Jim Hightower's Hightower Lowdown is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
The “old homeplace” is a classic theme of Americana, expressed in everything from Norman Rockwell paintings to Woody Guthrie’s powerful folk lament, “I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore.”
But for a heart-rending, modern-day version of the emotional pull of home, you can’t beat the poignant wail of a new song entitled: “The Low-down Down-home Atherton Rich Man Blues.” Warning: You might need a box of tissues to get through this sad saga.
Atherton, California, is a very small town of some 7,500 souls who face a dreadful housing crisis. Unlike most situations, though, they are alarmed by a looming threat of too much housing! It seems that a recent California law requires cities to provide some affordable, multi-family houses to help cope with a growing statewide shortage of homes, meaning Atherton needs to put in about 350 townhouse units as its share.
“Townhouses!” shrieked the locals. “This can’t be! Un-rich people live in townhouses!”
You see, Atherton is a precious enclave in the heart of the Silicon Valley, where only tech gabillionaires are allowed. The price of their mansions averages about $8 million, with each one secluded on at least an acre of land. So… townhouse people? No way. As one affordable housing advocate put it, “Atherton talks about multifamily housing as if it was a Martian invasion.” In a letter to the city council, the multi-billionaire Andreessen family, wailed that allowing more than one residence per acre “will MASSIVELY decrease our home values [and] quality of life of life.” I’m sure you weep for them, so grab a tissue.
Yet, some Athertonians are at least trying to find solutions. One denizen suggests that all of the residents’ swimming pool cabanas should count toward the town’s affordable housing requirements.
If that won’t make you cry, nothing will.