The Blue State Homelessness Crisis
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Why do progressive states with lots of wealth often have the worst homelessness problem? Simply put, they stopped building enough affordable housing. Atlantic writer Jerusalem Demsas and California YIMBY policy director Ned Resnikoff explain the obvious answer to homelessness, debunk myths about drugs and mental health, and spell out what needs to change in government policy and neighborhood sentiment.
Keep up with Andy on Twitter and Post @ASlavitt.
Follow Jerusalem Demsas and Ned Resnikoff on Twitter @JerusalemDemsas and @resnikoff.
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Check out these resources from today’s episode:
- Read Jerusalem’s story, “The Obvious Answer to Homelessness”: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2023/01/homelessness-affordable-housing-crisis-democrats-causes/672224/
- Find out why homelessness rates are so much better in Houston than Los Angeles: http://cayimby.org/housing-first/
- Learn about the relationship between inequality and homelessness: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0002716220981864
- Find out who turns up to community input meetings and how that impacts local policies: https://www.politicsofhousing.com/research/neighborhood_defenders_handout.pdf
- Find vaccines, masks, testing, treatments, and other resources in your community: https://www.covid.gov/
- Order Andy’s book, “Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response”: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250770165
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For additional resources, information, and a transcript of the episode, visit lemonadamedia.com/show/inthebubble.
Andy Slavitt, Jerusalem Demsas, Ned Resnikoff
Andy Slavitt 00:18
This is IN THE BUBBLE with Andy Slavitt. Reach me at email@example.com, I’ve been loving seeing your emails. And with your permission now I might read some of them on the air. So if you have questions, thoughts about the show, I’d love to hear from you. And we’ll talk about them on the air. So what you think about the first thing that pops into your head when you think about homelessness? What’s the first image you get? Is it a man with a sign at a stoplight? Asking for money? Is it a veteran on a park bench? Is it a tent encampment with a bunch of messy things lying around? I’m gonna ask you to forget what you know about homelessness for the time being. Because it’s not that those images aren’t true. Of course, we see them they are a reality. But for the dozens of people that we may encounter, who are homeless, there are actually 1000s more and hundreds more every day that we don’t see. You see, they’re not walking in the street. They’re living in cars. They are couch surfing. They are cramming in with another family in their apartment. And moving from time to time. They’re living in very cheap motels. Many of them are families. How did they get there? Well, if I asked you to think about what comes to mind, you would probably think one of two things. Either some bad luck. Someone get fired from their job, somebody got divorced, somebody’s roommate kicked them out. There was domestic violence. Or you might say, mental illness. Now the illness like schizophrenia, or bipolar, something which prevents people from being able to hold on work. And as a result, they’re on the street. And all those things happen. But they’re not why people are homeless. Because none of those are reason enough for people to be homeless. Those are things that happen to people in life. Those are unfortunate things. Many of them are sad things. But they’re not reasons for people who live without a home. The reason people are unhoused is because in some cities, it’s gotten too expensive to find an affordable place. And the residents are so selfish, that they have decided not to build any more affordable housing. There are places all over the country, many of them in the south, or the Midwest, where all of those things happen. All the bad luck, all the mental illness, and yet people remain housed. People very easily can either stay in their homes, or find housing. But what about the other cities? What about the other places, those places largely in places like California, in New York and Massachusetts, in Oregon, and Washington. Traditionally, big blue states with lots of wealth, or places that have seen a boom in their economy have gotten very, very well off. And people have stood up a series of barriers to prevent affordable housing from being available. zoning restrictions, design limitations, housing boards, all kinds of things that are largely sound innocuous and sound out of public view. But they’re really designed for one purpose. And that’s to prevent people who live in nice neighborhoods, from having too many, either renters or people who are getting subsidized housing, from living in their neighborhoods. And this is a problem, very much of our own making. And it’s problem only we can address. So next time you think about housing, and homelessness and the problems that exist there, as you listen to this episode, I hope you won’t just focus on what you’re seeing in front of your eyes. But what all of us have done to make it very, very difficult for people who live on the margins who have bad luck, who have mental illness, from being able to find a safe place to live. So much So there are two people who have been really shining a light on this problem. Jerusalem Demsas covers housing at the Atlantic, she has been writing about homelessness and housing crisis. For years. She’s absolutely brilliant. And Ned Resnikoff is the policy director at California YIMBY. Which, if you don’t know what YIMBY stands for, I think you’ll find out in this episode, I left this conversation with a much different and a far greater understanding of what’s going on, and actually more empowered to feel like I could do something I’m not sure what I’m going to do. But I didn’t know the first thing I’m going to do is talk to all of you about it. So let’s enjoy this. I think it’s a great conversation.
