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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Commentary: Do not be charging me with NIMBYism When I Oppose Your 600K Housing Development

Recently I was reading an article in Mother Jones of all places that caught my eye. The title, "NIMBY Notebook: Habitat for Hypocrisy."

It is the story of Habit for Humanity in Marin County. "Housing advocates say Marin County's Bill Duane exemplifies a vexing irony: People support affordable housing with their labor, money, and votes—just so long as it's nowhere near them." Now Marin County is one of the most reliably liberal counties in country, but what you might call a "limousine liberal" community. The article tells the story of a man who was a strong supporter of Habit for Humanity, even volunteered for it, until "the group announced plans to build two affordable duplexes just down the street from him."

The article goes on to suggest:
"opposition to affordable housing in the county was so fierce in the 1990s that a Marin chapter of Habitat disbanded"
Furthermore they are not simply picking on Marin, they cite the same problem in other wealthly liberal communities such as Martha's Vineyard and Boulder, Colorado.

The article caught my attention for the date on the publication was July 17, 2007, the same day that Davis successfully fought back county attempts at massive development on the Davis periphery. The same day, that many liberal activists descended on Yolo County in hopes of the creation of a Stem Cell research facility. And indeed, on that day, many of the same Stem Cell research advocates were claiming the same thing about our opposition to development, it was simply about NIMBYism. That the liberals in Davis, like their counterparts elsewhere are a bunch of white elitists trying to keep the minorities and the families out of Davis.

I scoffed at the notion at the time because those making that charge obviously do not know me or why I have become an activist in this community, it was to defend civil rights first. In fact, on most days I would be on their side, leading the fight for Stem Cell research. On most days, I would be leading the fight for affordable housing. Heck, I will tell you this, if Habitat For Humanity had a project in Davis, I would be the one helping to build the houses.

Unlike the Mother Jones article, the charges against Davis was unfair. We were not opposing true affordable housing, we were opposing more McMansions.

The problem with that argument on that day, is that the projects that are being proposed will not bring more diversity to Davis. They will not bring more affordable housing to Davis. They will bring more limousine liberals and suburban Republicans to Davis. Covell Village had a set aside ratio of "affordable houses" but the bulk of the project would be houses in the range of $600,000 per unit. That was not going to help new families move to Davis. It was not going to help the children of Davis families stay in Davis. And it was not going to help people of color come to Davis. The only thing it would do is reinforce existing housing patterns while at the same time causing more congestion on our streets and reduce open space and farm land in our surroundings.

At the end of the day, if I saw a truly modest housing proposal that actually provided affordability to families and people of color, I would likely support it. But I have not seen one yet. All I have seen is more of the same, and if given the choice between protecting agricultural land and open space and building more overpriced homes, I choose the former. And if we want a true stem cell research facility, not built near the causeway, but built in a place that is more appropriate, I am leading the fight. But we have not had one of those and I do not expect to get one of those in the near future.

In the meantime, do not be charging me with NIMBYism when I do not support your 2000 unit proposal chalk-full of $600,000 homes with a small percentage of limited equity affordable housing set aside as chump change. I am not falling for that trick. Give me a real proposal for affordable housing for families and then we can talk.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting