A year ago, it seemed impossible – Sup. David Campos was the only one at City Hall talking about a housing “crisis,” and efforts to resist the waves of displacement seemed almost futile. Now, protesters are blocking Google buses and protesting in front of landlord buildings and making it clear that anyone who wants tenant votes in the future has to reckon with the tenants.
It’s not always pretty: I know that attacking tech workers isn’t the answer (although telling them to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem, makes a lot of sense.) But the rebellions against the Google buses are more than symbolic – they’re a sign that the majority of San Franciscan think the future of the town should be decided by the folks who live here, not by tech CEOs. And that’s getting national attention. Oh, and the problems can’t all be solved with an app. The housing crisis is a failure of public policy.
Look at what’s happening all over the city – and the attention it’s getting all over the country. Bills that didn’t get out of committee a year ago now pass the Board of Supervisors 11-0. No less than Business Week is talking about how the techno riche are ruining San Francisco (actually, I blame the real estate industry, but you get the point).
There’s a new front in the development wars, and after the 8 Washington vote, the downtown folks are getting really nervous that all of the housing fear is spilling over and making any new project suspect. (San Franciscans might even start to remember what happened last time the city went all gung-ho to build a waterfront sports complex.)
The tech folks are still a little clueless: Witness Jack Dorsey telling us how wonderful his workers are:
Critics say tech companies like Twitter, Square, Google and others have heightened income inequality in San Francisco and made it harder for many others to live in the city. Do you think the focus is misplaced?
It is really disappointing and it weighs on everyone. I think the most important thing happening right now is there is a conversation about it. It’s become a national conversation. Our mindset here is we are going to act locally. One of the things that we did which I am very proud of is that every Friday at 11 am, we had a bunch of people, including me, go out and pick up trash around the neighborhood. There’s a lot more of that that we can do.
Every Friday morning, they pick up some trash off the streets. Makes the place so much nicer for the people who can’t afford to live here.
But it’s changing. There will absolutely be a bill in the state Legislature in January amending the Ellis Act in some way that will help San Francisco control evictions. It will be political suicide for the mayor to do anything short of giving it his full support. And we will see where the tech folks really stand; are they “part of the solution” (that is, helping repeal the Ellis Act)? At the Board of Supervisors, there will be a bill to increase substantially the local relocation cost for Ellis evictions – and that will force everyone in City Hall to take a side.
At some point, City Hall will have to get serious about the Airbnb problem – the conversion of rental housing to faux hotel rooms that don’t pay the city’s occupancy tax. According to one estimate I’ve heard, 11,000 apartments in SF were rented out to visitors at some point in 2013; that’s a lot of tax money the city isn’t getting. And according to the US Census, housing units classified as “for seasonal, recreational or occasional use” increased from 3,762 units in 2000 to 5,564 units in 2010. What if each tech company that had these “corporate suites” paid hotel taxes on them?
Can the mayor go up against the Ron Conways of the world and make sure the “sharing economy” doesn’t take money out of the city’s coffers?
(Oh, and what happens if there’s an earthquake and Uber and Lyft jack up their rates to $100 for a one-block trip?)
That’s what 2014 will be about: Forcing the people who would love to be seen as “progressive” to recognize that you can’t have it both ways: Either you’re with the tenants – and against the speculators; with the residents and against the cheaters; with San Franciscans and against the corporations who want to take advantage of us — or you aren’t.
Oh, and maybe we call all start talking seriously about, you know, national industrial policy. Like this.