Preserving SF’s light industry through the power of magical thinking…

10 02 2014

On Thursday, February 6, 2014, the Planning Commission heard one of the first proposals for a major modification to the 2008 Eastern Neighborhoods plan which many CCHO organizations worked hard to develop. Unfortunately, this new proposal is yet another example of Planning Department and Office of Economic Development staff’s power of magical thinking. The proposal allows new buildings with 2/3 office spaces (ie, high-end tech sector spaces), in exchange for 1/3 PDR, in the last few areas left for PDR uses. PDR, or Production, Distribution and Repair, is the Planning Departments language for light industrial. There is no guarantee that the PDR space will be affordable, or that there will be any local hire, job training, or placement with local schools or workforce development programs. Allowing potentially 2 Million s.f. of tech uses (according to Planning Department data) in otherwise PDR-only areas could well result in driving up land prices in the surrounding PDR zones, and create yet another incentive for further rezoning to change the remaining PDR uses to tech office.

In line with the magical thinking paradigm, Planning and OEWD staff promote this as similar to inclusionary housing. It’s completely different – inclusionary housing requires a minimum percent of permanently affordable, price controlled uses, and it is not used to promote housing where it is currently illegal (as this proposal does for office).

While there may be some good things in the proposal (in fact, this sets up a useful precedent when considering other changes to restricted PDR uses, such as is being contemplated in the Central SOMA Plan), the fact that OEWD and Planning staff have not consulted with any of the PDR employment advocates in the Eastern Neighborhoods, means it has a long way to go to be fully baked.

Our fundamental recommendations would be to ensure that these are truly affordable, price-restricted PDR spaces, with requirements for local workforce hiring. And given the uncertainty of the proposal, to develop this as a “pilot program,” with a maximum of 500,000 s.f. of tech offices (about the size of two Twitter offices), with careful anlaysis before choosing to build more.

Chosen_Hamm's(Painting by Dan McHale)


Some History

Since the heyday of multiple story industrial buildings in the 1930s and 40s, buildings which in great measure have been allowed to be converted to residential and tech uses, we have arrived at an economic reality where it is simply infeasible to build new industrial space except for one story (and sometimes two) tilt-up concrete buildings, an unrealistic development typology for premium-priced real estate in San Francisco. This is why so much of SF’s once-again growing manufacturing sector is moving out to places like San Leandro, where zoning, building typologies and economic reality actually match.

In the late-90s to mid-2000s, most of our traditional industrial zones were still defined by the M zoning (for Manufacturing), which was intended for industrial uses. This zoning from the 1950s had the misfortune of being relatively flexible and allowed other uses, such as live-work lofts and dot com businesses, masquerading as “light industrial” and “business services,” to begin moving into these lower rent areas, displacing PDR and driving up land prices. Moreover, the industrial areas did not have the appropriate transit and infrastructure to support either residential uses or the higher worker density of dot coms, which is often closer to one employee per 100 s.f.. The existing PDR uses (auto shops, print shops, small manufacturers, sewing factories, etc.) employed many immigrants and people with limited educational attainment. This was a big part of why folks in local organizations such as PODER, MEDA, and DSCS, as well as CCHO, pushed for the retention of PDR uses through the 8-year Eastern Neighborhoods rezoning process.

The original intention of the Eastern Neighborhoods PDR policy was:

  1. To identify certain transitional areas of industrial zones, and to allow those higher intensity uses that would knowingly drive up land prices. This resulted in the new “mixed-use” zones (MUO, MUR, UMU) from former industrial areas, with a huge boon to land developers with assured certainty of their office and residential proposals.
  2. To create harder controls around the much fewer remaining industrial uses, now called PDR, to not allow residential or office uses that would drive up land prices and drive out industrial uses. While Planning and OEWD staff seems to see this as “taking” allowable development from the landowners, it was entirely consistent with the intent of the previous M Manufacturing zoning.
  3. To allow some creativity for PDR uses and bonuses for developers that might create other advantages, such as the new IPDR category that allowed up to 2/3 office in exchange for certain “disadvantaged” workforce hiring policies.

From the community’s standpoint, the city already gave away the farm when it rezoned so much of the Manufacturing areas into MUO, MUR, UMU, and allowed a spate of “legalizations” of illegal office uses (and soon to be before you, legalizations of illegal live-work lofts). While protecting a few remaining PDR buildings, the Planning Department simultaneously zoned for PDR uses on certain parking lots but also zoned for heights on those parking lots that were not realistic for industrial developers, but brought dollar signs to the landowner’s eyes, thus halting any potential industrial development on those sites. Now, with a resurgence of San Francisco’s manufacturing sector, we are seeing that the last few remaining PDR buildings are now at capacity, and a business sector that we very much want to remain in our city is facing some hard choices. The rampant conversion of the city’s industrial spaces allowed by Planning policies of the last decade is perhaps water under the bridge now, but we can’t escape the simple fact that neither Planning Department or OEWD have the best track record in leaning forward to preserve or promote industrial uses for the long haul. So, we implore caution as the Planning Commission considers yet more creative ideas about modifying the City’s limited remaining PDR lands.


Office/Tech Bonus for 1/3 PDR

Rather than rezone the heights on “under-utilized” sites to be appropriate to the economic reality of tilt-up concrete industrial buildings, the thinking here seems to be allowing a tilt-up concrete building on the back of a site, and a five story tech office building along a fancy new boulevard (getting to the 1/3 PDR to 2/3 office mix). Extrapolating forward with this zoning vision, 7th Street becomes lined with tech offices along a beautiful new boulevard. Is that appropriate land use policy for the area?

Note that the 16 parcels combined that would be subject to the change allowing new office on 2/3 of each parcel, would allow a total of over 2 Million square feet of tech uses in the PDR districts. 1.5 Million of those would be in the area along 7th Street, including Recology and various parking lots, a truck rental place, and a mini-storage. A squishy definition may leave it open to political re-definitions, as we have experienced in the past such as with the Furniture Mart, extending it to even more parcels.

Even if this creative idea will work as it is currently presented, creating new PDR spaces, can you guarantee that these will actually be affordable spaces, at the $1.25 to $1.50/s.f. that current local manufacturing can afford, or that the community will get the local jobs benefit that PDR promised? The proposed zoning has no guarantee that the PDR space will be affordable, or that there will be any local hire, job training, or placement with local schools, City College, or workforce development or entrepreneurship programs, or any future relationship to Promise Zones. Planning and OEWD, along with SF Made, instead presents a hypothetical “business plan,” that the site developer would work out for hypothetical future PDR users. If this quid-pro-quo is at all to work, the City needs much harder assurances.

The ordinance puts a big stress on the CU process for these types of projects, saying in considering whether to approve a project, the planning commission shall consider, among other things: “(A) The likely viability of the new PDR space created by the development, as influenced by such factors as whether the project sponsor has developed a PDR business plan, has the commitments of established PDR tenants, and/or a demonstrated relationship with organizations established in the PDR community.” This “demonstrated relationship” needs to be spelled out specifically to include workforce development and economic development organizations, industrial and entrepreneurship programs at City College or local high schools, and a relationship with existing or future economic development models, such as Promise Zones.

