Conservative Arguments For the Latest Food Stamp Cut Are Bogus. Here’s Why.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it had finalized a pending rule on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) that will affect nearly 700,000 able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs). Areas with insufficient jobs will no longer be able to receive waivers for SNAP’s three-month time limit; ABAWDs will need to work, volunteer, or participate in job training for at least 80 hours a month to maintain eligibility, though the USDA is not providing supportive resources to help people get and keep jobs. In essence, this is a plan cruelly designed to terminate nutrition benefits.

This was the first of three SNAP-related rules introduced by the administration this year. If all three are finalized, they will have a cumulative effect of taking critical nutrition assistance from more than 3 million people.

The Trump administration’s attack on SNAP is nothing new; for decades, presidential administrations as well as members of Congress have been attempting to push people off SNAP, as seen under the Reagan administration, in 1990s welfare reform, and 2018’s farm bill. Selecting ABAWDs as a target was no coincidence; the policy is complicated and confusing, and though it has extremely high stakes for those affected, their voices are rarely heard.

More than that, though, it’s a rule ripe for generating arguments about personal responsibility, hands up instead of hands out, and the “dignity of work.” This talking point made a return appearance in a press release from Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) and an op-ed from Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who has apparently never labored under the oppressive eyes of a ruthless algorithm at an Amazon warehouse, or defended himself against violent customers attacking him over a McDonald’s counter.

Conservative policymakers rely on language like this to drive home the idea that programs like SNAP, along with housing vouchers, Medicaid, and other elements of the social safety net, are handouts encouraging dependence rather than part of the social contract. In cuts to programs like these, the argument is that without stricter guidelines, poor people will “lazily” rely on benefits.

This framing can also be seen in incidents like a flashy campaign to highlight corporate tax dodging that stigmatized public benefits, rather than focusing on the need for corporations to pay not only taxes, but fair wages.

Some may defensively and correctly note that many people subject to work requirements are already working; in 75 percent of SNAP households with someone who is subject to existing work requirements, for example, someone has worked and/or will work within a year of receiving SNAP. Furthermore, some people considered able-bodied for the purposes of SNAP are in fact disabled.

It’s also important to be aware that the overall quality of jobs in the United States has gone down. In some cities, as many as 62 percent of workers are employed in “low-wage” jobs. 30 percent of low-wage workers live at or below 150 percent of the poverty line. And while Perdue commented on Twitter that “there are currently more job openings than people to fill them,” getting a job in a nation with very low unemployment can actually be challenging, particularly for people with limited education or trade skills and obligations that may not show up on SNAP paperwork.

Ample evidence dating to the 1970s, when they were first implemented with then-food stamps, demonstrates work requirements are ineffective when it comes to meeting the stated goal of fostering independence; “work or starve,” as NY Mag put it, does not result in systemic change. While people subject to work requirements may experience a moderate uptick in employment, it fades over time, suggesting the effects are not lasting.

There’s no evidence to support punitive measures like these.

In some cases, people actually grew poorer over time; the current ABAWDs requirements have people working 80 hours a month, but accept volunteering and training programs in addition to work hours, which are not necessarily avenues to making enough money to survive. When participants are involved in voluntary, rather than mandatory, work and training programs, on the other hand, they’re much more likely to experience improvements.

Meanwhile, SNAP contributes about $1.70 to the economy for every dollar spent, and can help insulate workers from shocks like recession and job loss. These benefits are tremendous poverty-fighting tools. Making SNAP harder to get will make it difficult to get people onto SNAP quickly when unemployment starts to spike, hurting local economies in addition to making it hard for families to feed themselves.

SNAP is not the only program being targeted with work requirements. Multiple states have pushed for Medicaid work requirements, though thus far every one has backed down or faced a legal challenge. Programs such as SNAP and TANF, notably, already have work requirements, they just aren’t stringent enough in the eyes of some critics.

There’s no evidence to support punitive measures like these. They do not improve employment rates or fiscal independence. It’s important to acknowledge this, but not at the cost of the larger point: SNAP exists to bolster access to nutrition in the United States through a variety of means, whether allowing people to pick up what they need at the grocery store or certifying children for school lunch eligibility.

