I’m a mom in Santa Monica and I care about the future of my community. So many of my friends and neighbors leave every year due to the high costs of housing. I wish there were more homes here to make housing more affordable, so that we could reduce homelessness, make this an inclusive, welcoming community, and stop displacement. As an advocate, I seek to support housing availability to all.
As indicated by City staff in response to my recent questions while serving on the Housing Commission, it is theoretically possible to meet our entire low-income housing target from the State of California, through a broad upzoning and inclusionary program. However, political will is lacking.
Providing homes for all who need them is more important than politics, and should not be political at all. Can you imagine the hope our City can offer by plotting a course out of this housing crisis, where families with children didn’t have to face homelessness?
Not only do we lack the political will to solve this housing crisis, but also the courage to engage in truthful housing debates. I advocated for housing in my free time outside of work for years, and was routinely subject to harassment on social media communities like NextDoor. People falsely accused me of working for developers and the real estate industry. They also falsely accuse me of being a lobbyist. Some started posting personal information about me and my employers at the time, attempting to suggest a connection to developers that did not exist. The posting of my personal information, I believe, was also intended to be threatening and stop me from advocating for my community.
Years later, I had the privilege of becoming Executive Director of Abundant Housing LA, a nonprofit working to correct the housing challenges in Los Angeles. At last, I could pursue my advocacy full time. In this position, I was excited to successfully advocate for a better RHNA allocation which would increase housing where it’s needed, including my home community where so many are struggling with housing scarcity and costs.
When I heard that there was an opening on the housing commission, I realized that because of my new position, I might be considered an “Expert.” When I was just a mom, with no employment in housing advocacy, I would not have been considered for the housing commission. When applying, I anticipated that it would be a high time commitment, unpaid, and would take me away from my young children during bedtime, a precious time for me. I considered it a personal sacrifice to serve my community.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, some disagreed with my advocacy. Instead of engaging with me on the merits of my arguments, they again seek to attack me and discredit me. Without any real scandals to point to, they manufacture falsehoods and post them on social media.
For example, in the social media group Santa Monica Now, users have posted strange accusations like that my organization has “ties to Texas.” I don’t know what this means, or why it’s supposed to be a scandal. My organization has no ties to Texas, and I can only assume this refers to the fact that I briefly lived in Texas. But it nonetheless propagated on social media. Santa Monica Now has not allowed me to join, so I am unable to respond to falsehoods posted about me and my organization.
Other common falsehoods include that Abundant Housing LA is funded by developers. I want to state this clearly and hopefully for the last time, that my organization literally has a policy that prohibits us from receiving funds from developers. So no, we are not funded by developers.
Other statements are somewhere on the spectrum of being totally false, being partially false, or just intentionally misleading, such as stating that I advocated to “limit or eliminate input the Commission or the local community might have in regard to assessing the local housing needs.” This refers to a letter from Abundant Housing LA objecting to the “local input” factor in the SCAG RHNA process. “Local Input,” despite the implication in this harassment campaign against me, refers to something unrelated—the RTP/SCS growth projections, labeled “local input” by SCAG.
As part of this targeted harassment campaign, sometimes individuals make public comments against me in Housing Commission meetings. Often, these comments are made at the end of meetings or are not agendized, so I am not permitted to respond. I am forced to sit silently, the falsehoods going uncorrected.
Some complain that my serving on the commission is inappropriate due to a conflict of interest. My position is not considered a conflict of interest under law or City policy, since advising the City on housing policy doesn’t benefit me financially in any way. And I have never needed to recuse myself. Since residents appear to oppose individuals employed in housing policy serving on the commission, it would be better to remove the “Expertise” standard, so that the commission can be more inclusive and accessible for all.
I’m not alone. Many other housing advocates regularly have personal attacks and their personal information posted on social media. If anything, it demonstrates the strength of the pro-housing argument—it stands strong on its merits, so anti-housing individuals resort to manufacturing scandals. How many people in our City want to speak out on housing, but are scared to because of this level of incivility?
I have to wonder what is so threatening about my views on housing that people will not debate me, but instead try to spread misinformation and accusations about me in venues where I cannot respond. As this targeted harassment campaign continues, rent burden, housing scarcity, unaffordability, displacement, and homelessness are getting worse. These are the facts we should focus on as a community. If you wish to speak out to support housing in Santa Monica, please know that many support you, and that the NIMBY “Not in my Backyard” harassment doesn’t speak for all.
Leonora Camner is Executive Director of Abundant Housing LA and member of the Santa Monica Housing Commission