The Housing Movement Failed Gaza – and Revealed Its Own Double Standards

Op-ed: A home is a home, no matter where. As a Palestinian American housing activist, I’m stunned by the pro-housing movement’s silence.

Destruction of homes and buildings in Gaza

At least 370,000 housing units in Gaza have been damaged since Oct. 7, 2023, according to the U.N. Another 79,000 have been destroyed completely, such as those pictured here in the city of Gaza. (Photo by Emad El Byed)

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Throughout my career, I’ve prioritized addressing the painful inequities facing America’s most vulnerable people. I’ve spent years advocating for guaranteed income and paid Congressional internships. For the last six years, I have been a part of the housing movement, translating critical data into streamlining affordable housing production, promoting strategies to create smaller and more accessible market-rate housing options, and calling for a new urbanism primarily focused on racial justice.

I’ve dedicated myself to ensuring that our government does not continue impeding efforts to house residents. And I believe this work, and the pro-housing movement of which I’m a part, is crucial.

But for the past 300 days, I have struggled to understand the apparent indifference of some of my colleagues to the mass displacement and domicide faced by more than a million people in Gaza – a disaster greenlighted and funded by our own government.

By and large, the YIMBY and pro-housing movement have utterly failed to acknowledge the devastation in Gaza. And this is to its own detriment: The leaders of this movement cannot credibly address rising homelessness and other crises at home while simultaneously applauding death and housing destruction abroad.

How can advocates, researchers, and policymakers working to solve a massive housing crisis turn a blind eye to the forced displacement of over 1.4 million people, including 600,000 children? How can we remain silent while families are displaced and bombed by our government in the name of advancing a far-right foreign agenda? How can we talk about gentrification, placemaking and livability while the deliberate urbicide in Gaza erases more than four decades of hard-won development and progress in this territory?

When it comes to empathy for the Palestinian families displaced using our tax dollars, America’s humanity falters – as does the humanity that I know drives those of us in the urbanism and housing advocacy space.

It’s particularly tough to swallow given that every dollar funding bombs abroad is a dollar not used to house people at home. Rather than committing the billions of dollars needed to boost affordable housing production and other proven government programs that desperately need federal funding, our government is choosing to enrich the military-industrial complex – and fund what human rights organizations and international legal experts have credibly described as a genocide.

More than 34,600 Palestinians have been killed by occupation forces, a number we know to be an undercount due to the collapse of Gaza’s healthcare infrastructure. Over 77,800 others have suffered life-altering injuries, and an estimated 10,000 remain buried beneath rubble waiting to be found. Mass graves of tortured bodies lie beneath once “safe zones,” like hospitals. Every day, about 37 Palestinian children lose their mothers.

My own family in Gaza has felt this horror firsthand. Some were forced to watch under a loaded gun as their husbands, fathers and sons were brutally murdered in front of their eyes. Women and children who cried out were met with violence, leaving every resident of my aunt’s building injured. My aunt managed to escape, clutching her severely wounded 7-year-old son, only for the building to be bombed the next morning. Every other witness that had survived the previous night’s massacre perished.

This story is just one of countless others that have been lost forever, as journalists and aid workers are being targeted, U.N. aid workers are tortured, and access to the outside world is mostly cut off. Despite almost brokering a peace deal, the invasion continues in Rafah, where many refugees are now cornered. Where can civilians run for safety now?

“In over 30 years of studying and engaging with communities affected by displacement, I have never seen a shocking atrocity like this,” the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, who has called out “systematic” mass destruction of Gaza’s homes, said recently. “Multiple forced displacement of generations, compelled to be on the run.”

An untold number of families have been forced to separate to survive. My family is one of them; please consider donating to our GoFundMe so my cousins can reunite with my aunties and uncles in Egypt.

Most of the YIMBY movement remains silent about this ongoing domicide, the deliberate destruction of homes. More than 79,000 housing units have been annihilated and over 370,000 damaged in Gaza, in what the U.N. has described as the largest destruction of housing since World War II.

The U.N. report estimates that, if Israel’s bombardment ended completely today, it would take until 2040, and likely decades longer, to rebuild the homes in Gaza that have been completely destroyed. This optimistic analysis assumes Israel allows a five-fold increase of construction material to enter the territory than ever before, and this analysis does not include repairing damaged buildings or addressing damage to Gaza’s infrastructure, including schools and hospitals.

But the reality is that Gaza cannot rebuild these homes, and it is not due to self-inflicted Western problems like zoning policies or NIMBYism. The people of Gaza do not deliberate over “neighborhood character” and parking requirements. The territory is under occupation, with Israel controlling building supplies and historically withholding basic necessities for development, including basic needs like food and water for construction workers.

The complicity of the YIMBY movement and its most prominent figures must end if we are to champion a pro-housing movement that embodies fairness and humanity, both at home and abroad.

A person unhoused anywhere is a crime against humanity and is a deliberate policy choice, whether or not we like to admit it.

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Muhammad Alameldin is a housing activist based out of the Bay Area. He writes about racial justice housing issues from equitable ADU production to refugee housing. 

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Tags: housing for allmiddle east

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