ERIN BALDASSARI: And I’m Erin Baldassari. You’re listening to Sold Out: Rethinking Housing in America, and today we’ve got something special for you from producer Natalia Aldana.
Take it away, Natalia.
[SOLD OUT THEME MUSIC BEGINS]
NATALIA ALDANA: When it comes to the housing crisis, every Californian has something to say about it.
MARGOT RINALDO: Man, it’s like — it’s like the air we breathe. It is literally, like, a fact of life if you live in California.
NATALIA: We can all point to how it’s impacted us — affected our families, our neighborhoods, and our livelihoods.
Throughout this season of Sold Out, we’ve been asking for your thoughts and experiences when it comes to housing.
So many of you got in touch. And today, you’ll hear from seven people whose stories might challenge you, empathize with you, and hopefully, inspire you.
[MUSIC – DECK LOFI]
First up, we have a listener who wants us to rethink how we live — literally who we share a roof with, and how the way we understand family impacts our housing.
Cam Coulter rents an apartment with his partner in San Jose. And Cam thinks the housing system favors homeowners.
CAM COULTER: This is probably a little hot-take, but I wish I could write off my rent payments as tax-deductible.
NATALIA: Cam recognizes that tax incentives are meant to motivate homeownership.
CAM: And that might work in other parts of the country. But here I feel like it really just punishes the people who can’t afford to buy a home.
NATALIA: Although rent is not tax-deductible in California — the state does award a $60 renters tax credit for qualifying single filers who earn less than $43,533 a year. Since Cam and I last spoke, a state bill has been proposed that could potentially increase that credit to $500.
[MUSIC OUT – DECK LOFI OUT]
While Cam doesn’t really want to buy a home, they do want to build equity.
CAM: So I see the way that the desire to own a home is sort of constructed by the fact that it’s a great way to build wealth and have long-term stability. But I wish there were other ways to achieve that.
NATALIA: As for their other pie in the sky: Cam wants more intentional housing or co-housing communities.
CAM: When I stop and dream about what, like, a beautiful, sustainable, healthy future would look like, I see housing that looks more like this.
I’ve lived in intentional community before, and I’d like to do that again in the future.
[MUSIC IN – SUNKISSED]
Live not just with my own, how to say, like, nuclear family, but with other people, and to share space with them, share grocery budgets, do communal activities.
I would love to live in a co-housing community where my partner and I could have some of our own space but also share common spaces with community. I would love to live in, like, a larger, multi-family home where maybe four to 10 adults, or kids, could comfortably live together without overcrowding.
And this could benefit a lot of multi-generational families who I know are already overcrowded in their small single-family home. I think we have too few of those options.
[MUSIC OUT – SUNKISSED]
NATALIA: Cam is nonbinary, and says the connection between queer and trans folks living in found families has probably influenced this perspective.
CAM: One thing that makes me frustrated is that so many of the housing units we have are designed for a nuclear family. Or perhaps, you know, you can have maybe grandparents or something, but they’re really designed as like single-family homes or small apartments, or just one or a couple of people. But that’s not really what I want.
NATALIA: One of the largest barriers to building more co-housing is, no surprise, money. But, Cam is cheering on organizations like the South Bay Community Land Trust, which is working on acquiring their first community-owned house in San Jose.
Cam believes co-housing can have additional benefits, like boosting our social health.
CAM: That’s like a really big issue these days, is that so many people are isolated. And when I lived in community before, I really loved just constantly having people around.
It did a lot of good for me.
[MUSIC IN – SEARCHING FOR TREASURE]
NATALIA: Our next listener knows that the housing crisis should be attacked on every single front. So Santa Cruz renter Ernesto Anguiano is setting his sights on a culprit that some might consider a friend.
You see… Ernesto wants to see cities change their zoning laws to allow for more multi-family housing. And he wants to see Bay Area cities built denser. He thinks one way to achieve that is by rethinking parking.
[MUSIC OUT – SEARCHING FOR TREASURE]
ERNESTO: There’s a lot of things that affect your ability to purchase a home. And the parking one was a unique aspect on it.
NATALIA: When there are parking minimums for housing developments, spaces for cars eat up what could be spaces for housing.
ERNESTO: So you’re essentially subsidizing that parking space that you could be building valuable housing in.
NATALIA: As Ernesto sees it, denser cities create more transit options, so reducing a dependency on cars can help the environment, and makes it possible to afford a home.
All of these changes can help the housing crisis.
ERNESTO: You know, everybody should have the opportunity and the ability to live where they want to live.
