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Home Featured Wiener’s first bill could set off housing war

Wiener’s first bill could set off housing war

Should the state force cities to build more market-rate housing? Who decides how much?

Sen. Scott Wiener is undermining the city's affordable housing rules

State Senator Scott Wiener has wasted no time in wading into the statewide housing wars – just as affordable housing advocates have released a detailed policy platform for addressing the state’s affordability crisis.

Sen. Scott Wiener wants the state to force cities to build more housing
Sen. Scott Wiener wants the state to force cities to build more housing

A few hours after being sworn in to office, Wiener introduced SB 35, which states the intent of the Legislature to “incentivize the creation of affordable housing [and] remove local barriers to creating affordable housing in all communities.” That sounds perfectly reasonable (except that “incentivize” isn’t really a word): If some cities and counties go out of their way to refuse to accept low-income housing (and some have, and do), maybe the state should say: Hey, you can’t just preserve your rich enclave and keep poor people out.

But it also calls for the state to “streamline, incentivize [not a word], and remove local barriers to housing construction in jurisdictions failing to meet their regional housing needs contained in their housing element.”

Again: If that means Cupertino and Mountainview can’t approve massive tech offices and refuse to build any housing at all, good.

But if it turns out to mean that San Francisco, which is among the top three cities in the state in housing development right now, can’t block market-rate projects that lead to displacement, then Wiener is going to see serious opposition.

“I hope Sen. Wiener is cognizant of the fight last session over by-right and will produce a bill that is much more sensitive to the impacts on the ground,” Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, told me. “The most important thing is to increase affordable housing, not just to create a template for more private market-rate development.

“It’s equally important that this does not undermine tenant protections or the preservation of existing affordable housing.”

More than 30 community-based organizations came together to oppose Brown’s by-right legislation, and they’ve put out a detailed policy proposal for the state Legislature. With the Democrats in full control of state government, there’s a remarkable opportunity to push a real housing agenda in 2017. But there are also forces (some of whom supported Wiener) who would like to see the rules changed to make it easier to build luxury condos in San Francisco.

Put that in the context of a Trump Administration, which is going to radically cut money to cities, and most likely to states like California, and you have the makings of a critical debate in Sacramento.

If Wiener, as a representative of progressive San Francisco, sides with the developers, the more conservative Democrats will have plenty of cover to promote an agenda that will lead to widespread displacement of existing vulnerable communities.

In a piece he posted on Medium, Wiener argues that local control over housing has to be limited

Local control should mean that communities get to decide *how* they comply with their housing goals, not *whether* they comply with their housing goals. Under SB 35, cities that are on track to meet their goals will retain full local control over how they approve housing. Cities that aren’t on track will lose some local control until they get back on track.

So if a city doesn’t meet its “housing goals,” there will be some sort of state takeover, and the state will decide what gets built and where, with no local oversight? Sort of like when the state took over City College?

Here’s one immediate issue: Where do those “housing goals” come from? Well, not from the state Legislature, and not from local elected officials. They come from “councils of governments” – in our case, ABAG. That presents a bit of a problem, since ABAG and its partner, the MTC, are not exactly concerned about equity or the displacement of existing vulnerable communities when the set those goals.

Oh, and while those bodies are made up of elected officials, they aren’t elected to do regional planning, often know nothing about regional planning, and thus defer to staff, who are elected by nobody.

Nor are they, or the economic consultants they hire to do the projections that lead to the housing goals, every willing to challenge the idea of constant, endless growth. They assume that more people will come to the Bay Area, then assume that there will be jobs for all of them, instead of assuming that people come here when we create jobs and that limits on, say, the numbers and size of new tech companies might lead to slower growth and different housing needs.

So I’m not sure that we want ABAG to be able to call in a state trustee to tell San Francisco what to do just because the city doesn’t want more market-rate housing in the Mission.  

Here’s what the affordable housing groups have suggested:

The housing affordability problem is also not simply one of producing and protecting supply—household incomes have not kept up with the cost of living, and the benefits of the latest economic boom have been concentrated in a narrow segment of the workforce and in an investor class.  A full third of California’s workforce are “low-wage” workers.  Ironically, the increasing strain to stretch incomes farther to afford housing includes the workers who build the housing that today’s real estate market is pricing above their own means. Policies to solve the affordable housing crisis must be cognizant of a jobs-housing “fit” – that is, both incentivizing housing in California communities that is affordable to the actual workforce of those communities and promoting jobs that pay a decent wage.


