The Mission Moratorium Was Rejected. Now Let’s Move Forward With Solutions.
Published in the San Francisco Examiner on June 4, 2015
On Tuesday night, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors rejected a moratorium on new housing in the Mission. This contentious issue arose from the very real housing crisis facing San Francisco. Too many people are losing their housing. Too many people are being forced from the city. And, we are at risk of losing our history of welcoming new residents of all backgrounds to make lives in our city. This crisis requires bold and aggressive actions in our approach to housing in San Francisco.
A housing moratorium is not action, but rather more of the same housing dysfunction that got us in this mess, which is why I voted against it. It won’t stop a single eviction, won’t build a single unit of affordable housing, and won’t make housing any less expensive. A moratorium will make housing even more costly than it already is, put more pressure on our inadequate housing stock, and undermine production of affordable housing. Indeed, this moratorium would have banned even projects with high percentages of affordable housing.
Photo: 55 Laguna Project, a 440-unit mixed-income housing development, with nearly 40% of the units below market rate.
Our population is growing by 10,000 people a year, and this growth is happening whether or not we build new housing. Meaningfully addressing our housing crisis requires diverse approaches and perseverance over time. There are no easy or quick solutions, and anyone who says they have a fast solution has a bridge to sell you.
So what can we do?
1. Keep people stable in their housing: Job one during this crisis is to keep people in their housing. We must reduce evictions and displacement by, for example, reforming the Ellis Act, providing resources for tenants fighting eviction, and passing legislation I’m authoring to require that tenants in illegal units receive notice of any proposed demolition of their unit (currently they receive none and thus cannot fight the demolition).
2. Build more affordable housing: We have built 21,000 below market rate affordable housing units — funded in significant part by market-rate development — representing 6% of all housing units in San Francisco. This number is in addition to tens of thousands of public housing units. We need to increase investment in affordable housing, through land dedication, strong support from market-rate housing, and providing density bonuses to developers who build an increased amount of affordable housing. I recently authored legislation providing such a density bonus for projects with increased affordable housing.
3. Acquire sites for affordable housing: The City needs to purchase and bank land for affordable housing. Even if we don’t have funding to immediately build on the site, we can do so when funds are available. Mayor Lee is actively pursuing the acquisition of five such sites in the Mission. Supervisor David Campos, the author of the moratorium, wants to acquire even more sites. In my district, we recently acquired an apartment building, which we preserved as permanently affordable housing. I look forward to supporting efforts like these in neighborhoods across the city.
4. Add new in-law units: Many buildings in San Francisco have non-residential space that can be converted to housing. These units don’t require new construction, and according to various studies, they are the most affordable type of non-subsidized housing. I’ve authored several pieces of legislation to allow people to add in-law units, including in the district I represent and in multi-unit buildings that are being seismically retrofitted. Supervisor Julie Christensen recently introduced legislation to allow for these units in her own district.
5. Build units of all sizes, from family-size to micro-units to group housing: We need a range of housing sizes and types, including larger units for families or roommate situations and smaller units for single people who don’t need or can’t afford large units. I authored legislation to allow for smaller efficiency units, so-called “micro-units.” Micro-units are also great options for student housing, group housing, and affordable housing for seniors and at-risk youth. Group housing is a more affordable option for people who don’t need a lot of living space and who value increased common space.
6. Allow greater height and density along transit corridors: We need to focus density around transit corridors. Even small increases can have significant positive housing impacts when implemented in various corridors. These corridor height and density increases should be linked to increases in affordable housing.
Scott Wiener is a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, representing the Castro, Noe Valley, Glen Park, Diamond Heights, parts of the Mission, and several other neighborhoods.