October 16, 2023 at 2:10 p.m.

The Museum of International Propaganda sits on a quiet corner in San Rafael. It displays examples from 25 countries, including Germany, Vietnam and the Soviet Union.

After visiting the museum, I started wondering if Sacramento’s housing policy qualifies. The power of the term startled me. I wanted to back away. That is a goal of propaganda: to discourage critical thinking and discussion about an issue by using denigrating labels and name-calling so the popular narrative proceeds without challenge.

I persisted.

The museum defines propaganda as the calculated manipulation of information designed to shape public opinion and behavior to predetermined ends.

Marc Verville is a retired vice president for Walt Disney and Warner Brothers Entertainment. He is the chair of the Santa Monica Audit Subcommittee. Verville knows numbers and analysis. He’s alarmed by what he’s discovered.

During a recent online video conference for the activist group Catalysts for Local Control, Verville displayed a flurry of charts making the case that the housing crisis is a myth. He posits that the false narrative supports investor profits without increasing affordability.

Verville’s analysis shows the affordability problem is driven by home prices no longer being tied to working-class salaries. How did this happen? Until recently, it was enough to have 30 years of secure employment income to qualify for a 30-year home loan.

But now nonwage, equity-based compensation and accumulated capital is being used to buy real estate, often in one-time cash payments. Individuals and entities with stock options, investment dividends and money from hedge funds, as well as investor pension plans, are driving up housing costs.

How does this play out? Unregulated wealth makes it possible for an investor class to acquire land and rental housing, including apartments and, increasingly, single-family homes. In Mill Valley, for example, a 942 square-foot “teardown” single-family home on an 8,400 square-foot lot sold for $2.2 million – 10% over the asking price.

The investor class is smart. They talk to each other on the golf courses, in boardrooms and at economic forums. They contribute to campaigns. How did they get a green light to buy up land and housing without obstacles like environmental protections? It appears active elected and community leaders were not paying attention. Why weren’t they serving the common welfare out of love for their community?

In a favorite tactic when employing propaganda, the asset class grabbed on to a favorable label — YIMBY (yes, in my backyard) and resurrected a label intended to evoke disdain — NIMBY (not in my backyard).  The NIMBY label appeared in 1991 when HUD issued a report called, “Not in My Back Yard — The Advisory Commission on Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing.” They pointed to local planning and zoning authority as a key barrier. Our legislators have steadily dismantled local authority and transferred it to developer/investors.

“We want affordable housing” is a call that resonates with everyone. The problem is that housing legislation is promoting market-rate housing. It assures “builder’s remedy,” (think profits) that ignores community wishes, wisdom and well-being.

Housing and Community Development (HCD) is tasked with implementing legislation. They rely on an eight-year planning cycle that produces housing quotas for jurisdictions around the state. Now in the sixth cycle, mandates have more than doubled. Cities call them unrealistic and unreachable. Many call them rigged. If cities don’t meet the quotas, the state attorney general threatens lawsuits, fines, and a “strike force” to assure compliance. Builders will get their remedies. Constituents, both homeowners and renters, will get the bills.

A 2021 state audit report urged, “HCD must improve its process to ensure that communities can adequately plan for housing.”  In 2023, despite a Department of Finance report that the state’s population will be flat through 2060, HCD sent the Catalysts for Local Control group an email saying it won’t take population figures into account until 2027.

I’m reluctant to say housing policy is propaganda, but it is hard to ignore the language, legislation, and results that point in that direction.

Verville will be the featured guest at a Catalysts Town Hall online conference event Nov. 15 at 5 p.m. Find details on the Catalysts website at


Susan Kirsch, of Mill Valley, is founder of Catalysts for Local Control, a statewide network dedicated to promoting affordable housing while preserving single-family zoning, the environment, and reliable infrastructure.