In the weeks running up to the November election, I’ve watched white liberal courage break in real time. This year, St. Paul residents have the chance to support a ballot measure initiated, researched and led by communities of color, a policy that would fundamentally shift the unbalanced relationship between landlords and tenants.
Voting yes for rent stabilization should be an easy choice. But an influential fraction of white urbanists has muddled the conversation about Question 1, giving well-meaning white people the opening to turn unfounded caution — and a desperate desire to be “right” — into complicity with landlords and the wealthiest people in our city.
The “Yes in My Backyard” or YIMBY concept was created as the inclusive, pro-renter contrast to the “Not in my Backyard” or NIMBY movement that has relied on dog whistle racism to oppose new housing in predominantly white neighborhoods. Unfortunately, a small handful of mostly white men have given too many YIMBYs reason to vote no on this critical policy.
These white urbanists have reassured potential no voters that they’re a good person, that they really care about tenants, they really want rent stabilization, honest, just not this one. They have correctly identified the housing crisis and its devastating effects, but go no further. If they attempted to solve the problem, they’d no longer have the correct analysis. There would be expectations then, responsibility beyond another article weeping for housing supply.
None of these folks have dedicated thousands of hours to building community, to collecting signatures, to standing up, iron-spined, to the richest people in the city. The Keep St. Paul Home campaign did. The policy on the ballot was created and carried through the petitioning process and to this point by women, organizers of color, and tenants. Those three groups are rarely the engine driving our city’s largest political conversations. But in whiter more powerful circles they are often fretted over. “How do we engage them?” “How can we increase their turn out in important election years?” “How can we find out what resources they need?” I’ve found an easy answer to those questions: Support their work and follow their leadership.
So it’s both baffling and disappointing that when communities of color are engaged, when renters have an important issue to turn out for in an election, these same people turn into armchair housing experts with superior analysis to those with direct experience of housing instability.
Among the the paternalistic critiques from urbanists is the assumption that the Keep St. Paul Home campaign didn’t do its homework. That the policy — which would limit annual rent increases to 3% for all units in the city — will have unintended consequences that the authors weren’t smart…