People

People

Sonja Trauss

Executive Director, Yes In My Back Yard

Housing Story

I moved to the Bay Area in 2011, looking for work. I found a job right away, but housing was another story. I was able to stay with my dad’s cousin in El Cerrito before eventually moving in with two roommates in West Oakland. By 2014, I had been working in the bay for 3 years, mostly as a high school math teacher, but I still didn’t have any savings. The combination of low pay, high rent, and high transportation costs trapped me. I even considered moving back to my parents’ house in Philadelphia, but I couldn’t afford to move. What was incredible about the situation was that everyone was unhappy - even higher income renters I met were unhappy with their housing situation. The only people who seemed to be winning in this were homeowners, and they were complaining too - about too many new neighbors. I felt that both personally, and as a region, we had nothing to lose. The current situation was miserable and untenable and it had to change. So I started organizing!

Bio

In 2014, Sonja Trauss started organizing pro-housing renters in the Bay Area while working as a high school math teacher. She is a founder of the YIMBY movement in California. As Executive Director of Yes In My Back Yard (YIMBY), Sonja leads YIMBY Law, our legal arm. Sonja also facilitates community organizing for housing projects that are compliant with state housing laws to be approved by local governments. Under Sonja’s leadership, YIMBY Law has won nine lawsuits since 2019.

Joanna Gubman

Environmental Director

Housing Story

Growing up in Los Angeles, I spent hours each day commuting to and from school by car. As I built a career working in climate and energy policy—while simultaneously qualifying for below-market rate housing in my new home of San Francisco—I came to realize that my hours stuck in LA freeway traffic during childhood, my lack of affordable housing in San Francisco, and our statewide need to address climate change were all interrelated. They are all a direct result of single-family sprawl. Today I am proud to work on solving all three issues at once. Walkable communities with dense and affordable housing are actually the number environmental action cities can take. So let’s get to work!

Bio

Joanna Gubman gave her first YIMBY public comment in 2017, became a YIMBY Action lead in San Francisco in March 2020, and started as Executive Director of Urban Environmentalists in July 2021. She has spent the last 15 years in the energy, climate, and transportation sectors as an Administrative Law Judge and Commissioner’s Advisor at the California Public Utilities Commission. She has also worked as a research fellow at multiple institutions in Germany, and a sustainability consultant at Navigant Consulting (now Guidehouse). In her work as Executive Director for Urban Environmentalists and Environmental Director at YIMBY Action, Joanna advocates for the integration of urban land use policy with environmental policy. She has a Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University.

Meghan Howard

Chapter Lead

Bio

Growing up in South Dakota and moving to the Twin Cities for college means I am a hardworking, midwesterner through and through! After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2004 - I spent a year in Seattle, Washington working in the great outdoors with EarthCorp, a non-profit specializing in reforestation and restoration work. Trail building in the mountains was my favorite! At the end of the program, I returned to Minneapolis to continue volunteering at various non-profits throughout the Cities. I began working at Feed My Starving Children in 2006. I worked in a number of roles however - my favorite position was creating and overseeing “The MarketPlace.” In this role I had the honor of connecting with artisans around the world to purchase and promote their beautiful, handmade items in order to create additional economic growth through fair, sustainable wages - especially for women. In 2017 I left FMSC to work with local, non-profit organizations to help them create online stores to promote their great work. At the same time, I pursued my real estate license which I've maintained for the past 6 years. I enjoy helping friends and family find houses throughout the Twin Cities. I believes housing is a basic human right. Joining the St. Paul Affordability Task Force and helping create the first YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard) chapter in Minnesota are a few ways in which I hope to work towards sustainable, affordable and abundant housing for ALL in the Twin Cities and beyond.