Andy Slavitt 05:52
Jerusalem, welcome to the bubble.
Jerusalem Demsas 05:54
Thanks for having me.
Andy Slavitt 05:55
Ned, welcome to the bubble. I feel a little self-conscious having the show called in the bubble, given the context of what you’re doing, Ned.
Ned Resnikoff 06:02
Yeah, well, thanks for having us.
Andy Slavitt 06:05
We are in our bubbles, that is for sure. Okay, let’s just start this off this way. Jerusalem, why are people homeless?
Jerusalem Demsas 06:15
Yeah, this is both a very simple and a very complicated question. At the very core, people are homeless because they are not housed. And that can sound super glib. But in reality, I think we can actually overcomplicate the question by trying to create other explanations here, but the fundamental thing is people are homeless, because there is not housing available to them, either at the price point that they can afford it, or for some other reason, they’re not able to access it because of lack of supply. Because things like drug addiction, things like mental illness, things like poverty, those are fixed things that have existed in the United States, and exist in every country in the world for the entirety of US existence. What’s changed, though, is that we have stopped building enough housing. And we’ve made it difficult to build affordable housing such that individuals who otherwise may in both situations experienced mental health issues, and both situations may experience drug abuse, or dependency. But in one world, they have a house to go home to the end of the night and the other they don’t.
Andy Slavitt 07:14
Well look your opinions valuable. But what’s even more valuable is your data. You’ve done some research here. And I’d like for you and for Ned to come in and look at communities that have high levels of mental illness, high levels of poverty, high levels of unemployment, but have low levels of homelessness. And then there are other communities where you’ve got high levels of homelessness, that don’t seem to be explained by those things. Explain that to us.
Jerusalem Demsas 07:42
Yes. So, Greg Colburn and Clayton Paige Aldrin wrote this book called homelessness as a housing problem. And what they do in this book is they go and abstract away from sort of this individual level, and they say, okay, there are some states and some counties that have high rates of poverty, are the places with high rates of poverty, the place that we actually see high rates of homelessness, no, places like San Francisco are not high poverty areas. Places like Seattle are not high poverty areas. Places like New York are not high poverty areas. These are actually places where median incomes are relatively high compared to the rest of the country. They look at other things, you look at mental illness, where are there places that have high levels of mental illness, or places that have a high percentage of their population that are abusing drugs or deal with the opioid epidemic? We don’t see high rates of homelessness in places like West Virginia, or in Alabama, or in Virginia, or in Wisconsin, or in Delaware, or in Vermont. These are places that are experiencing these problems at higher rates than the places that we see the real homelessness crisis taking root. Why is that? What they find is that it’s the places with low vacancy rates, extremely low vacancy rates, particularly at the lower end of the rental market, and places that have high absolute rents. What does that mean? It’s places where there are very few homes available to low income and very, very low income people. Because this is a situation, analogy that they that they bring up that homelessness advocates use all the time, which is this the analogy of musical chairs, that’s a game where we’ve created scarcity, right that the reason why anyone doesn’t have a chair is because we’re literally removing them from the game for the game to function. That’s the same thing when it comes to housing. Yes, it is the case that disproportionately people who are mentally ill people who experienced drug abuse, folks who are black or otherwise discriminated from and they’ve had the housing market are overrepresented in homelessness. But the reason why anyone is homeless is because there isn’t enough housing to begin with.
