What. A. Year. 2019 was a rocky road, sometimes impassable due to flooding, sometimes blocked by failing infrastructure and outright criminal neglect. We laughed and cried through a hurricane or two, obsessed over a certain fried chicken sandwich, boiled our water every other week, and said goodbye to beloved icons and institutions alike, from Dr. John and Chef Leah Chase to Bushwick Bill, Dick Dale, and Maximumrocknroll. Here is ANTIGRAVITY’s (somewhat) annual Top 5. Roll tape.
TOP 5 INVESTIGATIVE STORIES
With the dizzying pace of today’s news cycle, even the most impactful articles can blur together with the rest. Here are some standout examples of this year’s in-depth regional journalism, by industrious journalists whose work deserves a closer look.
“New Orleans loses teachers at double the rate of other cities like it” (Katy Reckdahl)
This year, Katy Reckdahl brought into focus efforts to address some of Louisiana’s most severe social equity issues. Earlier in the year, she profiled an advocacy group made up of former foster care children who are pushing for policy changes, then a desegregationist educational center created by one of the first children to desegregate Louisiana public schools. This two-part piece highlights individual efforts that fit into a larger trend. In response to the alarmingly low attrition rate in New Orleans schools, new programs incentivize Black teachers with a long-term commitment to education to teach here. Reckdahl profiles participants in the National Center for Teacher Residencies and the Brothers Empowered to Teach Initiative, showing that schools have the power to participate much more deeply in a community when they take a holistic view of education.
“What happened to New Orleans’ Field of Dreams and its $1 million in donations?” (Lee Zurik, Cody Lillich, and Jeff Duncan)
In 2008, George Washington Carver High School undertook a massive fundraising campaign to build a state-of-the-art football stadium referred to as the “9th Ward Field of Dreams.” The project quickly became a prominent symbol of post-Katrina recovery, earning national news coverage, celebrity donations, and even a mention from President Barack Obama. Six years after the groundbreaking ceremony, the “Field of Dreams” lies empty, and over $1 million in donations and pledges have disappeared. Follow this joint investigation by Fox 8 News and The Athletic (New Orleans) to see how a potential rallying point for a deserving community became a typical account of Louisiana malfeasance and pocket-lining at the expense of its most vulnerable citizens.
As anyone following the never-ending saga of Irvin Mayfield’s public corruption misdeeds can tell you, David Hammer is as indefatigable as he is painstaking. This year alone he has investigated the Sewerage and Water Board, the death of former Tipitina’s owner Roland von Kurnatowski, and the suspicious circumstances of the Hard Rock Hotel disaster. But his recent series on the source of odors invading Jefferson Parish stands out in that it forces us to confront something we often prefer to keep out of sight and out of mind: public landfills. For two years, Jefferson Parish residents have had to put up with nauseating and toxic smells primarily emanating from the Jefferson Parish landfill, which he demonstrates to be an extreme symptom of Southeast Louisiana’s systemic waste mismanagement problem. This series offers the public information they need to hold waste management officials accountable.
Though the news broke outside Louisiana that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had been using Louisiana’s robust incarceral infrastructure to house immigrants (most of whom are seeking asylum), Nola.com’s Bryn Stole contributed good reporting on the issue this year. As Louisiana prison beds have slowly begun to empty—thanks to efforts by Louisiana officials to reduce state incarceration rates—wardens have seized opportunities to replace the revenue by accepting more immigrant detainees than any other state besides Texas. Stole’s coverage of this issue has been thorough, and his feature on the participation of north Louisiana private prison operators is particularly insightful. The piece gives a disturbing, detailed picture of the callous operations of the Louisiana prison industrial complex in its new role within the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.
“Shrinking the Gulf Coast Dead Zone” (Spike Johnson)
Spike Johnson’s beautifully written two-part piece on the Gulf Coast dead zone sets a strong example for big picture environmental journalism. The first part is a sobering look at the catastrophic effects the malignant, oxygen-deprived zones in Gulf waters have had on regional fishing industries. He shows how different industries have contributed to the dead zone, from the pipelines and canals built by the oil and gas industries to agricultural runoff upriver. Part two centers on the Midwestern agriculture polluting the Mississippi’s headwaters, and the farmers looking to shift to more sustainable practices. Johnson paints an intricate picture of a growing consciousness all along this great river that our future survival requires transcending narrow definitions of regionalism and seeing the deeper connections between us. —Holly Devon
TOP 5 MEMORABLE SETS
One of the most beautiful things about live music is the unexpected. Almost anyone can put together a solid studio recording with enough time and money, but it takes true skill to harness a moment and transform it into something special. Here are five of the most memorable sets I saw this year.
