WATCH: The California Progressives Trying to Cancel Affordable Housing

Ben Kawaller on how his ‘progressive’ neighbors don’t want low-income residents to move to West Hollywood.

I have lived in or around West Hollywood since 2012. Founded in 1984 atop the twin pillars of rent control and gay rights, the city has become a haven for the un-landed and the non-gender-conforming, both of which describe me, insofar as I own no property and fail that most basic test of manhood, heterosexuality. 

If I sound a bit self-loathing, maybe it’s West Hollywood what’s done it: the city has marched in lockstep with the times, alternately self-flagellating and castigating. Witness its bizarre “land acknowledgment” rituals (about which I cannot bellyache enough). Or the city’s website, whose landing page often greets visitors with an image of Pride marchers carrying a banner demanding to know “HOW MANY OF US HAVE TO DIE FOR YOU TO GET INVOLVED.” Welcome, friends!

Yes, an irrepressible drive for justice is what powers West Hollywood, which is why I was curious to see how things would play out at a city council hearing earlier this year, at which residents fought to overturn the approval of a new affordable housing development. The seven-story building would contain 89 units, which would count toward the nearly 4,000 units California has mandated West Hollywood add to its housing supply by 2029. Half these are required to be affordable for “low” and “very low” income earners.

This is in a state that’s officially been dubbed the “capital for homelessness,” in a country that’s currently debating whether to legalize clearing encampments. (The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday.) It would seem California needs more places, not fewer, for people to live.

So it was jarring to watch some of my supposedly progressive neighbors attempt to keep poor people out of our community, citing everything from the potential for traffic to the concern that the building’s 300-square-foot “microunits” would be beneath the dignity of any potential resident. Meanwhile, low-income workers in attendance tried to explain that it would be nice to live within commuting distance of where they work. 

Nearly to a person, the NIMBYs insisted they were ardent supporters of affordable housing. Just “not at the expense,” as one man advised, “of the quality of the people living in the neighborhood.”

He may have intended to say “quality of life.” But I suspect he said exactly what he meant.

If you like what you see, watch Ben’s previous dispatch from Arlington, Texas: “This Is My First Rodeo.” You can also learn more about “Ben Meets America!” 

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