False Dichotomies, New Alliances

It's hard to argue against housing. Housing is such an obviously good thing - we all want it. It's at the base of our hierarchy of needs. It protects us from the weather, it keeps our kids safe, it keeps our stuff safe and in one place, it gives us privacy. It seems silly to even enumerate why we like it & why we need it.

Nonetheless, every day people in San Francisco and all over California argue against proposals to build more housing. How do they do this without seeming to be completely unreasonable? By creating false dichotomies.

It's possible to argue against something (like housing) that is obviously good, if you claim that by getting more of it, you annihilate or interfere with something else that is also good. This is why some housing opponents argue that being for more housing is equivalent to being opposed to strong tenant protections or rent control. By creating this false dichotomy, they can make a very unreasonable position (more housing is a bad thing) seem not just reasonable, but virtuous!

As a low income tenant in West Oakland, in 2014, I recognized that this was a false dichotomy. This is one of the reasons I became active in politics. On the housing issue, people seemed to be routinely insisting that more housing had to mean fewer tenant protections or less rent control. Of course, this doesn't have to be true at all. There is nothing contradictory about having strong tenant protections, and also have enough new housing to keep up with (or even exceed) population growth. But in 2014, there was no political actor making this argument.

Before I started SF Bay Area Renters Federation, the political groups for renters seemed anti-new building, even though the housing shortage affects renters the most, and there is nothing about adding new housing in a place that used to be a parking lot that diminishes our tenant protections.

The message of SFBARF - that shortage is bad for renters - proved to be popular. It turned out there were other renters like me, who wanted more housing to be built, and wanted to keep our rent control & other protections.

Unfortunately, the false dichotomy between more housing and strong tenant protections is strong. It was, and continues to be, difficult for many people to believe that San Francisco can have both. Clinging to this false dichotomy makes us all worse off. By believing we can't have both more housing & strong tenant protections, we wind up with less of both. We also create conflicts between people who don't actually disagree with one another.

I believe San Francisco, and the whole Bay Area, can grow to include the new people who are coming here and being born here, while preserving the homes and spaces of existing, long time residents. If you agree with me, if you want to see more housing & more effective tenant protections, then sign up to volunteer or donate at www.sonja2018.org.

We can’t win this election without your help!

Get Involved Contribute