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News + PoliticsHousingPlanning Department has ambitious housing goals; Mayor's Office stands in the way

Planning Department has ambitious housing goals; Mayor’s Office stands in the way

Hearing shows huge disconnect between lofty goals and the ability of the city to implement them.

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The outcome was pretty much determined in advance. The San Francisco Housing Element is, as Fred Sherburn Zimmer, director of the Housing Rights Committee put it, “state blackmail, and you all know this.”

So the Land Use and Transportation Committee sent this plan to the full Board of Supes, where it will be approved Tuesday/24.

But in the process, we learned that the Planning Department, which had to develop the Housing Element and its ambitious affordable housing goals, and the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, which would implement those goals, are on very different tracks.

Sup. Dean Preston asked why there’s such a disconnect between an ambitious plan and the reality of the mayor’s policies.

In fact, testimony at today’s hearing made clear that the two parts of the London Breed Administration are completely out of synch—and as a result, a planning process that took years and involved dozens of staffers, some of whom took seriously the idea of community input and equity, is going to amount to very little.

A coalition of more than 40 community groups trying to influence the final plan says the outcome still falls far short.

At times, the hearing was stunning: The director of MOHCD, Eric Shaw, essentially admitted that his office has no plans to implement key parts of the Housing Element.

“It’s not permitting delays, it’s not zoning, it not a lack of funding,” Sup. Dean Preston said. “It’s political games and retribution coming out of the Mayor’s Office, and if we don’t have a more collaborative approach, we ain’t going to get there.”

Nobody in the hearing, from Planning Director Rich Hillis to Shaw, was able to answer the real dramatic question here:

Where is the city going to get the $19 billion to build that affordable housing, particularly when Breed won’t spend the money the supes have already allocated and the voters have approved?

There were vague references to “challenges” and to possible state and federal funding, but right now that money doesn’t exist, and there’s no sign that it will arrive in the next few years.

Everyone knows there’s no choice here: Thanks to Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Democrats in the state Legislature, cities have to develop plans that will allow private developers to build the amount of new housing that the state thinks communities need. If they don’t, oddly, they lose affordable housing money.

In San Francisco, the plan has to make room for more than 80,000 new units, and 46,000 are supposed to be affordable.

The state directives have nothing to do with funding. Newsom and his allies, like State Sen. Scott Wiener, have bought the Yimby line that the major reason there’s a housing shortage in the state is that local communities have created too many obstacles to private-sector housing development.

So the new Housing Element, to meet state standards, has to include a lot of new zoning rules and streamlining to help those for-profit developers.

Miriam Chion, director of community equity at the Planning Department, said that since the city has already issued permits for 45,000 housing units that aren’t getting built, the plan only has to make room for 36,000 more private, for-profit units. And the new plan, which allows more density and bigger buildings in large parts of the city, just got the official nod from Newsom’s crew.

On the other hand, Chion said, if the city doesn’t issue permits for at least 29,000 units in the next four years, we will need “additional rezoning or constraint reduction.”

That’s all about making it easier for developers to get permits for luxury housing. It has nothing to do with whether that housing will get built, and whether it meets the needs of the city’s workforce.

Preston noted that, for the first time ever, for-profit housing developers are suggesting that the city actually subsidize their projects.

Chion said the same thing about affordable housing—that if the city was “under-permitting” low-income units after four years, the department will need to “seek additional funding and land-banking.”

That means the city should be buying land, now, and keeping it for affordable housing in the future.

She admitted: “We don’t have the money for 46,000 affordable units.” She suggested that more money from the General Fund, including money from Prop. I, could go into the affordable-housing pool, and that the city should be buying land now for future affordable housing.

Prop. I has raised about $250 million to do just that.

But Breed has refused to spend one penny of it on affordable housing. The supes have allocated more than $70 million to buy land for new non-market housing; MOHCD has spent none of it.

Put simply: The Planning Department says the city needs to be spending money, including the Prop. I money, on buying sites for non-market housing and building non-market housing.

The Mayor’s Office says it won’t do that.

In a remarkable series of bureaucratic non-answers, Shaw refused to say he supports using the Prop. I money for housing, said that the city has no plans for buying up land (at the perfect time when the market for land is tanking), and that his office hasn’t even issued a call for bids on the money that the city allocated for new affordable housing last June.

Listen:

“We don’t have a particular plan … We recognize challenges, thresholds, and opportunities… we understand thresholds, rubrics, and constraints.

He said that his office is doing no land-banking that “buy and hold” was not part of their strategy. Sup. Aaron Peskin noted that this is a good time to buy for future development; Shaw said that wasn’t part of Breed’s strategy.

Preston noted that “there’s a disconnect here.” The Housing Element is proposing strategies that MOHED isn’t going along with.

And that means the Housing Element goals are never going to happen.

Repeatedly, Hillis and Shaw said that the city faces “resource constraints,” which is a political way of saying there’s not enough money for affordable housing. But as Preston noted, the voters, and the supes, have gone to great lengths to make that money available—and Breed won’t spend it on affordable housing.

Sup. Myrna Melgar noted that MOHCD has not had any long-term plans to buy sites and create new affordable housing. The only moves the office has made, she said, have come when district supervisors have pushed for affordable housing on sites that became available: “MOHCD has been opportunity driven,” she said.

Preston was more direct: “All we are getting from MOHCD is obstruction,” he said. “Despite what’s in this Housing Element, we are not going to get anywhere near the goals we have set.”

The Race and Equity in All Planning Coalition has been working for more than two years on a People’s Plan, and has been pushing the Planning Department to include real equity goals in the Housing Element.

Some of the language in the plan actually reflects that. “Without our organizing, this would never have happened,” Jeantelle Laberinto, who worked with the coalition, told me.

And yet: It’s all just words on paper if there’s no implementation:

As we transition into the implementation phase, REP-SF demands that the Board of Supervisors and Planning make it real. We want them to turn the language centering equity into real, concrete, meaningful change.”

More:


“In its efforts to comply with the state’s requirements, the overall approach that Planning has taken with the Housing Element silences low income and people of color communities, deregulates market rate housing, and provides no concrete strategies or resources to meet the affordable housing mandates. This all adds up to a Housing Element that violates the Fair Housing Act and will cause even more displacement and gentrification.” says Don Misumi, Richmond District Rising.

Particularly worrying is that the “Rezonings” as described in the Housing Element make it so that San Francisco is headed to a new phase of urban renewal that will tear through communities in the same way Redevelopment did, razing homes and businesses with little regard to the displacement, trauma and disconnection.

REP-SF recommends the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Department and other city and state agencies do the following:

Prevent Redevelopment 2.0 by protecting existing tenants from displacement, especially resulting from demolition of existing residential units.

Defuse the Developer Dirty Bomb (Action 8.1.5) which completely undermines all racial and social equity considerations.

Identify and secure resources now for an affordable housing first strategy, including for the next fiscal year.

Move forward with the Municipal Bank and use the Prop I dollars to fund an Affordable First strategy that starts with aggressively and strategically purchasing sites for affordable housing development and existing apartment buildings to transition them to permanent affordable housing.

Prioritize housing that’s affordable for households with extremely low and low incomes.

Protect all existing sources of affordable housing, especially inclusionary.

Retain input and solidify leadership from communities of color, low-income communities and cultural districts to guarantee racial and social equity.

Prevent and eliminate homelessness through more permanent housing, not temporary, and improving shelter access and the Coordinated Entry system.

That won’t be part of the final Housing Element that the supes have to approve to keep Newsom from blackmailing the city. But the community organizers say it has to be part of the process of implementing housing policy in the future.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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