Andy Slavitt 09:35
This analogy really worked for me because it basically said, no matter what happens, there’s only so many chairs and somebody is going to get left out of those chairs. And if you live in these communities, and this is where I want to turn to unit where you don’t have enough affordable housing, somebody’s going to be homeless, and that you’re in California, as am I, a place that has experienced a lot of wealth. A lot of growth income. It’s also not for nothing, sort of the ultimate blue state. So people, you know, supposedly have progressive and tolerant and egalitarian values. Do you find what Jerusalem says to be true?
Ned Resnikoff 10:15
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one of the reasons why California has the worst homelessness in the country in terms of absolute numbers is because California has been at the epicenter of a decade’s long movement to restrict homebuilding in the United States. Where I live Berkeley, California, was the pioneer of single family only zoning, which at the time, about a century ago, when they implemented it was and you can look in the archives look at the local paper and see this, it was explicitly about keeping out Black and Chinese residents. Large cities did a successive series of major down zonings, throughout the 60s 70s 80s 90s, essentially, taking the maximum amount of housing that it was legal to build in major cities and drastically reducing it. And so And so given all of that it’s not a mystery that California essentially is millions of housing units short, and that this has contributed to a colossal homelessness crisis, especially in the major cities of California.
Andy Slavitt 11:25
So you’re adding an element to what Jerusalem said, which is, people are unhoused, because we have a lack of affordable housing. But you’re also adding the element that this is something we’ve done by design, at least in California, I want to just very quickly touch on people’s common beliefs and conceptions about why people are unhoused. I think a lot of people, as you said earlier, Jerusalem would say, people have mental illness, and they’re not capable, or cities and states have such liberal policies around social welfare, that it attracts people who are down on their luck. Tell us what you found in that tell us what you see, are these indeed contributory causes? Or is it really, very simply just a matter of supply?
Ned Resnikoff 12:17
Yeah, I mean, I think like Jerusalem said, there are reasons why an individual might specifically go into homelessness. I mean, there are all kinds of different precipitating events that can cause an individual to go into homelessness. But no, I mean, from my own research, Jerusalem is absolutely right, that this is fundamentally a housing problem.
Jerusalem Demsas 12:40
And I think I would add to is that it’s not just that you can’t get people housed, if you don’t provide them housing, which sounds like trivially true, and you say this, is that when people are in a state of homelessness, you cannot actually solve fundamental problems like mental illness and drug abuse. If you’re like, trying to figure out the very core issues of your sleeping that night, how you’re going to keep your children safe, how you’re gonna get them to school the next day? Do they have clothes or someplace to wash their clothes in the place that they are staying? Do they have to separate? Do you have to like put some of your kids in with one family? And your partner stay somewhere else? Do you have to go to a shelter? Does that mean that is gender segregated? That means you can’t stay with your partner? All of these questions are so fundamental that the idea that you could solve for mental health issues or solve for drug abuse issues when people are in that state, it doesn’t make any sense.
Andy Slavitt 13:24
So trauma is fed on here. And you make an important point. It’s something that you know that why people talking about housing first.
Ned Resnikoff 13:31
Yeah, there’s a large body of research beginning in in the late 90s, early 2000s, demonstrating that getting people housed and then providing voluntary wraparound services to help them address whatever other challenges they might have, really is an incredibly, incredibly powerful tool, including for dealing with individuals who have extremely high needs a very, very severe behavioral or physical ailments, subsidizing their housing, and then providing them with things like substance use counseling, job training, physical therapy, it can be really incredibly effective.
Andy Slavitt 14:10
I want to take a quick break and we’ll come back and talk about what homelessness actually looks like and how different it is. Or it may be for many of our perceptions, we’ll be right back. I think people have certain images come to mind when they think of people being homeless? And I’m not sure that if it’s representative of all the people that are homeless and let me pose this as a question to Jerusalem. Can you just give us an outline of what it actually looks like to be homeless?