And if you want to have, you know, your single-family home, or your single-family neighborhood, you know, I can respect that. But at the same time, you have to give others the opportunity to live in that same neighborhood.
[MUSIC IN: WURLY REGGAETON]
NATALIA: Ernesto knows folks have a reliance on cars, but he hopes he’s planted the seed for more conversations in the future.
Next, we turn to Eva Hopkins who has a vision for Oakland, her hometown. She has big thoughts on gentrification and ways to address it.
EVA HOPKINS: You have to at least have one point something million dollars to get a good house, in a good area, in Oakland. And I essentially got priced out of Oakland.
NATALIA: When we spoke Eva had just sold her condo in Emeryville and was preparing to move into her new home in Hercules.
[MUSIC OUT: WURLY REGGAETON]
She sees how Oakland has changed.
EVA: All these developers coming in, and I’m going to say, white developers, coming in and kicking us all out, rebuilding stuff, and making it unaffordable for the people that were there before.
Where you could have been paying $1,000 for rent, now you’re paying $4,000 for rent.
[MUSIC IN: DIZZY]
Because if you talk about poverty, and stuff like that, you’re pushing us into poverty because we can’t afford this, and people don’t have anywhere to go. So where does that push them? When you push them out, that pushes them on the streets, and there’s poverty right there, right? So it’s basically keeping us from rising on top, and pushing us straight to the bottom.
It’s really important that when there are major developers coming in and redeveloping places, that they are community-driven. Get those construction companies that are in the community that you’re building in and get those residents working somehow, someway on this project so that they can live in the places that they build.
NATALIA: And it’s not just Oakland — Eva works at a non-profit in San Francisco, and points to the Dream Keeper Initiative as one tool to address gentrification there.
[MUSIC OUT: DIZZY]
It’s a city-wide effort to reinvest $120 million from law enforcement into San Francisco’s Black community. $10 million is allocated for housing and homeownership.
As Eva navigated the buyer and seller’s market these past few months, she said similar programs and initiatives really helped her, and she hopes prospective home buyers will take advantage of resources out there.
EVA: They are making it possible for people of color, and you know us, to buy homes, so take advantage of it.
NATALIA: Taking advantage of programs is just one way to stabilize communities. But while that may not have been enough to help Eva own in Oakland, she said she’s proud to live in a Bay Area city and remain near her mom and brother.
NATALIA: We’re going to take a quick break. Coming up, one listener points to some legislation they think could make waves in affordability, a landlord who considered leaving the business, and someone who shows us the devastating effects of displacement.
[MIDROLL – ADVERTISEMENT]
NATALIA: Sean Ripley emailed us wanting to talk about a controversial policy in his city.
The Opportunity to Purchase Act, or OPA, would give current tenants, as well as qualifying nonprofits, the first shot at buying certain residential properties.
SEAN RIPLEY: The hope is that this will create housing that has a permanent affordability to it, like the housing preservation that will happen over time.
NATALIA: Although OPA has been discussed in the city since 2018, it was first formally considered by the East Palo Alto City Council in October 2021 — and the disagreements soon followed, through Facebook forums and city protests.
According to the NO to EPA OPA website, one of the arguments against this ordinance is that it could damage the single-family housing market and property values.
SEAN: It’s kind of that part of the conversation, the financial argument on one side, against the kind of, housing and restorative justice aspect on the other side.
NATALIA: Sean and his wife own a single-family home in East Palo Alto. As a homeowner, he recognizes that his property value could fall, but in the end, he says he wants to see everyone in his community have an equitable opportunity to grow and thrive.
SEAN: I do care about the value of my house. But I would be willing to take a hit to that value if I knew that the neighbors around me would be able to be uplifted.
[MUSIC IN: ALWAYS ON THE UP HIP HOP]
Because I know that them being uplifted raises everything, including myself. I don’t have to just focus on my property, in my silo, in my small piece of the world — I live in something bigger.
NATALIA: When I spoke to Sean in February, a vote was expected on OPA on March 1st, but it’s since been postponed, likely, for up to 10 months.
This season of Sold Out talked about the loss of small landlords, and how the rise of corporate landlords has led to more evictions. But what makes a small landlord want to stop being a landlord?
Jenny Johnston says so much of being a landlord has changed, and recently, she considered leaving the business.
Jenny lives in a Berkeley duplex she and her husband purchased in 2003, and they started renting it out to help pay their mortgage.
Back then, she says identifying a tenant was a lot easier.
[MUSIC OUT: ALWAYS ON THE UP HIP HOP]
JENNY JOHNSTON: And at that time, we interviewed people and we did a background check, and we checked and saw what they were earning. We kind of basically just said, “Well, I don’t know, did you get a good feeling from those people or not?”
