NY Times Opinion: Progressives are complete hypocrites when it comes to housing policy

This is a column by Fahrad Manjoo who has written some interesting things for the NY Times opinion page. But in this case, he’s taking progressives to task instead of conservatives. The topic of the column is livability in America’s largely progressive cities:

The basic problem is the steady collapse of livability. Across my home state, traffic and transportation is a developing-world nightmare. Child care and education seem impossible for all but the wealthiest. The problems of affordable housing and homelessness have surpassed all superlatives — what was a crisis is now an emergency that feels like a dystopian showcase of American inequality.

Just look at San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi’s city. One of every 11,600 residents is a billionaire, and the annual household income necessary to buy a median-priced home now tops $320,000. Yet the streets there are a plague of garbage and needles and feces…

He’s right about the filth and he’s right about who is responsible for dealing with the problem:

At every level of government, our representatives, nearly all of them Democrats, prove inadequate and unresponsive to the challenges at hand…

Not-in-my-backyardism is a bipartisan sentiment, but because the largest American cities are populated and run by Democrats — many in states under complete Democratic control — this sort of nakedly exclusionary urban restrictionism is a particular shame of the left.

And it’s not just the Democrats running the cities or the ones in Sacramento that are doing little to nothing about the problems. It’s also the national Democrats who mostly don’t mention the problems at all. Manjoo argues the only explanation is complete hypocrisy:

Where progressives argue for openness and inclusion as a cudgel against President Trump, they abandon it on Nob Hill and in Beverly Hills. This explains the opposition to SB 50, which aimed to address the housing shortage in a very straightforward way: by building more housing. The bill would have erased single-family zoning in populous areas near transit locations. Areas zoned for homes housing a handful of people could have been redeveloped to include duplexes and apartment buildings that housed hundreds…

Reading opposition to SB 50 and other efforts at increasing density, I’m struck by an unsettling thought: What Republicans want to do with I.C.E. and border walls, wealthy progressive Democrats are doing with zoning and Nimbyism. Preserving “local character,” maintaining “local control,” keeping housing scarce and inaccessible — the goals of both sides are really the same: to keep people out.

“We’re saying we welcome immigration, we welcome refugees, we welcome outsiders — but you’ve got to have a $2 million entrance fee to live here, otherwise you can use this part of a sidewalk for a tent,” said Brian Hanlon, president of the pro-density group California Yimby. “That to me is not being very welcoming. It’s not being very neighborly.”

This is a critique conservatives have long made about open-border progressives. If you want people crossing the border to be released on our streets, let’s release them in your neighborhood! It’s probably what motivated President Trump to suggest that the crush of Central Americans arriving at the border now should be directed toward sanctuary cities. If you want us to do this, how about you directly shoulder some of it.

The same goes for issues like homelessness. If you want more tolerance for the homeless and less police involvement and prosecution, let’s have them set up a tent city in your local park! And guess what happens when the tents do pop up in liberal enclaves like Portland and Seattle? Shockingly, people get sick of it pretty fast and want the city to clean up the mess. Suddenly we discover there are a lot of people in these places who aren’t quite as liberal and easy-going as advertised. Seattle passed a head tax to raise money for homeless services but a majority of people were against it and it was repealed in weeks.

It’s worth noting that Manjoo is also an advocate for open borders, so he’s consistent about this. And I think I’m pretty consistent on the other side of both arguments. We need border control. The United States exists primarily to benefit the people living here (legally) by offering them unprecedented freedom and opportunity. If we benefit the world in the process (and we do), that’s even better but Guatemala and El Salvador are not our responsibility. We simply can’t offer to take in everyone who wants to come here.

Similarly, we’re not responsible for every person who takes the freedom and opportunity they’ve been granted and decides to shoot heroin until they die. That’s tragic but it’s not the responsibility of Seattle residents to provide a free place to live so some people can destroy their own lives and potential in relative comfort. If we have a responsibility to these people it’s to give them a chance to sober up and do better, not to coast on the public generosity.

I will say that I agree with Manjoo on one point. For those who are on the street for reasons other than drugs or alcohol addiction, such as losing an apartment because rents are sky high, we ought to consider ways to improve their situation, including by increasing the supply of housing so the price goes down. That’s not the same as handing a free home to every addict who loves meth.

At the border and within big cities, help should be a semi-permeable membrane. For those who need asylum or shelter, we should offer it because we’re a great nation. For those looking to game the system at the expense of others…we should say no. It would be nice if more progressives could admit that’s what they really believe, at least when it’s their neighborhood we’re talking about.