Otoboke Beaver at Valhalla (SXSW)
Chaotic Japanese garage punks Otoboke Beaver proved they make consolations for no one at an official SXSW showcase at Valhalla this past spring. During their last song, guitarist Yoyoyoshie climbed on top of the PA system. The venue immediately cut the power and lights but Otoboke Beaver weren’t even phased. They shouted their lyrics as loud as physically possible, illuminated by a sea of cell phone lights. Yoyoyoshie and singer Accorinrin crowd-surfed above our heads with electrifying disregard for anything that might stand in their way. Afterwards, the furious sound guy rushed to the stage, shouting at members to “fucking die.” I’m already excited to see where they’ll get banned from when they return to SXSW in March 2020.
Peelander-Yellow at Poor Boys
Every touring musician knows the dreadful feeling of performing to an empty room and the accompanying temptation to simply phone it in. Thankfully, Peelander-Yellow (of Peelander-Z) did exactly the opposite when he performed to seven people at a woefully under-promoted solo show at Poor Boys this summer. Instead of succumbing to disappointment, Yellow proved himself to be a master of improv and adaptation. As he always says, “I don’t want to play music! I just want to play with you!” The small crowd size allowed him to incorporate unparalleled levels of group participation, forcing everyone to chase him as he ran up a halfpipe outside and carry him around the dinky dive bar. At one point, he even stole the bartender’s bike for an impromptu mid-set joy ride. Dressed in his signature yellow attire, he occasionally strummed at his acoustic guitar, but his true power lies in his ability to turn any night into pure absurdity.
WOOF at Peach Orchard
WOOF went out with a boom. The cops came to shut down the local punk band’s final show and then a car exploded—all during their set! The feisty four-piece bid us farewell with a free DIY generator show on a small patch of green by the train tracks in Gentilly. Only a few songs into their set, the cops arrived and declared that the show must end. Smoke began slowly pouring out of a nearby car on the grass mere seconds after the cop’s warning. As flames began engulfing the vehicle, WOOF’s singer Monica made a mid-song call for the audience to move their cars. The ensuing fiery eruption served as an unexpectedly cinematic end for this local band.
Quintron at Happyland Theater
It isn’t every day that you watch a staged ritual sacrifice soundtracked by live exotica. Then again, it isn’t every day that Quintron has a record release show. The keyboard wizard turned the early night seated event at the Happyland Theater into a one-time spectacle. Balloons and bubbles filled the air as the organist performed his new instrumental exotica compositions, a sharp contrast to his typical pounding dance tunes. The ever-crafty musician even performed a song blindfolded. His wife and creative partner Miss Pussycat pushed her puppetry to new levels during the set—bandanas became lively dogs and knees became colorful characters under her mastery. In one of the performance’s defining moments, a group of women in cat costumes surrounded and murdered a rat (played by the always bizarre Three-Brained Robot).
Flipper with David Yow at Santos
Even after four decades and some lineup changes, Flipper remains a raw outlet for creativity and catharsis. The Jesus Lizard singer David Yow, who has been fronting Flipper since 2015, began the set by lunging into the crowd, breaking my glasses in the process. Similar shenanigans throughout the night resulted in three broken microphones, and held up Yow’s reputation as an intense frontman. However, the thing that keeps Flipper’s spirit alive in 2019 is not the original members or even the addition of Yow. It is the fire burning bright inside multiple generations of Flipper fans. Yow recognized this, frequently handing the mic into the crowd to devotees such as local noise musician Sebastian Figueroa, who sports a tattoo of Flipper’s signature dead fish on his chest. —William Archambeault
TOP 5 SADDEST RESTAURANT CLOSURES
Sucré shocked everyone by simply not opening one day this past June. Apparently, no one, not even their 80-person staff, was aware of the closure until that morning, which is pretty awful, to say the least. Sucré was famous for having the most beautiful king cakes in town (edible gold!), and of course, their glittering pastel macarons. No one was expecting the 13-year-old business to go anywhere, but six months after The Times-Picayune reported on sexual misconduct allegations—boom, gone. I genuinely miss having a reliable spot to pop in for floral-flavored ice creams and aggressively pretty patisserie. For sheer aesthetics, Sucré couldn’t be beat, and I can’t help but wonder whatever happened to those paintings of circus animals second-lining and riding the streetcar?
