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News + PoliticsHousingTenants, community rally against Breed's developer-friendly housing bill

Tenants, community rally against Breed’s developer-friendly housing bill

Evictions, demolition, displacement—and no affordable housing. That's The Agenda for Sept. 17-24


More than 40 tenant and community groups are organizing to block new legislation sponsored by Mayor London Breed and Supervisors Matt Dorsey and Joel Engardio that would, they argue, allow demolition of existing rent-controlled housing, give huge benefits to private developers—and undermine efforts to meet the city’s affordable housing goals.

In essence, the bill relies on the demonstrably false assumption that the private market, unleashed without regulations, will address the city’s affordable housing crisis.

Tenants say the Breed bill will lead to more evictions and displacement.

It also assumes—again, in defiance of clear, observed reality—that a system that relies on landlords to be honest will protect vulnerable tenants at a time when evictions and speculation can lead to huge profits.

The measure comes before the Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday/18.

It’s a sweeping proposal that would change the way city planners deal with market-rate housing, gutting rules that have been in place for decades.

The idea, Breed and her allies say, is that by cutting red tape and rules that allow neighbors and community groups to demand hearings on new projects, the cost to developers will come down, so they’ll build more new housing.

That, in the magical thinking of the trickle-down neoliberal world, will somehow cause prices to come down to the point where normal working people in San Francisco can afford a place to live.

I have said this before so many times that it’s making my crazy: That’s not how housing markets work in cities, particularly in San Francisco.

In fact, this legislation could have the opposite effect, driving up housing costs and forcing lower income renters out of their homes.

The preamble to the law states that

The 2022 Housing Element commits the city to remove governmental constraints on housing development, maintenance and improvement, specifically in Well-Resourced Neighborhoods and in areas outside of Priority Equity Geographies, as well as to reduce costs and administrative processes for affordable housing projects, small and multifamily housing, and to simplify and standardize processes and permit procedures. Among many other obligations, the 2022 Housing Element requires that the City remove Conditional Use Authorization requirements for code compliant projects, eliminate hearing requirements, and modify standards and definitions to permit more types of housing across the City, in Well-Resourced Neighborhoods and outside of Priority Equity Geographies. This ordinance advances those goals.

Except that the Housing Element also says that 57 percent of the new housing built in San Francisco in the next eight years has to be below-market-rate—and there is not one word in this new law that would address that.

As Avi Gandhi, senior planner at the Chinatown Community Development Center, Zachary Weisenburger land use policy analyst at Young Community Developersand  David Elliott Lewis, co-chair of the Tenderloin People’s Congress, note in a letter to the supes:

Without any affordability requirements, these provisions incentivize upscale market-rate developments, taking away the opportunity for much-needed affordable housing projects to be built, particularly in historically low-income neighborhoods within PEGs. CUs are one of the few tools for communities to become aware of and weigh in on potential impacts of developments in their neighborhoods including the loss of rent-controlled units, community-serving businesses, open spaces, etc. Allowing group housing by-right negates the years of work that communities within Priority Equity Geographies like Chinatown and Tenderloin have done to discourage Group Housing Projects that incentivize luxury studios and smaller apartments aimed at young professionals and single adults instead of more family-friendly housing, changing the character of low-income, immigrant, and people of color neighborhoods

And while the Executive Summary repeatedly and extensively claims that such market driven development will produce new housing development for everyone, there is not a single chart, paragraph, or data point that is offered that establishes that the housing that will be developed in the Priority Equity Geographies will be affordable to the people who need the housing in those neighborhoods. With limited remaining sites available for new developments in Priority Equity Areas, streamlining of public process makes these limited sites prime targets for market-rate upscale projects. This increased competition from nonaffordable projects directly undermines the pressing need for affordable housing in these neighborhoods and risks perpetuating gentrification and further displacement.

Put simply, this proposal will make the housing crisis worse.

It could lead to more evictions, the San Francisco Tenants Union says:

The legislation is being sold as a way to speed up housing production by eliminating staff review to make many permits automatic with no public objection allowed. The problem with this is that it includes demolishing sound rent controlled units, which is exactly where tenants should have a public right to contest the loss of their own homes.

As long as an owner or architect declares either: 1) there have been no records of buyouts or evictions in the last 5 years, and tenants currently do not inhabit the unit; or 2) if tenants currently occupy the unit, displacement will be granted but the tenants have a “right of return” when and if their units are rebuilt. This is a serious end-run around hard-fought eviction protections.

