State Sen. Scott Wiener made waves for Senate Bill 827, which proposed to answer the housing crisis by overriding local zoning to allow more density built near transit. The bill died in committee in April, with Wiener saying “we started a conversation” (read: lost) and pledging to bring it back in a groovier form. Here’s what I hope the senator learned from the effort.
Everybody knows that affluent low-density suburbs (cough, Palo Alto, Los Gatos) brim with chutzpah for refusing any new housing while the entire world gets evicted.
SB827’s twist was that Wiener cast the bill as a bold stance to promote racial equity.
Wiener wrote on Medium, “SB827 is an unprecedented action *against* restrictive land-use restrictions with origins in racial discrimination and exclusion.”
Except many organizations based in communities of color denounced SB827 as a gentrification bomb. The LA Tenants Union wrote SB827 “will have a devastating impact on low- and middle-income neighborhoods and communities of color.”
My data geek pal with the nom-de-tweet Revolutionary Clown (also my silent partner in SPORC, our fake PAC for pro-tenant landlords) overlaid the SB 827 impact zones with census blocks to find the percentage of renters, of non-white people, and the median income in SB827-affected areas.
Turns out the racial justice organizations were right. Areas affected by SB827 were in fact lower-income, less white, and more renty than California as a whole. Affected neighborhoods within counties were poorer, less white, and more renters than county average.
According to RevClown, California is 39 percent non-white, but SB827-affected areas were 52 percent non-white. Statewide, 46 percent of units are occupied by renters, but 68 percent of the units in the SB827 areas. The state median income is $84,111, but the impact area is $78,008.
In-county disparities were minimal in San Francisco because most of the city is less than a quarter of a mile from transit, but elsewhere it was stark. Tony low-density Marin is 21 percent non-white, 37 percent renters and with a median income of $119,598. But the Marin SB827 impact area was 62 percent non-white, 74 percent renters, with a median income of $75,961. Contra Costa County is 40 perecent non-white but the SB827 area is 61 percent white, with a median income almost 35 percent below the county average. Riverside is 37 percent non-white, but the SB827 area is 63 percent white, with a median income a whopping 60 percent below the county average. Similar patterns repeated across the state.
Senator Wiener may have been incorrect to claim that SB827 would end historic racist exclusion.
For the future, I would like to say the following to my senator:
Dear Senator Wiener,
Maybe you don’t mind SB827 disproportionately affecting lower income, non-white renter communities more than their more affluent neighbors, because you heart massive homebuilding. But then don’t claim you’re doing something to address racism. You’re not helping people from San Pablo move to Moraga.
Let’s assume you genuinely desire to promote racial justice via housing. You did a crap job.
You didn’t understand how you might appear to affected communities as anything other than the latest in a long line of white technocrats brandishing studies while inflicting pain.
By declining to consult with and incorporate the priorities of the people you said you wanted to liberate when drafting the bill, you—this is a technical term—pooped in the pool.
You didn’t seem to get that the desire for local control in rich suburbs that always enjoyed it is different from the desire for local control in poorer communities of color that never had it.
There is no path to racial equity that does not involve people of color as the architects of their own liberation. There is no corrective for historic structural racism that by design gives communities of color less control over their own land.
If you want to draft legislation to decrease the power of affluent white communities to block housing while increasing the resources available to communities of color to determine their own fate, I am for it, even if the resulting policy is less lucrative than repackaging urban renewal and calling it racial justice.
Nato Green is a writer and comedian. See him and Natahsa Muse riffing over TITANIC for Riffer’s Delight at the Alamo Drafthouse on Monday June 25. Send brunch invites @natogreen and technical questions to @revclown.