Nichole Hayden

Chapter Lead

Bio

I'm a Twin Cities native who loves calling Minnesota home. I grew up in Plymouth and Richfield, spent my twenties in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and bought my first home in Columbia Heights. I now own my dream property in Andover that allows me to garden, grow apples, and support a robust pollinator population. From a young age, my single mother instilled the importance of giving back to people in our community. The value of each person and their right to be housed, fed, and clothed. Because simply, they are people and it's a human right. While attending college in Iowa, I engaged in grassroots organizing for a political campaign. I learned first hand the power of people uniting for a cause. I spent a summer in Baltimore living in an intentional community focused on nuclear weapon disarmament. I'm passionate about working with others to improve the greater good of the people in our communities. I worked in advising, coaching, and product operations for an education company downtown for 8 years. I loved the people I worked with and the students we served, but when the pandemic hit it was a turning point, a time to refocus my time and energy. I developed an interest in housing through my post college AmeriCorps service; a program that equipped high school youth with skills in home renovation while supporting community rehabilitation. This grew into a passion for guiding others through the home ownership process and teaching folx how to leverage generational wealth building through real estate. After getting licensed in 2020, I discovered the network professionals in this industry who are also passionate about housing affordability, housing as a human right, and ensuring accessibility to the stability of home ownership. When I'm not assisting clients or volunteering for community causes, you can find me walking a bear sized dog or enjoying live music at a local venue with my husband. I enjoy hiking, biking, birding and gardening. I also like to sponsor events or volunteer with organizations close to my heart. I believe we each have the power to weave the fabric of strong, interconnected communities that thrive, collectively.

Paige Kahle

Chapter Lead

Bio

I live with my two teenagers, their father, and a Shihtzu named Stella in St. Paul. We have happily been renting our home for 6 years. I work primarily in the Twin Cities region. Home has always been important to me - thinking about it, longing for it, and helping individuals and families build it. Before I was eighteen years old, I had lived in a dozen+ homes in various cities throughout the US. I learned first-hand how disruptive moving often is on a child, even when it’s within the same city, but especially when it’s cross-country. During my formative years, I lived in Mississippi with my mom where I witnessed blatant racial discrimination - from attending a mostly segregated parochial school to hearing stories from my mom about her childhood growing up in rural Mississippi to seeing Ku Klux Klan members "marketing" on street corners. As a child, I was horrified and confused by all of it. It's a feeling that has stayed with me decades later. My educational background is architecture and urban planning. While studying urban planning, I became interested in patterns of neighborhood segregation and how to create more integrated, inclusive neighborhoods. It is absolutely possible to create opportunities for more inclusive and racially diverse neighborhoods. There needs to be more education and outreach to the general public about why it’s important to create more affordable housing in ALL areas. And, to offer opportunities for grassroots involvement. I have been a Realtor for almost 20 years, and believe everyone in my industry should be vocal enthusiasts for the creation of more housing, especially the missing middle housing. In most instances, the real estate industry continues to advocate for private property rights, at the expense of real people’s lives. This is why Nichole, Meghan, and myself joined together to create a TC YIMBY chapter early in 2023.

Tia Stone

Senior Manager of Membership

Housing Story

As a child of an all Black family, I grew up watching my family struggle to make their way out of West Las Vegas, the segregated Black community, and purchase homes in affluentneighborhoods. I’ve seen firsthand the redlining still happening in today’s real estate process. Las Vegas is also the number 2 fastest growing city in the country as people flee their cities in the post-pandemic economy. Las Vegas has not met the increasing demand for housing, allowing new residents with high incomes, many of whom are cash buyers, to sweep up homes in the neighborhoods with the most resources. This has caused a massive increase in home and rent prices, making it harder for locals to afford housing. New reports show the average person now needs to work 2.5 full time jobs to afford the average rent in Las Vegas.

Bio

Tia Stone joined YIMBY Action as the Senior Manager of Membership in June 2023. Her background is in community engagement, marketing, and volunteer management. Though new to the pro-housing movement, Tia has been in the thick of equity and justice-centered work as an organizer in the Black Lives Matter movement in which she worked on protest and policy organizing and coalition building around local cases and policies upholding police brutality. She also spent years in sexual violence and human trafficking work, working as a director for a local nonprofit where she became a certified Victim Advocate heavily focused on the importance of healing-centered and trauma-informed approaches to working not only in victim advocacy but all justice and equity work.