Their guidelines:

  1. Does the proposed solution focus the state’s limited resources on meeting the most-pressing housing needs, i.e. people who don’t have a home or low and moderate income families paying an astronomical portion of their income for housing?

  2. Does the proposed solution support creation of jobs paying family-supporting wages?

  3. Does the proposed solution require all communities to take responsibility for making their housing accessible to people at various income levels, especially local workers?

  4. Does the proposed solution protect the state’s natural beauty and support its climate change goals?

  5. Does the proposed solution allow existing residents to remain in their community?


Number Five is critical, particularly in the San Francisco context.

The problem with market-rate development, much of which Wiener has supported, is that it drives up property values and displaces existing residents. So rules that “streamline” luxury development will also streamline displacement.

Nobody knows what the final shape of the bill will be, and Wiener says he is going to work with “environmental and housing advocates, labor, housing developers, and others over the coming months” to fine tune the bill.

But there are going to be some possibly irreconcilable differences. Wiener is among those who have faith in the free market to address the housing problem: He has always said that if we build enough market-rate housing, eventually prices will come down.

Many of the folks who ought to be part of any working coalition dispute that premise, and argue that the state and local communities need to put a lot more resources into social housing that is not developed or owned by the private sector.

There have been others in Sacramento, including the governor, who have tried to push that line. The fact that it’s now coming out of San Francisco is a bit alarming.


  1. From the ACS (American Community Survey)

    Latino population and percentage:

    1990 – 96,640 13.3%
    2000 – 109,504 14.1%
    2010 – 121,774 15.1%
    2016 – 128,619 15.3%

    So as you can see from the facts, the Latino population of San Francisco has been steadily increasing, both in numbers and relative percentage.

    Why are you so obsessed with one neighborhood?

  2. “Home to a Latino community since the 1930s, the
    Mission’s Latino population has declined from 60% of the area’s total population in 2000 to 47%
    over the 2008-12 five-year period. During this period, the overall Latino percentage of the
    population in San Francisco has remained steady. The change in the Mission’s ethnic
    composition has occurred at the same time as a decline in the neighborhood’s number of lowerincome
    households, and families with children, and a rising number of upper-income households
    without children. These trends have also been more strongly felt in the Mission than in the rest of
    San Francisco.”

    2015 Study by SF’s Office of Economic Analysis

  3. The overall population of Latinos in San Francisco has been steadily increasing for over 30 years, including from 2010-2016. Why are you so obsessed about the ethnic makeup of one neighborhood?

  4. The Mission has seen a loss of 8,000 Latino families over what period? Eureka Valley lost many more Scandinavians than that from 1910 to 1960. My parents were married and I was christened at the Norwegian Lutheran Church at Dolores and 19th. That church is no more. The Excelsior lost Italian families replaced by Filipino families. And before the Latinos, the Mission lost Irish families. Unless there is a steady supply of fresh blood, all ethnic neighborhoods eventually disappear. They assimilate and disburse.

    The average tenure in the Mission is around seven years. More than 99% who moved were not evicted. Around 8% moved for cheaper housing, but 15% moved for new or better home/apartment. 3% wanted a better neighborhood/less crime. There are many reasons people move.

    From 2010 to 2014 the Mission lost 264 employed Latinos, a loss of 4.7%. The single-family owner-occupied West of Twin Peaks neighborhoods, Forest Hill, Forest Hill Extension, Miraloma Park, West Portal-St. Francis Wood, Balboa & Ingleside Terreaces gained 154 employed Latinos or an increase of 13%. Many were former renters who wanted buy as their incomes and families grew.

    There were only 18 Ellis evictions in the Mission-Bernal 2016. Citywide there were 68 Ellis evictions in 2016. Yes, that is up from 34 in 2010, but down from 92 in 2008, down from 131 in 2005 and down from 208 in 2000. Depending when you start Ellis evictions have plummeted.

  5. The Mission has seen a loss of 8,000 Latino families, mostly low-income, and Ellis Act evictions skyrocketed in the period from 2010-2016.

    But of course, that’s all voluntary outmigration. Nothing to see here.

  6. Sorry, but the will of the voters of SF is not absolute. If the voters of SF voted to lynch all blacks in the city the state and federal government would rightly step in and stop them from doing so. The same is true in this case.

    No tyranny of the majority for SF fauxgressives.