  • Recommendation:   Slow this process down to allow full vetting of the development scenarios and the PDR/Office ratio proposed by Planning Department and Office of Economic Development.
  • Recommendation:  Particular parcels subject to Section 219.1 should be specified by Assessor Parcel Number in the legislation, in the “Geography” section of the ordinance, rather than allowing any ability for loopholes.
  • Recommendation:   Only allow up to 500,000 s.f. of office as a pilot program under this mixed-development program, then call for a hearing and discussion on whether to extend to allow full use, and at what ratio of PDR to Tech. This would be a similar approach as has been used in the “micro-units” legislation.
  • Recommendation:   Allow the new office bonus only if developed pursuant to a Development Agreement with the city, with full collateral agreements involving workforce development organizations, for any projects approved under this new optional zoning classification, so that the city and community can hold the developer/owner accountable to the promises they make. Since what is contemplated is only about 20 properties, each over 20,000 s.f., this should be a reasonable approach.
  • Recommendation:   Require that these developments result in deed-restricted permanently affordable “inclusionary” PDR space (with lease rates maximum $1.50/s.f., to be reset on a regular basis based on the citywide average of prevailing rental rates for restricted PDR uses)
  • Recommendation:   Define precisely restricted “PDR” uses allowed in this PDR space.


IPDR (Integrated PDR)

The longstanding “accessory use” allowance for PDR/industrial districts has been maximum 30%. The Planning Department and Office of Economic Development argue that whatever they can come up for the new construction space (ie, a CU process and “the PDR Business Plan” can simply be applied just as easily to the IPDR). But the IPDR concept was a far different one – to demand job hiring and training in exchange for this higher allowable office use, ie, PDR with 50% office. Local organizations originally wanted harder local hiring and training controls, and only 50% accessory office, but this is what we got. The current proposal does away with the “disadvantaged” hiring policies within IPDR, but still allows PDR uses with 2/3 office use on otherwise PDR-only areas.  As SF Made has told us, there has been no interest since the IPDR category has existed for PDR spaces with any accessory use beyond 1/3, so there should be no real constituency for this (except perhaps landowners/developers that may want to use it to their advantage). “Cherry picking” pieces of the IPDR zoning category and eliminating others as is proposed by Planning and OEWD staff represents no one’s public policy interests except as a potential for future land speculation.

  • Recommendation:  Do away with IPDR entirely, since it does not seem to work, and the only reason for it originally was to promote local hire and job training. Without the workforce requirement, it is a giveaway for property owners to convert PDR buildings into Tech buildings.


SEW (Small Economic Workplaces)

The Small Economic Enterprise (SEW) buildings represent a different kind of creative-thinking problem: creating a flexible use category (like the old M-zoning) that now runs up against changed economic realities of “higher and better uses” that can take advantage of this flexibility. By allowing up to 100% office uses in spaces up to 1500 s.f., the current legislation actually encourages dropping a series of 5M tech incubator buildings in the PDR districts, pushing out PDR once and for all.

In the mid-2000s, SEW responded to a new building type, exemplified by ActivSpace on 18th and Treat in the Mission. The original idea from Planning was to incentivize these buildings, by allowing small spaces with office and personal services in PDR-restricted zones. For PDR uses, these small spaces demand a far higher per s.f. rate (above $3.50/s.f.) than typical PDR spaces (closer to $1.25 to 1.50/s.f.), but does work for some small upscale manufacturers. Planning staff argues that the office allowance in SEW buildings is already allowed in the 2008 EN Zoning. However, when the EN was passed, the idea of a dot com hub of small incubator spaces did not exist. While the Planning Department and Office of Economic Development may now wish to promote such spaces in other zoning districts appropriately served by transit and other infrastructure for high density workplaces (such as 5th & Mission where the 5M incubator hub is located), these office uses would not be appropriate in PDR districts and would easily displace lower margin industrial uses.  Planning and OEWD staff argue that uses like ActivSpace need some flexibility that may vary over time in order to make their finances work. We agree that we should allow some flexibility up to a certain amount. For example, allowing 1/3 office as primary uses, when combined with the 1/3 office accessory in the rest of the PDR uses, could allow SEW buildings to have up to a total of 50% office uses, which is considerably more than adjacent PDR buildings, but may be necessary to make this model work financially.

The ordinance also allows, “(3) Where permitted, S.E.W. Buildings are exempt from the controls in Sec. 230 limiting demolition of industrial buildings.” SEW should not permit demolitions of existing viable PDR uses, potentially demolishing viable larger floor plate PDR spaces that will never be brought back.

  • Recommendation:  Allow ONLY up to 1/3 office uses as primary use in the SEW, consistent with PDR accessory uses elsewhere.
  • Recommendation:  Allow demolition of PDR only if under .5 FAR of existing PDR building on site.


Plaza 16 Rallies for Affordable Housing

10 02 2014

The latest from, covering the Plaza 16 Coalition rallies for affordable housing, and against the high-rise condominiums proposed to be built at 16th and Mission, one of San Francisco’s busiest intersections.


The Plaza 16 Coalition / Plaza 16 Coalición is made up of several CCHO member organizations based in the Mission District, including Dolores Street Community Services, Housing Rights Committee, MEDA, and PODER, as well as allies Causa Justa :: Just Cause and Mission Neighborhood Resource Center.

The Plaza 16 Coalition builds on the decades of planning and organizing in the Mission which created El Plan Popular / the People’s Plan, and won funding for much-needed community infrastructure, protections for light industrial jobs, and sites for future affordable housing and a new park in the Mission District (such as 17th & Folsom and at Shotwell & Cesar Chavez).

From their statement: The Plaza 16 Coalition / Plaza 16 Coalición has come together to advocate for the 1979 Mission Street site to be used for much needed affordable housing in the neighborhood. We envision a 16th St and Mission Street that has:

  • Welcoming streets for grandmothers, kids, tenants, homeless people – streets that reduce hazards, and increase pedestrian safety and cultural vibrancy
  • Increased public open space
  • A local economy of small businesses that serves the needs of local residents and workers and supports the creation of good jobs for community residents
  • Planning that is conducted by people who live and work in the neighborhood
  • A strong local ecosystem of resources and services that create healthy neighborhoods
  • No more market rate housing development until the needs for deeply affordable housing are met


Tenants Rising!!!

9 02 2014

Congratulations to the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition, and to our allies in the Housing Rights Committee, Tenants Union, Causa Justa::Just Cause, AIDS Housing Alliance, and so many others who made it happen, for a successful Citywide Tenant Convention, with 600+ people packed into Tenderloin Elementary, charting a future for tenants and affordable housing in San Francisco! We look forward to next steps in flexing our power, as labor, community and tenants come together, to stop the displacement of our working class from SF!


(photo by Andy Blue)

CCHO’s Housing Plan for 2014

27 01 2014


Click here for a pdf of the CCHO 2014 Housing Agenda

On January 17th Mayor Lee delivered a seven-point plan meant to address San Francisco’s housing crisis. We applaud the priority this Mayor has given to housing affordability, and how could he not? It’s the number one issue for San Franciscans today. The Mayor’s plan has many laudable goals, including his emphasis on protecting tenants and at-risk rent-controlled units and increasing affordable housing production, but the devil, as they say, is in the details. The particular policies and prioritization of resources the City chooses in the coming months will make or break those big goals.  We live in a constrained, dense and largely built-out 48-square mile land area, and the Mayor’s plan makes clear that it will take much more than a blind faith in the real estate market to get us back on track to housing affordability. The Council of Community Housing Organizations couldn’t agree more.