SNAP doesn’t just need to be defended; 62 percent of voters actually believe the extremely popular and effective program should be expanded. The United States should increase the availability and quality of benefits, and eliminate bizarre and restrictive limitations on the program, such as the ban on hot food. When people lack access to stoves or microwaves, refusing to allow them to buy hot foods is cruel, and undermines the USDA’s own goal to “do right and feed everyone.” And it should streamline SNAP benefits — something under attack with the USDA’s proposed rule around Standard Utility Allowances (SUAs), which would make it harder for people to get SNAP benefits when they need them.

The nation must change the way it talks about programs like SNAP; they aren’t something to be ashamed of, or evidence that someone has failed. They are instead evidence of a belief that everyone deserves access to a standard of living that meets their needs, freeing them to lead their best lives.





Giving Tuesday Isn’t the Antidote to Black Friday’s Consumerism

Black Friday never fails to go viral: Videos of shoppers charging into stores, shouting expletives at one another, and brawling over doorbusters appear every year on the evening news before becoming memes on the internet. These images give life to the spectacle of Black Friday as a frenzy driven by classless penny-pinchers with irreverence to the struggles of underpaid, overworked retail employees. Giving Tuesday, a marathon day of fundraising for nonprofits on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, is the supposed genteel foil demonstrating self-control and selflessness.

For Giving Tuesday, the media find no obvious villain: Donating to nonprofits — or, as Giving Tuesday calls it, doing good — counters the overindulgence of Black Friday. However, positioning Giving Tuesday as the antidote to Black Friday is erroneous because both days stem from the same monster: widening disparities in income and wealth.

The vilification in Black Friday reporting casts shame upon the crowds that wreak havoc on stores in the name of snagging a deal. Take these headlines, for example: “What Turns Black Friday Shoppers Into Raging Hordes?” “The Human Costs of Black Friday, Explained by a Former Amazon Warehouse Manager.” “Why Black Friday Shopping Is Especially Dangerous in Tennessee – And How To Be Safe.”

However, the culprit behind Black Friday hysteria is more systemic than individualistic. Companies intentionally employ misleading tactics, such as creating a sense of faux scarcity and marking up the original price of products so the discount price seems better, to appeal to potential customers. The perception of limited temporality concerning the sales compounds this sense, strengthening the urgency and fear of missing out for many shoppers.

Meanwhile, stagnant wages, expensive health care, student loan debt, the racial wealth gap, and the gender wage gap, in addition to a host of other inequitable institutions, have left the average person in the United States in a state of financial precarity. Blaming these people for taking advantage of one of the few moments they may have to afford a new phone, kitchen appliance, or toy for their child not only ignores their victimization by the system, but fails to acknowledge that wealthier individuals actually spend more on Black Friday than do the people vilified in the day’s popular portrayals.

Giving Tuesday, which the 92nd Street Y and United Nations Foundation launched in 2012 as a Twitter hashtag, is the apparent salve to rampant consumerism. People can absolve their conscience of the post-splurge guilt and regret by donating money or volunteering time to a charitable cause. “When you give, you feel happier, more fulfilled, and empathetic,” wrote Asha Curran, Chief Innovation Officer and Director of the Belfer Center for Innovation and Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y, in 2017.

Centered at the core of Giving Tuesday is “the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world.” People give back, ushering “in the holidays’ charitable spirit” and powering a movement that has grown over the years and has the potential to raise half a billion dollars this year.

However, as “a day that encourages people to do good,” Giving Tuesday is not as inclusive as it states. The mean gift size during Giving Tuesday in 2018 was $105, an amount that is not insignificant for a cash-strapped individual. Those who are able to participate in Giving Tuesday, whether that be by donating money or volunteering time, are not representative of the marginalized communities in need of investment. In fact, charitable giving has increased for upper-income households while decreasing for middle- and lower-income households — a trend that tracks the expanding wealth gap.

While donations from individuals and organizations offer relief for nonprofits working in under-resourced communities, a funding system in which groups must vie for the limited goodwill of some benevolent donor does not address the roots of inequity, inequality, and injustice. Similar to how stores promote deals to bring in potential customers for Black Friday, nonprofits market their cause to potential donors for Giving Tuesday.

A quick look at Giving Tuesday pages shows how the campaign plays into this competitive dynamic as nonprofits are listed as products to be filtered and added to an online gift bag and on leaderboards showcasing the most successful fundraising hauls. Donations are transactional: $50 provides shelter for a night, $100 “provides one month of meals” to a sheltered family, $250 “provides a day of therapeutic child care services” for a sheltered child. Giving Tuesday puts a price tag on critical services for marginalized communities, and wealthy donors determine if the price is right.

