Despite the looming housing crisis, San Francisco supervisors passed a resolution opposing Sen. Scott Wiener’s “More Homes Act” on April 2, backing long-term property owners at the expense of future renters.
The resolution against California Senate Bill 50, authored by District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar, advanced with two-thirds vote at the Government Audit and Oversight Committee meeting with Supervisors Mar and Sandra Lee Fewer supporting the resolution and Supervisor Vallie Brown opposing.
SB 50 is a reiteration of Weiner’s SB 827, which was defeated in 2018 and sought to limit cities from imposing housing density limitations near transit hubs. Opponents said the bill diminishes the ability for San Francisco residents to plan for the well-being of their neighborhoods and the environment.
Weiner spoke to Haight Ashbury Neighbors for Density (HAND) organizers during a meeting at St. Mary’s Medical Center on April 9, explaining new changes to the bill that would strengthen renter protection and expand areas targeted for denser housing.
“We have to look in the mirror in our progressive city and acknowledge that we have an exclusionary policy here,” Wiener said at the meeting.
In the eyes of its opponents, the bill would only incentivize market rate developments, unaffordable to most San Franciscans.
“We need to build affordable housing for our community needs, not developers’ bottom lines,” Mar said in support of the resolution.“SB 50 does not protect communities from pressures on gentrification and displacement.”
Opponents of SB 827 said the bill disproportionately targeted lower-income communities because transit tended to be historically concentrated in those areas. Some wealthier communities in the Bay Area with job opportunities have kept transit out, according to Weiner.
Fewer spoke out against SB 50 and said residents cannot rely on developers to build affordable housing.
“We may be able to eliminate a single-family home, but it will not be replaced by affordable units,” Fewer said. “I think this sweeping legislation [does] not carve out and appreciate what San Francisco has been doing already.”
SB 50 supporters said districts such as Sunset and Richmond with more single-family homes and less density have not done their part in addressing the city’s housing crisis.
“SB 50 does nothing to fulfill affordability in our housing market and housing stock and actually potentially even add to more unaffordability especially in my district,” Fewer said.
Mario Gonzalez, 42, was recently accepted into SF State as history major and will begin classes next fall. He is currently searching for affordable housing because he cannot afford to live on campus.
“I don’t see how these poor people are benefiting from [SB 50], it’s just another form of gentrification,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez fears becoming homeless while working part-time and attending school without affordable campus housing.
“The university forgets that we’re students,” Gonzalez said. “We don’t have a degree yet and we don’t have a career.”
Gonzalez said any new housing SB 50 creates in San Francisco will most likely be for made exclusively for the upper-class.
“They say ‘we’re all going to benefit’, but everyone else is excluded,” Gonzalez said.
According to SF State associate professor of political science Jason McDaniel, Supervisors Mar and Fewer represent districts that don’t have many apartments, affordable housing units or homeless shelters.
Their districts are also in close proximity to SF State, and house many of its students.
“The people that live there are homeowners, renters with rent control, that don’t want things to change,” McDaniel said. “It’s easy for them to not think about the cost of their policy.”
McDaniel said students and teachers are particularly affected by SB 50.
“When I see newcomers and people who live here without rent control and don’t own homes, I see students, I see young people,” McDaniel said. “[The] SF State community is affected by this more than anybody else.”
Geography major Adeja Marshall, 23, commutes an hour and fifteen minutes to SF State three days a week from Tracy.
“I think it would definitely displace people,” Marshall said. “I don’t think it’s good choice to kick out everyone that’s been living there.”
Marshall believes the city should only utilize existing open spaces to build more housing.
“I commute, but I could have stayed here in San Francisco,” Marshall said. “At the same time, no one wants to live such an expensive and congested place.”
McDaniel said that over the last three to four decades, San Francisco’s housing policy shifted in favor of local control. The city has not built enough housing to keep up with population growth, which caused housing prices to skyrocket.
“It was mostly the environmental angle, starting in the ’70s, that portrayed building as hurting the environment and hurting neighborhood,” McDaniel said. “It thought of building housing as [a] cost to be mitigated not a benefit.”
Wiener said limiting housing projects in cities leads to urban sprawl.
“If you can’t build where the jobs are in urbanized areas you’re going to build further and further out, covering up farmland building in wildfire zones, clogging up our freeways, creating this growing class of super commuters that commute two hours each way spilling carbon into the atmosphere and undermining our climate goals,” he said.
An estimated 80 percent of the residentially-zoned land mass in California is zoned for single-family homes and 70 percent in San Francisco, according to Weiner.
“That’s a ban on housing affordability,” Weiner said. “It’s a ban on poor people living in that city, it’s a ban on income diversity.”
Supervisor Vallie Brown said the status quo is not working for renters in San Francisco.
“We know to meet this housing crisis we need regional solutions, San Francisco cannot do it alone,” Brown said.
Community organizer Corey Smith co-founded Haight Ashbury Neighbors for Density last year in an effort to support an affordable housing project at the former McDonald’s site in Haight Ashbury.
Smith facilitated the meeting with Weiner and spoke at City Hall, warning the committee that opposing SB 50 is by default, supporting urban sprawl.
“We are a very creative city, in this resolution we see no amends on how to make this bill better,” Smith said to the committee. “We should support SB 50 since it does result in more below market rate housing in San Francisco and offer ways to improve.”
McDaniel said although Mar and Fewer are sincere in pursuing social justice and protecting their constituents against displacement, SB 50 is still necessary.
“When you give politicians a choice, they’re going to do what their constituents want, and this bill is going to take away that power,” McDaniel said. “We are all paying the cost of their policies.”
Opposing SB 50 does not mean opposing increased density and updating zoning regulations, according to Mar.
“We should do this through community-led planning processes,” Mar said. “San Franciscans need the opportunity to plan for development in our own neighborhood.”