Have you heard? San Francisco is in a “Doom Loop.” Or at least that is the latest rhetoric about this fair city I call home. Only, it isn’t. That’s the power of rhetoric. It constructs realities, and we need ways to understand what’s actually being said, so we don’t fall for policies that harm us.
Fighting the “Doom Loop” is a new column where I unpack a rhetorical phrase currently spreading across social media. It’s specifically for Queerdos and comrades looking to shift conversations with neighbors, family, or friends away from the misleading headlines and back towards policy. My hope is that by providing some simple frames or alternate phrases we can fight this manufactured “Doom Loop” that is meant to keep us despondent so we don’t fight back.
“Housing for All” San Francisco's Housing Policy
We are going to see a lot more of this particular phrase because it is the name of Mayor London Breed’s plan to meet our Housing Element, and it makes for a very catchy slogan. Who wouldn’t want housing for everyone? In fact, it seems incredibly logical.
But there’s a catch. “Housing for All” isn’t about building affordable housing or keeping housing affordable. “Housing for All” is a belief that by just building housing (and lots of it) that affordability will take care of itself, and thus housing will (eventually) be for all. Only, that isn’t how the housing market works. And if it did work this way, there would be no incentive to actually build, build, build. What corporate developer would be ok with building so much housing that housing prices actually drop to affordable levels?
Instead, “Housing for All” is a variation of “All Lives Matter.”
Think of it this way. “Black Lives Matter,” doesn’t invalidate anyone else’s lives. Rather, it is a specific phrase naming explicitly WHOSE lives must matter for society and this country to address the historic inequities structured into it through its founding to today. It is a call to action to address those inequities. And it is its specificity that holds its power and truth.
When someone says, “All Lives Matter,” they are intentionally changing the subject and moving it away from addressing our systemic inequities. The goal of this shift is to make the phrase sound more universal in an effort to gain appeal with a certain audience. Who doesn’t want to live in a place where ALL lives matter, especially when YOU, whether you are Black or not, fall under the category “All”? The problem is that All erases Black.
The hollowing of the phrase to “All Lives Matter” also no longer makes a demand. Instead, its hollowness allows it to be used for any and all purposes, which renders it meaningless. Sure, all lives matter, but in this country it is clear that Black Lives still do not matter, and until they do all lives will never matter. Without a demand, how will we ever make / create / dream a world where Black Lives Matter?
“Housing for All” as policy peddles the same hollowness. Yes, we need housing for everyone. The problem is that we specifically need AFFORDABLE housing, and we need it NOW. Housing is still not getting cheaper; the rents are not coming down nearly fast enough. We cannot market our way towards affordability.
Let’s take a look at the previous Housing Element, which is the policy mandated by the state that outlines how much housing San Francisco needs to build over a seven year period. From 2014 to 2022, San Francisco was required to build 28,869 units. We built 29,011. That’s 142 extra units. But that isn’t the whole story. Of the initial 28,869 units, San Francisco was supposed to build 12,536 market rate units and 16,333 low to moderate income units. What actually got built was 22,220 market rate units and 8,035 low to moderate income units. That means we overproduced market rate housing by 9,684 and underproduced low to moderate income housing by 8,298. Clearly, the issue isn’t ALL housing.
Chart by [people.power.media].
By not focusing on the specific problem of affordable housing, Mayor Breed gives space for the private sector (aka corporate landowners) to define ALL. And they have defined ALL as “Build, Build, Build” (Market Rate Housing.) The previous Housing Element proves this. If the private sector believed in building low to moderate income housing it already would have. It has not.
We must be specific in our demands. Affordable housing is not being prioritized or built. It was already significantly underproduced in the last Housing Element. In the 2022 to 2030 Housing Element, San Francisco needs to build 82,069 units. According to this Housing Element, we are supposed to build 46,598 low to moderate income units. If past is prologue, a “Housing for All” strategy from City Hall and the Mayor's Office will at minimum underproduce 23,674 low to moderate income units. And that is unacceptable.
Note: "Homes for All" is and has been a campaign slogan used by housing activists to make demands that we need homes for everyone. "Housing for All" as a city policy, and thus in turn a rhetorical phrase (aka propaganda) picked up by corporate media, SPUR, and YIMBYs, is a hollowing of housing activists demand meant to specifically confuse the public. As with all media literacy, it is important to notice the power dynamics (aka the money behind) the use of a phrase.
For solutions to San Francisco's affordability crisis, please check out the Citywide People's Plan pulled together by the Race and Equity in All Planning Coalition.
Note: Queerly Complex's Jason Wyman sits on the Board of [people.power.media].