Campaign trail: Homelessness, superPACs and a weird Chron story

Candidates offer dueling proposals on housing; Breed supporters get a quick $50,000 from a city contractor -- and what really happened at the housing forum Saturday?

This was the week of candidates putting forward plans to address homelessness.

Mark Leno put forward his plan to end “street homelessness,” and while some of the proposals are similar to ideas we’ve heard before, his plan includes what the previous administration never seriously considered: The concept that one of the best ways to address homelessness is to prevent evictions and keep people in their homes.

Street art by Romanowski

“70% of San Franciscans living on the street were living under a roof in San Francisco before they became homeless,” the Leno plan states.

That’s a sharp contrast to Ed Lee’s time in office, when rental subsidies were curtailed and evictions became epidemic.

Leno, along with Sup. Jane Kim and Amy Farah Weiss, supports the ballot measure that would guarantee every tenant who is facing eviction the right to a lawyer.

Leno also points to the more than 1,500 SRO hotel rooms that are vacant and could be used to house homeless people.

The SF Public Press reported on this in the fall, and also on the reasons those rooms remain empty. Some landlords are just keeping units off the market because they think prices will continue to go up; once a tenant moves in and stays 32 days, the unit comes under rent control.

In other cases, landlords don’t want to rent to homeless people because they’re worried about the impact of tenants who need services that often aren’t available. Leno’s response:

We know that many SRO landlords leave units empty because City Hall isn’t meeting the need for supportive services that help keep formerly homeless tenants safely and reliably housed. Landlords should not have to worry whether a new tenant exiting homelessness will have the social services they need to pay rent or maintain mental and physical stability — this should be a guarantee from City Hall.

TODCO, the Soma affordable housing group whose executive director, John Elberling, has endorsed Jane Kim, notes that

The residential hotels in SOMA, the Mission, and the Tenderloin that have been empty for years are owned by owners who have refused to sell them to nonprofit affordable housing groups at any reasonable price, and cannot not even lease them to the City for homeless programs because they are not up to today’s codes. These owners are speculating these properties looking for a maximum price by “investors”/developers like StarCity. Many will ultimately wind up being “taken upmarket,” after modest renovations, to become hip SRO housing for the City’s new Young Gentry.

It might take a vacancy tax to force some of these landlords to accept tenants. Kim has proposed using eminent domain to force the owners to sell these buildings to the city, which would give SF a direct source of more than 1,000 affordable units. That’s a lengthy legal process – it could take years, although some landlords might decide to settle and sell rather than go through the expense of litigation

Sup. London Breed released her own homelessness plan today, which doesn’t mention the vacant SROs but does call for building 5,000 new housing units a year, reflecting her position that more market-rate housing will help bring down costs (and presumably prevent homelessness).

The city’s own data shows that building market-rate housing makes the housing crisis worse.

She also cites the number of homeless people who used to be housed in San Francisco, and talks about the need for prevention (including more funding for rent subsidies.

Breed doesn’t support the Right to Counsel ballot measure; she’s introduced her own legislation at the board that at this point offers a more limited program than the ballot measure does. TODCO’s got an analysis of Breed’s plan here.

Neither of these plans includes full details of how they would be funded – Leno says he wants a top-to-bottom audit of all existing expenditures on homelessness to be sure there’s no waste, and Breed is talking her tax plan that would raise $70 million a year. The need is far greater than either of those solutions.

But at least the debate is (finally) focused on prevention as well as cure. Now perhaps we can all start discussing whether this problem is linked to the city and the region growing too fast.

 

The superPAC run by the San Francisco Firefighters Union, which is supporting Breed (and will probably wind up attacking her opponents) just picked up another $75,000 in cash.

Documents on file with the Ethics Commission show that the independent-expenditure committee received $50,000 from Pilot Construction Management, Inc., which couldn’t give money, even a fraction of that amount, directly to a candidate because local law bans corporate contributions – and because Pilot has done business with the city.

The president of Pilot, Lina Tan, has donated the maximum $500 in the past to David Lee for Supervisor and Ahsha Safai for Supervisor. Other than that, she and her company have not been major donors in the city.

