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Two experts explain why solving the housing crisis helps the climate

Annie Fryman and Leonora Camner join the Future Perfect podcast to explain what the rest of the country can learn from California’s housing struggles.

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Activists spray-painted “Forgive Our Rent on May Day 2020 in Los Angeles.
Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images
Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

There’s a saying that California’s present is America’s future, and this summer has done much to bolster that impression. The wildfires ravaging the state are the most visceral demonstration yet of what climate change can do to the US. Those fires are largely fought by prison laborers, who are in short supply due to Covid-19 outbreaks, bringing two of America’s other big crises into the mix. And the recession caused by Covid-19 is prompting fears of mass evictions in the state, as in much of the country.

At the center of these varied crises is housing. California’s housing shortage and upward rent spirals in places like the Bay Area and Los Angeles are perhaps the worst of anywhere in the US. The success of the tech industry in San Francisco and its environs (and increasingly Southern California too) has brought incredible prosperity, but without homes for migrants to live in, it’s also boosted property values to unprecedented levels, pricing out all but the richest residents from many neighborhoods.

I was lucky enough to talk recently to two activists in California working to adopt policy changes that would create enough housing to meet the state’s needs, and perhaps construct a framework that other states can emulate to meet housing demand.

Annie Fryman is a senior adviser focusing on housing policy to state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat whose district includes San Francisco and some surrounding areas. Fryman helped Wiener design both successful (as in SB 35, a law that streamlines approval of housing projects in municipalities that have failed to build enough housing) and unsuccessful (SB 50, a law that sought to dramatically increase housing near transit) measures that seek to expand housing supply in the state.

SB 50 in particular has been the center of heated debate given how sweeping and ambitious it is in expanding rights to build new multifamily housing units in an attempt to provide housing for all. When we spoke, Fryman and Wiener had just been narrowly defeated in efforts to legalize duplex housing statewide in neighborhoods previously zoned only for single-family houses.

Leonora Camner is the executive director of Abundant Housing LA, a nonprofit, volunteer-driven advocacy group “committed to education and advocacy on the affordability, livability, and sustainability benefits of more housing” in Southern California. Camner also serves on the housing commission for her home city of Santa Monica.

Fryman, Camner, and I came together over Zoom to discuss the duplex bill, the racist history of zoning in California, how better land use policy can help fight climate change, and much, much more. It’s a great conversation.

My full conversation with Fryman and Camner can be heard on Future Perfect.

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