Aug 5, 2019

Kanye West's plan to solve the affordable housing problem

West performs at his Sunday Service at this year's Coachella. Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for Coachella

Kanye West has become the latest mogul to embark on a world-saving venture, building 50-foot-high wooden domes in California for a secret housing project that the rapper "believes will break the barriers that separate classes," according to a TMZ report.

Why it matters: The uber-rich are increasingly using their wealth — Kanye is worth $240 million, per Forbes — to personally design projects that they believe will fundamentally alter the way humans will live in the future.

  • Elon Musk started Neuralink, which wants to create a machine that can directly interface with the human brain, to stave off what he sees as the existential threat of artificial intelligence. And his billion-dollar Boring Company wants to solve a much more mundane nuisance with urban tunnels: traffic.
  • Bill Gates has sunk $500 million of his own wealth into nuclear power startup TerraPower as part of his push against climate change, per Axios' Amy Harder.
  • Jeff Bezos and Musk believe that humanity's future lies in space, pouring millions into Blue Origin and SpaceX to bring people to orbit, the Moon and beyond.

The state of play: While details on Kanye's ultimate plan for his housing concept remain sparse, he told Forbes' Zach O'Malley Greenburg earlier this month that the domes "could be used as living spaces for the homeless, perhaps sunk into the ground with light filtering in through the top."

  • Greenburg also notes that the structures were "inspired by Luke Skywalker's childhood home" on the planet of Tatooine from "Star Wars."

The state of play: While Kanye might be viewed as something of a dilettante — often jumping between music, fashion and design — he's had his eye on the architecture space for over a year.

  • He tweeted last May that his new architecture arm, called Yeezy Home, was "looking for architects and industrial designers who want to make the world better."
  • His Yeezy Home collaborators posted concept renderings of a low-income housing space on Instagram which were later deleted, per The Architect's Newspaper, though its spartan concrete design doesn't seem to reflect the current dome concept.
  • And he told radio host Charlamagne Tha God last year that he wants "to be one of the biggest real-estate developers of all time" while the two toured the Calabasas property on which the domes would ultimately be built.
"We're standing on my first property. I’m going to be one of the biggest real-estate developers of all time, what Howard Hughes was to aircrafts and what Henry Ford was to cars — just the relationships I have with architects, my understanding of space and sacred proportions, Just this new vibe, this new energy. We're gonna develop cities."
— Kanye West, to Charlamagne Tha God

The other side: Experts doubt that Kanye's project could ever actually scale to make a dent in Los Angeles' housing problem. "You would need to build 100,000 of these every year for the next 10 years to scratch the housing backlog," Tyler Drew, president of Anubis Properties Inc., told

  • He also cited the city's zoning laws and its activist, "not-in-my-backyard" population as roadblocks to ever seriously expand Kanye's affordable housing concept.
  • Such zoning restrictions, which disproportionately impact low-income residents and people of color, limit cities from getting denser and are often the primary drivers of exploding housing costs in booming cities, as Axios' Erica Pandey reported.

Go deeper: The state of affordable housing in Los Angeles

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