  7. “It is not because people dig for diamonds that they are expensive, but because they are expensive that people dig for them”. Developers can’t make low-income housing without subsidies because of artificially inflated land and building costs. The gap between a site with and without planning permission is large, and entirely self-inflicted damage.

  8. I’m curious how much you are willing to contribute – maybe in a special tax or surcharge or something, so that poor people can be subsidized to live here.
    New housing (and old) is V expensive here. Supporting poor people who are here is one thing; importing poor people is entirely irresponsible, imho.

  9. incentivize Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary
    incentivize meaning, definition, what is incentivize: to make someone want to do something: . Learn more.

  10. Ed – yes there is a “housing crisis”. But it started more than 35 yrs ago (cited right in the initiating legis for the “temporary” rent control ord. in SF in 1979.)

  11. Tim cites Scott’s use of “incentivize” as “not a real word” (twice). But says nothing when its used by the Affordable Housing Mafia in their FB blog.

  12. Hey Tim, just to help with your incredibly important and not-petty-at-all grammar policing, I wanted to point out that one of the articles on THIS VERY BLOG uses the word “incentivize”. https://48hills.org/2016/10/17/who-is-moving-into-and-out-of-sf/

    I trust you will take the time to publish a correction and publicly name-and-shame the authors (P .Cohen, F. Marti, M. Arnell) for this terrible use this word, whether it appears in the dictionary or not.

  13. I’m not entirely sure why “affordable housing” is still an issue. It’s simply just a “powerful phrase” to help implement Plan Bay Area. Most of these affordable housing not profit groups have been around less than 6 years and are pretty well paid to run around pushing for more development and density. Calling is a “housing crisis” as if to make it seem as tho “omg it’s an emergency we have to build now”. Well there is no crisis and there is no emergency. It’s pretty basic…. prices go up in a hot market everything else is just hot air. Building more high rises in no way means affordable housing. In case you didn’t know it we’ve had affordable housing for many years now. It’s called section 8. Government does not build affordable housing by passing affordable bond measures that do nothing but to simply allow them to sell government owned land up to the amount of the bond to private developers only puts money into people’s pockets. True affordable housing would be the government building subsidized housing on government owned land more “project homes”. The amount of homes for sale on the market have shot up. Housing crises? Most of the new developments are not even close to full occupancy. Housing crisis? Rent has dropped and still creeping down in sf. Housing crisis? Vacancy in sf has gone up. Housing crisis? The whole Bay Area has a “housing crisis” ok so SF rent is expensive Oakland is $1000 cheaper. Can’t afford it? Wow I’m sorry. Richmond is $800 cheaper than Oakland. Oh can’t afford that either? Oh I’m sorry. Ok well how about Fremont you can get a studio for around $1000. Oh ya you can’t afford it I forgot we have a “housing crisis. Get real what a bunch of bs.
    What’s affordable? Living within ones financial means? If your broke why complain about not being able to live the high life? “Displacement”? What you had to move out of point A and have gone to point b? Ok and? What’s that suppose to mean? Should we create a non profit affordable automobile group because I can’t afford a Mercedes? Or how about a non profit group to go after companies like Ferrari for displacing me. They forced me out of my Ferrari into a Toyota because I could not afford the insurance on it. Yes help me tackle that “crisis. Over 3 million citizens can’t afford a Ferrari. This is an emergency damn it!!!!!
    It’s all a bunch of horse doo doo being pushed by ABAG with all of these “affordable housing” groups being paid to support and push it all publically. Every new development around the Bay Area that has been built, approved, or being developed has all happened within PDAs(priority development area). Don’t know what that is? Look up Plan Bay Area and find out about the wonderful $380 billion plan that calls for a “housing crisis” in order to push it. Go learn something.

  14. The name of the new game is “Make That Stuff Easy to Push Through!!” Yep, if development wasn’t already wreaking havoc on our quality of life, they are upping the ante by working to get rid of numerous steps to get approval for MORE.

    The proof is in the pudding now that MORE housing does not equal more truly affordable housing. The Feds already handed out funding to cities who went along with the initial development figures dictated to them, and promised to back folks suing cities who pushed back if they felt their infrastructure can’t handle it.

    This article slams some cities for not building housing, but for the wrong reasons. There is no NIMBYism going on – just a few people with brains still in their heads, wondering why the heck we are building the crap out of the Bay Area when we can’t support it…Yet, still they have the nerve to call it ‘sustainable.’

