Federal representatives need to take action to solve the housing crisis

Members of Moms 4 Housing announced in January that a deal had been reached for a land trust to purchase the home they had occupied since November from Wedgewood LLC. (Photo Courtesy Brooke Anderson @movementphotog)

By Shahid Buttar

This month in Oakland, hundreds of people took to the streets for housing.

They stood outside a three-bedroom home on Magnolia Street, arms chained together, with signs hung from the windows reading “Moms 4 Housing” and “Homes for All.” Then, at dawn, they watched as police with assault rifles and armored cars forcibly evicted mothers and children from the house they had called their home, leaving them homeless.

The home was returned, empty, to home-flipping giant Wedgewood Properties, which bought the foreclosed-upon home in mid-2019.

It’s no wonder people are taking to the streets.

The median price of a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is now some $3,600, far out of reach for the average working class family.

We are failing throughout the region, but particularly in San Francisco, to meet everyone’s right to housing. Addressing this crisis should be a top priority for all elected officials, including and especially our congressional representatives.

I support recent efforts San Francisco has taken to address the affordability crisis. Our city has passed laws to create more affordable housing and strengthen tenant rights, to erect homeless shelters and guarantee lawyers in eviction court. But these efforts aren’t enough. The scale of our crisis is simply too large to solve at the local level.

Prior to disinvestment of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the 1980s, urban homelessness was a rare sight in the United States. HUD provided funds to local governments to construct affordable housing and operated a robust public housing program.

Today, conservative estimates place San Francisco’s homeless population at over 8,000. The Moms 4 Housing in Oakland are part of this number. The mothers and their children had been either homeless or tenuously housed when they occupied a house on their block that had sat vacant for two years.

Our public housing programs have been decimated. Tenants in public housing today struggle with buildings in disrepair. A federal law called the Faircloth Amendment prohibits the United States from building more public housing, so while San Francisco struggles from a severe housing shortage, the housing being constructed today is not targeted towards those who need it most.

Much of this crisis was caused by our federal government and we need federal intervention to solve it.

So where does our representative Nancy Pelosi stand on affordable housing?

There are a slew of federal proposals right now that would reinvigorate the federal government’s role in housing.

The Homes Guarantee, endorsed by Bernie Sanders, is a national platform to guarantee housing as a human right. It would repeal the Faircloth Amendment, build 12 million more permanently affordable homes, enact federal rent control, tackle segregation, and invest $150 billion to rehab existing public housing. The platform, created by dozens of grassroots housing activists over more than a year, has strong support from progressives in Congress and has led to a series of bills enacting components of the platform.

The Place to Prosper Act, by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the Green New Deal for Housing Act, by both Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, would enact national rent control and retrofit every existing public housing unit in the country. The Homes for All Act, introduced by Ilhan Omar, is based on the Homes Guarantee and would repeal the Faircloth Amendment to build millions more permanently affordable homes.

Nancy Pelosi supports none of these initiatives. I strongly support all of them.

Despite representing a district with one of the most severe housing crises in the nation, Pelosi has not released a comprehensive housing platform. As Speaker of the House, she has also failed to co-sponsor any of the existing initiatives or bring them to a debate on the floor.

We can’t wait any longer for leadership on this issue.

People are displaced from San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area every day. Tenants don’t have democratic control over their housing and are subject to arbitrary rent increases at the whim of profit seeking landlords. We are still adding jobs without adding housing, and our housing shortage is getting worse every year. Rents are still rising.

San Francisco deserves better. We need elected officials who will listen to the grassroots movement marching in the streets and the tenant organizers who wrote the Homes Guarantee.

Moms 4 Housing is part of that movement. I stand with them and every person in San Francisco and the Bay Area confronting housing insecurity to demand that we guarantee homes for all.

Housing affordability and homelessness are the top issues facing Californians. We need to elect federal representatives who take action to help, instead of re-electing voices that abandoned us long ago.

Shahid Buttar is running against Nancy Pelosi in California’s 12th congressional district. A Pakistani-American immigrant from the UK, he is a constitutional lawyer, policy advocate, and community organizer and launched the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s grassroots advocacy program.

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