Jerusalem Demsas 14:57
Yeah, people who are unsheltered are predominantly either couch surfing. They are in motels they are in their cars, they’re staying with a friend or a family member. And they’re circulating between all of these options often until they’re able to find a stable situation, or are not able to find a stable situation. And I think that’s what’s really important here. Because sometimes when I explained that to folks, they’ll say like, okay, well, like the real problem like those people. I mean, yeah, that’s bad. But you know, the real problem are people who are out on the street, and that’s what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the chronically unsheltered homeless population, those people, it’s not a housing issue for them, and we need to understand is it’s almost like, it’s like a funnel situation, right? The more people who are experiencing any kind of housing instability that might push them into homelessness increases, the number of people for whom will like can fall into a state of being unsheltered homeless. And that means you could have an even larger population of people who can fall into a state of being chronically unsheltered with a mental health issue or a disability or a drug abuse problem they’ve picked up at that point. So solving from the very bottom of that pool up isn’t possible because people are constantly falling down the funnel into lower and worse and worse states of homelessness. And when you look at Los Angeles, for instance, which is really the epicenter of this crisis, in many ways, there’s a stat that I like really shocked me, when I first started looking into this, which is that roughly 207 People get rehoused daily across the county, but 227 people get pushed into homelessness. So it’s not that these homelessness advocates and service providers in the government are not actually trying to house people every single day, or pull people into a stable situation, it’s just that that doesn’t actually solve anything. If more than that number are falling into that state all the time, to someone who falls into a couch surfing situation, maybe they’re able to stabilize themselves, maybe they’re able to get some access to government services, and make sure that they’re able to like figure out a place to get housing or move to a different suburb or something like that. But for every person who’s able to do that, there’s another person who’s not able to do that. And they become chronically unsheltered. So I think, you know, you to original question. These are not static states, they’re very dynamic, someone who is, you know, in a low income housing situation, and the next day, they can be couch surfing, the next day, they can be on the street the next day, they can be in a car. And that’s kind of the vision of homelessness that people really don’t think about.
Andy Slavitt 17:09
Before we get to some of the methods that people use to keep people basically from having access to affordable housing. I’m struck by this irony that the better life gets for many folks, the more their incomes go up, the more their housing prices increase, the more the value of their neighborhoods increases, the worse it is, for people who can’t afford housing, that there’s this irony, that when we think things are getting better, for many of us, that not only are they not getting better for everybody. But it actually makes it worse and harder for people at the lower end of the economic ladder to be able to afford housing, particularly in well off areas that give us a sense it from California. Hey, is that the right analysis? And B, what’s the Delta? What’s the gap? How short are we and how unaffordable is it?
Ned Resnikoff 18:08
Yeah, I mean, that is the right analysis, there’s there was actually an excellent paper about this, that looked at the relationship between wealth inequality and homelessness, wealth inequality, as opposed to just poverty. And their analysis, which they found borne out with some of the empirical evidence was that in areas of high wealth inequality, but very low housing elasticity, meaning you’re not building housing to keep up with demand, then the people on the upper end of the wealth distribution are just going to bid up the cost of housing for everyone else. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen happen in San Francisco and the Bay area as a whole with the tech boom, where some people got very, very rich, other moved to the Bay Area and got rich are very well off. And then because San Francisco wasn’t building more housing, they bid up the cost to really astonishing levels. And as to your question about some of the tools that have been used to block the construction of further housing, I mean, I think San Francisco is a really good example of how the discretionary review process in most California cities is incredibly broken. So discretionary review means that essentially public officials in the case of San Francisco, the board of supervisors have final say about whether you can build an individual project. If you want to build a duplex or a triplex, you have to go to public officials and get them to individually say, just based on their own subjective inclinations. Okay, we support this project. And that ends up being a colossal roadblock to building for a few reasons. One, it privileges developers with more political influence. Two, it privileges, the community members who are most inclined to show up to public meetings to speak for or against particular projects. And overwhelmingly, those are people who oppose new housing, and also overwhelmingly their homeowners who are White, older and wealthier. And so it really biases the system.
