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Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  1,258 ratings  ·  186 reviews
A stunning, deeply reported investigation into the housing crisis

Spacious and affordable homes used to be the hallmark of American prosperity. Today, however, punishing rents and the increasingly prohibitive cost of ownership have turned housing into the foremost symbol of inequality and an economy gone wrong. Nowhere is this more visible than in the San Francisco Bay
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published February 18th 2020 by Penguin Press
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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Claire Reads Books
Mar 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this – a narrative, journalistic overview of the housing crisis in California (and beyond)...wonk-y enough to shore up some of my basic knowledge of these issues and the history behind them, but peppered with plenty of characters and some surprisingly bracing commentary from Dougherty. A quick, informative, and very readable intro to a crisis that affects all of us.
Feb 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: learning, housing
While most blurbs seem to describe this book as a look at the past and present of the Bay Area's housing crisis, it seemed to me more like a modern history of YIMBYism in the Bay Area and how it relates to the history of housing policy, with glancing looks at the crisis from the perspective of its victims. The YIMBY arc, mostly that of Sonja Trauss, is the beginning, end, and the recurring through-line of the book. That seemed like an interesting and informative lens to me, so much so that I alm ...more
Michael Siliski
Mar 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A surprisingly engaging story about the push to build more housing. Traces the deep roots of the anti-development & NIMBY phenomenon, and then the story of the current YIMBY movement. Told through an interwoven set of individual narratives. Being close to this issue and knowing some of the people involved, overall it seems pretty on target to me. I thought it glossed over the actual gentrification/displacement distinction, and wish it had made a stronger point about how lack of housing is a root ...more
James Steichen
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I moved to the Bay Area five years ago and the region’s housing politics have mystified me. Is rent control good or bad? What the hell is Prop 13? What are people talking about when they demand “local control”? These questions bothered me because I consider myself politically savvy and even obsessed but I could not make sense of this issue just reading news reports and think pieces online.

No surprise, but it takes something book-length to even begin to unpack this complicated issue. And this bo
Jul 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic book. Dougherty gives a fascinating account of California's housing crisis, with memorable characters and vivid storytelling. But what really impressed me about this book was its thoughtful, well-researched, and even-handed treatment of the economic and political issues underlying that crisis. True, the overall orientation of the book is very pro-development. The heroes are YIMBY (YES In My Backyard) activists who believe building more housing is the way to address problems o ...more
John Boyne
Apr 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: current-issues
Dougherty is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal reporter who has been working on housing issues in America for quite some time now and this book is an excellent summary of the progress that is beginning primarily in the Bay Area of California. The YIMBY movement is grounded on the idea that there simply isn't enough housing to go around and the way to alleviate that is to build more housing. Sounds simple, right? Yet the difficulties arise quickly when confronted with NIMBY's and local pol ...more
Misael G
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
I wish I could give this book 4.5 stars. Golden Gates is a series of vignettes that together reveal the grand scope of the housing crisis in California. While it centers on the Bay Area, the challenges are really a magnified version of our national problems, made even more pressing in the Bay. I’m a housing policy wonk and I think that in a couple sections, the writing suffers from trying to be too accessible. But otherwise, really enjoyable, depressing, informative read.
Aug 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A must read for any Californian or anyone looking to understand how the housing crisis came to be, and what’s being attempted to alleviate it. The audiobook is fantastic.
John Devlin
May 09, 2020 rated it liked it
I would disagree with the author’s conclusion on capitalism, racism, and inequity but he does an excellent yeoman’s job of tracing, delineating and highlighting the various strands of the housing debate.

Though SF is a particularly virulent mix of left wing political groups, the author is fair and balanced in expressing the competing claims.