    So, here we are, a short time later, down a dark rabbit hole, with leaders pushing for more, more, more – all the while knowing the “Smart Growth” idea was so much better in theory than in practice. But, who cares? If the masses get redirected and aren’t paying attention to the actual results, planners and city leaders continue on down the path that is costing taxpayers in every conceivable way.

  15. I am sure there is actual “displacement” of low-income people but it is a small percent of the total who move. Most of what we see in the Mission is replacement not displacement.

    Regarding original homeowners, I know a retiree who sold his house he owned for 40 years for an enormous profit, bought a better house in Contra Costa County for half the price, and kept most of the profit tax free.

    Also, the Mission will not remain an ethnic enclave even without gentrification. Like all ethnic neighborhoods, it will disappear over time unless there is a steady supply of fresh blood.

    I know a Mission born and bred Latino who moved to a Westside single family owner occupied neighborhood. His income and family grew. His oldest child was ready for school. He moved within a short walk of one of the best public schools in the City. Unfortunately, it is so popular that he could not get his son enrolled even though it is his neighborhood school. Ironically, if he had remained in the Mission and applied to that school, his son would have been given priority because they lived in a low performing census tract. He was livid.

  16. Not sure what point you were trying to make, but one of the articles you linked to that is highlighting a study out of NYU seems to point to the opposite of many of Tim’s posts. Re gentrification:

    -Original homeowners — immune from the effects of rent increases — left gentrifying neighborhoods at significantly higher rates than did poorer households that rented. The researchers suggested that relocation may be more a selective choice than a product of mounting economic pressures.

    -The key drivers of neighborhood change were voluntary entries and exits — not forced economic displacement — and differences between the incomes of those moving into and out of gentrifying neighborhoods proved not to be significant.

    -Households that remained in these growing neighborhoods saw much larger increases in income than comparable households in neighborhoods that did not experience such gentrification. Although these changes may not have significantly impacted a neighborhood’s average household income, “it might be an important component of the neighborhood change process.”

    -Neighborhood satisfaction increased significantly among renters in neighborhoods experiencing economic growth.
    There was no evidence that neighborhoods experiencing economic growth also grew less racially diverse during that period. While 51% of new renters in these neighborhoods were white, 54% of those leaving these neighborhoods were white.

    Just sayin’

  17. Give me a fucking break. No wait…let me guess?

    A tRump supporter! Because you “make” your own facts, studies, and news (even if they are fake).

    Copy and paste them right here and don’t you dare leave out WHO made these bogus studies that the real world has already defaulted them void and thus false. Sort of like the “Trickle Economics” agenda.

    Plenty of studies that that has made millions of poor middle class right?

    Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

  18. Maybe you haven’t been around a lot of human street feces. Maybe your first ten times you can’t tell, but you get pretty accurate at it before long. Texture and smell are different in almost all cases compared to dog doo, and there aren’t too many other animals out there in enough number to be possibilities.

  19. Well clearly you don’t live in SF or you’re willfully ignorant. Everyone I know in SF can easily tell the difference between human and animal poo. Sad but true.

  20. 20 people shitting on the streets every day = 7,300 street logs, so 7,500 isn’t all that much. And how does one know if a turd is human or from some other mammal?

  21. That was my question. Where is the evidence that market rate housing causes displacement. There are studies to show gentrification slows the out migration of “vulnerable communities.”

  22. San Francisco is a literal shithole right now. We have 7500 annual complaints of human excrement on the streets courtesy of our burgeoning homeless population. Our housing stock is old and in poor repair and may become a humanitarian disaster in the next big quake. Having spent time travelling, I find the condition of our city somewhat embarrassing.

    And yes, the streets are clogged, but that is because we continually choose not to invest in public transit. We’ve already shown we’ll never put infrastructure in place to accommodate future growth, so we’re going to have to do it the other way around.

  23. Tough decisions have to be made, and they will probably be made during a ‘correction’ and that would be horrible.

    San Francisco streets are beyond capacity NOW. All the creative modifications absent really difficult decisions are meaningless.

    Unless the objective is to make San Francisco into a shithole, we can’t grow the population until the infrastructure is in place to support the existing residential and workday populations.

  24. I welcome a war on the so called progressive housing establishment. Sorry Tim, we’ve suffered enough, It’s time to try something different.

  25. Like it or not, many businesses require a density of talent to get off the ground and thrive. Under different conditions those businesses may not form/stay afloat and the jobs will not be created/maintained. You can’t just decide Reno will be the new tech hub and send all the techies there because Reno needs the jobs, it doesn’t work that way.