NATALIA: But now, she says the pandemic’s impacts on the economy, plus the eviction moratorium have made it much more challenging to be a landlord.
JENNY: The criteria have gotten stricter. I needed to make sure that people had almost like an extra cushion, that they would be able to, you know — and maybe I’m very careful — like, you know, what if somebody was working for a restaurant or a bakery? Well, you know, it could shut down if business wasn’t good, right?
NATALIA: It even made Jenny question whether this was still a sustainable source of income.
JENNY: If I look back that far and I say, hey, if I had gotten out of this and just put the money into some mutual fund in the stock market or something, I would have actually done better.
[MUSIC IN: PASTIME]
NATALIA: Today, companies own at least two-thirds of apartment buildings nationwide — a big change from the late 80’s when a majority of landlords were considered “mom and pop” shops.
Jenny says she knows of other property owners who have stopped renting because the process has become too difficult to manage.
JENNY: I mean, I understand that during the pandemic the government didn’t want people to be kicked out of their housing because of the lack of rent, but I’ve heard of several cases of other friends of mine who have units who just stopped renting them because they didn’t want to rent out without knowing that they had some control over what was happening on their property.
NATALIA: Jenny says regulations like eviction protections and rent payment postponement, have made renting more labor-intensive, and financially riskier for her.
[MUSIC OUT: PASTIME]
She believes a way out of the crisis is to build more housing, rather than placing more restrictions on the limited housing available.
JENNY: If you take a number of places that already exist and start to make a lot of rules about how people can offer those, it doesn’t make more places for people to live, it actually makes it harder.
I don’t hear that point of view very often. And I know that, you know, different people see this in different ways and that, you know, some protections are important, but just trying to make people offer their units in a certain way is not going to create new units or places for people to live.
NATALIA: Jenny continues to rent out her place in Berkeley, and says seeing more houses built in her East Bay community gives her hope.
[MUSIC IN: Lo Fi Fun Rap]
NATALIA: Next, we’ll hear from two organizers — the experiences that brought them to this work, and the issues they’re determined to solve.
ALEX MELENDREZ: Housing is a human right.
NATALIA: Alex Melendrez lives with his parents in San Bruno, where he pays rent.
And he has a guiding principle for his work.
ALEX: Everyone deserves a stable home.
[MUSIC OUT: Lo Fi Fun Rap]
NATALIA: As the son of Mexican and Afghan immigrants, Alex is concerned with how the housing crisis has led to overcrowding in immigrant and refugee communities.
ALEX: Many of them will tell you finding permanently affordable housing is the biggest challenge to stabilizing community members who already face large barriers and cultural changes that make adjusting difficult.
It’s not a recipe for success if you do not have a stable home.
NATALIA: Despite all the challenges surrounding the housing crisis, Alex remains hopeful.
[MUSIC IN: PEACEFUL WONDER]
ALEX: As cheesy as it sounds, never underestimate your power to be part of the solution. Sending an email, making public comments, participating in an upcoming housing discussion.
I like to say any good organizer who loves policies or the debates around these conversations knows that policy isn’t what organizes people — it’s stories and impact.
NATALIA: With that, we turn to our final conversation with someone who has experienced eviction very young — Margot Rinaldo.
Knowing its effects firsthand has been a huge motivation in Margot’s work today, and it gives her a unique perspective on politics.
Her story starts in San Jose — the place where she last felt stability during her childhood.
MARGOT RINALDO: It was a two-story house. It was like a white building with, like, blue roofs.
I lived in that house until I was 11. What I really remember about that home was like, it was ours, like, it was ours.
All of that started changing around 2007, which is when my dad started receiving lots of calls from the bank.
[MUSIC OUT: PEACEFUL WONDER]
And then finally, in like 2008, I remember one day my dad telling us, we’re going to lose the house.
NATALIA: This was during the Great Recession. Without an immediate place to go, her dad put their belongings in a storage unit.
MARGOT: And I remember, like, just staring at a pile of my toys and thinking to myself, like, I’m not going to be able to take all of these with me.
NATALIA: As a child, Margot says she didn’t understand the foreclosure crisis, or why the things that comforted her were now going away.
She has a strong memory of sitting in her dad’s car.
MARGOT: And like looking up at the sky and being like, I hope to God he finds a house soon. Like, that we can be a family again.
NATALIA: Margot moved around a lot over the next few years — 4 different cities, 3 different high schools, and many different homes.
She told me about the place they moved into after losing her childhood home.