Conclusions: your faith in govt action should be sorely tested by this book.
The ridiculous hyper factionalism, the torrent of regulations at all different lev
Michael Lewyn
Mar 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Like Randy Shaw's Generation Priced Out, this books is about the housing crisis in northern California. and about the efforts of the Yes In My Back Yard (YIMBY) movement to increase housing supply . But while Shaw's book is a polemic, this book is a work of journalism, describing some activists and their points of view rather than making a detailed argument. Some chapters are primarily about the YIMBY movement, but one is about the efforts of suburban Hispanics to prevent increases, and others a ...more
Zack Subin
Feb 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: urbanism, nonfiction
This book is an informative and engaging read that will be enjoyable for die-hard YIMBYs / HousingTwitter veterans and housing newbies alike. In one chapter I learned that most of today’s debate was anticipated 40-50 years ago when the decisions preceeding it were made, but many prescient voices were ignored. “The Environmental Protection Hustle” called out environmental objections to infill as encouraging sprawl. In another I learned that greedy real estate speculators are not just a stereotype ...more
Jan 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
Timely commentary on housing crisis in bay area (and other cities) that holds no blue or red color. Speaks about pure tribal instincts to keep housing segregated play what role in policymaking and how it affect lives of those who cannot afford housing. Also adds commentary about power of markets and anticipated role of governments.
Due to covid, workforce is going remote and people are leaving expensive cities in hordes in the search for affordable living. This would serve as wake up call to som
Jerusalem Demsas
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: delta, housing
Really good. Examines all parts of the housing crisis and the players in it with empathy and a critical eye.
McDavid Stoddard
Oct 20, 2020 rated it liked it
This book did a good job at firing me up to be a YIMBY (yes in my backyard) i.e. the build anything, everything, just fucking build, we-are-so-fucking-desperate camp.

I also have a better understanding of SF politics. However, I found something about Conner's writing style impossible to stay interested in for 200+ pages. I think he would have benefited from playing around with the form more (harness a little Gladwell), editing out some of the backstory (I don't give a fuck about the childhood of
Feb 19, 2020 rated it did not like it
This book was rather too simplistic and limited in scope, as it fell back to trope-y personal story reporting, which, while poignant, is entirely too specific. I felt like the author attempted to use the Bay Area as an example of the US-wide housing crisis, which failed mostly because there is no way to make one area representative of a nationwide problem with strikingly different causes, demographics, political battles, and financial issues to easily sort.
I am not overly fond of personal stori
Dan Connors
Aug 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-books
The housing crisis is a slow-moving disaster that's been eclipsed for now by the Covid-19 epidemic, the BLM movement, and the opioid epidemic, among dozens of other crises the media feeds us.

I've been lucky living in the Midwest to have been able to find affordable housing my entire life, and this book was an eye-opener to see what others are facing in large cities all over the country. Conor Dougherty tells the story of the San Francisco area, ground zero of America's housing crisis. He interv
Jun 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-read
"Patterned on the American mind, in ways we rarely stop to notice, are layers of zoning and land-use rules that say what can be built where. They are so central to how American cities look and operate that they have become a kind of geographic DNA that forms out opinion of what seems proper and right....In America, zoning was often used to raise or at least protect property values, and over time this cause people to see office and residential neighborhoods as rigidly distinct and to treat single ...more
Jul 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Conor Doughtery's "Golden Gates" analyzes the housing crisis in the Bay Area (and, through it, the country writ large) through the stories of different advocates (often accidental advocates/activists) trying to tackle the complexity or the immediacy of the crisis.

Given the ways in which fights around housing in some cities can often turn into flame wars that mask significant areas of agreement, I appreciated Dougherty's attention to nuance. He is broadly sympathetic to the YIMBY crowd in the Ba
Raymond Xu
Mar 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Golden Gates educates us on the housing crisis in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dougherty dives into the muck of local politics, mostly over the last decade:

