Why 37 Major Progressive Groups from LA Oppose State-Level Pro-Gentrification Bill

PLANNING--The battle lines around the pro-development (and pro-gentrification) SB 827 are becoming increasingly clear, with 37 grassroots organizations from LA yesterday releasing a letter detailing their opposition.

On one side, in support, you have the bill’s author, State Senator Scott Wiener, a former lawyer and current career politician whose biggest funders are the real estate industry; an informal coalition of 120 tech and venture capital executives; and astroturf YIMBY groups (“Yes In My BackYard”) that unabashedly promote free-market, trickle-down approaches while ignoring anti-displacement policies like rent control and “just cause” eviction protections. (I say “astroturf” to refer to the fact that these groups are rolling in corporate and billionaire cash — they are not genuinely of the people. California YIMBY, for example, was founded by two tech CEOs, Nat Friedman and Zack Rosen, a fact that is conveniently nowhere to be found on their website!)

On the other side, in opposition, you have 37 of the most progressive and truly grassroots housing and labor organizations in LA Signatories of the letter include LA Community Action Network (LA CAN), Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), United Neighbors in Defense of Displacement (UNIDAD), Inquilinos Unidos, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA), and the L.A. Black Worker Center. These are organizations that receive little or no corporate money, have been building from the bottom-up for years, and are firmly rooted in the Black, Latinx, and Asian-American communities that are suffering most under our current housing and homelessness crisis. 

Wiener’s campaign donations (research/graph by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project). The biggest chunk of his financing comes from the exact people profiting off our housing crisis.

The proposed state-level bill overrides local building regulations to allow for denser and taller buildings near mass transit, the idea being that not enough homes are being built because rich and powerful homeowners (NIMBYs) want to preserve their nice and quiet lives. By allowing for denser development, the logic goes, we’ll all end up with more housing.

If only it were that simple.

Wiener’s bill has literally NOTHING to say about protecting low-income tenants that may be displaced by intensified market-driven development — Damien Goodmon calls SB 827 “a declaration of war on South LA” — and has no requirements for including affordable units in new construction. It also does nothing to counter real estate speculation that drives up prices and ignores services like AirBnB that take scores of housing units off the market.

Wiener is a Democrat, but SB 827 is something you’d expect to see from Republicans: deregulate the market and watch as housing trickles-down to all. 

Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), one of the 37 orgs in opposition to SB 827, is located in the heart of skid row and is comprised mostly of homeless and extremely low-income people.

But don’t just take my word for it. The letter is really worth reading in full (it’s only two pages), and makes some very strong arguments against SB 827, which, according to the authors, “will exacerbate the very issue it seeks to remedy, especially in low-income communities and communities of color.”

Thanks to years of organizing, these groups have won crucial victories to incentivize and protect affordable housing in LA. For example, Measure JJJ, passed by voters in 2016, contains mandates regarding affordable construction and the replacement of affordable units. Grassroots organizations have also developed community plans, crafted over many years and with significant community input, like El Plan del Pueblo in Boyle Heights and The People’s Plan in South LA, which can and should serve as blueprints for future development.

If SB 827 passes, though, “we will lose these incentives for developers to include low-income, very-low income or extremely low-income units in their new buildings near transit. Likewise, provisions in the above cited plans and policies to prevent destruction of affordable units, require replacement of affordable units and mitigate displacement of low-income families would be undermined.”

These groups are fully aware that, historically, single-family zoning has functioned as a tool to segregate urban regions by race and class. However, they forcefully argue that “the antidote to segregationist low-density zoning imposed upon and against communities of color is not an ‘open the floodgates’ approach.” If SB 827 were to be implemented, “existing rent-stabilized units will be put at even greater risk of destruction, and core transit riders at greater risk of displacement.”

Put another way, both of the following can be true:

  1. Single-family zoning has historically and extensively been used to keep certain neighborhoods rich and white.
  2. Uniformly up-zoning (allowing for taller and denser buildings) all neighborhoods near mass transit would displace massive amounts of low-income people of color.

Ultimately, if lawmakers really want to help low-income people of color, they should pay attention to the organizing from the communities bearing the brunt of the current crisis. “The path to racial and economic justice through city planning starts with listening to the most impacted communities and learning from their experience as they’ve struggled against waves of disinvestment and displacement.” (AMEN!)

If Scott Wiener and the YIMBYs were really looking out for poor people of color, they’d be using their power and money to support what are very clearly the priorities of grassroots organizations all across the state: repealing Costa-Hawkins and expanding rent control.

Don’t hold your breath.


(Jacob Woocher is a grad student in Urban Planning at UCLA, DSA-LA Housing and Homelessness Committee, @jacobwooch on twitter. This analysis was posted originally at KNOCK-LA.)