The other $25,000 came from Mae C. Woo, a retired real-estate agent.

 

The conventional political wisdom has always been that front-runners don’t like to debate; it rarely does them any good, and can lead to blunders. By some recent accounts, London Breed is now the front-runner in the race, which may explain why she hasn’t shown up for some of the more progressive groups’ endorsement forums.

She missed San Francisco Rising, the Latino Democratic Club, the Bernal Heights Democratic Club, and the Council of Community Housing Organizations. She showed up for the Democratic County Central Committee endorsement interviews, but left early.

Or maybe she’s just really busy. Nobody can make all the events. Still, these were all forums held by progressive groups who would have had tough questions for her.

 

It’s hard to cover a complex topic like housing at a contentious forum when you don’t have much space, so I know what the Chron’s Rachel Swan was up against. Still, our reporter had a different take on what happened at the Council of Community Housing Organizations forum. And when I watched the video, I was a bit perplexed.

Here’s what the Chron reported:

The dramatic high point came when an audience member asked a question that seemed targeted at Breed, who wasn’t even there: How would each candidate help African Americans who have been priced out of the city?

The audience member specifically cited the Western Addition, a neighborhood that was bulldozed by redevelopment in the 1960s. Breed, who is African American, grew up in a housing project there and now represents the area as a district supervisor.

It was an awkward moment for Leno, who has framed his campaign around the idea of political change — a notion that Breed’s supporters have slammed, arguing that Leno is a 66-year-old white man who spent decades in City Hall and the state Capitol.

Leno lamented “the exodus of our African American population” from San Francisco but offered no concrete solutions to stop it. Kim said she would open an office of race and equity if elected mayor. Alioto blamed the Third Street rail line for driving African Americans out of Bayview-Hunters Point, though she didn’t explain how the two things connected. Her mayoral platform is largely about saving the soul of the city.

I watched the video and actually, Leno had a perfectly reasonable response: He said that a serious local-hire program that sought to make sure that a fair share of the new tech jobs went to existing residents, including African Americans, would help prevent displacement by giving the vulnerable communities a chance to benefit from the high wages of the boom. That may be a good idea or not, but it’s certainly a legit proposal. Kim also talked about a program in Portland that gives displaced residents first preference in affordable housing; again, that may or may not be a good idea, but it’s a credible proposal.

Alioto’s comments about displacement in Bayview Hunters Point seemed pretty clear to me, and I suspect most people in the room got the point.

I asked Swan about it, and she told me that

Leno’s comments on the African American question seemed a little vague to me. I got what Angela was suggesting with regard to the Third Street rail, but to me the gentrification connection was unpersuasive.

I did think the Midtown question — clearly a dig at Breed — put Leno in an awkward position. Maybe it was more of a gut feeling sitting in the room there.

Each candidate had one minute to answer one of the most complex questions facing the city. Hard to be more than a little vague.

 

State Sen. Scott Wiener unleashed a vicious attack on Kim over her opposition to SB 827, the state housing bill that would upzone pretty much all of San Francisco without any new affordable housing requirements or any way for the city to capture some of the profound increases in property values that the law would create.

Interesting that he has made no such harsh comments about Leno, who also opposes SB 827 — and who Wiener has endorsed.

 

  • PaxSF

    Rachel swan is a good journalist. The Chronicle has been getting a lot better lately.

    • Pax,

      I’m suspecting that Swan is being edited into line.

      She can’t believe that Aaron is a sexist.

      He’s the most ‘P’ whipped guy I ever knew.

      Alioto for Mayor Again!

      Gascon for DA Again!

      Peskin for Board prex Again!

      Go Giants Again!

      h.

      • Porfirio666

        “P whipped” ?
        You truly are stuck in a bygone era.

        • Porfiro,

          Did you want me to curse or bring your family into it?

          Alioto for Mayor Again!

          Gascon For DA Again!

          Peskin for Board prex Again!

          Go Giants Again!

          h.

          • Porfirio666

            You are like an ancient puppet in a carny show that can talk.

          • Porfir,

            Thank you.

            I loved Carny shows.

            In around 1960 a friend of mine had his own booth in a travelling carnival in Missouri.

