Tech for Housing was founded to organize Bay Area tech workers around supply friendly land use reform. Tony Albert, Joey Hiller and myself, all saw an unmet need for tech-centric political outreach and decided to try our luck. And as tech workers ourselves, we had certain ideas around the best ways to self-organize and why that organization hadn’t really happened to date.
One problem with mobilizing Bay Area tech, we realized, is that many of us spend 50-60 hours a week at work. For those of us that weren’t already passionate about land use issues (yes, I’m aware I just used the terms ‘passionate’ and ‘land use’ in the same sentence), spending significant time and energy to understand, let alone act on, reform is asking a lot.
We also noted that tech workers are, to varying degrees, transplants. Consequently, the existing political infrastructure that’s not too great at mobilizing tech workers generally is even less effective at activating recent arrivals who might not even be registered to vote in their new jurisdiction.
After thinking through these and other reasons that we in tech remain politically apathetic, we realized the challenge was to dramatically increase the perceived benefit and decrease the perceived cost of political participation.
To that end, we’ve started with tech focused content on housing policy, explaining at a high level 1) what’s broken, 2) why it’s broken and 3) what can be done about it. A lot of what’s happening at this stage is attracting the other workers in our industry who are already wonky enough to have read How Burrowing Owls Lead to Vomiting Anarchists two or three times. And after developing that core audience, providing them ways to activate our less engaged colleagues via various forms of social signaling. There’ll only ever be a certain number of people who’ll be actively convinced through explicit education and argumentation; the rest need to be mobilized by creating momentum for participation within their peer groups.
Ultimately, we want to make participation in land use reform a conspicuously consumable good within Bay Area tech. We want everyone within tech to identify as YIMBY by default and for that reflexive self-identification to tip the scales of everyone’s internal cost benefit analysis in favor of having an articulable opinion and taking minimal actions like sending a letter, signing a petition, or casting a vote.
In writing this post I have two hopes. One is that sympathetic readers will come across it and want to help us toward our goals. The other is that the ideas we have and the challenges we face in outreach and organization will help others attempting similar projects elsewhere. At the federal, state, and local levels, land use policy suffers from a lot of institutional baggage. The decisions of past decades have set us off in a particular direction and it’ll take significant effort to change what’s considered the policy default. The more we can learn from each other, and the faster we can learn it, the better our results will be in changing the status quo. Hopefully what we’re attempting here will contribute toward those efforts.