The Mayor’s plan calls for building 5,000 units per year, with at minimum a third to be affordable to low and moderate income families (up to 120% of median income, which is $116,500 for a family of 4). We’re already building 3,500 market-rate units per year, with no additional incentives needed for the private market. But the other 1,500 new homes would have to be permanently affordable, and that will require a heavy lift. We’re down for that, and our community housing organizations are ready to get to work with the City on achieving that goal. But only hard commitments with guarantees and accountability will get us there.

Following is CCHO’s Housing Agenda for how the City can get to this guarantee of a minimum 1,500 low and moderate income affordable units per year. To achieve this, we need to commit City resources and public sites to the production of new low-income housing, rebuild our public housing with the needed resources, work to take our most at-risk rent-controlled stock out of the speculative market, make sure “the market” meets its obligations to moderate-income residents by building inclusive mixed-income communities, and ensure complete neighborhood infrastructure and a bus system that works for all. Underpinning all this has to be real accountability to guarantee that we continue to build at the very least the City’s historical Housing Balance of a minimum of 30% housing affordable for households up to 120% of the median income.

  1. Public Sites for Affordable Housing

  2. Rebuild Public Housing with the Right Resources
  3. Reclaim Rent Controlled Buildings from the Speculators
  4. Make the Market Build Mixed-Income Communities
  5. Ensure Equity in Transit and Neighborhood Services
  6. Guarantee Balanced Housing Development

Public Sites for Affordable Housing

  1. Sites. Any underutilized publicly-owned sites, including those owned by the City’s enterprise departments, that are viable for affordable housing, should be prioritized for 100% affordable housing, in line with our the policies of the General Plan Housing Element and the existing Surplus Properties Ordinance.
  1. Permitting. Affordable housing and mixed-income developments should be prioritized with an accelerated permitting process, with a dedicated ombudsperson position to shepherd these project through.
  1. Revenue. We need to ensure that Prop C funds are prioritized for new production of affordable housing as was intended by the voters, and develop new revenue sources: e.g., possibly update the Jobs-Housing Linkage with added categories for tech and for-profit educational institutions; and extend the Hotel Tax to Air-BnB units and corporate suites

Rebuild Public Housing with the Right Resources

a.    Dedicated Resources. We commend Mayor Lee for taking the unprecedented step of confronting the Federal abandonment of Public Housing. Our community housing organizations are committed to working with our public housing tenants to rehab and rebuild their homes the right way with a community based housing model. But we know that public housing can’t and shouldn’t be rebuilt “on the cheap” as was done in the past. If we are not going to “rob Peter to pay Paul” with the Prop C funds that support the citywide pipeline of new affordable housing development, the City needs to commit a separate dedicated source for the public housing renovation program.

b.   Services. Key to the success of our community housing model is breaking down isolation and integrating our communities with the surrounding neighborhood and social services, all of which require a sufficient City commitment to resources for the public housing initiative.

Reclaim Rent Controlled Buildings from the Speculators

a.    Acquisition program. The city loses hundreds of rent-controlled units each year to condo conversions, and even more through Ellis Act and demolitions leading to TIC speculation. We’ve had a program on the books for 5 years for a small sites acquisition/rehab program to target those vulnerable buildings and purchase them to preserve as permanently affordable mixed-income housing. Now is the time to put that program into action, with resources for a rapid-response acquisition fund. We appreciate that the Mayor is strongly supporting this as a priority.

b.       First Right of Refusal for Tenants. For an acquisition program to really help vulnerable tenants, we need legislation to give existing residents in these small buildings a first right of refusal and a waiting period to arrange financing to purchase.

c.       Speculator Tax. We finally need to finish the work Harvey Milk began 40 years ago with an anti-speculation transfer surtax, to disincentivize speculators who evict tenants and flip houses within two years, by levying a significant tax on their profits.

d.    TIC controls. This has unfortunately amounted to an unregulated loss of rent controlled units. We need to define TICs in the Planning Code, require permitting and tracking of this change, and ensure Building Code compliance.

Make the Market Build Mixed-Income Communities

a.     Inclusionary Housing Units. Ensure on-site and off-site “below-market-rate” units in all private developments, as was the intention in the city’s inclusionary zoning legislation.  This can be achieved with incentives for off-site units, raising the price of fee-outs to reflect real costs, and giving priority to on-site and off-site buildings in the permitting process possibly resulting in three or four times as many middle-income units as we produce now.

b.       Secondary Units. Legalizing and allowing new secondary units can harness the private market, but we need to ensure that these do not lead to a new wave of speculation. A successful secondary unit program must ensure rent control in all units in pre-1979 buildings, prevent speculation through conversion to condos or TICs, and help low-income homeowners with rehab loans.

c.     Privately-Funded DALP. We can’t put public subsidy into anything for incomes over 120% of median income (which is $116,500 for a family of 4), limited equity, etc. But a privately funded DALP, for example by the tech sector, could service their workforce with higher household incomes up to 150% of the median income.

Ensure Equity in Transit and Neighborhood Services

a.       Transit Equity Charter Amendment. Make construction of new housing easier – both in City departments, with more staff and less process; and in the neighborhoods, by giving those neighborhoods the infrastructure they need to thrive with growth. Transit improvements should ensure low income and transit-dependent communities will have the service capacity and reliability they need.

b.       Revenue for Transit. In the context of true guarantees for equity in the use of funds, we support the new revenue that the Mayor’s VLF may bring in. But revenues should also come from those who most benefit from public transit and who have the greatest impacts: e.g., update the Transit Impact Development Fee program with fees for the new tech industries and new residential development.

c.    Nonprofit rents. Find solutions to the private-market rent burden faced by critical social and health service providers in our neighborhoods, including a possible commercial inclusionary policy.

d.     Small business displacement. Gentrification is not simply about the displacement of tenants, but about the wholesale transformation of people’s neighborhoods and commercial districts.  We need policies to stabilize local-serving small businesses.

Guarantee the City’s Affordable Housing Balance

  1. Development Tracking “Dashboard”.  This requirement for real-time tracking of all development approvals and construction projects by affordability level in comparison to the City’s General Plan Housing Element goals was approved by the Board and signed into law by the Mayor in December 2012.Yet it has never been implemented by the Planning Department. The Mayor should insist that this tracking program be given the highest priority and be operational before the end of the first quarter of 2014.
  1. Housing Balance Policy. The concept of an Affordable Housing Balance keeping to the city’s historic ratio of building at least 30% affordable housing, while far below our State-mandated goal of 62%, will ensure that whatever overall goal the City sets for new development (whether it’s 3,000 or 5,000 or however many units per year), will achieve the minimum 30% affordability. This kind of balance wraps all the City’s housing programs together into a continuum addressing the needs for a diverse base of residents. Without that balance, the goal of “Housing for All” and true progress toward meeting our General Plan Housing Element goals are simply aspirational and there is little incentive for all of us to work together.