Giving Tuesday is not as inclusive as it states.

Expanding inequality in income and wealth has resulted in a society in which the top 1 percent commands more money and political power than the bottom 50 percent. Bemoaning the greed of Black Friday while praising the altruism of Giving Tuesday ignores the structures that give life to both.

For the average person in the United States, uncertainty and instability dictate their experience; faulting them for perpetuating a splurge-heavy holiday season fails to recognize their existence at the mercy of low wages, staggering debt, privileged corporate interests, and more. Nonprofits and community organizations are in a similar position: When the government fails to support them, they become hostage to privatized benevolence.

Instead of congratulatory applause for donors on Giving Tuesday, let’s reevaluate the cruel cycle in which society denies marginalized communities access to comfort and opportunity, denigrates them for attempting to carve out access, expects nonprofits to compete for money that will assist the marginalized communities, and then thanks wealthy donors for their performative generosity.



How an Algorithm Meant to Help Parents Could Target Poor Families Instead

Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, is poised to implement a major change in the way families are hooked up with social services come January 2020. If “Allegheny County” sounds familiar, it’s probably because the county recently received significant attention for its child welfare investigative process. In 2015, it incorporated a predictive algorithm called the Allegheny Family Screening Tool into its child welfare program. That algorithm analyzes parental and family data to generate a risk score for families who are alleged to have maltreated a child.

In 2020, Allegheny will begin applying a similar algorithm to every family that gives birth in the county, with the goal of linking families in need to supportive services before a maltreatment case is opened. But some critics insist that it will be just another way for government to police the poor.

The new program is called “Hello Baby.” The plan is to eventually apply it across the county, but the January launch will begin in only a select few hospitals. Like the Allegheny Family Screening Tool, the Hello Baby algorithm analyzes family data to apply an individual family score.

Emily Putnam-Hornstein, who helped design both programs, told TalkPoverty that Hello Baby uses slightly different data than the child maltreatment algorithm, which was criticized for targeting poor families because much of the data used was available only for people who used public services.

“This is a universal program,” explained Putnam-Hornstein. “In the [child services] model the county was being forced to make a decision after an allegation had been received; in this case we’re taking about more proactively using data … so we wanted that to be built around universally available data.”

But these exclusions don’t guarantee that the data will not end up targeting low-income families again. “They rely on data where the county has the potential to have records for every family,” said Richard Wexler, the executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. “The county acknowledges they will probably use data from [Child Protective Services], homeless services, and the criminal justice system, so yes, theoretically everyone can be in that, but we know who’s really going to be in it.”

An overview provided by the county online cites “birth records, child welfare records, homelessness, jail/juvenile probation records” as some of the “available service data” incorporated into the predictive risk algorithm, indicating that Wexler’s assessment was absolutely correct. Although that data is potentially available about anyone, several of these systems are known to disproportionately involve low-income people and people of color.

Putnam-Hornstein said via email that the Hello Baby process is “truly voluntary from start to finish.” A family can choose to drop-out of the program or discontinue services at any time.

The option to drop out will be presented at the hospital, when families are first told about the program. A second notification, and chance to opt-out, will then be made by postcard. If a family doesn’t respond to the postcard, they are automatically included in the next phase of the program, which involves running available data through the system to determine how much social support each family needs.

According to Putnam-Hornstein, scores will be generated about four to six weeks after birth for families that do not choose to opt out (or who are too busy to realize they want to). Once a family is scored, what happens next varies based on which of three tiers they fall into.

Under the “universal” tier, the most basic approach, families receive mail notifications about resources available throughout the county. Families grouped in the second, “family support,” tier will receive a visit from a community outreach provider and an invitation to join one of 28 Family Support Centers located around the city of Pittsburgh.

The “priority” tier engages families with a two-person team made up of a peer-support specialist and a social worker who will work closely with the families to identify their needs and partner them with appropriate providers. It is designed to be an individualized program that grants families access to the full range of support services available on a case-by-case basis. That could mean helping a parent navigate the complexities of applying for housing assistance or ensuring timely placement in a substance use treatment program. The county said in its promotional material — which was reinforced by Putnam-Hornstein over the phone and by email — that choosing not to engage with any aspect of the program will not lead to any kind of punitive action.

