democratic Committee did EVERYTHING IT COULD to get this candidate’s signatures discarded. The optics of it were just God awful and when it went to the courts, the judge suddenly seemed to become a “handwriting expert” claiming signatures (some of which were 40 years old) didn’t match current signatures. The issue found its way into The Intercept. The Intercept interpreted it as trying to prevent the candidate from seeking higher national office. But my feeling was that this was EVERYTHING about catering to certain vested local interests. Here is the link to the article in the Intercept.
      https://theintercept.com/2019/05/06/kat-brezler-white-plains-new-york/?comments=1#comments
      If this is inappropriate, I understand if it needs to be discarded.

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