This is the third interview in a new series highlighting the people behind East Bay for Everyone. Read the second interview here!
Name and pronouns. Libby Lee-Egan. she, her, hers
What is your housing story? I moved here from Chicago in 2012. We gave ourselves a week to find a place, couch surfing at my brother’s place in the interim. It was extremely difficult to find housing at any price point. In Chicago, I was paying $750 for a spacious one bedroom apartment half a block from the train. Here I had to lower my standards a lot to find something, we ended up in an area that was not super walkable to BART and we drove a lot more than I wanted to. Based on that difficulty I was surprised to find after I moved to Berkeley there were people who didn’t want new apartments built near them. NIMBYs on NextDoor created my activism.
What do you pay now? Between mortgage, homeowner’s insurance, and property taxes it’s around $3100 a month for a two-bedroom single family home. We were paying $1250 for a 1BR in Adam’s Point before we moved to Berkeley.
How did you hear about EBFE? I helped found EBFE, back when it was called “East Bay Forward.” To go a little farther back, I found out about Bay Area YIMBYs by Googling: “Bay Area pro-housing activists.” San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation aka SFBARF came up. Through SFBARF I met Ian Monroe, Alfred Twu, Sonja Trauss, Brian Hanlon, Greg Magofna and others. We started attending city council and ZAB meetings but weren’t trying to organize others at all.
What brought you to join EBFE? It was a combination of wanting to be involved locally and wanting to do something about the crazy high cost of living. It was also somewhat selfish in that I wanted more of my friends to be able to move here. A lot currently live in areas with a lower cost of living and can’t move here because housing is so ridiculous. Also, I’m really housing secure, but who knows what could happen?
What do you contribute? When I first started YIMBYing I was pregnant with my first kid. When we founded East Bay Forward that one was four months old and I now have a second child, so my ability to Show Up in person has diminished. I try to do things virtually on my own time.
In the past, I designed a bunch of stuff for EBFE: logo, banner, business cards, handouts, web graphics. I did event planning for the “fun brigade” as well as graphics and logistics for YIMBYtown 2017.
Currently, I do some light organizing in Berkeley only and a lot of internal organizing like participating in the working group that enforces the code of conduct. I also try to make sure Victoria Fierce doesn’t do everything. She has a lot of energy and is a very hard worker, I don’t want her to get burned out. My focus is organizing the organizers and looking after the health of the organization.
What do you do outside of EBFE? I work at the Sierra Club full time as a graphic designer. When I get home I try to spend time with my kids before they go to sleep. After they go to bed I’m just kind of zonked out but try to read comics, play video games, watch tv or youtube videos about people exploring abandoned places. I also like to collect and care for houseplants, play boardgames, and plan out what my next tattoo will be.
What’s your favorite thing about EBFE as an organization? I like that it’s flexible, we don’t have a lot of rigid hierarchy and processes. We can make up something new if something is not working. We’re not entrenched in any traditional practices that we only do because it’s “tradition.” I like having an organizational playground to try new things, and when those things don’t work to try something else. The only restriction is if we change something, who’s going to actually implement it? We are entirely volunteer run and when we do anything, someone has to use their free time to do it.
What’s your least favorite thing about EBFE as an organization? Sometimes I wish we could move faster on things, and not always have to get consensus. That’s not very democratic of me! For example, it takes forever to craft rapid responses, and calling a board meeting or engaging our membership to hammer something out really slows that down. A streamlined rapid response process would help out a lot.
What do you think about EBFE outside of Oakland? It would be nice to have activists on the ground that are local in every city that are watching the city council meeting agendas and are local contacts for when stuff goes down.
There was an instance in Concord where we had people who were concerned about the proposed ICE detention center and we stepped on some toes because we didn’t know the local landscape as well as we should have. I’d like to have people familiar with the local players to help us navigate those instances and work collaboratively in the future.
What’s something you’re super proud of in life? I’m proud of changing the trajectory of my life — taking control of it. I grew up religious and judgemental and with poor self-esteem. I’m glad I’ve shed that and I like who I am now. Moving to a big city by myself was a catalyst for that, being able to have a do-over and blaze my own trail. Part of why my urbanism turned into activism is because I want more people to have the opportunities that big cities have, and the high cost of housing is shutting people out.
What does an East Bay that is truly for Everyone look like? I’d like to see people making housing choices based on their wants and needs and not thinking “well this is the only thing I can find.”
I want housing abundance to the point where people aren’t forced to stay with abusive partners or bad roommates because they can’t afford to move. I want mobility.
I want people to find a place less than a half mile from BART that doesn’t cost a fortune, to be able to ditch their cars and bike to the grocery store. I wish for abundant housing that is open to everyone and not just those who are really lucky or really rich. I think unlucky people deserve a good place to live.