Prominent Journalists Spar Over San Francisco Housing Crisis

By Otto Pippenger/ Staff Writer

This November San Francisco residents will determine the future of housing in our city for years to come by voting on this year’s housing-centric slate of ballot initiatives. On Oct. 7, three city journalists known for covering the housing crisis competed to promote their positions in an intense three-person debate at the Bayanihan Community Center.

The debate, “Will the Rent Come Down After November? Taking Stock of This Year’s Ballot Measures” was put together by Urban IDEA, a local progressive think tank formed in 2013, to help create “big ideas” about housing, sustainability and services for progressives in San Francisco.

Moderator Brian Edwards-Tiekert, 48 Hills editor Tim Redmond, Cory Weinberg of the San Francisco Business Times and Kim-Mai Cutler of TechCrunch met in front a murmuring crowd of city planning graduate students, nonprofit developers, members of the density advocacy group San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation (SFBARF) and more.

The speakers proposed solutions to the pressures on housing caused by the influx of technology-sector money and workers.

The subjects of discussion included four contentious housing ballot items – Propositions A, F, I and K, plus speculative inquiries about the stability of the technology industry, need for outlying cities to create housing and the emerging voting patterns of technology workers and companies.

Discussion began with Redmond making his case for Proposition I.

“We know 2,000 to 3,000 Latino families have been forced out of the Mission in the past few years, and we’ve gotta say that’s not OK,” Redmond said. “We need to halt what’s going on in this city long enough to create a plan for how to stop residents from being forced out.”

Weinberg noted that the Mission actually only has about 2,000 units planned for construction currently, and that the scarcity of Mission housing ensures that prices will continue to rise with or without the moratorium.

Cutler argued that it was easier to decrease demand than increase supply at a cost of roughly $600,000 for each unit.

She blamed competition in the Mission on South Bay cities like Cupertino for allowing technology companies to bring in workers without creating sufficient new housing first, and said wealthy new arrivals are competing with existing residents out of necessity rather than choice.

Redmond agreed that outlying cities are causing much of the problem.

“It’s insane that places like Cupertino can bring in 10,000 workers and outsource housing to us,” Redmond said.

Edwards-Tiekert wondered if technology workers would even be willing to give up San Francisco and live in the surrounding area if nearby cities were to create the housing.

He asked the panelists to explain what would need to happen to stabilize the Mission.

Redmond answered that in addition to affordable housing, subsidies should be given to various nonprofits to keep these organizations local. Weinberg answered that the current plans to build below-market-rate housing are a step in the right direction.

“2,000 to 3,000 Latino families have been forced out of the Mission in the past few years…that’s not OK.” —Tim Redmond

Edwards-Tiekert’s next question was how the mayor’s Proposition K housing development goals should be paid for.

“The problem with building affordable housing is that construction of affordable units costs pretty much the same as construction of market-rate units,” Weinberg said.

Market-rate units are intended to pay for affordable ones through taxes and fees.

Redmond repeated opposition to the construction of market-rate affordable units on the grounds that it is self-defeating to subsidize housing by raising property values with new construction – especially since Proposition K would only guarantee 33 percent affordable construction on public land.

Estimating that Proposition A would create no more than 1,200 affordable units out of the 10,000 needed, Redmond said that current goals will not be met without new local sources of revenue. He proposed increasing property taxes on homeowners, or creating a city income tax, concluding that a billion dollar bond would be needed to create enough revenue to build 10,000 units.

Cutler, Redmond and Weinberg all agreed that rents and residents are both going to continue growing for the foreseeable future. The debate offered a multitude of solutions, but the decisions that matter first are those the public will vote on this November 3.

A low-turnout election is expected, with hundreds of millions of dollars and decades of ramifications coming down to the difference of a few hundred votes.

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Send an email to: Otto Pippenger

Illustration by Serina Mercado
Illustration by Serina Mercado

Alphabet Soup

A Quick Intro To Housing Propositions

The following Propositions will be four of the eleven total propositions on the ballot for voters in San Francisco on Nov. 3, 2015. These proposals aim to regulate development or further address the housing crisis in San Francisco. According to Gabriel Metcalf, CEO of public policy research company (SPUR), housing is the most contentious issue on the San Francisco ballots for 2015. The following information are sourced from

Proposition A

Proposition A, if passed, will authorize the city to use $310 million in bond money to fund public housing programs. The general obligation bond will allow the city to build, buy or improve affordable housing in San Francisco.

YES on A-— you want the City to issue these bonds to fund affordable housing projects

NO on A— you don’t want the City to order these bonds.

Proposition F

Proposition F, if passed, will place restrictions and regulations on private short-term housing rentals in San Francisco. For instance, this legislation will limit private rentals to 75 nights per year, and insure these rentals are paying hotel taxes and following city code.

YES on F— you want the city to impose regulation on private short-term rentals

NO on F—you don’t want the city to impose regulation on private short-term rentals.

Proposition I

Proposition I, if passed, will establish an 18-month moratorium on the construction of all market-rate housing more than five units in the Mission District and requires a neighborhood stabilization plan to be set for the district by Jan. 31, 2017. The measure would require the city to withhold city permits for these developments.

YES on I— you want this 18 month moratorium to be set for market rate housing in the Mission.

NO on I— you don’t want this 18 month moratorium to be set for market rate housing in the Mission.

Proposition K

Proposition K- Proposition K, if approved, will expand target income levels of housing developments of surplus public lands to include units affordable to homeless and those with income less than 55 percent of the median income. The measure will require 15 percent of housing built on surplus city property be made affordable to residents earning 55 percent of the area’s median income or less.

YES on K— you want to expand the range of income levels included in future housing developments on surplus city property.

NO on K— you don’t want these changes.