Bay Area/ San Francisco
Published on June 17, 2015
Supervisors Campos, Farrell, Local Advocates Discuss Immediate Affordable Housing SolutionsThe panelists at last night's affordable housing panel. (Photo: Justin Jones / Facebook)

While much of the city was transfixed by the Warriors battle to victory over the Cavaliers, the San Francisco Young Democrats gathered at Infusion Lounge yesterday evening for an affordable housing panel with opposing forces District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell and District 9 David Campos, as well as Sonja Trauss of the Bay Area Renters Federation and Gabriel Medina of the Mission Economic Development Agency. 

The discussion, moderated by Melissa Caen, KPIX policy analyst, explored a variety of issues surrounding the city's affordable housing stock, including the moratorium on luxury housing development in the Mission, which Campos drafted and Farrell voted against, and immediate solutions the city can enact. While the panelists agreed that the city is facing a crisis, viewpoints on how the government should tackle the issue varied.

Caen kicked off the panel with a discussion of the city's "unquenchable demand" for housing, asking Trauss – whose organization advocates for any and every housing development proposal in the Bay Area – whether the law of supply and demand works differently in San Francisco. Trauss stated that a member of SFBARF recently pointed out that the Bay Area is a "huge economic engine" and accounts for .5 percent of the US economy.

"That means that the Bay Area should be 40 million people; we should be a megacity," she said. "That’s not the same as an infinite demand." Trauss added that she was excited by the idea of San Francisco being a megacity and with 7 million people already living in the Bay Area, "we could build it."

In response to the same question, Farrell said that the city has done what it needs to do for market-rate housing and has done a "decent job" in building low-income housing, but has done a "horrible job" at providing middle income housing. 

"The best part of growing up in the city was the entire diversity – economic, social cultural," he said. "If we lose that, we lose the heart and soul of San Francisco."

Next the discussion turned to the Mission luxury housing moratorium, with Caen asking Medina how he responds to criticism regarding the moratorium privileging one demographic over the other. Medina responded that given that just 7 percent of new housing slated for the Mission will be affordable and not a single 100 percent affordable development has been built since 2000, high income earners are the only group that has been privileged in the Mission over last 15 years.

Campos agreed that supply and demand works differently in San Francisco and the government does have a role in prioritizing the type of housing that's built because wealthy people outside of the state and country are buying second and third homes in the city.

"If it's left to developers, they will prioritize ultra luxury," Campos said.

Despite many mentions of Proposition K, which voters passed last year and holds the city responsible for creating or rehabilitating 30,000 units by 2020, Caen grilled both supervisors on what they think the city can do right now to solve the crisis.

While Mayor Lee has introduced a $300 million housing bond, with $50 million to buy land in the Mission, if passed, the city won't be able to buy land with that money for a year, Campos said. The city needs to "find more immediate sources of funding so we can start doing things now" and continue working with the developers of individual projects, like Jane Kim has done with the Giants to bring the Mission Rock development proposal to 40 percent below market-rate housing, he argued, which resulted in a wave of applause from the crowd.

While Farrell agreed with Campos on negotiating inclusionary percentages with developers, as the chair of the budget committee, Farrell was less optimistic about bond measures. "...we’re going to get tens of millions from the budget or voters? I don’t see that happening. Let’s have a grounded meeting about what voters will approve. Voters won’t approve a satiable amount."

Fixing the problem, Farrell said, is going to take a long time plus an economic downturn and more housing to come online. "Without those two, we’ll have the same convo a year from now, two years from now. That’s the reality. Stopping new housing is the wrong answer; that’s how we got here today."

Campos and Farrell were also in favor of rethinking the planning process to expedite affordable housing projects.

"I think as much as the board has done in the last three years, I don’t think the board and mayor are responding like it is a crisis," Campos said. "If we had had a natural disaster displace thousands of people, we’d call the federal state government for support. City Hall needs to wave a red flag and say, 'We need your help.'"

Farrell agreed that the city is dependent on state and federal pass-throughs for housing, but argued that city leaders are having the right conversations with the right people. Last week, he said, he joined a meeting in the West Wing and "the only thing that came out of our mouths was affordable housing in San Francisco."

Other issues the panel addressed included restrictions on AirBnB, whether the city should work with other Bay Area counties to get more development outside the city –  which made Medina question whether San Francisco had the "moral capital" to have those conversations – and whether public land should be reserved for 100 percent affordable housing projects – which Campos agreed with but said the city does not have the "operational ability" to start building on its land.