Jerusalem Demsas 20:25
I like to add one thing, Andy, to what Ned just said, is because I do think that there’s this idea that it’s like a zero sum situation between people who are doing well, and then people who are homeless and like we, if we make things work better for people who are homeless, then it’s going to ruin communities for everyone else that’s going to destroy property values or something like that. And I think that one thing we have to really interrogate is whether the status quo is actually doing really well for all those people who are even homeowners in these communities, because a lot of homeowners will set low notice a look around and they’ll say like, okay, well, this means I can’t move, I’m stuck in my house, I’m a senior, I can’t even get to the second level of my house, ARP is not really, really getting into the housing supply issue, because they’re recognizing there are tons of seniors out there who are locked in place in these houses, and they can’t downsize and remain in their own communities, because there isn’t housing stock available that can meet their needs. And so they have to choose between living in a place like literally living in a community they’ve been for decades, or living in a house that can’t actually serve what they need to have. And so they’re like sleeping on the couch downstairs, because they can’t get to the bedroom upstairs, things like that, or the fact that your kids can’t live near you, or the fact that your community is now becoming unaffordable to new kinds of people, which means, you know, if you’ve moved to a city or the suburbs of a really dynamic area, that means you wanted that kind of dynamism that comes with the city, it means you enjoy the idea that there’s like new art or new culture coming there. But that art and culture and dynamism is predicated on the fact that housing is affordable for different kinds of people, whether it’s immigrants, or it’s poor folks, or teenagers or whatever.
Andy Slavitt 21:56
Let’s take one more break and come back and talk about solutions. And how we go from nimbyism, I think we all know what that means to YIMBYsm. We’ve been dancing around this acronym that I think many of us know, which is NIMBY. It stands for not in my backyard. What we’re talking about are people saying, Hey, I may theoretically believe everybody should be housed. Of course, if you asked me the question, on a test, should people be housed? I’d say of course it should be housed. But when it comes to building affordable housing, this is why people obstruct the kind of rules and things that Ned you’ve been talking about why we’ve done that, that White people why we have done this, we as a society. But before we get into that, I think what maybe one quick lesson would be helpful. Can you just explain Ned, the various types of affordable housing that we refer to here, because I think sometimes we mix and match and I think we think differently, there’s temporary housing, transitional housing, permanent housing, permanent supportive housing, housing for families. Explain that a little bit, because I think people’s attitudes, as they express their nimbyism, whether they call it that are known or not, maybe different for each of those categories.
Ned Resnikoff 23:36
Yeah, no, that’s an important distinction to make. And something I should have clarified earlier about housing. First is that housing first really does mean first of all, permanent housing. So not putting people in shelters and not putting people in transitional housing, which is, in theory, supposed to be a waypoint in between homelessness and permanent housing, we’re really talking about putting people in a home that they can remain in long term, like your I remain in our homes. So there are a few ways you can do it under the housing first model. So for example, you might have a deed restricted affordable housing. So that’s affordable housing, where the units are earmarked for people who make a certain percentage of area median income. So extremely low income housing is an example of that. And that’s housing that is reserved for people who make 30% or less of the area median income. You might also have permanent supportive housing for people with especially high needs, that’s housing that is deeply, deeply subsidized, free for residents and includes a really more comprehensive suite of what we call wraparound services kind of built into the infrastructure of the housing itself. So where people if they require it can receive really intensive attention, social work around the clock care, etc. And then in places like huge steppin, which I wrote a report about comparing it to California cities, the homeless services system can work with market rate developers, because there’s so much housing there that you have much more of what’s called naturally affordable housing, which we really lack in in places like the Bay Area. And that’s essentially housing that doesn’t have any particular deed restrictions attached to it. But because there’s such a large supply of housing, landlords need to be able to offer pretty low rents to people in order to actually fill those units.
