Sup. London Breed’s campaign website makes the ambiguous claim that she is “creating more affordable housing,” as if she has a hammer and is busy pounding nails as we speak. “Creating more” implies an increase over what existed — yet the only specific example she cites is a neighborhood preference that creates not one new affordable unit, and her role in rehabilitating existing public housing that also added not one new unit.
Her campaign also claims that she “wrote legislation creating the highest affordable housing requirements in San Francisco history” and “is near completion” on a “Housing Blueprint” for D5.
That’s it. That’s her record on affordable housing, according to her campaign, during the period of the greatest affordable housing crisis in modern San Francisco history.
But that not the real story.
The real story is that London Breed’s votes on the Board of Supervisors have actually caused a decline in the number of affordable homes in District 5. Indeed, had some of her proposals not been defeated by her fellow supervisors, even more rent-controlled apartments would have been lost in the district. Breed has favored the plans and programs of developers and real estate speculators to convert rent controlled apartments to condos or hotel rooms, removing them from the reach of working and lower income residents.
Let’s look at her actual votes on the Board since she arrived in 2013.
TICs, condos and the assault on rent-controlled apartments
In 2013, her first important housing test saw Supervisor Breed solidly backing landlord- and speculator-friendly legislation introduced by her strong ally on the board, Supervisor Scott Wiener. It would have allowed “tenants in common” owners to freely convert to full condo status, bypassing the 200 conversion a year limit set 20 years ago to limit the loss of rental housing. The proposed legislation was simple in its complexity: allow unregulated TICs to convert to regulated condos.
While condos are limited to 200 conversions a year, unregulated TICs, by state law, were exempt from that limit. In 2013 it was estimated that as many as 10,000 apartments had been converted to TICs, with the overwhelming majority being in rent-controlled apartment buildings. These conversions meant the loss of rent controlled apartments and, in most cases the eviction, through the Ellis Act, of their tenants.
Candidate Breed announced her support of the legislation to its main proponents, Plan C, a pro-developer group that announced its endorsement of her based upon that position.
But the pro-tenant majority on the board kept the legislation in committee until June, 2013 when Breed, again joining Wiener and two others, pulled it from committee to the full board.
The opposition to the legislation was based on the fact that the unlimited conversion of TICs to condos would reduce rent-controlled apartments and lead to massive evictions as landlord /speculators would buy rent controlled buildings, use Ellis Act to evict and then convert to TICs, which could then become ever more profitable condos. The ordinance, in short, was seen by every tenant and affordable housing advocate in the city has being anti-rent control and anti-affordable housing.
Breed supported it anyway. On June 11th 2013, with Sups. Cohen, Tang, Ferrell, and Wiener, she sought an “amendment of the whole” gutting the protections added to the measure by the pro-tenant majority. She wanted to remove a measure that would have eliminated the rights of condo conversions if the landlords sued over it. Breed lost on a 6-5 vote.
Seeing the political handwriting on the wall, she and Cohen then voted with the six pro-tenant advocates to make the measure – amended to included tenant protections — veto proof, with Wiener and Farrell actually voting against legislation they initially introduced and brought to a vote with Breed’s support.
Hundreds of the lost rent controlled TICs were in D5, reducing the number of affordable rental units available to residents.
The Ellis Act bill
Sup. David Campos introduced a bill in 2014 that was a key part of the tenant agenda. It was designed to slow down the epidemic of Ellis Act evictions and to give tenants who were tossed out a reasonable chance to stay in the city.
The measure called for landlords who used the Ellis Act to pay relocation fees adequate to actually cover the cost of finding new housing in the city.
Breed tried to gut that bill by adding amendments that would exempt a lot of property owners. She said during the debate that people who had owned property for a long time could make more money when the sell it if first they were able to evict all their tenants.
Airbnb and the continued assault on rent-controlled apartments
Ron Conway, a major investor in Airbnb, and four of his family members gave the maximum allowable individual contributions to candidate Breed in 2012. In addition, Conway and his wife contributed a cool $100,000 to an independent-expenditure committee that attacked Breed’s principal opponent in the race.
Members of ShareBetter SF, a broad based coalition of neighborhood, tenant, landlord, affordable housing and labor organizations seeking effective regulation of short term rentals (STR’s or “Airbnb”) of apartments where well aware of these contributions when they approached Breed in mid 2014 seeking her support for amendments to a proposed ordinance introduced by then-Board President David Chiu.
ShareBetterSF was concerned that the legislation supposedly regulating STRs, drafted by Chiu after more than 40 meetings with Airbnb lobbyists, was simply an unenforceable fig lead that would legalize what was then illegal activity while still allowing the unlimited use of rent controlled units as hotel rooms, creating new incentives to evict tenants.
The particular mechanism rendering the law unenforceable was the lack of a verifiable limit on the number of days an apartment could be rented as a STR. The Chiu legislation created a limit only on “un-hosted” rentals, that is rentals that occurred when the “host” was absent. For “hosted” rentals the Chiu legislation set no daily limits at all.
To enforce the ordinance, the city then had to determine when a person was present at a particular address, an enforcement requirement that was simply impossible to meet unless all renters were issued GPS transmitters. In effect the Chiu legislation legalized the unlimited short term rental of every apartment in San Francisco.
While ShareBetterSF had no problem with allowing an owner to rent out a bedroom in the family home, the group was deeply concerned about apartments being converted to full-time hotel rooms and the subsequent loss of critically needed permanent housing, especially housing with controlled rents. Member organizations, both apartment owners and tenant advocates, had noticed a spike in such activity and a reluctance on the part of the city to enforce the existing law against renting a unit for less than 30 days. The position was to regulate, not ban, short term rentals in order to protect the supply of rental housing available to residents seeking permanent homes, especially affordable rent-controlled housing.