What you gotta do to run a city…

4 12 2013

From the New York Times, “Making San Francisco Accessible to More Than the Tech Elite:”

“They come to San Francisco,” said Peter Cohen, co-director of the San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations, referring to workers in the industry, “they’re paid a premium for whatever they do, they don’t know the impact they’re having.”

“But I think there’s a point at which you become complicit and you can’t just say, ‘I’m doing my job and I don’t know what’s going on,’” he added.

… Kevin Starr, a professor specializing in California history at the University of Southern California, said it was the responsibility of politicians and real estate developers to support the middle and working classes.

“If you leave it to the free market alone, the system will collapse because you won’t be able to run a city,” he said.

Mass Transit for the Masses – update!

20 11 2013

The draft Transit Equity Charter Amendment was introduced yesterday November 19 with five sponsors: Supervisors Avalos, Campos, Kim, Mar, and Yee. Among other things:

The MTA will be required to establish a set of Equity Performance Metrics to identify any deficiencies in performance for low-income and transit-dependent communities. The Equity Analysis would include an expenditure plan to identify the amount necessary to mitigate any deficiencies identified.

The agency would receive an additional $70 million beginning in Fiscal Year 2015-2016, which would be adjusted annually by the Controller based on changes in the City’s general fund revenue. Funds would first be allocated to mitigate deficiencies in low-income and transit-dependent communities identified in the Equity Analysis.

Fare increases would be limited to the increase in the Bay Area Consumer Price Index, unless a larger increase was necessary to comply with state fare box recovery requirements. The MTA would no longer charge San Francisco youth age 18 and under to ride the Municipal Railway.

The Board of Supervisors would adopt an impact fee on new developments to mitigate their impacts on the Municipal Railway, except that development projects for health, human service, permanently affordable housing or other City-funded, community-serving development project that will provide services to low, fixed, and moderate income San Franciscans would be exempted.

Mass Transit for the Masses!

19 11 2013

Seniors, families, and people with disabilities call for transportation for all of us.

Today, CCHO joins POWER, Chinatown CDC, Senior and Disability Action, and Urban Habitat on the steps of the city hall to rally for new transit funding and announce the Transit Equity Charter Amendment, which would require the city to prioritize existing disparities in service to low-income and transit dependent areas. Overcrowding, long wait times, long commute times, and affordability are some of the biggest problems facing the city’s transit dependent riders, including many residents in our affordable housing buildings.

Supervisor John Avalos, with Eric Mar and David Campos, will introduce legislation to set aside approximately 70 million dollars in new funding for Muni, paving the path toward a transportation revenue measure on the 2014 ballot, with restrictions to ensure that funds are spent where they are needed most: on San Francisco’s everyday transit riders. The legislation comes in response to the plan being developed by the Mayor’s Transportation Task Force, which had a heavy influence from the downtown establishment and technology industry, while lacking any input from everyday people.


A Decade of Displacement: The Housing Wars of the 1990s Revisited

24 10 2013

A packed house at A Decade of Displacement: The Housing Wars of the 1990s Revisited, with CCHO’s Fernando Martí and CHP’s James Tracy. Thanks to the Bay Area Radical History Project and Sole Space Oakland.

Photo by Jen Angel

Photo by Jen Angel

Throughout the 1990s, Bay Area activists confronted the first wave of displacement on multiple fronts, ranging from direct action to grassroots electoral uprisings. Despite some impressive organizing victories, the war against gentrification continues. Fernando Martí (former member of the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition) and James Tracy (former member of the Eviction Defense Network) discuss what it takes to fight for a city from below, through the stories of squatters, home-defenders, populist politicians, land reformers and public housing residents . The talk explores many of the issues still confronting today’s antagonists of displacement:

– With real estate industry strategies tied to global investment patterns, is there any such thing as a local solution to displacement?
– Is it possible to combine direct action and engagement in the local electoral process?
– Is land reform in the global city even possible?

Photo by Chuck Morse

Photo by Chuck Morse

Lee Family Ellis Act Eviction

25 09 2013

Today’s rally to protest the Lee Family Ellis Act Eviction, with CCHO members CCDC, HRC, and allies in the tenant, community, and labor movement.

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From the San Francisco Tenant’s Union:
San Franciscans are facing a spiraling threat of speculation, evictions, and astronomical housing cost increases. Evictions, even of the elderly and disabled, are becoming routine throughout the city. And as vacated apartments are sold or rented at higher levels the speculative pressure on remaining rent controlled housing grows sharper. The intensifying cycle of speculation is radically transforming neighborhoods and threatening the City’s diverse character and its social values.

The impending eviction of one family in Polk Gulch is representative of these trends and threats. But the outcome of the Lee family’s fight against their eviction may also help the movement to help tame our present overheated market.

Like thousands of other working class San Franciscans, Mr. and Ms. Lee worked for decades in the city. Now elderly and caring for their disabled adult daughter, they are facing eviction by a real estate investor who bought their eight-unit apartment building in the once blue-collar Polk Gulch neighborhood. The investor has admitted that from the start, his business plan was to evict all the tenants and sell off the apartments. He has almost succeeded. All the other families have moved out and the Lees have also desperately tried to move. But as seniors on a fixed income with a disabled family member they faced a costly and doubly discriminatory rental market. They have applied to dozens of apartments without success. Yet their investor landlord has rejected their requests for help finding alternative housing and has asked the sheriff to force the family into the streets.

The Lee family’s story might be like thousands of others who have been quietly moved without public awareness. But overcoming their initial fears, Mr. and Ms. Lee have decided to take a stand: they are staying in their apartment and publicly protesting their eviction by the sheriff. With the support of the Tenants Union and others, they hope their fight will result in increased protections for all tenants and help for evicted tenants like themselves who need housing in the City.
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Celebrating our Victories (1): Rent Control!

11 09 2013

This Thursday September 12 at 6pm at the Women’s Building, join the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, the San Francisco Tenants Union, Causa Justa::Just Cause, the Council of Community Housing Organizations and our members Chinatown Community Development Center and Senior and Disability Action, and many others who took part in this campaign to save San Francisco’s rent controlled housing stock from speculators. And then don’t forget to head on over to SOMARTS to celebrate with our friends at the Coalition on Homelessness with their Art Auction ’13: Transforming Art into Action!

For a longer story of the struggles leading up to this latest tenant victory in San Francisco, read the previous post, Renters Rising, by Fernando Marti (CCHO) and Sara Shortt (HRC)…


Renters Rising!

11 09 2013

How San Francisco’s housing movement turned an assault on renters into a victory

By Fernando Martí and Sara Shortt

A version of this story appeared on Shelterforce Magazine,


wewontgoyOn June 11, San Francisco’s united tenant and affordable housing advocates defeated the latest assault on San Francisco renters, turning potentially grievous legislation into an actual net gain for protecting the city’s limited rent-controlled housing stock.

The ordinance, as originally proposed by San Francisco supervisors Mark Farrell and Scott Wiener, would have allowed over 2,000 rent-controlled units to automatically become condominium units, bypassing the city’s annual 200-unit cap (which are awarded by lottery) by paying a fee of between $4,000 and $20,000 per unit. Not only would this have meant over 10 years worth of rent controlled stock being lost in one fell swoop, but the legislation would have set a precedent for doing away with the condo conversion cap altogether, further incentivizing evictions and buyouts of tenants now protected under San Francisco’s rent control laws.