Asile Patin

Atlanta Organizer

Housing Story

I was born and raised in Vine City, a historically Black neighborhood in Atlanta. My family and I stayed in these apartments for over 15 years, and slowly but surely, rents started to increase. Before we knew it, rent was over $2000 for a two bedroom apartment. Staying in Atlanta, let alone Vine City, was entirely out of the question financially. My family was one of many families who could only afford our basic living expenses if it meant moving outside of the Atlanta limits altogether.

Bio

Asile Patin is a strategist, facilitator, and organizer based in Atlanta, Georgia. She joined the YIMBY movement as an Atlanta Regional Organizer in 2022. Previously, Asile participated in the first study and review of Atlanta’s historic Neighborhood Planning Unit system in over 40 years. Through the study, she developed and piloted a methodology to use civic engagement to mend social and economic inequality. Asile was a 2020 Georgia Women’s Policy Institute Fellow, advocating for gender pay equity legislation. She was also an inaugural Highlander Center ‘Seeds of Fire’ grant recipient, designing and facilitating a series of intimate focus groups within Black communities to discuss the political landscape in Georgia. In addition to her organizing work with YIMBY Action, she is currently a consultant with CommunityBuild Ventures, a pro-Black solutions firm committed to promoting racial equity. Asile is a graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy and holds a dual Bachelor of Arts Degree in African American Studies and Civic Engagement from Syracuse University.

Alex Melendrez

National Chapter Manager

Housing Story

I often like to say I am a child of the 2008-09 Great Recession. As a young teenager, my parents would often talk about the mortgage and how we were struggling to pay it. There was a chance we could lose our home. While it didn’t happen to me, it did happen to my friends. Fast forward to my time at UC Berkeley and I couldn’t afford to live near campus, instead commuting. I developed a friendship with someone who had resorted to sleeping under their desk and couch surfing due to housing prices.

Bio

Alex Melendrez began working in pro-housing advocacy in 2018 as an organizer for the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County. As an organizer, he advocated for housing rights for communities in San Mateo County. Alex endorsed projects and policies to improve tenants’ rights and housing affordability, and developed new housing leaders. In 2019, Alex became a Lead with Peninsula For Everyone chapter, where he encouraged YIMBYs to join local boards and commissions. Alex joined YIMBY Action as an Organizing Manager for the California Peninsula & South Bay in 2022. He grows our movement in San Mateo and Santa Clara County by empowering grassroots YIMBYs to become leaders in their own communities. Alex has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Government from the University of California, Berkeley. Alex also serves as the Communications Director for the San Mateo County Democratic Party, sits on the California Democratic Party’s Legislative Committee, and serves on his community college’s Chancellor Select committee. In the past, he has served on the Peninsula Clean Energy’s Citizens Advisory Committee, the San Bruno Parks and Recreation Commission, and the Peninsula Young Democrats’ Executive Board.

Rafa Sonnenfeld

Policy Director

Housing Story

In college, I learned my share of the rent for my room would be higher than the mortgage for my father’s home. It took me a year of checking listings every day to find an apartment in my price range: a moldy converted basement with an illegal kitchen that had dozens of interested renters: I called it home for six years, always worrying I’d have to leave my hometown. Despite being eligible for 10 years, my local housing authority couldn’t even add me to the rental assistance waitlist.

Bio

Rafa Sonnenfeld has been working in the housing sector since 2019, when he began serving on the City of Santa Cruz’s Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness. Rafa has experience working with local government and non-profit organizations that provide support for vulnerable populations experiencing the consequences of the national housing crisis. As Policy Director, Rafa uses his depth of housing policy knowledge to lead the strategic deployment of the YIMBY Action network to advance pro-housing policy. He focuses on policy prioritization, staff and volunteer management, coalition building and thought leadership, and legal team support. Rafa received his Bachelor of Science in Informatics from the University of Washington. Rafa also serves on the board of Recovery Cafe Santa Cruz, a non-profit that serves people suffering from homelessness, addiction, and other mental health challenges, and has served as a member of Housing for Health Partnership, and Housing Santa Cruz County.