Even San Franciscans accustomed to hearing complaints about soaring housing costs were taken aback when Fiona Gray declared that she might be forced to leave the city. She is, after all, a cheery-faced Mission High School student still living at home with her parents. Sitting at a dinner table with her father, James Gray, and other Bay Area residents, Fiona was glum about what the present crisis in housing spells for her future. Many classmates are homeless and depend on free school meals. Homelessness, in effect, had become “normalized” at Mission High, she explained.
Richard Rothstein, one of the most prominent experts on segregation in America, warns that the San Francisco Bay Area will never be able to fully address the current crisis in housing until one truth is acknowledged. It is this: Segregated housing projects were created by design—not accidentally—throughout the Bay Area because of federal and local government programs and policies, and the legacy of this history profoundly impacts the housing crisis today. “This myth that it all happened by accident hobbles our ability to do anything about it,” says Rothstein.
As a longtime observer of New York politics, journalist Juan González could easily have written a book focusing solely on how Bill de Blasio, a relatively unknown politician, won a surprising victory in that city’s 2013 mayoral elections. Instead, González broadened the scope of his exploration to show how de Blasio represents the most visible example among a new generation of young, progressive leaders who have cropped up in San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Boston and other cities across the nation. These new grassroots politicians offer hope for those who oppose the “urban growth machine” that, until now, has freely pushed development under the philosophy that land decisions should be based on the ability to yield profit, rather than public benefit.