SF’s Housing Showdown

by on July 30, 2015

After all the rallies, signature gathering and last minute deals, San Francisco’s approach to its housing crisis heads for a fall showdown. And while many activists are drawn to issues in conflict—-e.g. initiatives regulating short-term rentals and imposing a Mission market rate housing moratorium—the $310 million affordable housing bond and the affordable housing on public land initiative have consensus support and will do the most to add affordable housing in the city.

Supervisor Kim’s legislative package of eviction protections was also deferred to the fall. Despite the measure’s strong tenant and labor backing, and a worsening eviction crisis, the legislation could not get out of committee at Monday’s Land Use hearing.

Those focusing on the lack of housing production as the root of San Francisco’s affordability crisis should examine that Land Use committee vote. Once again, it was real estate interests who used their clout to deny efforts to preserve affordable housing, all while escaping public blame.

The Kim legislation offers the type of technical changes that one would think real estate interests would embrace just so they could say they did not oppose every  proposal offered to protect tenants. But they kept their record of consistent opposition clear.

Think about this when the real estate industry claims to be “part of the solution” to the city’s affordability crisis.

Short-term Rentals

The ShareBetter SF ballot initiative follows a year of failed City Hall negotiations on this issue. I have been involved with San Francisco politics for 35 years and cannot recall another land use issue that was so poorly handled by our elected officials.

The problem began when passing short-term rental legislation was hitched to David Chiu’s November 2014 assembly race against David Campos. Chiu presided over a process where virtually no legislative amendments were allowed. This resulted in thepassage of legislation that the city’s own Planning Department said was unenforceable.

The one bright spot was Mayor Lee and Supervisor Jane Kim getting the Board to agree to trailing legislation that would give certain nonprofit corporations legal standing to enforce short-term rental violations. Nonprofits have been doing this since 1990 under the city’s SRO Anti-Conversion Ordinance, and have been the leading force for enforcement.

Lee and Kim secured majority Board support for nonprofit standing despite an all out effort by Supervisor Wiener to kill the amendment. As I wrote at the time, Wiener spent “at least twenty minutes at the Board meeting doing his best imitation of a Tea Party- Republican bashing trial attorneys and ‘frivolous’ lawsuits, “

When the trailing legislation finally reached the Board in June, the Mayor Lee/Supervisor Farrell amendments were expected to pass. The amendments would not have forestalled the ShareBetter SF ballot measure, but they would have it harder to pass.

But the Lee-Farrell amendments were not enacted. Instead, Wiener took control of the process and the Board voted 6-5 for a new short term rental law that is even weaker than the unenforceable Chiu version. Most importantly, the nonprofit standing provision backed by the Board last fall and supported by all but one Planning Commissioners earlier this year was torpedoed by Wiener and removed from the final legislation.

Leno Flip-Flop

Thanks to Wiener, San Francisco’s short-term rental law has become largely unenforceable. And the irony is that State Senator Mark Leno has endorsed Wiener for State Senate even though he planned an election challenge to Mayor Lee based on Lee’s support for the Chiu short-term rental law.

It was only last October that Leno told Matier & Ross that he shared Mayor Feinstein’s opposition to the new law: “In one stroke, we have rezoned the whole city. There is a compromise to be found, but this is not it — it’s too broad.”

Leno’s criticism of Lee for supporting Chiu’s measure apparently does not extend to Wiener’s support for that same legislation and the supervisor’s role in enacting an even weaker version.  Leno now concludes that “Scott will make a terrific state senator.”

Until recently, I thought the ShareBetter SF initiative was too complex to win against well-funded opposition. But a political climate driven by anger over housing costs and the weakened new law gives the measure a fighting chance.

Mission Moratorium

The Mission market rate moratorium measure will get ample national press this fall. Housing wonks will be filling columns about what the measure “says” about San Francisco, enabling reporters to use anecdotes from Mission and other residents to support whatever point they want to make.

I think the moratorium faces a very uphill fight for reasons I will address in a September column. But many activists seem much more excited about the moratorium than the housing bond, even though the moratorium’s connection to affordable housing is entirely dependent on the bond’s passage.

Simply put, without bond funding there’s not going to be much new nonprofit affordable housing built in the Mission regardless of the moratorium’s passage. Some moratorium backers see the mayor’s commitment of $50 million of bond funds to the Mission as almost irrelevant, when in fact it’s essential to new nonprofit construction in the community.

2015 once looked like a small turnout, uneventful election. When you add these housing initiatives to the Peskin-Christensen race in D3, it now looks like quite the opposite.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. Join him  at Books Inc. in Berkeley on August 5 at 7pm where he will be signing and discussing his new book, The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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