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Golden Gates
Cover of Golden Gates
Golden Gates
Fighting for Housing—and Democracy—in America's Most Prosperous Cities
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A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
A stunning, deeply reported investigation into the housing crisis

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 where the homeless make their homes. 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 uprisings that have risen in tandem with housing costs.
To tell this new story of housing, Dougherty follows a struggling math teacher who builds a political movement dedicated to ending single-family-house neighborhoods. A teenaged girl who leads her apartment complex against their rent-raising landlord. A nun who tries to outmaneuver private equity investors by amassing a multimillion-dollar portfolio of affordable homes. A suburban bureaucrat who roguishly embraces density in response to the threat of climate change. A developer who manufactures homeless housing on an assembly line.
Sweeping in scope and intimate in detail, Golden Gates captures a vast political realignment during a moment of rapid technological and social change.
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
A stunning, deeply reported investigation into the housing crisis

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 where the homeless make their homes. 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 uprisings that have risen in tandem with housing costs.
To tell this new story of housing, Dougherty follows a struggling math teacher who builds a political movement dedicated to ending single-family-house neighborhoods. A teenaged girl who leads her apartment complex against their rent-raising landlord. A nun who tries to outmaneuver private equity investors by amassing a multimillion-dollar portfolio of affordable homes. A suburban bureaucrat who roguishly embraces density in response to the threat of climate change. A developer who manufactures homeless housing on an assembly line.
Sweeping in scope and intimate in detail, Golden Gates captures a vast political realignment during a moment of rapid technological and social change.
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  • From the cover

    Chapter 1

    Members of the Public

    The political revolution known as BARF began during a seven-hour-and-fifty-two-minute planning meeting inside San Francisco City Hall. It was half a century in the making and in the space of two years would upend California politics and help to spawn a national uprising of angry, millennial-aged renters. But there on that first day you almost had to squint to see it. The meeting was in the judicial-looking chambers of the San Francisco Planning Commission, and it had been going for about three and a half hours when the commissioners turned their attention to a proposal for a new building that would have eighty-three subsidized apartments reserved for low-income households in the impoverished Tenderloin neighborhood. When it was time for public comment, a nervous young woman in a striped sweater and shorts walked from her seat to the audience microphone and addressed the semicircle of commissioners sitting on the platform in front of her.

    "Hi, my name is Sonja Trauss," she said. "I'm just a member of the public, and I'm here because there is a housing shortage in San Francisco. And, um, I look forward to as much new housing being brought to market at all levels, uhh, as possible. I mean, quickly as possible. Thanks."

    Whoever this Sonja was, she was obviously not alone. Over the next hour, she and a bearded friend kept using the public comment time to say they were in favor of every project in the pipeline, as well as more housing generally. It began with the 83 subsidized apartments in the Tenderloin, then continued with the 111 units at 650 Indiana Street and the 259 units at 1201 Tennessee. Through hastily prepared comments that she strung together with a surplus of "ums" and "sos," Sonja proceeded to lay out a platform that would make her a housing celebrity and inspire a run for city office: how expensive new housing today would become affordable old housing tomorrow, how San Francisco was blowing its chance to harness the energy of an economic boom to mass-build housing that generations of residents could use. She wasn't there to complain about shadows over her yard or a lack of parking on her street. She didn't care if a proposal was for apartments or condominiums or how much money its future residents had. It was a universal platform of more. Sonja was for anything and everything, so long as it was built tall and fast and had people living in it.

    "I decided to come speak in support of large housing projects when I realized that the entitlement process is biased against beneficiaries of new building," she told the commission when the Indiana Street project was up. "So neighbors around the projects, with valuable opinions, um, you know, get notified, but the potential probably two hundred new residents have no way of giving input into whether, like, this project or any similar project gets to be built. . . . Sooooo, I'm part of the general community of renters in the Bay Area, so I'm affected by the lack of housing through high rent and lack of options, so I'm here on behalf of myself as, like, a general part of the public. So yeah, so, in general, I'm here to remind the planning commission to consider all the people that will benefit from this once it's built. Because they don't exist yet as, you know, as renters."

    The rhetoric wasn't new. The term "NIMBY," developer shorthand for "not in my backyard," had been around for at least four decades at that point, and there were numerous books, countless news articles, and an entire sub-specialty of economics to show that the Bay Area was the national capital of NIMBYism. Had she been a man with white hair or...

About the Author-
  • Conor Dougherty is an economics reporter at The New York Times. He previously spent a decade in New York covering housing and the economy for The Wall Street Journal. He grew up in the Bay Area and lives with his family in Oakland.
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Golden Gates
Golden Gates
Fighting for Housing—and Democracy—in America's Most Prosperous Cities
Conor Dougherty
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