One of the last significant action’s Mayor Lee took as San Francisco’s Chief Executive was to issue an Executive Directive for all City Departments to being working towards building 5,000 new homes every single year going forward. He chose that number because, according to the City’s Chief Economist, that’s the number of homes the City needs to build in order to have rent prices increase at the exact same rate as inflation.
Since San Francisco exceeded that number only one time since World War II (it’s averaged under 2,000 per year since 2000), the goal seemed aggressive but achievable.
At a recent Noe Valley Democratic Club mayoral forum (not coincidentally organized by SFHAC Executive Director Todd David as his role as Democratic Club President), each Mayoral candidate was asked whether or not they would re-commit to Mayor Ed Lee’s goal. One by one, they all said “yes.” While there are many quality aspects to each mayoral candidate, I respectfully wouldn’t use “urbanist” as a top-of-mind adjective for any of them. Their priorities are different, and incredibly important, but there’s no fierce advocate for housing and transit improvements compared to our State Senator Scott Wiener, or a handful of candidates running for Supervisor in 2018.
So getting each to commit to the housing goal is a big deal. Now, they (and we as a community) need to figure out how to make it happen.
Since the next Mayor of San Francisco could be in charge for the next decade, understanding how to thoughtfully grow the City is important. Where will these 5,000 homes be built every single year? How many will be market rate vs. subsidized affordable? Are we going to build out more transit to match the growth? How do we pay for it? How do we protect small businesses that could be impacted by construction? What about the sewer system? And the schools? The questions could be (and let’s be honest, this is San Francisco so they probably are) endless. I’m curious about candidate’s answers to these questions before I cast my vote in June.
5,000 new homes per year for 10 years is going to bring the City’s population to over 1 million people. It’s an aggressive goal that needs to happen but it’s complicated and takes meticulous coordination amongst a number of different City agencies.
It will require working with a Board of Supervisors who may have different priorities. It’s the right goal to set but it will not be easy to execute. Since everyone knows a goal without a plan is just a wish, I see an important question we need to pose. To all Mayoral candidates: What’s your plan to get this done?
Fortunately, we have the benefit of a thoughtful game plan laid out by the late-Mayor Lee and his team. Are each of you going to follow the blueprint laid out or do you have a different vision? Focusing on the post-entitlement period (after the Planning Commission, before construction) seemed to be a logical place to find process improvements. Creating different approval routes for a backyard deck vs mid-rise housing vs. skyscraper makes sense. Folks are already looking at different financing options—perhaps a City down payment assistance program—to build backyard accessory dwelling units. Requiring the City, when spending public dollars, to build to the maximum allowed height for subsidized affordable housing, is logical.
A multifaceted solution is going to be necessary. So, what does your solution look like?
Corey Smith is a Community Organizer for the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition (SFHAC).
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