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    Cleaning Up Some Housing Myths

    By Derek Barnes–

    It’s no big secret that California and many of its major cities make it difficult for businesses to thrive and compete by operating within overly complex bureaucratic systems and legislating progressive tax policies. A raging pandemic has also magnified deep systemic issues of inequality, while businesses and governments (state and local) have had their struggle to keep providing services without tanking their budgets and operations. Many industries and people have been impacted as a result.

    One area hit particularly hard is housing, which was already in a state of crisis before the pandemic. By some estimates, California has a 3.5M–4M unit deficit. Housing is the largest expense for most people, consuming up to 40% of household income in some municipalities—even more for some minority groups.

    When people lose their jobs or a substantial portion of income, their decisions regarding housing are critical, often devasting: moving, vacating, rent nonpayment, and no shelter at all. These decisions not only impact renters and residents, but also rental housing providers/owners, property management and maintenance services, real estate agents and brokers, mortgage holders, and other financial services. It cascades through the entire housing ecosystem. 

    More to the point, housing providers deliver a valuable and essential service vital in Maslow’s hierarchy of need, providing shelter for hundreds of thousands of Bay Area residents. The vast majority are small owner/operators or family businesses, not big corporations. They are often forgotten as casualties in this crisis. If people don’t have reliably available, safe, and affordable housing, then a foundational component of these hierarchical needs cannot be met. Invariably, the gap creates instability. The full expression of human potential cannot be realized, and all communities suffer.

    We’ve heard of battles between renters and housing providers, and many of us buy into the belief that one side is inherently bad or evil in this relationship. The clashes between “landlords and tenants” are historic and trace back to feudal systems and manorialism. Today, promoting this discord and division supports a narrative that serves those who either make the news or hold/want power—like promulgating fights between Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, and the haves and have nots. There must be an enemy that shouldn’t have the same access or freedoms. In reality, an intrinsic, insightful, and symbiotic relationship ensures there is balance, as well as fairness. 

    Sustaining the ideals of balance and fairness seems to be at the core of good intentions from most legislators and community leaders when combating housing challenges. However, we must be mindful and not fall so easily into the trap of scarcity and zero-sum game mentality in our fixes—for someone else to have more, others have to have less. In the matters of housing, one stakeholder group’s needs shouldn’t come at the expense of others who make up our Bay Area housing ecosystem. There should be a profound understanding that what we contribute together, with great measure and intention, can create harmony, shared benefit, and success for everyone.

    We have all learned to adapt through a turbulent year and to a flurry of unimaginable conditions. There are myriad challenges still ahead of us, and none of this can be fixed overnight. Many stakeholders in the housing industry look forward to new legislative changes that support a Biden-Harris vision for America and a mission to restore and sustain an inclusive democracy, as well as our philanthropic values.

    As citizens in a shared democracy, we must also be more skeptical and critical of one-sided legislation introduced that potentially places a group(s) at a disadvantage. Knowing whom these policies and laws really help and whom they harm is critically important.

    Derek Barnes is CEO of East Bay Rental Housing Association
    ( ). He currently serves on the boards of Horizons Foundation and Homebridge CA. Follow him on Twitter @DerekBarnesSF or on Instagram at DerekBarnes.SF

    Published on January 14, 2021