Instead of just fighting the bill, housing advocates took a nuanced approach, proposing amendments that turned the effects of the original bill on its head, while still creating an opening for some apartment owners seeking to convert their units into condos.

The history of the renters’ battles in San Francisco helps explain how this fight came about, and how it was won.

Looking Back

Like many major U.S. cities, San Francisco has a 64.2 percent renter majority, falling in line with New York (69 percent), Los Angeles (63 percent), and Chicago, Houston, and Dallas (all about 55 percent). In the 1970s, after decades of relatively low rents—the result of post-war disinvestment, redlining, and white flight—San Francisco began to experience rising rents and home demolitions. A combination of regional planning efforts to re-envision San Francisco as a Pacific Rim finance capital, the intentional return of capital investment to the inner city after years of disinvestment, rising gas prices, and a new hipness to urban living spurred the beginning of San Francisco’s long curve of gentrification.

At the same time, a growing progressive political alliance was developing in San Francisco, convening in a Community Congress in 1975, with the central pieces of its platform being the election of the local legislative body by district rather than city-wide and a control on rents.

In 1978, California’s Proposition 13 capped property taxes in the state, and there was a resultant expectation that rents too would be limited. Proposition 13 limited property taxes to 1 percent of assessed value and limited increases in assessed value to 2 percent per year. A move by large apartment owners to raise rents despite their recent windfall on property taxes led to a renters’ revolt, which brought about San Francisco’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, passed in 1979, and later strengthened through voter initiative. The law, locally called “rent control,” applies to most rental units built before 1979, and limits rent increases to a formula tied to the Consumer Price Index, about 1.5 percent per year. Approximately 145,000 units, or 70 percent of the city’s rental stock, are protected by rent control.

However, there are significant limits to this protection. San Francisco’s rent stabilization does not have vacancy control, so when a tenant moves, rent can be increased immediately to whatever “the market will bear,” after which, rent increases are again limited to the rent stabilization formula. A statewide law passed in 1996, the Costa-Hawkins Act, made it illegal to apply rent control to condominium units. This means that once a rental unit is converted to a condominium, it is no longer subject to rent control, even if it is maintained as a rental. Every condo-converted housing unit is one rent-controlled unit that the city will never get back.

San Francisco is by far one of the country’s most unaffordable rental markets. The National Low Income Housing Coalition ranked the city as having the second most expensive rental housing market, behind only Honolulu. One would have to earn $34.52 an hour, roughly $70,000 annually, to afford the average two-bedroom fair market rent.  Further, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that “sizzling” rents steeply inclined in the last year, with one firm estimating an average of $3,437, up 21 percent from a year ago. People are forced to live with overcrowding, in shabby conditions in unsafe neighborhoods, and pay a huge percentage of their salary for rent in exchange for living in this city.

At the same time, rates of evictions are on the rise. The San Francisco Rent Board’s annual report on evictions, released in March, shows that no-fault evictions increased by 26 percent this year, with a total of 1,680 evictions.  The highest increase was in “Ellis Act” evictions, which means the owner intends to take the unit off the market. 

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In 1979, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a Condominium Conversion Ordinance with the intent of balancing the goals of preserving the city’s limited stock of rental housing and allowing the occupants of rental buildings to become condominium owners. Following amendments in 1984, any two-unit building could be converted to condominiums, but only 200 three- to six-unit buildings could be converted per year, chosen through a lottery system. While the intent was to help tenants become owners of their units, only a third of the units in each building must be occupied by the owners at the time of the conversion. Larger apartment buildings cannot be converted into condominiums, though they may still be bought by groups of tenants and investors with a joint mortgage.

A new market has developed of these type of owners (called a “tenancy-in-common” or TIC), who buy a rental building collectively, move in, and apply for the condominium conversion lottery. While it’s hard to verify the exact correlation between sales of TICs and the waves of tenant evictions, it’s clear that there is a steep monetary incentive for real estate speculators to clear out buildings and sell to a group of TIC buyers who have bought in to the expectation that within a few years they will be able to convert and sell at a steep profit.

Moreover, somewhere around 40 percent of the total rent-controlled stock in the city is in the two- to six-unit buildings that are vulnerable to being converted and thus losing their rent-controlled status. Since 2000, about 516 rental apartment buildings become condominiums each year, never again to be rented out under rent control as the result of the 200 conversions per year of three- to six-unit buildings restricted by the lottery, plus over 300 conversions per year of two-unit buildings.

A third proposed ordinance from the 1970s bears mentioning, because it would have had an enormous impact on the real estate speculation-fueled gentrification that was to come in the decades to follow. In 1977 tenant advocates developed an anti-speculation ordinance that would have mandated a graduated increase in the City’s transfer fees, taxing 80% of the profit of a resale made in less than a year, tapering down to zero for properties held for ten or more years. The ordinance was introduced by Harvey Milk and supported by Mayor Moscone. It was pending before a Board vote when Moscone and Milk were assassinated in November 1978. New Mayor Feinstein later got the Board to table the proposal.

Since the original rent control and condo conversion laws were enacted, there have been numerous attempts to modify them. Attempts by landlords to tamper with the condo conversion ordinance lost repeatedly on the ballot, each time by an almost two-thirds margin. These attacks are rightly seen by voters as a backhanded way at weakening the city’s rent control law, with the ultimate goal of eventually doing away with it.

Building Consensus

Affordable housing advocates were successful in convincing the city’s Board of Supervisors and Mayor Edwin Lee to hold this latest threat, the condo conversion bypass fee legislation, until after last year’s November ballot, as it otherwise threatened to undermine the success of the Housing Trust Fund proposition on the ballot, which passed. But it was on the agenda at the first hearing of the city’s board in January, and dozens of tenants and TIC owners spoke.

While it would be easy to make fun of the entitlement exhibited by some of the TIC owners at the hearing (one complained of the value he lost on his $1.5 million home, another complained of the difficulty of converting either her three-unit or her six-unit TIC, apparently indicating that she was a “tenant” in two different buildings), it became clear that TIC owners were facing some relative hardship as well. While in fact there were no foreclosures or defaults among the TIC owners (unlike many single-family homeowners in the city’s primarily people of color communities), the banking system had changed the rules of the game for TIC owners since the 2008 financial crisis.

The only financing available to most TIC owners had been three-, five-, and seven-year adjustable rate mortgages that needed to be refinanced within a few years. But after 2008, banks tightened their requirements, demanding higher credit scores and higher downpayments, which made refinancing much more difficult. These TIC owners wanted an exit strategy by being allowed to convert their properties to condos right away, thus making it easier to either refinance their loans or simply to cash in on the windfall of a condominium sale.

As they were questioned by one supervisor, however, it became apparent that many other supporters of the proposal at the hearing were not “real” TIC owners, but real estate lobbyists and property owners.  

