In 2017, Donald Trump will be our next president. That means that anything is possible politically, for better or worse.
Trump won in part due to the increasing numbers of people who feel marginalized, regardless of background. The national election was more than anything about inequality, and the failure of political Progressives to respond to the marginalized in a meaningful way.
Whether you rent or own, paying for housing makes up the biggest chunk of working families’ budgets, and the rising cost of housing, along with stagnant wages, has been a primary engine of inequality in the United States. The result is that a whole range of working people, from food service workers to middle managers, now live in a state of economic precarity. This includes many sectors that political Progressives simply don’t care about, because of the perception that they don’t vote for them.
Housing also figures into the rise of Donald Trump as a public figure. Trump first made a name for himself by taking advantage of New York City’s bankruptcy in 1975 to access redevelopment financing, using the Grand Hyatt hotel project to elevate his business away from a portfolio of middle-class rental housing to one of luxury properties. In doing so, he contributed to the rising inequality in our cities.
If we are to take Trump’s platform at face value, housing will continue to be an issue. While much of his rhetoric was likely meant to be an analogy for an agenda which is at the same time more realistic and unfortunately only slightly less repugnant, that agenda will still exacerbate inequality in America, and housing will play a major role. The downsizing of government payrolls, increases in infrastructure spending, and the expansion of extractive industries will create another wave of worker migration, putting further stress on regional housing supplies.
Now more than ever, there is a real need to pivot the policy narrative on housing toward its consideration as human infrastructure, and not as an investment commodity. Here in the Bay Area, while the rhetoric will be different, the political obstacles will be the same.
Our region’s “Progressive” and “Neighborhood” movements may pay lip service to a social narrative which is very different from the Trump agenda, but in reality their agenda is equally reactionary. The primary goals of these local anti-housing movements are to preserve existing wealth and power. This includes the continued assertion of intangible rights (such as to views) in association with property ownership, the unequal tax benefits granted by Proposition 13, and opposition to better transit and denser housing.
In contrast to the sad news on the national front, the YIMBY movement has scored significant political victories in the Bay Area. San Francisco’s pro-urbanist Supervisor Scott Wiener was elected to the State Senate and will continue the fight for By-Right Development in Sacramento. A pro-housing majority will likely be restored to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and ballot initiatives which would’ve been most harmful to the continued development of affordable housing were defeated. In addition, more pro-housing members were elected to the Palo Alto City Council.
Some may attempt to portray these victories as part of a “Trump Wave.” It will be incumbent upon us to point out who the real Trumpists are.