West Hollywood is one of the best-known small cities in America. It’s known for a diverse array of reasons — its rock n’ roll history on the Sunset Strip, its Russian population and, of course, as a gay mecca. Since the city’s incorporation in 1984, West Hollywood (or “WeHo” as it is affectionately called) has led the way when it comes to a safe haven for LGBT people.
Slowly but surely, however, that has started to change. And it has changed for the same reasons that things have changed in other cities, such as San Francisco and New York. There has been a slow increase in the cost of living and the cost of housing, and that has caused the gay community in some of our major cities to dwindle, to essentially disappear — gay people simply can’t afford to live or move here anymore.
West Hollywood is at the beginning of that process. Many point out that the city’s percentage of gay men (43 percent) is around the same as it was 30 years ago, which is true. But as a member of the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board, as well as a member of the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation board, I have a unique insight into these issues.
Yes, the percentage hasn’t changed, but that’s primarily because because most of those gay men are the same ones who have lived here since 1984 — in their rent-controlled apartments or homes they bought many years ago. There is a large segment of affluent gays who don’t have to worry about the cost of living in West Hollywood these days — but what are things like for those who do?
The housing crisis in West Hollywood is a microcosm of what is happening across this country, and not just in the gay community. Our nation’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julian Castro, said recently that there are millions of Americans who spend more than half of their income on their rent every month. That is a disgrace, and something we must work to change.
Many of those Americans struggling with housing costs are seniors, the disabled, or people who are low-income. It is essential that we expand the opportunities and alternatives for these people as much as possible. And that’s why I’m grateful for organizations like the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation, of which I am proud to be a part, that are building more affordable housing across our city as well as across the region, so that more people have a chance to succeed and thrive without the fear of being evicted or losing their home.
I believe that a mix of more affordable housing, plus building a more diversified housing stock that people of all kinds can actually afford (micro units, for instance, that are primarily geared toward young people), are the solution to this problem. We as a society have got to start thinking differently, to start thinking about things bigger than ourselves. As the saying goes: “Each day you’re living not just your own life, but the life of your times.” These are the times in which we live, this is the civil rights issue of our time, and we must address it.
This article was originally published in the Advocate magazine.