            His dad owned a ride (I forget what kind) which he stored in his garage in the off-season.

            His carnival hired neighborhood kids to go on the road with them (I never went) and boy did they come back with some stories.

            One of them (son of the carnie guy) was an all-state basketball guard for our school (McKinley of St. Louis) …

            His dad created a concession for him and like all carnie games, there was an angle.

            It was free-throw shooting and you could win a prize if you could sink 2 of 3 free throws.

            Of course, the rim had been shaved so’s only an All-State guard could do that.

            So, Jerry (his name was – and I hope – still is Jerry Germain) …

            He stands around with his coin changer and hits free throw after free throw to show how easy it was.

            Came back after one trip and says his concession was shut-down by a guy in Crystal City, Mo. who never missed.

            You guessed it.

            Bill Bradley.

            I hope you like being old as much as I do when you’re my age.

            And, I hope you have the pleasure of being ‘P’Whipped’ all the days of your life.

            Do you really think men are superior?

            Alioto for Mayor Again!

            Gascon for DA Again!

            Peskin for Board prex Again!

            Go Giants Again!

            h.

          • Porfirio666

            You are like a dog who loves drooling.

          • Porfir,

            With respect, I’ll answer any of your comments that Tim will print with the same refrain …

            Alioto for Mayor Again!

            Gascon for DA Again!

            Peskin for Board prez Again!

            Go Giants Again!

            h.

          • Porfirio666

            You are like a purse string dangling over a balcony.

          • Porfir,

            Thank you for the opportunity for me to say in all honesty …

            Alioto for Mayor Again!

            Gascon for DA Again!

            Peskin for Board prex Again!

            Go Giants Again!

            h.

          • Porfirio666

            You are the sow that has the rabbit’s back.

        • Porfir,

          I use the language of someone well into their 8th decade and have no apologies for it.

          Facts?

          The French guard their language and have around a hundred fifty thousand words.

          Thus, they can still read their writers all the way back 5 centuries and understand them.

          English words are 45% derived from French.

          There are over 500,000 words in english to date and we cannot understand Shakespeare w/out an interpreter.

          Bottom line?

          Peskin ain’t a sexist and I used the
          P’whipped comment as a joke to those who can understand it.

          Want me to start rapping?

          Alioto for Mayor Again!

          Gascon for DA Again!

          Peskin for Board prez Again!

          Go Giants Again!

          h.

          • Sexist creeps are “those who can understand it.”

          • Jymmy,

            Thank you again for the opportunity to say in all honesty ,…

            Alioto for Mayor Again!

            Gascon for DA Again!

            Peskin for Board prez Again!

            Go Giants Again!

            h.

  • Rosh HoshHosh

    The question from Natalia Kresnik (great question, minute 56:00) was followed by a boisterous man from the Fillmore saying he’s being ‘priced out.’ He wanted to know virtually the same question Kresnik had presented. Aguilar then summarized both questioners for the candidates :

    What actions can be taken and what reparations can be made to address African-American displacement, particularly in the Fillmore?

    Leno did come up short. He mentioned the ‘exodus’ as he walked up to speak, and then never mentioned African-Americans again (minute 1:05:00). Watch for yourself:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLe39DmbNaw&t=4513s

    • Don Sebastopol

      How are they measuring “priced out?” Based on what data?

      • RuMADorRuREALLYmad

        Census Genius? Payroll numbers and figures presented to the city –

        • RuMADorRuREALLYmad

          Don is a relativist.

        • Don Sebastopol

          What payroll numbers and figures?

        • Don Sebastopol

          I just checked the census. How can there be displacment in the Fillmore when the Black population increased both in number and percent from 2010 to 2016?

    • Don Sebastopol

      There is no exodus of African-Americans from the Fillmore. The African American population in the Fillmore has increased.

      • Rosh HoshHosh

        Did you just have a Deja Vu moment from 1968? Tell me Don, what was your favorite redevelopment project: A1 or A2?

        • Don Sebastopol

          Increased from 2010 to 2016 in the Fillmore. Current not ancient history.

