A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
Runner-Up General Nonfiction: San Francisco Book Festival
A stunning, deeply reported investigation into the housing crisis
Spacious and affordable homes used to be the hallmark of American prosperity. Today, however, punishing rents and the increasingly prohibitive cost of ownership have turned housing into the foremost symbol of inequality and an economy gone wrong. Nowhere is this more visible than in the San Francisco Bay Area, where fleets of private buses ferry software engineers past the tarp-and-plywood shanties where the homeless make their homes. The adage that California is a glimpse of the nation's future has become a cautionary tale.
With propulsive storytelling and ground-level reporting, New York Times journalist Conor Dougherty chronicles America's housing crisis from its West Coast epicenter, peeling back the decades of history and economic forces that brought us here and taking readers inside the activist uprisings that have risen in tandem with housing costs.
To tell this new story of housing, Dougherty follows a struggling math teacher who builds a political movement dedicated to ending single-family-house neighborhoods. A teenaged girl who leads her apartment complex against their rent-raising landlord. A nun who tries to outmaneuver private equity investors by amassing a multimillion-dollar portfolio of affordable homes. A suburban bureaucrat who roguishly embraces density in response to the threat of climate change. A developer who manufactures homeless housing on an assembly line.
Sweeping in scope and intimate in detail, Golden Gates captures a vast political realignment during a moment of rapid technological and social change.
New York Times economics reporter Dougherty dissects the San Francisco Bay Area's housing shortage crisis and the "antigrowth politics" that caused it in this incisive, character-driven debut. Focusing on Sonja Trauss, who founded the San Francisco Bay Area Renters' Federation in 2014 (when the region was creating only one new housing unit per eight new jobs), Dougherty charts the rise of the YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard) movement as it seeks to reform zoning laws and push for high density housing development in the Bay Area and other communities. He notes that affluent suburbanites, who fear a decline in property values, and low-income tenants of color, who risk losing their neighborhoods to gentrification, both view YIMBY activism skeptically. He also profiles others involved in housing affordability issues, including Sister Christina Heltsley, whose Catholic nonprofit battles real estate speculators in her working-class, Silicon Valley-adjacent community, and Lafayette, Calif., city manager Steve Falk, who quit his job rather than continue to support restrictive zoning measures. Dougherty expertly weaves these individual stories into his overarching assessment of urban policy, and makes a convincing case for "mixed" housing solutions that balance affordability, availability, and profit. Readers who assume there's no solution to sky-high rents in America's big cities should consult this detailed and optimistic counter-narrative.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Superior reporting and stunning writing that carried me through complex issues, and challenged my assumptions and prior conclusions. I read a lot of books. This is the best read in several years, and the most complete discussion of this extremely complicated subject that I’ve found.
Awesome stories that paint a really insightful overall picture
This book weaves together different personal stories and wonky history to give a great idea of how California’s housing crisis got to where it is today. It puts a very human face on the battles across town hall meetings and activism on the streets to show the different ways policy and social norms can impact housing affordability. Highly recommended.