Sneaky Pickle suffered a fire in March and was expected to reopen after a month. While they have done a series of pop-ups, both in New Orleans and outside (I got notification of a pop-up in Portland and was like WHAT?), they never managed to reopen the St. Claude Avenue location. My fingers are crossed we’ll see them back in full force in 2020, because I need my favorite macaroni and cheese in the city (and yes, my favorite mac’n’cheese is vegan, what’s it to you?). Come back, Sneaky Pickle. Don’t abandon us for Portland!
Ninja, a Carrollton area sushi staple for almost three decades, shocked the Riverbend by closing unexpectedly in September. Who else makes oddly cartoonish sushi animals? Where else can I find an avocado dragon? Ninja was never the best sushi in town but they were a reliable local spot where you could take your elderly uncle without scaring him. And that’s something that is getting more rare.
Wherefore art thou, deep fried tofu po-boy? Seed’s St. Claude location closed in late April and the Prytania Street location closed in September. The official word was that the District folks would be revamping and rebranding Seed for a fall re-opening, which never materialized. While I am hoping Seed pops back up in 2020, I’m worried that District’s rebranding (they claim they are going to put their stamp on it) is going to turn Seed into a shadow of its former self. Even if they reopen, we all know it won’t quite be the same. Y’all, I fear I’ll never have that Southern fried tofu again.
R.I.P. Gene’s, a Marigny institution since 1968. A lot has been written about the greater import of this closure, about the changing face of a once working class neighborhood, about the building’s $4.9 million dollar asking price (according to public records, it only sold for $2 million—to an Atlanta-based company that plans to turn the building into condos), about gentrification, the loss of culture, the evolving nature of food culture in the city, worries about homogenization (ahem, I see you Starbucks literally across the street), etc. Gene’s was a genuine cultural landmark, a New Orleans institution, beloved by both Beyoncé and Homer Simpson. Ordering a hot sausage po-boy at midnight was a rite of passage that is no more. In many ways, New Orleans is a radically different city than the one I grew up in and in retrospect, we should have all seen it coming. —Yvette Regrets
TOP 5 THINGS LEAH CHASE TAUGHT ME
Chef Leah Chase passed away on June 1st. I was privileged to know her. The time we spent talking in the kitchen of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant is something I’ll always cherish. We would talk about chef life, food, New Orleans, the Civil Rights Movement, Beyoncé—whatever popped into her head. She taught me so much, and here are a few I’ll share (but some are just between us).
This seems simple, but it is actually one of the hardest things to do. Being present doesn’t just mean being there, but being in the moment. Show up mentally and physically. Invest yourself in whatever it is you’re doing. Chef Chase was always present. If she was in that kitchen—which she always was—she was involved in something. Peeling potatoes, directing staff, or greeting guests, she was always in the moment.
Never Stop Learning
One of the things I always found amazing about Chef Chase is how sharp her mind was. She forgot nothing. And I always attributed this to her love of learning. She was fascinated with learning new things. Recipes, cooking techniques, history, art—it didn’t matter. Her mind was keen and open and interested in everything. It was what kept her so young.
Chef Chase was a deeply religious woman. I can’t say that about myself. But I admired her faith and learned that faith in something is important, like faith in community or faith in yourself. Her faith kept her humble and helped her persevere when Dooky Chase reopened after Katrina. Most 82-year-olds would have called it quits, figuring they had a good run. But Chef Chase had faith in New Orleans, and faith in a higher purpose. She knew her city needed her.
Don’t Worry About the Money
Stella Reese, Chef Chase’s daughter, joked once that her mother never paid a bill in her life. If she didn’t know exactly what things cost, she knew the value of everything. She frequently told me that if you have a good product and you love what you do, the money will follow. If you’re always focused on the money, you’ll never make any.
Do What You Have To; Do What’s Right
Chef Chase always used to tell me, “Do what you have to until you can do what you want to. Don’t worry if you’re not where you want to be. Keep working hard and the opportunities will find you, or you’ll find opportunities.” And it wasn’t only do what you have to, but do what’s right. When Chef Chase held civil rights meetings in the upstairs dining room, attended by both Black and white movement leaders, it was illegal. But it was the right thing to do. She never saw herself as a hero. She just did what she had to, and what was right. —James Cullen
TOP 5 SEXUAL & REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH HAPPENINGS
Seeing healthy babies being born, educating folks about STIs, and linking up with like-minded professionals at conferences across the country makes me feel like a rockstar. Yet there’s a downside to this work that can be heart-wrenching: watching a mother give birth to a stillborn, informing a patient they are HIV positive, or helping a survivor of sexual assault obtain resources and support. This work is never boring, that’s for sure. The close of 2019 will go down as another epic chapter in my love affair with sexual and reproductive health. Let’s take a quick look back.