The demolished units must be replaced and increase in number but there is no requirement that the new units actually become rental units – more likely they will become “Tenancy-In-Common” (like condos) units with the new owners bypassing the Owner Move In eviction rules. This change-of-tenure result is already playing out at the mayor-stacked Planning Commission where they still hold hearings and vote on demolition projects for now.

So a tenant living in a rent-controlled unit, paying below market rent, may be offered a chance to buy a condo, which is far beyond what they can afford, and then the demolition and displacement is just fine.

The tenants asked for a relatively weak requirement that would require the person who wants to demolish the property to build something bigger at least to have owned it for one year. That’s gone.

Which means speculators will be eying buildings with tenants, looking for quick demolitions and profits—as is always the pattern with housing in San Francisco.

At least 25 percent of so-called “owner move-in” evictions are fraudulent, a KRON-TV investigation found. And the city never checks.

There are no provisions in the law that would require the city to make sure that evictions are legal, not fake, that tenants actually get the right to return. From the Tenants Union:

In our experience, when a tenant is displaced by fire, flooding, or major rehabilitation work, they almost never return despite their right to do so. Reconstruction is dragged on and the tenants either move on signing long leases elsewhere and typically give up. Or new owners take over and the former tenants information is not transferred to them.

Planning Staff (who support this legislation) could not answer simple questions about which department would track these Right of Return tenants and enforce if an owner simply neglected to inform the former tenants reconstruction was over.

A larger threat is that the speculator can simply rebuild and offer the new entitled units for sale separately – “tenancy-in-commons” – so a tenant wishing to assert their right to return would have no unit available to return to. We believe this is the most likely outcome as run down rent controlled buildings are typically cheaper to buy so the profit margin to turn them into owner occupied opportunities will be huge. It will result in the loss of rent controlled units from the market even if the demolished units are vacant.

The legislation directly contradicts not only the city’s affordable housing mandates but its commitment, as stated in the Housing Element, to protect historically marginalized communities. As the Race and Equity in All Planning Coalition notes:

The mayor’s legislation is full of developer giveaways with no real plan and no new funding for affordable housing, as well as no new protections for existing residents who will be even more vulnerable to displacement. Under the current Housing Element, the state’s mandate guiding local housing policy over the next eight years, nearly 57 percent of housing built in SF should be permanently affordable for very low to moderate income households. Unfortunately, all of the implementation policies that have been introduced following the State and SF Board of Supervisors’ approval of the Housing Element have focused on bringing more market rate housing to San Francisco and diminishing the amount of affordable housing that will be built. Cumulatively, these ordinances move San Francisco farther away from achieving outcomes for racial and social equity, violate San Francisco’s legal obligation to affirmatively further fair housing, and violate key equity-oriented provisions that the Board of Supervisors already approved as part of this mandate.

Approaching the current Housing Element cycle with the same failed approach as the last cycle, which fell short in its housing production for lower income categories by more than 8,000 units, will yield the same inequitable results–an overproduction of market rate housing and under production of affordable housing. Currently, the only tangible effort to support affordable housing is the $300 million bond which San Francisco voters will be asked to approve in 2024. This proposed bond would only be half the size of the prior housing bond despite the fact that our affordable housing goals have increased roughly three-fold.

That meeting starts at 1:30 in Room 250, City Hall. I would be stunned if the Land Use and Transportation Committee, made up of Sups. Myrna Melgar, Dean Preston, and Aaron Peskin, sent this forward without major amendments.

Of course, if the committee suggests there are problems with the approach, we will hear the Yimbys howl that the district supes are against more housing, and the major news media will carry that narrative, without any concern for the fact that it’s totally flawed.

It’s the same thing happening with crime. And as long as the Chron, the Standard, the Examiner, and the TV stations let it continue, the city’s going to have more and more serious problems.

How can progressives fight dark money, and win? That’s the topic of the Gray Panthers forum Tuesday/19:

Can we overcome the power, lies & propaganda that are attempting to:  distract & disempower progressives,  lock in SF inequality, and lock out solutions that work? 

The speakers will be longtime housing activist (and 48hills contributor) Calvin Welch, and Nate Horrell, a labor researcher and Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council board member.

The meeting starts at 1pm.

The Zoom link is here:


MEETING ID: 864 6575 2525; PASS CODE: 465295

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
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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