Andy Slavitt 25:32
We’ll take your point that we lack housing of all types, in that there’s not enough affordable housing at an individual level, when you look at individual attitudes. And I know you’ve both looked at this, where do people when they show up to meetings and say, no, no, no, you can’t do that here. Or raise some alarm? Are they really just thinking about how is this affecting my property value of the house that I bought it, and I own in my wealth, and that’s why they’re pushing so hard here?
Jerusalem Demsas 26:00
There are people who I think have specific concerns about specific types of development that are like sincerely held, like, perhaps they don’t want, some people would be fine with, you know, housing for refugee families to coming there, but wouldn’t be happy with homeless folks who are experiencing extreme mental health issues. But often, these are actually just cover ups for the actual desire, which is that they don’t want their communities to change in any way. And you know, I think that for some people, it’s a question of property values, that they’re saying, like, oh, I don’t want new housing in my area, because I think it’ll affect my property values. I think that that’s actually not true for most people. I think most people want to live in the homes that they’re living in. And they like, they like the idea of their home appreciating value, but they’re not intending on selling it or trading in the way their house, they want to live there. And they want their community say the way they want it to look.
Andy Slavitt 26:44
So what’s driving that? I mean, people talk about if you build this near mine, my neighborhoods less desirable, even whether I don’t intend to sell the house or just give it to my kids someday. It’s where most of my family wealth is in my house. And you’re threatening that. And that some of the reaction, is that the wrong perception?
Jerusalem Demsas 27:01
Yes, some of it does come from that. But I think what’s interesting is that people also oppose zoning changes, that would likely make some more money, like if you own a single family house, in San Francisco, and a developer can you know, my buy your house for what it’s worth, and all they can do is upgrade it and it’s another it’s just a single family home, that’s they can pay you a lot of money, because like probably your house is worth a few million dollars if it’s in a nice part of San Francisco. But if the zoning changes such that now a developer can buy your house and turn it into a duplex, or they can turn it into a small apartment building. What that means is the developer can, the value of your property has gone up significantly, because many more families can live on that lot. And rent can be pulled from them or the condo prices of four different homes, while they are slower than an individual single family home as a combined group of rents or home prices, that yields higher profits for a developer. So that means that home prices actually in many zoning changes should cause home values to go up in a lot of these areas. And the fact that opposition remains, despite that fact, indicates to me that what people are afraid of is change. And they’re afraid of change, because they’re not sure what it’s going to look like. And this is this is true for all of history. And there’s a great book by George Washington University historian called Suliman Osman, who writes about Brooklyn and the changes that it undergoes over the 20th century, and the same types of things come up there as people are building these now. You know, vontade brownstones, everyone is lamenting that they all look the same, that they’re ugly that their homes for middle class people and like they don’t like them. And people in Manhattan are turning up their noses at these Brooklyn brownstones. And so this is a normal feeling that people have what’s changed is the how the politics works.
Andy Slavitt 28:40
How much is racism a part of this?
Jerusalem Demsas 28:42
For sure. I mean, I think that as Ned brought up at the beginning of the episode, a lot of zoning was zoning itself as an idea of, of separating out different types of people or different types of homes is founded on the idea that we want to keep white people separate from these other groups of people, whether they be Jews, whether they be black people, whether they be, you know, immigrants from different parts, countries that we don’t want to be near. So that’s the very foundation of this. And I think that there’s a lot right now, I think there’s definitely still a lot of racism. I think that there’s also really defining a lot of this is classism often what I hear from well-meaning liberal folks who you know, probably vote Democrat and have voted Democrat their entire life and maybe even concern sounds more progressive than that is they’ll still say, Well, I worked hard and I bought into my community. So if you want to live here, you need to be able to make enough to own an $800,000 house and a $1 million house, whatever it is. And that idea is something that is the idea that like you can not just own your own property but you as a as a homeowner, you have rights to the entire neighborhood. You have right to say no to people coming in. It’s xenophobia is what it is at some level and xenophobia to other Americans. And it’s classism.