If You Love Sex, There’s a Fest for That!
There is no place in the world that celebrates life and all of its pleasures like New Orleans. When it comes to sex and fetish, would you expect any less? Mardi Gras, Decadence, Burlesque Fest, and the annual Swinger’s Convention Naughty in N’awlins all draw locals and tourists from around the world to indulge and explore freely without shame. Needless to say, I have an infinite amount of stories about patients engaging in festivities who I’ve cared for in the STI Clinic. While some folks visit us to confirm a clean bill of health prior to living out their fantasies, an influx of others come in with drips and itching after the fun is over. Earlier this year we had a patient with pink eye from a suspicious eruption of bodily fluids that landed all over his face while he was partying at one of the aforementioned festivals. Don’t ask me what it was because I can’t tell you. Enter Nurse Webb—at the bare minimum, all sexually active persons should get tested for STIs at least once a year and use protection if and when possible. I believe we all have the right to engage in satisfying consensual sex. Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Lost and Found
Condoms that vanished, sex toy fragments, botched piercings, glitter, and interesting tattoos are a few of the many surprising things I’ve found on (and inside of) patients when doing pelvic exams at my job. Earlier this year, I noticed an unidentifiable mass lodged inside of a patient’s vaginal canal while performing her pelvic exam. I couldn’t get it out with forceps and wasn’t sure if it was part of her or a foreign object. I felt embarrassed and lost. After a few minutes I went to my supervising physician, explained to her what was going on, and asked her to assist me. She had a hard time identifying the mass too. Finally, after a few more tugs she dislodged it. It was a flesh-colored wedge makeup sponge. We showed it to the patient and everyone in the exam room exploded into laughter. I couldn’t believe it! The patient couldn’t tell us how it got there or how long it had been there. Thankfully, she came to us for a screening. Of all the lost items I’ve found inside of patients this year, the sponge was definitely my top story.
The Hymen Heard Around the World
So what exactly had Twitter, CNN, Forbes, and nearly every other major social media and news outlet buzzing like crazy in November? Atlanta-based rapper, actor, and entrepreneur T.I. stated on the Ladies Like Us podcast that, regarding his daughter Deyjah Harris, “We have yearly trips to the gynecologist to check her hymen. Yes, I go with her… I will say, as of her 18th birthday, her hymen is still intact.” (The episode has since been deleted.) Now, there is no need for me to go into detail about how this practice demonstrates sexism, patriarchy, and the removal of a woman’s agency over her body. All of my internet cousins have done a great job of explaining that for me. The World Health Organization released a document in 2017 stating that “virginity testing” had no scientific basis and is a violation of human rights. Dr. Jennifer Gunter, who is an OBGYN and author of the best-selling book The Vagina Bible: The Vulva and the Vagina—Separating the Myth from the Medicine states, “The hymen is no virginity indicator, 50% of sexually active teens do not have a disrupted hymen.” Beyond the drama and endless clapbacks, I see this entire ordeal as a teachable moment for all of us.
Surviving R. Kelly
While T.I.’s statement ended the year with a bang, the Surviving R. Kelly documentary, which aired on Lifetime in early January, started off the year with a series of mind-blowing explosions. Through a series of interviews featuring his family members, previous employees, and former sexual partners, the R&B icon is accused of sexually abusing dozens of teenage girls and women for over 20 years. Shortly after it aired, Kelly was released by his record label and charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. The series left me emotionally exhausted and in tears. Sitting with my thoughts, speaking to my therapist, and discussing the details of this documentary with close girlfriends helped me process it all. I am glad that movements such as #MeToo and #MuteRKelly are changing the previous culture of silence regarding sexual abuse and predatory behavior, especially when wealthy and powerful men are the perpetrators. I believe the cultural shift of embracing mental health is just as important.