But parents who need supportive services still have reasons to fear intervention from child services. The reality is that any program putting families in contact with social service and medical providers means, by default, also putting those families at greater risk of being reported to child services by placing them in more frequent contact with mandated reporters.

A mandated reporter is someone who is legally required to report any suspicions of child maltreatment they encounter. The intention is to ensure timely detection of as much child abuse and neglect as possible, but data have not shown that an uptick in mandatory reporting equates to more child safety.

In Pennsylvania, nearly anyone who regularly interacts with children in a professional or semi-professional capacity is legally considered a mandated reporter. An unfortunate side-effect of the mandated reporter system is that even though a referral program like Hello Baby is not directly involved with child services, participating families will always be haunted by the possibility of coming under investigation.

But parents who need supportive services still have reasons to fear intervention from child services.

Putnam-Hornstein assured that family’s scores will not be retained or shared with child services, even for families under investigation — but noted that “it is possible that child welfare workers could infer the level of risk if the family has voluntarily agreed to participate in Hello Baby Priority services and a child welfare worker learned that when gathering family history.”

It’s clear that the new program is not designed to get families involved with child services, although it is spearheaded by the Department of Human Services, which oversees the Office of Children, Youth, and Families that conducts child maltreatment investigations and responses. Rather, Hello Baby was created with the goal of offering a more equitable way to expedite service referrals for families with new children who need them.

“Universalizing the assessment of social needs at birth is the only way to avoid discrimination,” said Mishka Terplan, an obstetrician and addiction medicine physician, who was not talking specifically about the Hello Baby program. He observed that patients with obvious social needs, such as those suffering from acute addiction, were often screened and referred for other issues, like postpartum depression or housing assistance, while other parents’ needs were going undetected and unaddressed. “That seemed unfair,” he lamented. Terplan believes that universal screening programs would eliminate both the disparity between services rendered, and reduce the stigma attached to needing behavioral health treatment and other social supports.

Hello Baby’s creators hope that offering families these programs before there is a child maltreatment complaint can help keep them out of the system altogether. But by using imbalanced data points like child welfare history, homeless services, and county prison history to auto-generate scores, it assumes poverty as the main basis for family need. While poverty does generate certain needs, it is not the only indicator for the whole range of unique social supports that new parents require, such as mental health screening or child care assistance.

A system that continues to embed data that target the poor may only end up automating the social inequities that already exist, while placing vulnerable families under increased scrutiny by mandated reporters for the child welfare system — even if it intends to serve as a universal screening process that helps families avoid punitive interventions.

“As long as the system confuses poverty for neglect, any form of such screening is extremely dangerous,” said Wexler.



A Unique Philadelphia Law Guarantees 16,000 Domestic Workers Paid Time Off

Maria del Carmen currently works for 25 different bosses across the city of Philadelphia. She’s been a domestic worker for 24 years, employed as a housecleaner, a nanny, and an eldercare provider. “I like doing my job well so that my bosses are happy and their things are taken care of,” she said in Spanish, speaking through an interpreter.

But her work is grueling and at times dangerous. Sometimes she isn’t paid for the work she does. Even when she is paid what she’s owed, it isn’t much and comes without any benefits.

She doesn’t get any paid time off; once when she had to stay home to care for her sick son, one of her employers got extremely angry with her. “I have to work when their kids are sick and they give me their viruses, but I can’t stay home when they give them to mine,” she noted.

She’s experienced discrimination for speaking Spanish and being Latina, she said, including a client who told her they weren’t happy her son went to the same high school as their son. Years ago, she was even the victim of sexual abuse. Bosses have undressed in front of her and insinuated that they wanted to have sex with her. “I actually had to stop working, which was a financial hardship,” she said. “That kind of abuse impacts all parts of your life, including with your family … We bring the heaviness of these abuses home.”

But there wasn’t much that she could do about it. Domestic workers were the only type of worker excluded from Philadelphia’s antidiscrimination protections. “No habia una ley,” she said; there was no law protecting her or offering her recourse.

That will soon change. Since the middle of 2018, when the Pennsylvania Domestic Workers Alliance was formed, del Carmen and other domestic workers in her city have had one goal: Establishing a domestic workers bill of rights to include them in basic labor protections and even grant them powerful new ones. On October 31, that goal was achieved when the Philadelphia city council unanimously passed a bill establishing rights for the city’s 16,000 housekeepers and caregivers. It’s the 10th such law in the country, joining those in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Oregon, and Seattle.