MARGOT: The only house we could get was not equipped for people to be living in.
I just remember like constantly, like, scratching at my ankles, and like these open sores would be on my ankles for, like, days because of all the flea bites. And we also didn’t have any furniture in that house.
NATALIA: Margot says housing instability dominoed into every part of her life.
MARGOT: It’s largely like a lack of security, a lack of the ability to feel calm, a lack of the ability to relax or, you know, feel confident in your future.
NATALIA: That lack of security affected Margot’s grades and social life. She remembers getting a D in Spanish class, despite being a native speaker.
MARGOT: I remember sitting at the Caltrain and, like, thinking, like, there’s no future for me to go to college or anything like that.
NATALIA: But Margot remained determined to continue her education. In her senior year of high school, she worked 40 hours a week to save enough money for the first few months of rent in the college dorms.
MARGOT: Then for my 18th birthday present, my dad bought me a chance to take the S.A.T. and so that was my — I remember that was my 18th birthday present.
NATALIA: Margot’s experiences with the housing crisis set her on her life path.
[MUSIC IN: NEW INQUIRY]
She graduated from Sacramento State in December 2021 with a degree in political science. She now lives in Sacramento and is a community organizer.
She’s also a regular at City Council meetings.
MARGOT: If you’re a homeowner, you’re listened to when you call into the City Council meetings and you tell them you don’t like the look of unhoused people living near your neighborhood. They’ll go and sweep those people because you’re a homeowner, like, you matter.
What’s clear to me is, like, certain people’s housing is a priority.
[MUSIC OUT: NEW INQUIRY]
NATALIA: What Margot has learned throughout her childhood, her studies and her involvement in the community is that housing instability and displacement is not a failure of individuals.
MARGOT: It’s a collective failure of our society. Especially for folks who have gone through so much housing insecurity like it’s really important to like, reclaim your sense of self.
NATALIA: As for solutions, Margot has a lot of ideas on how we can begin to chip away at the housing crisis, starting with more action from government leaders.
MARGOT: You know, our local representatives need to start advocating at the state level. If they are being burdened by state policies that are not allowing them to move quickly enough for renters or for unhoused people, like, they need to start advocating at the state level.
NATALIA: And she’s got some advice on how to get started.
MARGOT: I hope if any young people are listening like you have power — you do have power. It takes a bit to organize and to, like, get to know where your supporters are in your community, but they’re there.
Not only should you join an organization, but you should also be, like, reevaluating possibly how your individual circumstances are connected to the larger community around you.
[MUSIC IN: LEAVING THE CITY]
MARGOT: When I think of home, I think about how every time I go to the Bay now, I take the Amtrak. When I get off the Amtrak, the bus transfer is right in front of the biggest Chase Bank building you’ve ever seen. When I sit across the street from that building, I wonder who is allowed in the highest levels of that building?
I know that my view of San Francisco is really different than theirs. And so in those moments, I’m really overcome with, like, bittersweet homesickness. That reminds me of when I was growing up there.
I feel like the Bay Area for me has always been an art gallery, where the paintings are placed really high so only the tallest people are ever able to see them. And then as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to identify that the place that I’ve always considered home has always seemed to reject me.
NATALIA: Margot has been dedicating her energy on political education, by organizing teach-ins on Sacramento’s history of housing segregation, how housing policies work, and how to inspire greater local advocacy.
Thank you to everyone who shared their stories with me. That’s Cam Coulter, Ernesto Anguiano, Eva Hopkins, and Sean Ripley, Jenny Johnston, Alex Melendrez, and Margot Rinaldo.
[MUSIC OUT: LEAVING THE CITY]
And to the many others who shared their housing experiences — thank you.
[THEME MUSIC IN]
For those of you who haven’t gotten in touch — and still want to — we’re here! Send us an email at [email protected]
We always want to hear your experiences and your biggest, boldest and wildest idea for the future of housing.
ERIN: That was Sold Out producer Natalia Aldana.
Thank you to everyone who shared a tweet, Instagram post, or called and emailed us.
Sold Out is a production of KQED. Natalia Aldana reported and produced this story. Editing by Kyana Moghadam and Jessica Placzek. Additional support came from Erika Kelly, Molly Solomon, and me, Erin Baldassari.
MOLLY: Brendan Willard is our sound engineer. And Rob Speight wrote our theme song. Gerald Fermin is our engagement intern.
We couldn’t have made this season without Ethan Toven-Lindsey, Holly Kernan, Erika Aguilar and Vinnee Tong.
ERIN: Thanks so much for listening. That’s a wrap!