Tens of thousands of protesters packed the streets of California on Wednesday to force the state’s housing and construction industry to reckon with the state’s rising housing shortage.
All-night vigils and flash mobs had already brought thousands of house-hunters and campaigners from around the state on to the streets of the Golden State in an effort to stop the housing crisis unfolding on their watch.
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The campaign marked the latest in a series of street blockades that have become increasingly common in US cities as housing prices soar.
In September, a coalition of San Francisco residents carried out the “Lethal Weapon” scenario and blocked traffic and occupied buildings. In August, Oakland residents held the city’s first-ever “occupation” for housing rights, and last October, a group of protesters paraded near Sacramento to “tear down walls of apartheid” and protest against “multi-million dollar houses just outside the city limits that are keeping a class of residents out of its heart”.
And earlier this month, in what has been billed as the largest flash mob in Australian history, around 15,000 high school students held candlelit vigils around the country to protest the state’s housing crisis.
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For some, protests have been successful. In San Francisco, this week’s action forced the temporary closure of a housing association and two apartment buildings after protesters overran the grounds. On Friday, the San Francisco city hall will serve as a backdrop for a new demonstration by immigrant families.
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At each event, house-hunters and other activists have aimed to put the view from city hall on the map as a symbol of mounting despair over California’s housing shortage.
A decline in affordable housing has hit the urban core particularly hard, hitting the heart of San Francisco hardest.
In 2016, there were more than 110,000 homes and apartments in San Francisco that would cost $400,000 to buy and $700,000 to rent in other parts of the state. Five years earlier, there were less than 70,000.
We’ve stopped caring about anyone in this country
Mark Kerr, a 26-year-old house-hunter from Oakland, said: “We have all stopped caring about anyone in this country. That’s the way that the politicians are doing it.”
Kerr, who is looking for a one-bedroom apartment for $2,000 a month, could be living in San Francisco or Oakland without a problem. But he would be able to buy a similar apartment in nearby San Jose, but there just aren’t any.
“I’ve got a place, if they just let me in now. I’d probably buy it. But people don’t just do that. They wait two years, and if they don’t know me when I do show up for my next ‘open house’, they are done with me.”
The housing shortage affects not just low-income households, but also the middle class. Carol Chocano, a resident of Oakland, has had to wait seven years for her home-building dream to be realized.
“My dream is to have a home in Oakland where I can be involved in home improvement, where I can grow up and raise my family and raise my children with the things I grew up with,” Chocano said.
“At the same time, I want my children to experience the same kinds of security that I experienced with my parents.”
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With California’s housing crisis in its eighth year, the state’s longest on record, this spring will mark the 13th state legislative session since the Occupy movement shook the nation over inequality.
California’s suffocating housing shortages have also drawn comparisons to the housing crisis of the 1980s, but activists at Wednesday’s demonstration said that California was on the cusp of a crisis worse than anything seen in the past.