The Age of Precarious

by on January 31, 2022 · 11 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Map of STVRs from website AirDna

By Mat Wahlstrom

By the time you read this, the city council today, Monday, Jan. 31, will have already likely voted in closed session to approve a settlement that lets everyone involved in the 101 Ash Street fiasco off the hook — except the taxpayer.

There’s been myriad reporting about the details of this scandal in other outlets, foremost the excellent analysis of why this is the likely result published by La Prensa San Diego. But the reason for my mentioning it is at the heart of my topic: why more and more of us are having to live in precarity, dependent on circumstances beyond one’s control and at the whim of others.

Among all the truths our electeds and their donors hold as self-evident, none is more sacred than ‘honor among thieves’ when it comes to raiding public funds.

And if it were still true that “the robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated,” it might be enough to keep muddling through, as we have all along.

But at this stage of late capitalism, it’s not just trust and accountability and transparency that the powerful agree need to be taken from us, but all sense of security and any chance for a better tomorrow.

Last Friday, the OB Rag published an excellent piece on the state of the U.S. economy and COVID. The key points are that the government assistance that got many of us through the pandemic worked and need to be expanded not ended to deal with endemic inequality; and that only by actively working with others is this possible.

This argument isn’t new, but COVID provided the data to prove its validity beyond doubt. Which is why the powerful are pushing back harder than ever to keep either from happening, using tools they didn’t have before.

An article about the housing crisis in the New York Times from earlier this month describes what’s happening:

“My pessimistic view is that the economy is perfectly capable of running with unaffordable housing,” said Daryl Fairweather, the chief economist at Redfin. This was evident over the past decade, she said, when affordability worsened even as the economy continued to grow. And that reality has enabled politicians and the public to largely neglect the issue of housing affordability.

“Another way to phrase that is people will still get up and go to their jobs, even if they’re housing insecure,” Fairweather said. “That’s one reason to think we’ll still just keep letting this problem get worse.”

Today, first-time homebuyers in once-affordable markets have competition from all kinds of sources that didn’t exist a generation ago: from global capital, from all-cash “iBuyers” that size up homes by algorithm, from institutional investors renting single-family homes, from smaller-scale investors running Airbnbs.

And it’s not just homes being sized up by algorithms, but the people who would live in them. In addition to credit and background checks, renters and buyers are assessed with an unregulated ‘tenant score’ created using black box artificial intelligence with access to every data point that exists about a person.This may include personal data leaked in security breaches and hacked for cheap on the darknet.

Until recently, it used to be the case that landlords only required proof of income that showed rent being no more than 30%, which for $51,000 a year would be $1,250. Now most require income at a minimum of 2.5 times or more monthly rents, which for a 300 square foot studio with no parking in Hillcrest at $1,700 would be $51,000.

Before the pandemic, 40% of San Diegans were paying more than 30% of their income on rent — the third highest in the nation. With requirements for security deposits equal to or twice one month’s rent, what chance does anyone making below San Diego’s area median income (AMI) of $95,100 have except to try and stay put with one or more roommates, or move out of state?

But what have our electeds done since January 2019, after MIT released a study showing that higher density and reduced parking actually increase housing costs and don’t increase new housing construction?

  • Eliminated any requirements for on-site parking at new projects, unilaterally giving up its most effective bargaining chip for ensuring affordable housing be included.
  • Defined on-site multifamily housing as ‘affordable’ at 80% AMI — but lets developers pay a fee to not include any.
  • Allowed more accessory dwelling units than SB9’s state minimums and defined them as ‘affordable’ at 110% AMI.
  • Implemented its so-called Complete Communities plan ending single family zoning.
  • Instituted ‘transit priority areas’ over areas of the city with the most naturally occurring affordable housing, incentivizing more expensive new development in poorer neighborhoods to replace it, and eliminated requirements by new businesses in them to provide parking for customers or staff.
  • Legalized short term vacation rentals.
  • Approved changes to an ‘inclusionary housing law’ that still allow economic segregation in new housing projects.
  • And they are currently working on Blueprint San Diego, the explicit purpose of which is to remove the last means of community input on land use decisions citywide.

There’s simply no way to get actual affordable housing built without actually building it — at the same time, on the same site, in adequate amounts — to offset the loss of any existing affordable housing it replaces, or move the needle on existing disparity where there was no housing.

We need to reverse blanket upzoning and tie all zoning to meaningful affordable housing requirements. We need to convert underutilized retail and office spaces in addition to hotels into housing, by eminent domain if necessary. And we desperately need rent control.