Meanwhile, tenant activists had organized to stop the legislation, pulling together a broad coalition of tenant advocates, affordable housing advocates, community organizations from renter districts, environmentalists, labor organizations and advocates for low-income populations. The campaign was led by the broad spectrum of the city’s housing justice organizations, including the San Francisco Tenants’ Union, Housing Rights Committee, Chinatown Community Development Center, AIDS Housing Alliance, Affordable Housing Alliance, the Council of Community Housing Organizations, Tenderloin Housing Clinic, Tenants Together, Eviction Defense Collaborative, Senior and Disability Action, and Causa Justa :: Just Cause.

The activists sat down with allies on the board of supervisors to amend the original condo conversion bypass proposal after realizing that there would not be enough support to kill it outright. The goal was make it hard to vote against by those who claimed to want to meet the purported intent of the proposal, which was to allow the current pool of TIC owners “clogging up” the system to convert quicker and easier than the lottery would allow.

The amendments contain critical tenant protection safeguards to stop the bypass from resulting in a spike in evictions: while they leave the expedited process for those stuck in the pool wanting to convert in place, they requires a suspension of all future conversions after that for a minimum of 10 years.

Under the amendments, after the initial backlog of 2,400 units are allowed to become condominiums, all future conversions will be suspended for at least the next decade, creating a cooling off period in the speculator-fueled condo conversion market. A supervisor from a moderate district suggested that length of the suspension should be linked to the city’s performance in building new affordable housing units to replace the lost rent controlled units. Affordable housing and tenant advocates jumped on his amendment. Every unit converted must be replaced with a new affordable unit and until that number is reached, the suspension continues.  Also, the number must be above and beyond what is already anticipated by the city’s housing office.

When conversions are allowed to resume, they will be limited to four-unit buildings and smaller, and will require a majority of owner-occupancy tenants, emphasizing the idea that the conversions are really about creating pathways for tenants to become owners and not about real estate speculation.

The compromise was actually a hard pill to swallow for many housing and tenant advocates involved in the larger campaign. Campaign steering committee members bristled at the very idea of negotiating and worried that there would be no way to truly protect tenants from evictions and guard against spurring real estate speculation. This was also true of some of the progressive city supervisors. One announced at a press conference detailing the new legislation that he would vote against it if it were watered down by even a degree. 

The steering committee worked hard to assure the more moderate supervisors that the amendments would meet the needs of the constituents pushing for the original legislation. At the same time, they had to go back to their own base repeatedly to make the case that the new added tenant protections would help limit evictions. While eventually all partners agreed to support the compromise, anxiety persisted about whether the 10-year minimum and lifetime lease requirements would adequately protect against possible heightened market activity from real estate agents chomping at the bit to take advantage of the new ability to convert. There were also repeated discussions about whether to change course and revert back to a strategy to “kill” the legislation altogether, but political analysis consistently led to the conclusion that this was simply too risky. If we didn’t try to make it our own, it could be passed in its worst form and devastating to tenants. 

From day one, the new version of the bypass proposal was framed as a “compromise” by the tenants to build public perception that pushing conversions through more rapidly was a huge concession for tenants so that the robust tenant protections and anti-speculation component would viewed as a more than fair trade off from the other side.

Tenant advocates performed an incredible feat of jujitsu by turning the original proposed legislation against itself. Now, the amended version will strengthen protections for renters and curb speculative practices in the real estate industry.

After six months of wrangling, negotiations, reversals and hand-wringing, the amended proposal was approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors by a veto-proof 8-3 vote, bringing even moderate supervisors on board, and demonstrating that (with a lot of hard work) a winning Center-Left majority can still be put together in San Francisco. Driving home the tenant advocates’ position that the intent of the original legislation was never actually meant to help the TIC owners, but instead to help the real estate lobby’s lucrative condo market, the two original sponsoring supervisors actually voted against the amended proposal, even though it did what they claimed to have to have wanted to do.

A New Wave

The passion and mobilization of housing advocates seen in this fight bodes well for a reinvigorated housing movement. The issue has the potential to spark a new renters’ revolt with motivated organization, strategy, and tenants at the center of the fight. With skyrocketing rents and ever-increasing evictions, this legislation has reignited a new wave of progressive tenant mobilization, like that seen in 1979 and again in 2000 at the height of the first dot-com boom. There’s increasing talk of new ballot initiatives to define the housing justice movement for the next decade.

Activists looking to the 2014 election season are sketching the rough outlines of a tenant platform, including requiring registration of “buyouts” under threat of Ellis evictions, which speculators use to clear out buildings; a parcel tax on buildings left vacant by landlords; a law giving existing tenants a right of first refusal; a six-month exclusive negotiating period when a building is put up for sale (similar to Washington D.C.’s TOPA law); and a steeply graduated tax on rental income to put a disincentive on rent increases after an eviction or buyout. Talk of a San Francisco Tenants Convention is in the air. It’s time to get organizing!


Fernando Martí is co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, a coalition of affordable housing and community economic development advocates in San Francisco. Sara Shortt is director of the Housing Rights Committee. Artwork by Melissa Klein. 

Housing and Planning quote of the week: The ideological mystique of planning…

9 09 2013

“Despite an ideological mystique which stresses a liberal point of view and selfless service to a broad public interest, planning practice actually is cautious and conservative. Most planners, I began to think, were ordinary bureaucrats seeking a secure career, some status, and regular increases in salary. They rarely took unpopular public positions since these might prejudice their chances to achieve these modest objectives. The average planner came out of a middle-class background and was not likely to be upset with social conditions or matter bearing on who-gets-what issues in society to the point where substantial, radical change would seem a legitimate objective. Many planners absorbed the values and philosophy of business which has helped their status, income, and security… The activities of traditional planning agencies may succeed in slightly altering the physical environment, but they are largely irrelevant to the needs of the people in cities such as Cleveland where the problems are largely economic, social, and political. As a profession planning has been too timid. This criticism is pointed less toward the rank-and-file staff of most agencies than at their directors. They are the individuals confronted with the challenge and opportunity to create an activist role for their organizations…”

~ Norman Krumholz, former Cleveland Planning Director, in “A Retrospective View of Equity Planning”

Equity Planning

CCHO Op Ed: Plan Bay Area better, but it still gentrifies

13 08 2013

San Francisco Bay Guardian, July 30, 2013

By Peter Cohen and Fernando Martí


OPINION On July 18, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) adopted the region’s first so-called “sustainable communities strategy,” as required under new state environmental laws. Plan Bay Area will direct the largest share of the region’s growth to the region’s urban cores — two-thirds of the region’s overall housing production is directed to 15 specific cities.

The vision is what environmentalists refer to as “smart growth” — shrinking the footprint of the region’s future development as a more environmentally friendly and geographically efficient pattern to absorb ever-increasing population. San Francisco alone has a very tall order: Our city will absorb 25 percent of new urban development, which equates to 92,000 new housing units and a pace of housing construction averaging around 3,100 units annually (a rate that has been reached only twice over the last 50 years since the era of 1960s urban renewal development).

The question that framed debates through the three-year process in drafting and finally adopting the plan is how that amount of new growth can be “done right;” that is, without gentrifying working class and poor communities and ensuring that infrastructure, including affordable housing and transit service, will keep up with that pace of growth. Tim Redmond’s feature article in the June 4 issue of the Guardian (“Planning for displacement”) and a June 12 forum sponsored by the Guardian, CCHO, and UrbanIDEA very thoroughly laid out the issues and critiques of the Plan Bay Area draft that was released by MTC/ABAG earlier this spring.