The Maternal Health Crisis Continues
In March, USA Today published an article on maternal complications and death rates in New Orleans as part of their Deadly Deliveries series. The U.S. ranks the worst among developed nations for maternal mortality and morbidity rates. When the statistics are broken down by race, Black women are three to four times more likely to die than white women during or after childbirth. While I’m grateful these reports are forcing health care professionals and policy makers to prioritize change and equity, the constant bombardment of these statistics has caused a ripple effect of mothers nationwide being afraid of dying while giving birth. I believe education and support are two of the best weapons to counter fear. The health and well-being of our most vulnerable populations will always be my #1 priority. So I’m closing out my top five list with five local resources that growing families can use to help improve our birth outcomes:
Birthmark Doula Collective | birthmarkdoulas.com
SistaMidwife Productions | sistamidwife.com
Big Easy Birth | bigeasybirth.com
Nurse Nikki NP | nursenikkinp.com
New Orleans Midwives | neworleansmidwives.com
Thank you for allowing me to share my reflections with you. I hope 2020 is a year of health, prosperity, and pleasure for all of us. —Jamilla H. Webb, BSN, RN, Birth Doula
TOP 5 UNDERREPORTED DIRECT ACTIONS
More and more New Orleanians are taking matters into their own hands. Not everything gets a communiqué or a social-media kerfuffle, so here, painstakingly crowdsourced and verified, are five direct actions from the past year that didn’t get local coverage.
Pres Kabacoff’s Tesla Primed
Racist megadeveloper Pres Kabacoff is, by popular reckoning, the number one enemy of New Orleans’ future. Like all boomers, he craves relevance, so he bought a new Tesla and parked it outside his mansion on Burgundy and Pauline. $100,000 cars are abominations, regardless of their power source, and on Mischief Night some comrades redecorated his by dumping a big, gloopy bucket of Kilz over it.
Sonder Offices Hosed Down With House Paint
Sonder have turned staggeringly large swathes of New Orleans into high-end short term rentals via loopholes City Council obligingly provided them—hell, they’ve done it with Councilmember-at-Large Jason Williams’ blessing! The (former) GM of Sonder New Orleans, Peter Bowen, quoted Ayn Rand on his company profile: “In reality, the question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me.” Someone took a stab at it. One warm summer night the local headquarters of Sonder got hosed down with fire extinguishers full of paint.
Shitty Media Man Stephen Elliott’s Trademark Car Informatively Defaced
Lots of back story here: Moira Donegan, a columnist at The Guardian, started a “Shitty Media Men” Google Doc to which anyone could anonymously contribute allegations of misconduct. Someone used it to accuse a lit-scene liberal named Stephen Elliott of rape. He responded by going full alt-right: joining Andy Ngo’s platform Quillette and, far worse, suing to have the identities of everyone who’d touched the Google Doc made public. Shunned in NYC or San Francisco or whatever coastal enclave he’d called home, Elliott fled to New Orleans to hide in an Airbnb he owns on Kerlerec. But New Orleans may not be the safe harbor he’d hoped for. In January, Elliott’s distinctively stupid-looking pink car was spraypainted all over with the epithet “rapist.”
Fifteen of Displacement Mogul Benjamin Harwood’s Airbnbs Get Their Water Shut Off
Ben Harwood is on a one-man mission to kill the Tremé and get rich doing it. A particularly rank blossom of the post-K “cool entrepreneur” scene, Harwood has, along with various other crimes and scams, been a loud self-righteous Airbnb profiteer. Notable within his vast empire is a house that was rebuilt using $120,000 of public money earmarked for affordable housing. As The Lens documented, Harwood turned it into an Airbnb that rents for $399 to $900 nightly. Alas, many of his guests had a bad night last winter when someone managed to disconnect the water supplies to 15 of Harwood’s Airbnbs on one of the year’s busiest tourist weekends.
Torres-owned Circle Foods Covered Stem to Stern in Anti-gentrification Graffiti
Corny developer douchebro Sidney Torres IV has more than earned all the stickers and tags condemning him around town. In April 2019 he bought Circle Foods, New Orleans’ first Black-owned-and-operated grocery store, and declared his intent to make it another New St. Roch Market—the fourth “food hall” in a three-mile radius. On May Day 2019, an elite anti-gentrification strike force swarmed the building, coating it from rooftops to curb in invective against Sidney and his ilk. Yuppy = Bad. —Deuce M. Thang
TOP 5 TRENDS FOR 2020
Over the past several years, I’ve revealed the coming year’s trends in this publication and others. All of my predictions have come true; many of my recommendations have been ignored. Disregard my prescience at your own peril. Happy 2020 to you and yours, from my raging Cassandra complex.
