I’m pleased to announce that I am joining YIMBY Action as full-time staff for Peninsula for Everyone! Find the story of how I came to the movement below. I hope you will join us and help us grow to build a better future for our region.
Quitting my job as a psychologist to become a housing advocate may strike some friends and family as odd, but I can think of no more vital and urgent thing to do at this place and time. In 2016, I moved back to the Bay Area, where I grew up, and was excited to apply my many years of addiction and PTSD-focused training to serving veterans escaping homelessness. I eventually started working in a community-based setting (“in the field”) providing mental health services at veteran’s homes, in shelters, or in public places. The work was often rewarding, always challenging, and eventually unbearable as the systemic problems in our housing system became too great a barrier to ignore. Despite having access to a Federally-subsidized housing voucher, a social worker, and a housing specialist, few of my patients could get housed anywhere close to needed VA jobs programs and treatment due to prohibitively expensive rents near VA campuses in Palo Alto and Menlo Park. I broke the sad news to hundreds of veterans that they were extremely unlikely to be able to find a home in a location that would keep them connected to their VA community.
I started hoping we might get a functioning oven or a doorknob in the bathroom, but we got a for-sale sign instead.
The City of Palo Alto gave me a lesson in the policies perpetuating our housing shortage. As an early-career psychologist, I rented a small 1-bedroom rundown bungalow near downtown Palo Alto. Suddenly, the owners started sprucing the place up with new landscaping and fresh paint job. I started hoping we might get a functioning oven or a doorknob in the bathroom, but we got a for-sale sign instead. The property, which included 2 apartments in addition to our bungalow, was sold for $3.5 million. A redevelopment sign appeared shortly thereafter, indicating a plan to demolish the 3 small homes to build one large stand-alone house. I called the city, sharing my concerns about our dire housing crisis, but city staff explained that the property was zoned single-family and that the third unit on the parcel was illegal to build in the first place. As I learned more about local policies and processes that thwart housing, it became clear that homelessness will only get worse until systemic reforms were enacted.
Palo Alto’s harmful policies roused me into action: I started making public comment and canvassed for a pro-housing City Council candidate, but the power of the entrenched opposition was overwhelming. My voice was easily dismissed at meetings, as long-time homeowners advocating for “sensible zoning” dominated discussion. The candidate I supported lost his bid for re-election after a nasty campaign including misleading attack ads. Wresting power away from those benefiting from the status quo would not be easy.
Fortunately, I began to go to public hearings in other cities and got connected to other housing advocates. We bonded over shared experiences like being yelled at in City Hall and swapped stories about awful NIMBY comments. In 2019, I helped to convene our first official general meeting, at which we named ourselves “Peninsula for Everyone.” Since forming, we’ve grown in membership and influence, advocating for higher heights, more density, less parking, and more neighbors. However, to overcome NIMBYs who have been organizing for decades, we will need to grow our membership rapidly and focus our energy where it will make a difference. In transitioning from part-time volunteer to full-time staff for Peninsula for Everyone, I plan to help move us to a place where our power is undeniable, our voices are heard, and policies are enacted to help move our region toward a more equitable and sustainable future.