A New York Times economics reporter illuminates why affordable housing is scarce for tens of millions of Americans, with a focus on the San Francisco metro area.
As Dougherty explains in his first book, the cost of buying a single-family home or even renting a small apartment in a convenient, desirable location is one of the most pervasive conundrums facing Americans today. Perhaps no other phenomenon drives income inequality as starkly as housing. In addition, the price and location of housing affects quality of education from preschool through high school; exposure to clean air and drinkable water; racial and ethnic segregation; crime rates; and, perhaps most significantly, the availability of employment at a livable wage. While Dougherty provides plenty of macro-level research about housing across the nation—and especially in San Francisco—the major strength of the narrative occurs at the micro level. The author located individual players on various sides of housing debates, and he compares and contrasts their advocacy from diverse perspectives. The most memorable protagonist is Sonja Trauss, a young Bay Area resident who surprised everybody, including herself, by emerging as the leader of an aggressive, innovative affordable-housing coalition, the San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation (SF BARF). As Dougherty notes, Trauss never opposed expensive homes for the wealthy as long as low-income residents could find affordable rental units that were at least somewhat convenient to their places of employment. If Trauss is considered a hero, the author understands that few of those battling her should be considered fully evil villains. What occurred to cause the unconscionable housing gap, writes the author, “was less a calculated conspiracy than it was best-laid plans.” After all, zoning restrictions and other factors can be viewed as one person’s protection—or another’s exclusion. The narrative will be especially poignant and thought-provoking for readers who rely on nannies, home health aides, construction workers, landscapers, and other low-paid occupations—where will they reside?
A readable, eye-opening exploration of “what is fast becoming a national housing crisis.”