- San Francisco Bay Area Renters' Federation (SFBARF), it's history and involvement, which leads to...
- Sonja Trauss running for district 6 board of supervisors, in the "(Yes/Not) in my backyard" aka yimby vs nimby fight
- Relationships between renters, developers, and local politicians, with a particular focus on...
- Scott Wiener and his acti
Dec 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sociology, gcpl
New York Times reporter Conor Dougherty takes San Francisco as his lens and looks at one of the biggest problems we face in this country: that of homes for everyone to live in. It is a hugely complicated economic issue and he lays it out, almost in story form, clearly and thoughtfully. It's a marvelous read, funny at times, with many startling moments for those of us just beginning to think more about the subject. This reader learned a ton about politics.
Recommended for sure, it doesn't matter
Mar 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This should be the first book you read if you want to be informed about the Bay Area housing crisis, tenants rights activism, or the YIMBY movement. I loved every page. One quote really captures how well Dougherty grasps the complexity of housing: "It's complicated stuff, and once you get into the details and peel back the history and ask what sorts of policies will actually lead to a world that is more stable and more equitable, it's hard to walk away with a belief that any sort of rigidity is ...more
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. Take a deep breath.

It’s nothing shocking, it’s the reality we live in. Heart breaking but real. Dougherty said it best, “There’s no way to rectify a housing shortage other than to build housing, and there’s no way to take care of people whom the private market won’t take care of other than subsidies or rent control, or both. The details are Democracy.”

Great journalism and fascinating past and recent history of the Bay Area housing crisis. It’s is so very true that unlike other commodities,
M. Mangan
Mar 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Although my city is among the most dense places in the US, I have been really perplexed about the housing and zoning dramas that have been underway here. People elsewhere are shouting about how density is needed, we have that--and it isn't solving our problems with "luxury condos" and displacement. Since this isn't my field, I had no framework to understand this besides just being a city dweller.

This book provided the context I needed to understand the strange tensions among the groups involved
Brandon Solis
Aug 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Amazing. It does a great job of showing the complexity of housing politics in the bay area and around the world. Some people look at San Francisco and say "I know! We just need to build more affordable housing, and build more housing in the east part of the city." If that describes you, sit down youre in for a ride.

I dont have too many bad things to say here, except some of the 'characters' can be annoying. And this book has a clear bias, it would kick out some of the long term residents in the
Eli Sokol
Mar 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent summary of the housing crisis facing the Bay Area and many large American cities. The cause of the crisis is complicated and explained very well here with recent anecdotes including major figures on different sides of the ideological spectrum. A must read for anyone interested in understanding housing politics in America.
Apr 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I've lived in the Bay Area longer than I have lived anywhere else and yet there was so much I learned from this book that helped me understand the housing crisis.

The book is sometimes easy-to-read narrative nonfiction with compelling personal anecdotes and sometimes heavily detailed wonky discussion of housing history and politics. But it all combines to explain well how the Bay Area finds itself in this predicament.

There are no easy solutions provided because there are no easy solutions that ex
Carly Thompson
Feb 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Interesting look at the housing crisis in the Bay area over a span of years and efforts by activists to increase high density housing.
Samarth Gupta
A must read for those interested in housing, in their communities, in politics, in social policy, in economics, and in justice.

I hope to most a longer review soon, but for now some thoughts are here:
Jacob Kimmel
Sep 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
In Golden Gates, Dougherty examines the exorbitant cost of San Francisco Bay Area housing, the historical roots of this policy failure, and the political movements that have arisen in response. This combination of historical account and critical analysis is a rare reflection on public policy that I can evaluate against my own lived experience.

Doughtery's contemporary history begins in 2013, just before I moved to San Francisco from a rapidly growing Sunbelt housing market and became deeply confu
Cyrus Samii
Jan 03, 2021 rated it liked it
Deep dive into politics and social movements surrounding the question of housing development and increasing urban density in the San Francisco area. The narrative arc is mostly tied to the emergence of the current YIMBY (as the counter to NIMBY) movement in the San Francisco area.

Dougherty doesn’t seem to want to put forward a core argument, but rather prefers to lay out a multitude of factors that plausibly contribute to under provision of affordable urban housing. The YIMBY movement’s achieve
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“zoning says a lot about who we are and who we are becoming. At least at the local level, zoning is democracy, and democracy is zoning.” 1 likes
“name on a years-long list or a chance to enter a housing lottery that they have almost no chance of winning. Policy wonks referred to it as capital A Affordable Housing to make it clear that these units are part of a government program and not the naturally cheap apartments that most people imagine them to be.” 0 likes
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