Is Marginally Loosening California's Zoning Restrictions Racist?

A new mailer from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation argues that allowing the construction of apartment buildings near transit stops is tantamount to "negro removal."


Is allowing for the construction of more housing near transit stops racist? Most people would say no. Not the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), however.

Rather the organization—founded in the 1980s to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS—had decided to dip their toe into the housing policy debate in California, arguing in a recent mailer that allowing for more housing construction would be tantamount to the racist urban renewal programs of the mid-century.

"Urban renewal means negro removal," reads a mailer from the AHF, which also features an image of James Baldwin— a 1960s-era civil rights advocate and novelist. TV ads blaring the same message also aired this week.

The target of the mailer is SB 50, a bill that would override local zoning restrictions near transit stops and in wealthy neighborhoods, allowing for taller, denser apartment buildings to be built where now only single-family homes are allowed.

Doing so, say advocates, will boost the supply of housing, helping to make the Golden State's incredibly pricey cities a little more affordable and, by extension, a little more inclusive.

Not so says the AHF, which argues that deregulating housing construction along the lines of SB 50 will benefit the rich at the expense of poorer, minority communities.

"SB 50 is a handout to greedy developers," reads the AHF mailer, which goes on to say that the bill would these developers "free rein to displace working class communities of color."

The argument that loosening California's restrictions on new housing construction will result in gentrification of minority neighborhoods as "luxury condos" replace older, more affordable housing stock, is hardly unique to AHF.

Indeed, this criticism has dogged most any attempt to peel back zoning restrictions legislatively, and is often employed to stop individual projects working their way through local planning processes as well.

AHF's mailer is unique, however, both in how bluntly it makes this case against SB 50, and in how many untruths it spreads about the bill.

For example, the AHF's mailer says that "SB 50 bans cities from rejecting big residential luxury developments containing only a small number of affordable units."

This is a reference to many cities' "inclusionary zoning" policies which require that private developers designate a certain percentage of new units in a projects as "affordable"—meaning they are rented out at below market rates to people earning less than an area's median income.

Regardless of the wisdom of these inclusionary zoning requirements (which some research suggests reduces the supply of new housing), this claim is simply untrue.

SB 50 requires that any housing project that benefits from its upzoning provisions, and is larger than 20 units, include somewhere between 15 to 25 percent affordable units. And contrary to AHF's claims, the law includes an explicit provision saying that local governments could impose higher affordability requirements should they wish.

Reads an analysis of the bill prepared by state Senate committee staff, "if the local government has adopted an inclusionary housing ordinance and that ordinance requires that a new development include levels of affordability in excess of what is required in [SB 50], the requirements in that ordinance shall apply."

The rest of the mailer is more hyperbole than outright falsehoods, calling SB 50 a "trickle-down housing bill" that would "accelerate the consequences of gentrification" and "build luxury towers without adequate affordable housing."

That argument is deeply ironic coming from AHF, given the group's past support for a policy that is known to spur gentrification: rent control.

Back in 2018, AHF spent some $21 million advocating for Prop. 10, a ballot initiative that would have repealed state-level limitations on the ability of California's local governments to impose rent control.

A Stanford University study from the same year found an expansion of rent control in San Francisco during the '90s actually sped up gentrification by encouraging landlords to take rent-controlled housing units off the market and convert them into pricier condominiums that could be sold at market price.

Were AHF truly as concerned about gentrification as their noxious mailer suggests, they might want to reconsider their past rent control advocacy as well. Instead the group had decided to cynically deploy identity politics in an effort to spread myths about what is, at the end of the day, a marginal loosening of California's ridiculously restrictive zoning laws.

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  1. It’s always greedy developers, greedy factory owners, greedy businesses.

    It’s never greedy politicians.

    1. It is always greedy politicians.

      1. Or greedy existing homeowners (voters).

  2. So these racists are saying that only (the current politically correct term for blacks/negroes/African-Americans/people of color) now live near public transit? And that any new housing will only be occupied by “others”? And that this is a problem?
    They are probably the ones that taught TDS sufferers how to read the Mueller report to find whatever you want in any document.

  3. “Rather the organization—founded in the 1980s …”
    “The target of the mailer is SB 50, a bill that override local zoning restrictions…”
    “[R]eads the AHF mailer, which goes on to say that the bill would these developers “free rein to displace working class communities of color.”

    Copy editing is not that hard.

  4. Good news! AIDS/HIV must have been 100% completely cured.

  5. AIDS Healthcare Foundation

    I’m glad to see this organization is stepping into the urban planning fray.

    1. Clearly you do not get the modern intersectional class/issue/victim concept. ALL oppressed people suffer from the man in ALL ways when any particular grievance is raised.

      1. Not convinced that having AIDS qualifies as being a victim on the Oppression Ladder.

  6. It isn’t hard to believe that new condos and apartments in expensive urban areas tend to go to the more affluent or that the affluent tend to be less racially diverse than the poor.

    What’s hard to believe is that some people still buy the marketing around millenials, that somehow everything changed with them, and unlike their neanderthal ancestors, millenials are immune to quality of life concerns and price signals.

    Yes, millenials are fleeing high rent areas and buying homes in the lily white suburbs, just like their parents did. They’re even buying SUVs. They flood into new construction in urban areas if they can afford it, and when they do, it displaces the more diverse and less affluent. So what?

