How the left is contributing to the housing crisis, Healey’s plan to save it

Oscar Nobel

This is the first issue of “Politics off the beaten path,” a recurring column that intends to shine a light on issues in politics that don’t get the attention they deserve.

With FiveThirtyEight calling Massachusetts the most likely governorship to flip, giving Democrat Maura Healey a near-one-hundred percent chance of victory, it seems certain that she will go on to become the next governor of the Commonwealth.

As a resident of Massachusetts for most of the year, just like almost everyone else at the College, I decided to look through Healey’s policy platform to get a sense of the kind of governor she wants to be. Some highlights include a child tax credit, achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and educating the public on the Commonwealth’s housing crisis.

Yes, you read that last part correctly. One of the key elements of Healey’s housing plan is to educate the public on the need for new housing. As she puts it on her campaign website, her administration will “establish a state-led pro-housing campaign to educate residents about our housing shortage and advocate for the creation of enhanced housing options in the Commonwealth.”

Make no mistake — Massachusetts does have a housing crisis. As of January 2020, the Commonwealth had an estimated 17,975 people experiencing daily homelessness. And according to a study published in July 2022, Massachusetts has an estimated shortage of 108,000 homes. As of August 2022, the scarcity of housing contributed to making the average fair-market rent in Massachusetts 50 percent higher than the national average.

So why does Healey feel she has to educate the public on the need for increasing housing? Healey doesn’t have a policy educating people on why she wants to implement a child tax credit, go carbon neutral, lower the cost of prescription drugs, or any of her other policies. But housing, for some reason, needs special treatment.

I have a theory as to why. Over the past few years, there has been increasing opposition to new affordable housing developments in left-wing politics, and I believe that this trend is the primary motivation for Healey putting a housing education policy in her campaign platform.

Allow me to paint a picture with a few examples. Yuh-Line Niou, a New York State Assembly representative, openly opposed the development of a housing project in her district. Niou even went as far as to be a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit against the housing project, on the grounds that its location at the site of a public garden undermines the need for open space in the community. But the housing project, known as Haven Green, would include nearly 16,000 square feet of publicly accessible garden space in addition to 123 housing units for low-income senior citizens, 37 of which are reserved for seniors who have been homeless. Despite opposing this project, when Niou ran for Congress in New York’s 10th congressional district, she received major leftwing endorsements, including the N.Y. chapters of the Sunrise Movement and the Working Families Party.

This opposition to housing development on the left is more common than you might expect. Another example is Brandon West, a candidate endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) who ran for New York’s 39th city council district in 2021. West opposed a housing project in Gowanus that would not only build 8,000 new housing units, about 3,000 which are reserved for low-income residents, but would invest $200 million into Gowanus’s public housing, as well as $174 million dollars to upgrade the sewage infrastructure and prevent flooding. You might think that a left-wing candidate would support this massive investment in public housing and the development of thousands of low-income housing units, but that was not the case.

In 2020, former Secretary of Labor and popular left-wing political commentator Robert Reich wrote a letter to the Berkeley, Calif., landmarks commission in support of protecting a 130-year-old vacant building meant to be demolished for a new housing development. The landmarking was eventually struck down in a 7-2 vote by the commission, but that didn’t stop Reich from voicing his opposition. He accused the development of “pretending” to build low-income housing, despite the fact that all developments in Berkeley are required to have some amount of affordable housing.

These are far from the only examples of people on the left leading efforts to stop housing projects. But the arguments behind these efforts are generally the same. Some involve opposing all housing projects that are not 100 percent publicly funded. Others involve opposing them because the development is not 100 percent below market rate housing. There are even arguments that new housing projects destroy the “character” of a neighborhood. Niou, West, and Reich’s arguments all echo these three claims.

But to me, none of these reasons justify opposition to new housing. It doesn’t matter where the funding for a development comes from, if it is private or public, or if it changes the “character” of a neighborhood. I find that there is an inherent elitism to all of these arguments. No matter your ideological disagreements with a new housing development, building homes for those in need is always better than doing nothing. But time and time again, we see people on the left valuing their ideological principles over beneficial new housing projects – projects that, in some cases, would improve the lives of thousands of people.

The fact that a pro-housing candidate like Healey feels she has to educate the public on the need to build more housing highlights the degree to which these anti-housing efforts have permeated the mainstream. If it weren’t for such strong anti-housing sentiment, there would be no need to convince the public to support housing projects in their communities. I, for one, am extremely disappointed in those on the left who have contributed to this anti-housing fervor, and am glad that the College is going to have a governor who supports building homes for those in need.

Oscar Nobel ’25 is from Brooklyn, N.Y.