OUT: Astrology Apps
IN: Grotesque Public Divinations
I emerged an astrological agnostic from a pseudonymous tenure as an astrologer for a regional monthly newsprint magazine. But being merely human, and therefore garbage, in 2019 I was unable to resist downloading astrology apps—not one but two. One is powered by an algorithm, utilizes dubiously-sourced astral ephemera, and is derided by professional astrologers. Its missives are usually snide bullying (“You talk about other people because you don’t have your own life” “Who do you think you are?” “Your unhealthy patterns have roots in your family home”). The other app eschews astro jargon altogether, offering gentle, kind, and unnervingly accurate observations about behavior and relationships.
I seek these mystic insights almost exclusively in moments of weakness and vulnerability, desperately scanning my nightmare screen in the paranoid, solitary hours just before dawn. I suspect I’m not alone in feeling personally victimized or mercilessly read by these impersonal programs. I forecast a shift in how we seek answers.
In 2020 we will abandon divination from phones powered by the lithium batteries for which Bolivian democracy was decimated. We will take to the streets, joining the rest of the world’s radical uprisings. In a visceral reclamation of the commons we will access the divine on this plane, not just seeking but creating our futures, pulling the veil off the horror of everyday life via messy, disgusting, and violent acts of prophecy. We will write and read in steaming hot entrails on the public square. To me this is optimism.
OUT: Social Media
IN (AGAIN): Personal Newsletters, Fanzines, Small Editions of Quarterly Magazines
In 2019 many of the coolest people I know revived their practices of dispersing print media. My mailbox was blessed by single sheet personal newsletters, brief collaborative packets, and colorful 50-plus page mags. Whether xeroxed, printed on a risograph, or digitally mass duplicated, the quality of their content subtly healed my technology-inflicted alienation. This Forecast Could Be Your Life.
OUT: Being Able to Access Mental Health Care
IN: The Group Chat
In New Orleans, the number of psychiatric beds is wildly low in proportion to our population size. If you’re hoping to get help before things escalate to the point where you need to be hospitalized, you’ll face the same shortage (especially if you’re on Medicaid, which recently changed the way it reimburses providers, leading many to become unable to accept it). Whether you consider yourself to be a person with a mental illness, someone who could use temporary support, or sane in an insane world, you’ll likely face months of wait time before the possibility of receiving care.
Luckily, you can now text everyone you know at once. One of them might show you a funny meme. Sorry, this is pretty bleak, but on the bright side, friendship rocks!
OUT: Generational Insults
IN: Class Allegiance Insults
I can’t believe the hand-wringing over “OK boomer.” Setting aside my eternal question (how are there people who aren’t funny), how are there people that don’t understand that when a youth roasts you, you just gotta take it? You don’t stand a chance. But it does kind of remind me of the false, annoying, lazy, sentiment that institutional oppressions like racism will “die out” with old people. There are little baby fascists. There are elders who are cool as fuck (and statistically likely to be lonely, so go talk to them). Thus, in 2020, “OK boomer” will live on if the youth so decree. But the lexicon will expand to include “OK bootlicker.” Because cop/capitalist sympathizers come in all shapes, sizes, and ages.
OUT: Regulating Short Term Rentals
IN: Squatting Vacant Housing
Much appreciation and respect to the activists, advocates, organizations, and individuals who for years have fought against the scourge of vacation rentals. Despite (but only as a result of) their efforts, 2019 yielded tepid regulations from City Council and an insulting tax from the Mayor (0% of which will fund housing).
The housing crisis is often understood as a shortage of physical homes, leading to new developments which ironically often exacerbate gentrification and merely delay soaring rents without adding a significant number of new units. This analysis fails to acknowledge the vacancy rate, which in many cities results in the number of vacant homes being comparable to—or even in excess of—the number of unhoused families. Centering the vacancy rate exposes the false scarcity intrinsic to capitalism, and the way basic human needs like housing are commodified.
A group of women calling themselves Moms For Housing recently occupied a vacant house in Oakland, California, in a region also ravaged by short term rentals (among other drivers of unaffordability and real estate speculation, like the tech industry, of course). This revolutionary act has broad community support in the form of people donating furniture and household goods, and also having marches and other public displays of solidarity with those women and their children. It’s fucking beautiful and inspiring and we should all be taking notes. —Beck Levy