Blogging Bayport Alameda

September 13, 2021

Your buildings’ so ugly…

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:03 am

If you haven’t see the Vox explainer about affordable housing was made illegal in the US, you should really take the time.

In the meantime, there’s another really great piece on Vox about the conflation of aesthetics and gentrification by the TikTok set. It’s really relevant in light of a super robust and frustrating discussion on Alameda Peeps about affordable housing which blended into an aesthetic argument on top of the lack of understanding about affordable housing in general. From Vox:

That discussion of gentrification is instead frequently diverted to what the buildings look like is a massive coup on behalf of existing property owners. Those current owners often want to maintain aesthetic control, sometimes as a means of blocking new homes from being built (experts have found that historic preservation is often weaponized to prevent new, more affordable housing options).

It is fine to dislike the way a home looks; not all art is for everyone. But the convergence of aesthetic preferences and physical displacement under the same “gentrification” banner only serves to maintain the current system of housing development, one that has made housing prohibitively expensive for many Americans and displaced people under countless different architectural styles.

The report discovered that the shared and liked TikTok video was not a lux condo building, but instead it was an all-affordable low income housing development that was built box like because it was the least expensive way of building housing.

An important point:

This is common in gentrification discourse. People want to use a word that evokes visuals of marginalized communities being displaced, either through evictions, rising prices, or even violent displacement. But, after prodding, the actual concern is artistic. The rhetorical sleight of hand is not always intentional. For many, the concepts of “new, modern buildings” and “displacement” have simply become inextricable. But the confusion around how the word gentrification is being used has real policy consequences: If people believe that new buildings work against housing affordability, they will oppose the very policies necessary to solve the nation’s housing affordability crisis.


It can feel counterintuitive: People begin to see new entrants and fearing the neighborhood will become too expensive for them to afford, they oppose new buildings, hoping that will stop the changes, but it doesn’t work.

Economist Evan Mast identified “52,000 residents of new multifamily buildings in large cities, their previous address, the current residents of those addresses, and so on for six rounds” in an effort to show “how new market-rate construction loosens the market for lower-quality housing.” He found that such construction projects free up homes in below-median-income neighborhoods, providing for more affordable housing and reducing competition for lower-income residents. The implication is also that many higher-income residents are pricing out lower-income residents because there is an undersupply of market-rate housing.

If you don’t build enough of something, the only people who will get anything are rich people. Reflexively opposing new buildings doesn’t protect neighborhoods from gentrification but actually increases a neighborhood’s exclusivity.

What’s worse is that savvy opponents like Alameda’s resident NIMBY group ACT are smart enough to use the terminology and concerns of true believers in stopping displacement. They wrap their concerns in language around “truly affordable housing” but do nothing to help truly affordable housing get built. They are strategic enough to say that we shouldn’t be building “luxury” housing knowing that all market rate housing will be priced, at the market rate which, at this time in Alameda is $1.23 million.

But we don’t actively track prices of old homes for sale, we only fixate on how expensive new homes cost as though a brand new building should be cheaper than a 100 year old home. As though well insulated home built on post-tension slabs for earthquake proofness and working electrical and HVAC systems should be priced well below market rate because someone somewhere thought they heard a “promise” of affordable housing when development was to happen in an area with stripped and failing infrastructure.

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