          During the 60’s redevelopment the City’s Black population increased. The decline starting in 1970 was not unique to San Francisco but it was part of a national trend “the second great migration.” Mainly related to the loss of working class and middle class jobs, and jobs related to the defense industry.

          The Bay Area Black population started to decline in 1990. At the same time several formerly White cities in the Bay Area saw an increase in the Black population from 1970 to 2010.

          • No, actually, it was mainly related to oil subsidies and racist redlining.

  • SanPrecario

    Tim, The study which you keep using as justification that that more market rate housing increases prices is based on a fairly simple econometric model (not actual observation) and is meant only to predict the effects of small-scale increases in population. Your conclusions from that study about aggregate prices are entirely your own and not stated by the study at all. If you have any other evidence to support this point (other than the Berkeley study that shows localized increases but aggregate decreases in rent after new market rate construction) I would love to see it.

    • sfsquirrel

      And yet, all the YIMBYs have to support their supply and demand theory is Econ 101.

    • Don Sebastopol

      What Berkeley study? How much of a reduction in rent?

    • Chris Courtney

      Hyper commodification of housing leads to only 1 thing. Hyper commodification of housing. If values were going to decrease anywhere on the spectrum we wouldn’t be seeing the volume of outside investment that every major urban center is seeing. The incorrect assumption that prices will go down is based on the phenomenon of “over investing” which does not apply to large scale development.

  • Don Sebastopol

    Where are the data showing that Blacks are displaced or priced out?

    The decline in the Black population since 1970 is part of a national trend “the second great migration.” It had mainly to do with jobs leaving the City. The Bay Area has seen a decline since 1990. At the same time, many formerly White Bay Area cities have seen an increase in their Black population.

    It is more a matter of replacement than displacement. Black middleclass families leave the City the same reasons that any other family does. They can get more house for their money, more space, better weather, nicer surroundings, better schools, and less crime. Retired homeowners are also selling out. They can get a better house for half the price and pocket some their profits tax free.

    Interesting that at the same time there has been a decline in the Black population there has been on increase in the number of Blacks with steady employment in San Francisco.

    • KOinSF

      Dude, just shut up already, you are digging yourself into looking more racist with every comment.

      • Don Sebastopol

        Rather than name calling why don’t you provide some facts to refute mine. BTW between 2010 and 2016 there was an increase in the number and percent of Blacks in the Fillmore. That would seem to contradict the displaced theory.

        • KOinSF

          You seem to be thrilled only better off black folks live here in SF. I do not wish to engage with one that shares your attitude. You have proven NADA. So bug off

          • Don Sebastopol

            Where have I expressed a preference or thrill?

    • The “since 1970” qualifier is bizarre, that was smack dab in the middle of White Flight suburbanization fueled by racist redlining and subsidized oil (with a brief dip during the 1970s Energy Crisis). Of course the tax incentives for suburbanizing put the actual burden of subsidy on the remaining, redlined residents of the cities whites were leaving.

      You gloss this somehow into the 1990s, but that’s when redlining was eased somewhat and inner suburbs were collapsing from their economic and ecological unsustainability (car-based infrastructure that’s spread out becomes unmaintainable). Those who had the means and wealth, courtesy of the previous wave of subsidized suburbanization, dodged paying their bills by either sprawling further out (more “tax incentives”) or coming back to gentrify the cities, displacing people into the now-abandoned inner suburbs.

      Hapless commenters referred to this as Black people finally having access to The American Dream, which you seem to actually have fallen for. It’s no such thing. It’s displacement.

      • Don Sebastopol

        How do you define and measure “displacement?”

        1970 was the end of the “Second Great Migration” nationwide. Blacks stopped migrating north and west with a reverse migration back to the south. Blacks stopped coming to the Bay Area. Consistent with that national trend, 1970 was when the Black SF population started to decline. It had mostly to do with jobs.

        The Black population was concentrated in SF and the Oakland area. Since 1970 there has been an increase of Blacks in formerly White Bay Area cities at the same time there was a decrease in SF. The causes may be debatable.

        More recent migration patterns show a disbursal. Between 2010 and 2016 SF and Alameda county lost around 7,000 Blacks while Contra Costa and Santa Clara County gained around 7,000 Blacks.