With such fundamental flaws when the draft plan was released in April, how did the July 18 adopted final Plan Bay Area fare? First, there is no question this regional “smart growth” plan will make combating gentrification at ground-level harder. But second, the plan could have been worse if not for a tremendous final pushback by progressive advocates from San Francisco and throughout the region loosely united in a “Six Wins for Social Equity” coalition and the committed leadership of a small core of progressive regional leaders — including two of San Francisco’s representatives, David Campos (MTC) and Eric Mar (ABAG) — who championed some final amendments.

Those “wins” (in reality, concessions by MTC/ABAG) achieved in this final push include: adding a public process to develop priorities for the Bay Area’s $3.1 billion share of state cap and trade funding, such as to affordable housing and local transit operations; strengthening the $14 billion transportation block-grant funds program (“OBAG”) to link it directly to local cities’ affordable housing production and displacement-prevention policies; and adding a requirement for MTC to develop a comprehensive strategy to prioritize funding of local transit service and transit maintenance.

Though the details of those amendments are fairly squishy and do not alter the development trajectory of the plan, they are potentially valuable handholds to work with going forward as Plan Bay Area gets implemented (and updated in four years).

That said, San Francisco’s front line working class neighborhoods and communities of color still stand to take the brunt of potential negative impacts from this regional “smart growth” plan. Theoretically they could receive the potential benefits of public infrastructure investments and stimulated economic activity. But while the risks are real, the potential benefits are still illusory.

We must become more engaged if we are to move Plan Bay Area beyond policy statements and promises of future “best-practices” to make sure vulnerable people are not displaced from their neighborhoods in the tide of infill real estate development and are guaranteed a real share of the fruits from “equitable” smart growth.

Plan Bay Area: “strategy will put tens of thousands of families and seniors of modest means at greater risk of displacement”

13 08 2013


Gen Fujioka, of CCHO member organization Chinatown Community Development Center, responds to Plan Bay Area. Full story here.


“…Many PDAs [Priority Development Areas] include existing mostly working class neighborhoods with high concentrations of renters. …the PDA strategy will put tens of thousands of families and seniors of modest means at greater risk of displacement, including most of the eastern third of San Francisco where a majority of lower income minority residents live and where many also work. Some of the locations considered to be the best targets for smart growth today are those urban neighborhoods with transit reliant communities that persevered through decades of disinvestment from middle class suburban flight.”

CEQA circus swirls to a close

28 07 2013

By Thomas K. Pendergast, July 24, 2013

Full story at SFBay, here.

Citizens appealing City decisions about any large building project now have a clear set of rules for filing the paperwork, thanks to a unanimous vote by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Fernando Marti of the Council of Community Housing Organizations… said as affordable housing developers, his organization has had threats of people appealing those projects, neighbors who don’t like an affordable housing development in their neighborhood, but generally his organization has been able to work with them to address those concerns:

“In fact it’s the up-front length of environmental review and uncertainty in figuring out what the direction is that’s been more problematic.”

He echoed Campos’ emphasis on keeping appeal decisions with the full board instead of a subcommittee:

 “In these kinds of things where there is a developer who has a lot of ‘juice’ in some ways, and where it’s very important for the city as a whole to have a successful outcome … being able to have that conversation with a very broad set of stakeholders … who can represent multiple points of view on the topic is very important. So to have it heard only at the Land Use Committee, where there are generally three voices, is very different from having it heard at the Board of Supervisors. … We think it creates a much more democratic avenue for discussions on the myriad impacts that those large developments have.”

Whose Future? A Forum on Plan Bay Area

24 07 2013

Whose Future? What Does The Regional “Plan Bay Area” Really Mean for San Francisco?

On June 12, 2013, CCHO and urbanIDEA co-sponsored a community forum with the San Francisco Bay Guardian, on the draft “Plan Bay Area.”   This plan is newly mandated by state law (SB 375) as a way to push more “smart growth” development patterns in the region.  There are, however, some challenges to getting it right: this recent issue of SFBG has its lead article on the topic, and frames the critique and needed re-thinking of Plan Bay Area.

San Francisco Communities of ConcernSan Francisco’s “Communities of Concern,” areas identified by ABAG and MTC as having a high percentage of minority and/or low-income residents. Source: MTC, February 1, 2012.

The forum was moderated by Tim Redmond (Bay Guardian), with panelists Gen Fujioka (Chinatown Community Development Center), Mike Casey (Unite HERE Local 2), Maria Zamudio (Causa Justa/Just Cause), Cindy Wu (Planning Commissioner), Bob Allen (Urban Habitat), Peter Cohen (Council of Community Housing Organizations), and Rachel Brahinsky (University of San Francisco).

This was the inaugural public event of urbanIDEA, an evolving independent think tank that was an outgrowth of CCHO’s work on the 2010 Community Congress. urbanIDEA is a progressive think tank focusing on multiple issues confronting municipal and regional governments. The initiative will incubate new ideas and approaches to urban and regional development from a left-progressive perspective bringing together researchers, professional practitioners and policymakers. urbanIDEA seeks to fill the gap as a forum linking progressive scholarship and theory-driven analysis with community-based organizations and grassroots movements in issues of land use, housing, economic development, and environmental justice to promote fundamental change in our political and economic systems.

 To event was recorded by the USF’s Leo T. McCarthy Center, and can be found here.

The event program can be found here: Whose Future – evetn program


In memory, Jazzie Collins!

24 07 2013

In memory: Jazzie Collins, a fearless, compassionate, inspiring, strong woman, a tireless fighter for affordable housing, for the senior, trans, and LGBT communities. Jazzie was a fighter who loved to laugh, who was irreverent and she spoke her mind, whether or not you wanted to hear it. CCHO staff had the privilege to work with Jazzie, first through MAC’s organizing work in SROs, and later through many campaigns for tenant’s rights and affordable housing. A memorial for Jazzie will be held Thursday, August 1, 2013, from 5-8 pm, at Mission High School.

Jazzie Prop C

Plan Bay Area: MTC/ABAG final hearing – this Thurs 7/18!

17 07 2013

     On Thursday evening, July 18, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) will hold a final public hearing on Plan Bay Area, the region’s thirty year plan for growth.   This plan would direct the largest share of the region’s growth to the region’s urban core—two-thirds of the region’s overall housing production is directed to 15 specific cities.   San Francisco alone has a very tall order: our city will absorb 25% of that urban development (and 16% of the total growth throughout the region), which equates to 92,000 new housing units and parking and transport for more than 190,000 new workers.   San Francisco’s population will be expected to grow from 850,000 in 2010 to over 1,080,000 in 2040.  The question is how that amount of new growth can be “done right.”