  26. We already have a limit on the amount of new office space in SF. It’s called Prop M and it’s been around for 30 years.

    Of course “THE WILL OF THE VOTERS” (as you put it) this year via Prop O allowed building beyond the Prop M limits.

  27. Yet another article where Tim craps on someone trying to make a difference while offering NO real solutions of his own. Unless you have an alternative plan, you should STFU.

  28. Also, the whole thing about market rate leading to the “displacement of existing vulnerable communities” is a red herring.

    A few years back there was a plan for a 38 story tower right next to the Transamerica pyramid. There were no vulnerable neighbors involved and Chinatown supported it. Tim and his friends (Peskin literally took over David Chiu’s Supervisor office) fought it all the way. 8 Washington was another example where the neighbors were already millionaires.

    I don’t doubt that a bunch of fancy new condo buildings in a neighborhood get the local landlords thinking about their own properties. And I don’t doubt that a local taqueria might consider rebranding with $14 ‘organic wraps’. But those changes are likely to occur anyway and meanwhile, the people who would have moved into the market rate buildings instead become motivations for TIC conversions and Ellis act evictions.

  29. There’s a lot of misinformation in this article.

    Where do those “housing goals” come from? Well, not from the state Legislature, and not from local elected officials. They come from “councils of governments” – in our case, ABAG.

    Actually, the need comes from the state’s (DoF and HCD) population projections according to state law. Much of the need is “natural increase” of population from household formation, and the rest of it is net migration. The ABAG is responsible for allocating a share of the need among each city.

    Oh, and while those bodies are made up of elected officials, they aren’t elected to do regional planning, often know nothing about regional planning, and thus defer to staff, who are elected by nobody.

    The ABAG representatives are elected to do citywide planning, since zoning is a responsibility of city councils. Now Tim says that the city council members are not qualified to say how much of the regional housing need their city can take?

    So I’m not sure that we want ABAG to be able to call in a state trustee to tell San Francisco what to do just because the city doesn’t want more market-rate housing in the Mission.

    The RHNA does not dictate that San Francisco put all the sites zoned for housing in the Mission. That is entirely the responsibility of San Francisco. If it wanted, San Francisco could upzone along other corridors instead such as West Portal or Geary or Noriega in order to fulfill its RHNA responsibility. But after the City of San Francisco certifies to the State that certain sites are available for housing growth, it is completely fair for the state to hold them accountable.

    But there are going to be some possibly irreconcilable differences. Wiener is among those who have faith in the free market to address the housing problem: He has always said that if we build enough market-rate housing, eventually prices will come down.

    I wouldn’t put it on Wiener if he is unable to placate those who think that only price-controlled housing is virtuous and privately sold housing is evil. Most people still have to rent or buy private housing.

  30. Kudos to Wiener. All the coastal counties in California are suffering from major housing shortages. Without the deregulation that Wiener proposes, those counties will be increasingly inhabited only by richer people and NIMBYs who like the status quo.

  31. “We have to also slow the demand”

    How do you plan to do that? Nothing, short of a major recession, is going to slow demand,.

  32. If cities enacted laws to force cities to limit the number of new offices being built (as I believe we should), we would be hearing shouts of ‘communist’ and ‘nanny state’ from the Mayor Conway and those who support his war against progressives.

    And yet, citizens of San Francisco have voted several times to limit growth and for height restrictions. An end-run around this by Wiener is something we should expect from Trump, but not someone who is supposed to represent THE WILL OF THE VOTERS and all San Franciscans.

    Note to everyone: We can’t solve this problem by only focusing upon the ‘supply side’ of the equation. We have to also slow the demand.

    The Bay Area needs controlled growth, not the ‘anything goes’ nonsense that we have now.

  33. Even the Oxford dictionary says incentivize is a real word: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/incentivize

    Rents in San Francisco are down (slightly) from last year according to a myriad of sources: http://sf.curbed.com/2016/12/1/13810764/san-francisco-rent-prices-2016

    Two factors:

    1. The fact that San Francisco has added thousands of units (mostly market rate) in the last year is what is driving down the average rents

    2. The fact that the tech hiring is down and many startups have bitten the dust is slackening demand for housing and driving down rents

    Some folks (like the author of this column perhaps) do not think #1 is a primary factor. Some other folks (developers perhaps) think #1 is the only factor.

    I like to think there are many of us who think it’s both myself included.

  34. Tim, your views on housing are crazy. Scott will be the best thing that’s ever happened to the state assembly.

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