Philadelphia’s bill of rights does three key things. First, it makes sure domestic workers are included in basic labor standards such as protection from racial, gender, age, national origin, and language discrimination, as well as the right to meal and rest breaks. It also goes above that floor to require that domestic workers be given legally binding written contracts in both English and their preferred language outlining job responsibilities, hours, and payment schedules. Employers also have to give domestic workers at least two weeks’ notice of termination, protect their privacy, and provide a notice of their rights.

But the third facet is the most radical: The city will create the country’s first-ever portable paid time off benefit system. The bill establishes a right to get paid time off for all workers, no matter how many employers they have. With that in place, it mirrors the city’s existing paid sick leave ordinance, which grants workers an hour of paid time off for every 40 they work.

Now other states can copy us.

Now, when a domestic worker puts in 40 hours across all of her jobs, she’ll be due an hour of paid time off, funded by prorated payments from each of her employers into a central benefit bank. Employers will have to contribute paid time off for any domestic workers they hire for five or more hours a month. The benefit bank will still be hers to claim even if she changes clients later on.The bank will be coordinated not by domestic workers themselves or even their employers, but through technology developed by a third-party vendor. The employers “don’t need to be talking to each other, and the worker doesn’t need to be coordinating between them either,” explained Nicole Kligerman, director of the Pennsylvania Domestic Workers Alliance.

“The 20th century social safety net system is based on one person and one employer,” Kligerman noted. But many people now work in arrangements that don’t fit into that mold – working in the so-called “gig economy” or classified (and misclassified) as independent contractors –  which means they’re denied standard workplace benefits. Domestic workers hope their portable paid time off system can offer a new alternative.

Domestic workers are “the original gig economy workers,” Kligerman said, and they “can and always have led the way” on labor reform. But such a system could easily be imagined for other workers with more than one employer. “The implications are obviously really big,” she said. Ride share drivers, for example, are already looking into it. “We’re excited to be a guinea pig.”

Del Carmen was involved in lobbying for and crafting the bill of rights. “At times it was really difficult, some of [the council members] even ran away from us,” she said. But they kept showing up, week after week. “We fought as a team until we won.”

The feeling when the bill passed unanimously, including yes votes from the three Republicans on the city council? “Maravilloso,” she said. All of the provisions she and other domestic workers were fighting for made it into the final bill. “It really is complete,” she said. “And now other states can copy us.”

Had the bill of rights been in place 25 years ago, “my life would have been much easier,” del Carmen said. “I wouldn’t have shed so many tears for all of the things that happened to me.”

Del Carmen has already seen the impact of the newly passed bill of rights. All of her clients are working on creating a written contract. “I told them if I don’t sign a contract, I’m not going to work for them anymore,” she said.

She’s also very excited about finally getting some paid time off from work. “I’ve never had it,” she noted. “I’m just going to be at home enjoying my house. I’ve never been able to do that.”



Don’t Count on Big Tech to Fix the Bay Area’s Housing Crisis

Recently, Apple joined Facebook, Google, and a number of other tech companies pledging to make investments in increasing housing affordability in the Bay Area. Tech giant Amazon is also funding construction of a shelter for people experiencing homelessness in Seattle, with a number of bathrooms that may rival those in Jeff Bezos’ 27,000 square foot D.C. residence.

These moves, in communities in which tech companies have extracted special tax treatment and other benefits for decades, are supposedly meant to increase “affordable” housing stock. But for many area workers, including those at tech companies, the new housing will remain out of reach.

Apple’s plan calls for $2.5 billion in spending, including $1 billion in an affordable housing investment fund and $1 billion in first-time buyer mortgage assistance. It is the most generous of recent rollouts. Facebook committed $1 billion to the construction of 20,000 units, use of land owned by the company, and construction of housing for “essential workers” like teachers and firefighters. Google similarly offered $1 billion, primarily in the form of land. Meanwhile, philanthropic ventures such as The Bay’s Future, driven by tech company executives, are also pledging to wade in to the fight for affordable housing in the Golden State.

“It’s a good thing these companies stepped forward,” said Jeffrey Buchanan of Silicon Valley Rising, a coalition campaign that includes unions and local advocacy groups. “There’s a huge need for financing” of the type that these commitments will provide.