But there’s a method to the madness. By making finding or keeping shelter precarious, people are reduced to simply existing, less able or willing to engage in the civic participation and social organizing necessary to better their lot — or demand consequences for crooked deals like 101 Ash Street.

Electeds at all levels and their donors know this: that’s why they refuse to consider the solutions I mention. Unless we band together to demand better, things are only going to get worse.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob Edwards January 31, 2022 at 10:06 am

Great article Mat! I’m continually amazed that our Democrat mayor and Democrat city council have sold out to the big money interests in real estate and development. The fact that they are encouraging unbridled growth with no provisions to ensure that new housing is affordable or that prevents it from being used as short term vacation rentals shows how little these elected officials actually care about making housing affordable and how much they want to please their wealthy campaign contributors and lobbyists.


Mat Wahlstrom January 31, 2022 at 10:22 am

Thank you, Bob. I’m constantly mystified by the unqualified support they get from many, especially in communities of interest, simply because they’re a member of that community and/or Democrats. Exceptions are most anyone who’s dealt directly with them for assistance only to receive hot air in return.

The root problem is, individuals only count for one vote; but their developer donors deliver money to bamboozle tens of thousands of votes. Those are their real constituents, and they act accordingly.


Paul Webb January 31, 2022 at 10:16 am

Thanks for this article, and thanks for the link to the MIT paper. Unfortunately, it costs $37.50 to rent the paper for 24 hours. As much of a policy wonk as I am, I find it hard to pay that much money for something that will disappear tomorrow. The abstract was interesting, though.


Mat Wahlstrom January 31, 2022 at 10:26 am

Appreciate your response. Turns out the author has it posted on his website for free,


Geoff Page January 31, 2022 at 12:57 pm

I’ll second Bob’s comment, Mat, really great piece. Thanks for the La Prensa link to that article, they recapped the whole sorry story in great detail. The MIT one was interesting, the abstract was enough for me after seeing the wole paper.

You’ve been welcome addition to the the world of The OB Rag.


Mat Wahlstrom January 31, 2022 at 1:01 pm

The honor is all mine. I just wish there wasn’t so damn much skulduggery to have to write about. I’d prefer to talk about strolling the beach!


Geoff Page January 31, 2022 at 1:07 pm

I am not a religious man, Mat, but I have always like the word “amen.”

And, once again, I had to look up a word you used, I like that.


We The People January 31, 2022 at 1:07 pm

When enough people in this City realize what a “strong mayor form of government” really meant when they voted for it, a few years ago, they probably wouldn’t have voted FOR it. Now we’re seeing what happens when one person has so much control. When the Land Use and Housing subcommittee and other subcommittee’s are staffed by Councilreps, they’re not going to displease the King. When the members of the Planning Commission are appointed by the King, they’re not going to displease him. When all City Department Directors and Deputy Directors (department heads) are not protected by Unions, and work at the will of the King, they can loose their lucrative jobs with the snap of his fingers, so they’re not going to displease the King. So who’s left to hear the people, and do something FOR the people. Who’s going to denounce the continuation of doing something TO the people? No one is speaking for the people. When this City gets tired of the shenanigan’s that seemingly pop up, on a daily basis, and band together to talk to the Council reps in council chambers, and the Mayor, about being accountable, and use some common sense, along with accredited CPA’s, and not surround themselves with “yes” people nodding their heads, to keep their jobs, then we will be better off as a City. Voters need to know the history of how a candidate has operated before they were a smiling, hood ornament, candidate. We need to pay attention to those currently manipulating the City’s residents and businesses, and don’t vote for them again for any position they run for! The shadiness, like Ash St., needs to stop, and why is the City Attorney not doing something about it? That’s an elected position, so that’s not “at the will of the King”.
Very frustrating destruction of San Diego happening in several different ways in several different communities. Wake up people.
THANKS for a great article, Matt.


Mat Wahlstrom January 31, 2022 at 6:19 pm

Thanks, People. It goes back over and over again to the calamitous Citizens United ruling equating money with speech. It has hollowed out our body politic and turned our electeds into sock puppets.

Today the California Assembly voted on AB 1416, The DISCLOSE Act, to at least try to curb the influence of dark money. Pay attention to how our reps voted to see who’s side they’re really on.

Big picture, the only solution is to both overturn Citizens United and mandate publicly funded elections. Anything else is just re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.


Carol Scheufele January 31, 2022 at 5:09 pm

Be not overcome of evil but overcome evil with good.


Mat Wahlstrom January 31, 2022 at 6:31 pm

A man reaps what he sows.


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