Housing Hypocrisy

The housing crisis in California represents the discrepancies between Democrats’ and residents’ values and their actions.


Luca D'Agruma

Is the idealized version of an American neighborhood sustaining the wealth gap?

Luca D'Agruma and Hanna Masri

Not in my backyard!” is the rallying cry of suburban homeowners, elderly progressives, and California Democrats alike. Known as NIMBYs, a pejorative acronym that’s used to describe those who oppose new, multi-family, or affordable housing developments in their “backyard.” 

In short, California liberals champion affordable housing, yet, California has the largest homelessness population and is the third most expensive state to live in. 

Although Governor Gavin Newsom signed a series of bills at the end of last year intended to incentivize affordable housing production and address systemic biases in housing, legislation has been met with condemnation and scorn from activist groups and wealthy California liberals. 

Senate Bill 9 (SB 9), which went into effect this year, allowed property owners to develop duplexes within single-family zoned areas and bypass the approvals such as those found in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). 

Proponents of the bill, like the group California YIMBY (Yes, In My Backyard), cited SB-9’s lot splits as an effective measure to increase middle-income housing. 

Opponents of the bill, like former state Senator Leader Kevin De Léon, criticize this solution to the problem, arguing that single-family homes are a part of California’s appeal. 

Students can feel the effects of SB 9. On Feb. 10, a California Court of Appeal ruled that the University of California, Berkeley had to restrict the number of students to 2020-21 levels, cutting enrollment. 

The lawsuit, filed by Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, cited the CEQA as grounds to reduce the number of accepted students. They argued that admitting more students would lead to the displacement of long-term residents, increased noise levels, and other environmental effects. 

“This lawsuit is an outrageous example of the perverse use of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to block growth and change at any cost… thousands of students applying to Berkeley this cycle, and their families, will be denied an education at UC Berkeley,” according to opposition group East Bay for Everyone. 

CEQA has been weaponized for a long time by a multitude of groups. Since anyone can sue under CEQA, even the threat of lengthy and expensive litigation can force concessions. CEQA lawsuits have been held up on subjective matters like “aesthetics” and “neighborhood character.” 

The UC Berkeley situation sets a precedent for how residents can use this new legislation and the exemptions to CEQA in SB 9 to prevent frivolous lawsuits that tie up development. 

Ultimately, the state of housing in California reveals the hypocrisy and discrepancies in democrats’ platforms and their actions. 

Although legislation such as SB 9 is a step in the right direction, it’s a far cry from the 3.5 million houses Governor Newsom promised. Residents, voters, and legislators in California aren’t aligning their lifestyles and votes with their political beliefs and values. 

The high cost of living is driving neighbors out. The question is, do we want people to leave, or do we want to make the California lifestyle accessible? Because right now, our so-called values and actions have two different answers.