    If they want to force developers to sell or rent units to poor people, then should say so–so the rest of us can point fingers at them and laugh. Nobody wants to live around poor people if they can help it, and that includes millenials. Have you met the poor? They’re loud, obnoxious, violent, and they don’t pick up after their dogs. Nobody wants to buy into a building because it’s full of poor people.

    1. Agreed, but I also don’t want to live next to rich people with their constant complaining about yard heights and what color you paint your door. Working middle class that is where the sweet spot is. Normally just take care of their own property but are too tired/busy to care about frivolous issues.

      1. As nutty as it may seem, people pay a premium to live in an area with highly restrictive housing association rules. Some people like to be near shopping. Some people would rather live rural–far away from everybody. Most people don’t want to live near the urban poor for reasons that may not even be about racism–but are highly correlated to race.

        In many urban areas, there is an extremely high correlation between people with criminal records and race. If your expensive loft building decides they want to market their safety, so they’re not renting to anyone or selling to anyone who can’t pass a criminal background check, then they’re effectively making the place disproportionately Caucasian and Asian in that urban neighborhood.

        I’ll be darned if I know what’s in people’s hearts other than to look at what they do (rather than what they say). I know that millenials find racism to be highly displeasing from an aesthetic standpoint. I also know that when it comes to housing, they’re making the same choices their parents and grandparents did. There were few proud racists in the 70s, too. “White flight” is what they called it back then anyway. I think a lot of those people were just making quality of life choices and reacting to price signals, too.

        You can’t force people to buy homes where they don’t want to go, or they’ll go elsewhere. New York and California are losing population.

        1. Bingo.

          It’s been quite the entertaining ride watching millennials as they transform from “edgy” urban dwellers in their teens to having kids, buying ranch homes, getting fat, and driving minivans just like their parents did.

  7. “SB 50 requires that any housing project that benefits from its upzoning provisions, and is larger than 20 units, include somewhere between 15 to 25 percent affordable units.”

    Increasing the housing stock of a given area improves the overall housing market for buyers and renters. After all, people moving to “luxury” housing do not burn their former residences to the ground. Others will move into the now-vacated housing, leaving their former residences available for rental, and so on and so forth. If requiring that new housing developments to have a certain quantity of “affordable” units limits the development of new housing, it hurts the overall market for buyers and renters, especially if single-family housing stock or zoning requirements are replaced by multi-family units. There are many things I wish we could get the leftists to understand. This is one of those.

    1. Ken Shultz and I were writing at the same time, so I’d like to add: “What he said.”

  8. so everything’s just supposed to look like shit forever because racism? also shocked anyone would put *that* n-word in a mailer in 2019 wtf

  9. Nothing says equality in housing opportunity like denying the ability to find any housing at a price less than $1mil.

    We’re all equal when we all sleep in the street. With AIDS.

  10. In other words, life in the Big City.

  11. Remember White Flight? I do. This is the opposite of that.

    1. “White flight is bad.” “Gentrification is bad.” Would you make up what little there is of your minds already.

      1. Just shut up and start cutting checks, racist!

      2. It makes perfect sense. Their general opinion nowadays is simply “White people bad!” Everything about them, and everything they do.

        Of course in reality white people are awesome. They pay more in taxes than they use in services, they commit fewer crimes, etc etc etc. Every stat one can think of whites (and Asians!) are the bees knees. But somehow we’re the horrible ones…

  12. Want to know why they picked this fight? Follow the money.

    Nobody opposes building apartments because they work for aids patients. And nobody opposes building condos because condos are racist.

    These are clearly poll-tested race-baiting tactics designed to gin up opposition. So my bet is that someone didn’t want their fingerprints on the opposition so they co-opted an existing organization.

    Find out who the new big donor is, and you’ve got your answer.

  13. Wait, I thought using that word was always racist, regardless of context. So the left is now going to gang up on this Foundation and pressure the removal of its racist leaders who approved this ad campaign, right?

  14. Nobody has a sad like James Baldwin had a sad.

  15. “accelerate the consequences of gentrification”

    Making the place nicer?

  16. Look, it sucks to be poor.

    And as long as institutional forces encourage poor = black (or negro, or colored, or people of color, or WTF) then it will suck to be these things.

  17. It’s a classic shakedown by the race baiters. They clearly are setting up the mark for some sort of big payday for the leaders.

  18. Oh, Christian, haven’t you learned yet? Everything is racist!

  19. The truth is they’re more or less correct… Poor black and Hispanics will disproportionately be booted out… However in the long run it will push prices down for everybody, including POCs.

    How this isn’t painfully obvious is fucking mind boggling. But that is the leftist way: we want XYZ immediately, and who cares about the long term repercussions. I fucking hate emotional thinkers.

  20. […] addition to spreading falsehoods about the bill, AHF’s ad campaign did little to ingratiate itself to housing advocates and […]

  21. […] addition to spreading falsehoods about the bill, AHF’s ad campaign did little to ingratiate itself to housing advocates and […]

  22. […] addition to spreading falsehoods about the bill, AHF’s ad campaign did little to ingratiate itself to housing advocates and […]

  23. […] also come in addition to onerous demolition controls and affordable housing mandates already included in SB […]

  24. […] also come in addition to onerous demolition controls and affordable housing mandates already included in SB […]

  25. […] also come in addition to onerous demolition controls and affordable housing mandates already included in SB […]

  26. […] Via Eric Fontaine: Is Marginally Loosening California’s Zoning Restrictions Racist? […]

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