But the problem of housing in the region isn’t just one of money, he explained. It also involves policy, better wages, and responsibility on the part of companies rapidly building up their campuses without adding complementary housing to prevent displacement — and ensure their own workers are housed.

Research indicates California needs 3 million new housing units by 2025; the Bay Area alone needs at least 187,000 units across all income levels according to the most recent state projection. 41.5 percent of households in the Bay Area are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing. 25,000 workers a day endure “super-commutes” of more than 90 minutes as they struggle to get from affordable communities to work in Silicon Valley.

In its recent “Out of Reach” report, the National Low-Income Housing Coalition found that the Bay Area’s housing wage — the amount of money you need to afford a two-bedroom apartment — ranges from $41 to $91 per hour. Statewide, workers need to work 116 hours a week at minimum wage to afford housing.

Meanwhile, a deeper look at many of the tech companies’ proposals furnishes vague details, though much talk of “affordable housing.” Many of the plans explicitly state the intent to produce mixed-income housing, rather than 100 percent affordable developments, something developers argue is usually necessary to make a development viable, especially in areas with high construction costs.

The definition of “affordable housing” in the Bay Area may surprise those who aren’t California residents. Low-income housing, defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development as 80 percent of the area’s median income of $136,800, is still $129,150 for a family of four, and households making $80,600 are considered “very low-income.” “Extremely low-income” is $48,350.

The percentage of set-asides for affordable units varies; Facebook recently pledged 225 of 1,500, or 15 percent, of a planned Menlo Park development’s units for “affordable” housing. Notably, inclusionary zoning requirements in some Bay Area cities, like San Francisco, already force developers to include a set number of affordable units or pay in-lieu fees, and developers also benefit from incentive programs for constructing affordable housing. Thanks to state and federal policy, noted Buchanan, these units will eventually expire, with pricing jumping up to market rate.

While housing affordability for those outside the tech industry who feel squeezed by mounting costs driven by high tech company income is a significant issue, it’s a problem within the industry too, where all tech workers are not created equal. For employees in technical roles — such as developers, site reliability engineers, and more — it’s possible to afford to buy or rent housing units. Likewise for those in high-level non-technical roles, including attorneys, marketing executives, and some managerial positions.

But for the workers in the non-technical pipeline, including assistants, operations personnel, researchers, and customer service representatives, there’s a tremendous pay disparity — one that is exacerbated for contract workers, who are becoming a growing part of the tech workforce because of their low cost and shielded liability. Those workers are sleeping in their cars in the parking lots of their employers because they cannot afford housing, cleaning toilets, cooking food, driving buses, and providing security at marginal pay. When they’re not at companies like Facebook and Google, some are taking up shifts elsewhere, driving for ride shares, and hustling to pay the rent.

Research indicates California needs 3 million new housing units by 2025.

The tech companies’ plans lean heavily in to the popular argument that the affordability crisis in the Bay Area is one of availability; building housing, at any price point, is supposed to relieve this pressure. Advocates across the state are also pushing for rollbacks of density restrictions that limit the height and number of units that can be built, and promoting the of accessory dwelling units — also known as in-laws or granny units — to rapidly increase access to housing. Buchanan notes a growing interest in the use of co-housing — community living that integrates public and private spaces in a planned development — as well as community land trusts, which steward land to promote affordable housing, retaining ownership of the land while encouraging affordable development that gives residents a stake in their homes.

Not all advocates are convinced that this approach, known as filtering or trickle-down housing, is effective. Some raise concerns about the risks of displacement and gentrification, describing this as “a problem of equity and access,” not simply a question of housing units by the numbers. “YIMBYs,” wrote a collective from the LA Tenants Union, referring to boosters who push for filtering, “do not support empowering and protecting tenants through policies like right to legal counsel, just-cause eviction, and rent control. They overwhelmingly ignore the possibility of increasing supply with public or social housing.”

The policy struggles over housing highlight that simply building more isn’t always an option, speaking to deeper systemic problems that make it hard for people to find safe, sanitary, affordable housing in their communities. And even if building more housing is possible, say community organizations, that’s only one part of the solution to a complex problem.

Companies like Facebook and Apple are pledging to collaborate closely in public-private partnerships with policy-forward solutions, while still implying that privatizing public services is the only way to fix them. As long as tech companies dodge taxes, accept handouts and incentives, and receive preferential treatment, while relying on large philanthropic gestures to distract from their business practices, it’s hard to determine how much they can truly contribute to local economies.