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Are baby boomers to blame for the lack of affordable housing? CityLab contributor Mimi Kirk presents an argument from Randy Shaw, homeless advocate and director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, who posits in a new book, Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America, that "urban Boomer homeowners, in their quest to fend off “density” (and apartment renters) in their neighborhoods, have consistently—and incredibly successfully—blocked the construction of affordable housing."

CityLab spoke with Shaw about the theory. Here are some highlights from the Q+A:

Why aren’t these supposedly progressive, left-leaning cities supplying enough affordable housing?

The bottom line is they’re not building enough. Though it’s often said that “we can’t build our way of the housing crisis,” if you don’t build the units, there’s no possible way to address affordability. If you look at Seattle, which builds double the housing of San Francisco, the city is starting to see rents and home prices slow. Of course, just building housing isn’t enough. If a city only builds upscale units, there’s nothing for working people.

It’s also important to build in neighborhoods that are already gentrified. These high-opportunity neighborhoods must serve more economically diverse residents, and cities that claim to promote inclusion cannot just relegate the non-rich to economically segregated parts of town.

Where do Baby Boomers come into this?

A recent national study found that from 1983 to 2013 housing wealth increased almost entirely among America’s oldest and wealthiest residents. Urban Boomer homeowners are part of this trend, and they’ve made enormous profits by working to restrict housing supply where they live. Neighborhood councils and homeowners associations are usually comprised of white, wealthier Boomers, even when the neighborhoods are more diverse in terms of race, class, and age. They use their position in these organizations to impede new building such as fourplexes or triplexes. Even a neighborhood like Los Angeles’s Venice, which has a reputation for being bohemian and progressive, doesn’t build much affordable housing.

But Millennials are starting to organize and push against this trend. They’re challenging zoning laws and pushing for more housing in cities like Berkeley, Cambridge, Portland, and Minneapolis. They’ve become a real presence at city council meetings, which have long been dominated by Boomer opponents of housing. I think they’re a very talented group—they have to be to overcome the obstacles.

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