Andy Slavitt 29:48
Yeah. Yes. So that let’s, let’s just take this on this question of liberals, because what we’ve largely talked about is a problem in blue states. And it’s a problem that people in blue states presumably could solve if they wanted to. And for all of the people around here in Los Angeles, who really were interested in the problem of the homeless, we had a mayoral campaign for those who didn’t follow Los Angeles, and homelessness was a key issue that the election was held. And the thing that we didn’t see is people saying, hey, I’m willing to do exactly what Jerusalem said, I’m willing to open up my neighborhood to the development of public housing. And by the way, there’s plenty of money in California, there’s plenty of money for this problem. There’s plenty of awareness of this problem. And what you two have outlined is a pretty straightforward solution. So something is getting in the way.
Ned Resnikoff 30:49
Actually have to say that what we’ve found is that building more housing is actually broadly popular in California, like people understand the issue. They want more housing bill, there’s a reason why we’ve had some legislative success at the state level around this. There’s reason why, you know, other elected officials have been taking notice and trying to get out ahead and lead on this issue. And it’s because it’s a political winner. I think the issue is that at the local level, we have a series of rules, like the discretionary permitting that I brought up earlier, that really bias an entrenched revanchist minority, but they’re not the majority in California, I will say that one thing I noticed in California as compared to some other places that I’ve lived is that, especially in the really progressive parts of the Bay Area, the NIMBYs are often a little bit more sophisticated in their language around these things. So they know not to say, we don’t want that type of people in our neighborhood. Instead, they I actually, remember, when I lived in Sacramento, there was a neighborhood near me that they were proposing, making it legal to build apartments, and there were all these lawn signs that said, you know, keep this neighborhood affordable and diverse. And I thought that’s interesting. So I looked it up on the census tract was actually about 98%. White, but you know, keep it diverse, is just an easier sell in California when you’re trying to block the construction of new housing.
Andy Slavitt 32:24
So to what extent we have to actually say, the things we talked about in the first half of the show, the fact that we have this game of musical chairs, and all these people don’t have housing, to what extent we have to say, we’re the problem. We are the problem, because we are sending messages to our political figures saying, yeah, yeah, don’t solve that near me don’t change the zoning regulation. We have people in our neighborhood, that neighborhood and everyday people friends of ours nearby, who protested heavily against putting in a bathrooms in a nearby park. And they all have kids who need to use the bathroom. But they said that will mean we won’t be able to use the heartbeat park because it will be overrun by homeless people. This was at a city council meeting where people were saying this, and these are people that were proudly saying it.
Jerusalem Demsas 33:10
Yeah, I think there are a couple of things here. One is that while I, you know, I’m happy to hear always that the California and be another pro housing groups around the country are changing more hearts and minds. This is not a victory that will happen at the local level. This is something which is why a lot of the work that pro housing advocates are doing is trying to push decision making up at the state level. And why is that? We have this idea in the US that like local government is the most small d democratic and it is extremely incorrect. Very few people vote in local elections. The reason why I’m a city council person will react to a couple of people emailing them saying they don’t want a development is because we have set up government to only respond to one type of concern. And what is that because you’re right, Andy that like most people are don’t want their communities that changes where they don’t want to permit supportive housing on the block. They don’t want these public services to exist. But they also have competing wants, right? They want housing to be more affordable. They don’t like paying really high property tax bills. They don’t like the fact that there’s homelessness in their communities, both for like selfish reasons that they don’t want to look at it. But also like I think generally people find it sad that people in their communities are experiencing this type of, of circumstance, and they want their kids to be able to afford to live there. All of these things are true at once. The role of government is to set up institutions that can mediate these conflicting concerns and come up with the best option because you can’t execute all these concerns to the letter. If you say no new housing, it means you are making housing unaffordable for everyone it means you are increasing rates of homelessness. What I would say to folks who are you know, the idea that like folks who want homelessness to be solved or street homelessness to be solved without building enough housing is that it is literally impossible. You cannot criminalize homelessness away you cannot criminalize poverty away if we could. The US has tried several times to do this. And you can try to ban poor people from exists thing, but they will continue to exist until you create the economic circumstances or the political circumstances to allow them to get out of their situation. And you know, in DC, where I live, you can just see attempts to push camp tent encampments, the same people get moved to different parts of the city, it doesn’t solve the problem, they just get moved to a different part of the city. And they’re not going to leave because this is their community. This is where their family is, is where their friends are, especially when you’re that vulnerable, you’re going to stay in a place that feels familiar, where you know, the dangerous areas, or you don’t know what’s dangerous, or you have some sort of job connections, the idea that California can just say to poor people, it’s illegal to be poor, and they’ll go somewhere else is ridiculous. So the question is, are we going to get to the point where we actually start solving the housing crisis, or we can get to the point where we throw these people into jail, and those are the two options in front of liberals.
