Contrary to popular belief, homelessness in San Francisco is not an intractable problem. It’s a political problem.
It’s actually a very simple problem. There are more people who want to live here than homes for them to live in. And why is that? One huge reason is that no one wants new homes built in their neighborhoods. Our most recent case is an unusually ridiculous one.
Architect Kodor Baalbaki wants to turn a gas station at 3601 Lawton St into a four-story mixed-use building. The proposed building would include 15 townhomes and two commercial spaces.
Outer Sunset residents were so outraged about the proposal that District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang organized last Thursday’s follow-up meeting and brought in a conflict resolution nonprofit which gave neighbors red, yellow, and green cards to vote on issues.
"Usually I don't try to organize outreach meetings, since that's the developer's job," Tang said. "But since development is so new to the Sunset, it's important to listen to everyone's comments and concerns."
At the five-hour meeting in May, neighbors treated the project like "a beast coming to the neighborhood," Kodor Baalbaki, the project's architect said. Their main concerns? Increased demands on public transit, parking, and sewer lines and that the building is ugly. As currently proposed, the building would have 24 parking spaces in an underground garage and space for 36 bicycles to park.
In response to these concerns, Baalbaki redesigned the project to make it look more like surrounding buildings.
Over the last 16 years the Outer Sunset has built 68 new housing units, according to the Planning Department. Here’s how it compares to other SF neighborhoods in housing production:
The Outer Sunset, along with South Central and Ingleside, has the highest number of single-family homes in San Francisco. Together, these neighborhoods account for almost 46% of all single-family homes.
How bad is wealth inequality in San Francisco? Outer Sunset homeowners were so amped to oppose new housing that a fucking mediator had to be present so neighbors could revolt more peacefully. Apparently human beings living in tent encampments in one of America’s wealthiest cities is a less pressing concern than a building facade that doesn’t meet their aesthetic standards.
The Planning Department tracks how many new affordable housing units each neighborhood builds and defines a neighborhood’s “Housing Balance” as that number versus total new housing units built and units permanently withdrawn from rent control protection.
Over the past decade, the Outer Sunset has achieved the worst housing balance of all tracked neighborhoods:
Housing supply, both market-rate and affordable, is absolutely crucial to housing affordability. (The two need not be mutually exclusive.)
Local control is a regressive system that allows neighborhoods like the Outer Sunset to avoid their responsibility to build enough new housing to keep pace with population growth.
While community review sounds great in theory, in practice it’s the most inequitable way possible to decide where housing gets built. That’s because participation in community meetings requires flexible schedules and a large amount of free time and extra energy - which, like most things people want, rich, white homeowners have a lot more of than everyone else.
Community review is why the Mission, South Bayshore, Downtown, and Western Addition are getting all the subsidized housing housing, while the westside sees none. Community review privileges the preferences of people who already have the most privilege.
Until San Francisco changes they way we decide how and where housing can be built, everyone needs to show up to meetings in the neighborhoods that aren't carrying their weight and remind those residents that the housing crisis is everyone's problem - including theirs. And until San Francisco has enough homes for people who want to live in them, it's going to stay that way.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the developer asked Supervisor Tang to bring in a mediator. That was incorrect and we regret the error.
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