Breed refused to support that ShareBetterSF daily limit amendment to the Chiu legislation, and on October 7th 2014 cast the deciding sixth vote against it, rendering the ordinance unenforceable.
The issue was revisited the next year after it was clear that the Chiu ordinance, as predicted, was not working. While Airbnb reported some 7,000 listings, fewer than 600 STR’s had registered with the city and the city was doing little to enforce the legislation.
ShareBetterSF introduced legislation seeking an enforceable ordinance. On July15th, 2015, Supervisor Breed not only voted against a single enforceable daily limit she also supported amendments, drafted by Airbnb, that actually weakened an already weak ordinance: banning tenants and apartment owner non- profits the right to sue, doubling the length of time the department could take to reply to a complaint and banning appeals to decisions made by the department that were in the Chiu legislation.
In May, 2015 the Budget and Legislative Analyst issued a report on the impact of legalizing short term rentals. It estimated that “commercial” STR’s, defined in the study as rentals of 90 or more days a year of an entire home or apartment, constituted some 32% of all apartments for rent in the Haight-Ashbury and Western Addition in 2013. That was eight times the vacancy rate for rental units in 2013. Rents to all renters would have been much lower if these units were, in fact, rented as apartments instead of hotels rooms. The study indicated a relationship between the number “commercial hosts” and the number of evictions in a neighborhood. The top three neighborhoods with the most commercial hosts were the top three neighborhoods experiencing evictions. (Legislative and Budget Analysis, Policy Analysis Report, May 13, 2015).
A private study of Airbnb in D5 done in August, 2016 showed the impact of Supervisor Breed’s support for the unenforceable ordinance over its first two years. It showed that some 67% of all Airbnb listing in D5 were full units, not rooms in a “mom and pop” shared home. Moreover, 45% of all rooms in her district were used for more than 90 days and they generated 63% of all Airbnb revenue in the district. Airbnb operators who listed two or more units (totally illegally as the ordinance limits Airbnb operators to only one unit, their “primary residence”.) totaled 43% of all listings, which earned 55% of all of the revenue generated in D5.
Again, affordable apartments were lost to permanent residents of D5 and hundreds of more were made more expensive by the artificially low vacancy rate as a result of Supervisors Breed votes in support of short term rentals.
The “Density Bonus” on Divisadero and Fillmore
In January, 2015, Sup. Breed introduced legislation that rezoned Divisadero Street from Haight to O’Farrell from a Neighborhood Commercial District to a Neighborhood Commercial Transit District. The rezoning would remove the regulations governing the number of units allowed by lot size and allow the number of units to be determined by height and bulk, allowing for more, smaller units, that is more residential density per lot. While height would not be increased, many smaller units would be allowed to replace fewer, larger units.
The bonus to developers would be huge. In one case a developer, under the old zoning, proposed a 16-unit project at 650 Divisadero. After the rezoning, passed by the Board in July, 2015, he revised his project to 60 units, more than 350% increase.
The rezoning was not well publicized in D5, and it wasn’t until projects started dramatically increasing their unit count that neighbors became aware of the change in late 2015. Neighborhood concern was increased when it was realized that the dramatic increase in density had no increase in required affordability. Moreover, such an increase in density with no increase in affordability would so change the development economics of the area that demolition of exiting housing and displacement of existing neighborhood serving retail uses became a deep concern since the legislation neither addressed demolition or small business retention.
In October, 2015, members of three neighborhood organizations and several Divisadero Street residents and merchants wrote Supervisor Breed pointing out their concerns and asking her to rescind the rezoning until the community could develop a “community driven” plan that addressed these concerns.
The following month she replied that she would not rescind the legislation, saying that city law prohibited her from requiring more affordability “unless … a significant upzoning in an area of 40 acres or more…the Divisadero NCT is not 40 acres…”
That was an incorrect citing of the law, which passed as Proposition C in 2012.
What Proposition C actually said is the exact opposite — increases in affordability requirements could be made if “through …local legislation … a 50% or greater increase in residential density over prior zoning” is granted, which is exactly the case with her NCTD rezoning.
Supervisor Breed refused to attend any of the planning sessions of the Affordable Divisadero Community Plan, sending her staff to only one to lecture the audience in her mistaken assertion of Prop. C.
In January, 2016, after 500 residents attended one or more of the meetings, the Divisadero Community Plan was adopted and sent to the supervisor and the Planning Commission. It called for demolition controls on all rent controlled housing, a 50% affordable requirement for all new developments of 10 units or more with all of the affordable units on site, that 70% of new market rate housing had to be two or more bedrooms, that additional fees be charged for transit on all new market rate units and that in all “high density development” 50% of all proposed retail space had to be “neighborhood serving” and there should be no formula retail uses allowed.
Supervisor Breed has remained silent on the Affordable Divisadero Community Plan.
But on the day before the plan was to be finally debated at a well publicized community meeting, Breed announced her intention to introduce legislation to increase affordability requirements from 12% to 23% in the NCTD, dropping her claim that to do so was illegal. Her campaign claim that this is the “highest affordable housing requirement in San Francisco history” is pure hokum since the voters passed a 25% inclusionary requirement in June, 2016.
As of this date no committee hearing before the Board of Supervisors has been set by Breed, so it’s unclear when the new requirement will take effect, possibly exempting a massive 152-unit market-rate development proposed for Divisadero at Oak.
But Breed’s record on affordable housing includes supporting legislation that has made housing more expensive for her constituents in D5; incentivizing displacement and demolition of existing housing and small businesses through massive upzonings, and pitting tenants against first-time owners over scarce rental housing.
We also asked her office to respond to questions about this article, but have heard nothing back. We will happily update if she wants to comment.