Ned Resnikoff 35:46
Got it. I think, Andy, the example you gave of the public restroom in the park is a really important example. It reminds me of, of something Heather McGee sometimes talks about which is the analogy of the swimming pool, the segregated town that just drains a swimming pool instead of integrating it so that no one can use it. It’s exactly what it is. I think the what this points to is that the solutions we’re talking about are positive, some like I don’t, I don’t want to get into this mindset of saying, yeah, you know, having more housing in your neighborhood is terrible. But everyone has to accept the burden, having more housing and your neighborhood, having more neighbors, making these communities more walkable, more vibrant, more thriving, like that’s a positive sum thing. It reduces homelessness, it increases economic opportunity for people. And it also just makes the cities that we live in richer, happier, more fun places to be.
Andy Slavitt 36:41
Couldn’t agree more. Well look, like all great conversations, I could just one I could go on for hours with you. But let’s leave it here. And let’s cover this a little bit more, in other shows later this year, because I think we just started to scratch the surface around solutions. What I think we did accomplish, and you helped us accomplish is just a sense of the role we all play or could play in this problem or in the solution. And that maybe we unknowingly play by some of our attitudes towards our neighborhoods that are communities that are housing, that we really could use some reexamination. And particularly in places that purport to be so egalitarian and justice oriented, that we take a serious look. So I can’t thank you enough, both of you for your work. There’s gonna be lots of great links in the show notes, to go deeper in some of the work that Ned’s done and some of the writing that you’ve done, Jerusalem. So thanks for being in the bubble.
Jerusalem Demsas 37:37
Thank you so much for having me.
Andy Slavitt 37:54
Okay, let me tell you what you got coming up later this week. More fun topics. We’re going to make sure that we understand what’s going on with the debt ceiling and the debt ceiling standoff that’s going to occur later this year. The US has to lift the debt ceiling in order to continue to pay its bills. And Republicans in Congress are putting conditions on that or don’t want it to happen. Jason Furman was the economic adviser to President Obama during the 2011 debt ceiling debate. And as a great economist will be on the show. Friday. We’re going to have our episode on long COVID with Dr. Eric Topol and Monday. The week from now we’re going to be talking about open AI and chat GPT. So check that out before we get to that episode. If you haven’t used yet. GPT it’s a pretty wild experience. Okay. We will talk to you on Wednesday. Have a great couple days.
Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kathryn Barnes, Jackie Harris and Kyle Shiely produced our show, and they’re great. Our mix is by Noah Smith and James Barber, and they’re great, too. Steve Nelson is the vice president of the weekly content, and he’s okay, too. And of course, the ultimate bosses, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs, they executive produced the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, with additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia where you’ll also get the transcript of the show. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter. If you like what you heard today, why don’t you tell your friends to listen as well, and get them to write a review. Thanks so much, talk to you next time.