TENSIONS OVER THE HOUSING AFFORDABILITY CRISIS WERE ON FULL DISPLAY at an rally against a California housing development bill, SB 827. Low-income housing activists, largely seniors and people of color, crowded the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall to protest a measure they believed would displace their communities.
When a white counter-protester, Sonja Trauss, waded into the crowd for a photo op next to their signs, she got into a physical altercation and was removed by a sheriff’s deputy. Trauss says she was shoved.
The 36-year-old has gained national acclaim as the founder of the YIMBY movement, as in “Yes, In My Backyard.” YIMBYs are self-described “grassroots, pro-housing” agitators who have become a major presence in high-cost, rapidly gentrifying markets like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City and Seattle. Their strategy is grounded in the free-market logic of supply and demand: Build more housing and housing costs will go down.
YIMBYs pose themselves as the antidote to the problem of not-in-my-backyard-ism. In San Francisco, that NIMBY stereotype has a basis in reality: “Concerned” neighborhood groups have, time and again, blocked new housing for reasons that range from aesthetic distaste to pearl-clutching about crime rates.
But as Trauss and her fellow YIMBYs chanted “Read the bill!” on the steps of City Hall, NIMBYs weren’t the target. Housing activists of color were. Charles Dupigny, the Black co-director of the group Affordable Divis (short for Divisadero, a major thoroughfare), shouted over the YIMBY noise: “I say to these individuals: Start doing some research, look into who actually gets those homes, look at ... who’s behind the bills.”
The San Francisco Examiner reported that a 77-year-old woman with the Chinatown Community Tenants Association “was so disturbed by the YIMBY shouting that she later fainted and was ferried by ambulance” to the hospital. “I think the YIMBY have no heart,” Association President Wing Hoo Leung told the newspaper.
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