     Over the past several weeks, MTC/ABAG agencies’ staff and committees have issued proposed revisions to the draft plan and also responses to comments received for the Final Environmental Impact Report.   Despite objections and hundreds of comments from a broad constellation of equity advocates urging more significant changes particularly around issues of displacement-prevention, affordable housing funding, and local transit services funding, the final proposal being present to MTC/ABAG commissioners for approval this coming Thursday maintains the essential design and flaws of the original draft (see CCHO’s comment letter and Tim Redmond’s last Bay Guardian article).  The proposed Plan Bay Area continues to fail to identify resources to provide for either sufficient transit operations or the affordable housing to accommodate the rates of growth being assigned to communities.  And the plan’s characterization of its potential threat of resident displacement as a result of increased development pressure on so-called “Communities of Concern” in urban neighborhoods is weak, and in the EIR response is downright dismissive as simply a “localized” issue (Plan Bay Area_Displacement resp FEIR_3_1_Master_Responses).

     Perhaps the greatest concern of CCHO and our local and regional allies (many of whom are coordinated through the regional Six Wins for Equity coalition) is the plan’s Equity Analysis finding that the proposed Plan Bay Area growth scenario is projected to create the greatest risk of displacement for disadvantaged communities of any of the alternative approaches studied (including the ‘no project’ option)—the plan readily acknowledges that the potential for “community disruption” from resident displacement will increase by 71% (from an already-problematic 21% displacement potential increasing to 36% within Communities of Concern).  Despite this elevated risk of displacement and the exacerbated shortfall of affordable housing, MTC and ABAG have rejected or watered down concrete proposals to ease gentrification and displacement risks.   Instead, there has been an effort to gloss over those risks in Plan Bay Area.

     An alternative scenario was presented to the regional agencies—the “Equity, Environment and Jobs” (EEJ) alternative—that Plan Bay Area’s own analysis indicates would do a better job addressing climate change, increasing access to opportunity and lead to a more sustainable and healthy Bay Area for all of the region. The version of the plan that MTC/ABAG have instead stayed with and which is now being considered at this Thursday’s vote fails to include many of the core elements from the EEJ alternative.

     We suggest that SF advocates reinforce the Six Wins coalition’s ask to MTC/ABAG commissioners to direct staff to develop a clear and firm timeframe, including a commitment to engage community stakeholders, in developing priorities for the Bay Area’s share of cap and trade funding, strengthening the transportation block-grant funds program (“OBAG”) to link it more directly to affordable housing and displacement-prevention policies, and developing a regional youth bus program.

     San Francisco’s front line working class neighborhoods and communities of color stand to take the brunt of potential negative impacts from this regional “smart growth” plan, and at least theoretically they could be situated to receive the potential benefits of public infrastructure investments and stimulated economic activity.  But while the risks are real—we don’t need a plan to know that the struggle against gentrification in our neighborhoods and the plague of evictions is not just a theoretical possibility—the potential benefits are illusory.  It requires more than feel-good policy statements and promises of future “best-practices” to protect vulnerable people from being displaced out their neighborhoods in the tide of infill real estate development and to be guaranteed a real share of the fruits from “equitable” smart growth.      

To express your concerns in advance of Thursday’s MTC/ABAG hearing, contact our SF reps:

David Campos (MTC) (415)

Scott Wiener (MTC) – (415) 554-6968,

Eric Mar (ABAG) – (415) 554-7410,

Jane Kim (ABAG) – (415) 554-7970,


The 2nd Annual CCHO Party!

29 05 2013

Thank you all who came to our party this May! The grassroots support of the many “Friends of CCHO” makes our work possible. And congratulations to our CCHO Housing Award honorees this year, Sophie Maxwell and Lou Giraudo!


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Can the tech boom solve our housing crisis? No, but it can make it worse

28 05 2013

From the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Steve Jones: CCHO offers a dose of reality…


San Francisco Housing Action Coalition and San Francisco Magazine posed an intriguing question at a forum they sponsored last night in the W Hotel: “San Francisco’s Housing Crisis: Can the Tech Boom Help Us?” Unfortunately, it wasn’t a question they ever really addressed at an event of, by, and for developers and their most ardent supporters.

Instead, the event was mostly just pro-development boosterism supporting HAC’s goal of building 100,000 new homes in SF over the next 20 years, and the discussion seems to show that the tech boom will exacerbate the housing crisis without ever addressing it, particularly given the local tax breaks and subsidies Mayor Ed Lee keeps giving the industry.

“San Francisco must radically increase its anemic housing production,” HAC Executive Director Tim Colen said during the introduction.

The pro-development cheerleading was slightly offset by the dose of reality offered by panelist Peter Cohen of the San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations, who noted that market rate developers aren’t building for today’s San Franciscans, 61 percent of whom make less than 120 percent of the Area Median Income.

“We don’t believe the market will ever touch the 120 and lower,” Cohen said, later offering, “How do we build for the kind of San Francisco we have now?”

San Francisco Magazine Editor-in-Chief Jon Steinberg, who moderated the panel, said this event grew out of an important and widely acclaimed story that David Talbot wrote for the magazine last fall, “How Much Tech Can One City Take?” that raised critical questions about the wisdom of the big bet that San Francisco has placed on an industry driven by speculative bubbles.

“We got more responses from readers than anything we published in our history,” Steinberg said of the article, before shamefully expressing second thoughts on publishing it. “I felt the writer had been a little hard on our friends in the tech industry.”

He introduced UC Berkeley Economics Professor Enrico Moretti, whose 2012 book “The New Geography of Jobs” argues for reducing regulations that hinder housing production in cities, by saying that if he’d read it before publishing Talbot’s excellent article, “I think it would have had a little different tenor.”

Yet Moretti’s presentation was an overly simplistic Economics 101 argument that housing prices go up when demand is strong and supply is weak. “It doesn’t take a degree in economics to know those workers will bid up the price of housing,” Moretti said after noting San Francisco added 21,500 job but just 2,548 new housing units last year.

That’s the basic line we hear a lot these days, that only a massive housing construction boom will keep housing prices down and prevent mass displacement. “The only answer is to radically increase the supply,” said SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf, noting that means tossing out many of the city’s historic preservation and height and density restrictions. “All we have to do is get out of the way and allow housing to increase to make it normal again.”

Metcalf confidently predicted that housing prices and rents would drop if the city pursued that kind of unfettered housing boom, offering to buy Cohen a beer if he was wrong. Yet even Moretti’s research shows that Metcalf would probably lose that bet.

Moretti compared San Francisco to Seattle, which is also experiencing a comparable high-tech job boom that exacerbated a housing supply shortage, which Seattle responded to by following the prescription of HAC and building thousands of new condos in the downtown core.

The result was that rents in Seattle have increased 31 percent less than San Francisco’s, which he called significant, despite the fact that rents are still on the rise there even with a massive influx of new people and condos and all the infrastructure challenges that presents (it’s widely accepted that new development in San Francisco doesn’t pay for the full cost of infrastructure needed to serve it, which is a huge issue in the transportation sector alone).

Nobody had a good answer to Cohen’s point that building tons of market rate housing won’t actually do much to prevent the displacement of a majority of current city residents. As he put it, “What’s missing is who is that housing for, who is it actually serving?”

Metcalf welcomes the wholesale transformation of San Francisco – “It will be a change, a total change, and guess what? That could be great.” – but even he argues for the importance of policies that protect those on the bottom half of the economic scale, from rent control to more government-subsidized affordable housing production.

As Metcalf, one of the biggest market rate development cheerleaders in city, said, “If it were not for rent control, I would have been forced out of the city by now.”