Shortlisted for The New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism • A Time 100 Must-Read Book of 2020 • A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice • Named a top 30 must-read Book of 2020 by the New York Post • Named one of the 10 Best Business Books of 2020 by Fortune • Named A Must-Read Book of 2020 by Apartment Therapy • Runner-Up General Nonfiction: San Francisco Book Festival • A Planetizen Top Urban Planning Book of 2020 • Shortlisted for the Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice
“Tells the story of housing in all its complexity.” —NPR
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 of the homeless. 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 movements that have risen in tandem with housing costs.
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.
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.