Scott Wiener Press Conference SB 50

State Senator Scott Wiener and African American leaders denouncing Michael Weinstein's attacks on housing bill SB 50.

Former journalist Walter Thompson didn’t pull any punches about the fliers that showed up in his mailbox. “This bullshit mailer panders to white progressives by invoking James Baldwin’s moral outrage,” Thompson tweeted. “But I doubt most recipients will have more than a passing familiarity with his work.”

The flier uses a quote from celebrated civil rights writer and activist James Baldwin to oppose Senate Bill 50, calling it "a handout to greedy developers" that will "make our affordability crisis even worse." 

Thompson has written extensive histories of SF urban renewal. When he says the flyer makes a false equivalence and demeans that history, he knows what he’s talking about.

SB 50, aka the More HOMES Act, legalizes multi-family housing (apartments) around transit and in jobs-rich areas. And it will permit four-plexes by-right in all of California. In a recent poll the majority of Californians said they support SB 50.

The New York Times Editorial Board recently wrote in favor of the bill, pointing out that the housing crisis causes gentrification and exacerbates climate change and income inequality. SB 50 upzones wealthy cities like Palo Alto which currently only permit single-family homes to be built. Recent research from the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research and Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia shows building new homes does not cause rents to increase in neighborhoods experiencing late-stage gentrification. A new paper from the Upjohn Institute found that new homes cause average rents to drop.

In fact, the vast majority of empirical evidence indicates that building more homes reduces the increase in average rents. Evidence is scant that building more homes exacerbates gentrification. Vast troves of data show that building too few homes causes gentrification.

“African-Americans comprise less than 6% of the city’s population, and most live in areas that are ALREADY BEING GENTRIFIED,” Thompson wrote. These areas won’t be impacted by SB 50. It disproportionately impacts wealthier, single-family neighborhoods.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said “SB 50 is about tackling our housing crisis, plain and simple. It has nothing to do with urban renewal, and suggesting it does is deeply offensive to communities like mine that are still living with the consequences.”

Stockton’s Mayor, who is also black, along with majority-minority Oakland and East Palo Alto all support SB 50.

Thompson is hardly alone in opposing the fliers.

"To think that someone would be that unprincipled to prey upon the pain of black people,” SF black community leader and former SF supervisor Reverend Amos Brown told SFist of the ad campaign. “As if we don't know how to think and we don't know our history and we’re gullible, that's offensive. So I hope that the fair-minded, thinking people of San Francisco and this region will rise up and show whoever is behind this, that you don't deserve being heard at all."

San Francisco NAACP President Reverend Amos Brown recently joined Senator Wiener along with African American community leaders and HIV advocates to discuss the ads which Brown described as “racist.” 

“We don’t need anyone to pimp the African American’s pain for petty political gain,” Brown said, calling the ad campaign “an insult to the African American community.”

Jacqueline Flin, Executive Director of the A Philip Randolph Institute, spoke next. “Our community will not be fooled by painful, race-baiting tactics,” Flin said. “We stand together with Scott Wiener and the people’s mayor London Breed with a clear message, that we reject these tactics, that use our black faces and black history to manipulate the truth. The truth is, SB 50 makes it possible to build more housing exactly where we need it, near transit hubs and where job opportunities are.” 

The Bay Area Reporter Editorial Board also expressed disdain for the ad campaign.

The ads are funded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is the nation’s largest HIV/AIDS chain pharmacy and insurance company. And, according to the New York Times, the “most controversial.”

AHF’s revenue comes from selling HIV drugs at market prices to some 41,000 patients in the US—drugs the nonprofit acquires at wholesale discounts. These drugs can cost $3,000 per month, per patient, generating $1.3 billion per year. Donors make up about $1 million of their budget.

Much of the revenue AHF takes in, mostly from government programs like Medicaid, is spent on petty politics. In 2017 AHF sued to stop two low-income residential towers next to its LA headquarters. They didn’t even try to hide it: AHF CEO Michael Weinstein told public affairs consultant Steve Afriat that the 731-unit Palladium Residences project would block his views of the Hollywood Hills.

Weinstein is no stranger to controversy. He’s been accused of union-busting, giving patients kickbacks, and Medicaid overbilling. But perhaps his most problematic stance is his opposition to PrEP, a drug that nearly eliminates the chance of acquiring HIV when taken daily. He is alone in this stance among AIDS activists and public-health researchers.

“For those who aren’t as familiar with HIV drugs and Weinstein, imagine someone who slut-shames women who have sex with men for taking the birth control pill, calling it a “party drug,” then builds a $2 billion empire off chain abortion clinics,” Wiener’s policy aide Annie Fryman tweeted.

Weinstein spends a lot of money to mislead people about PrEP. Now he’s set his sights on California’s housing supply.

Last year, AHF funded the “Coalition to Preserve LA,” to advocate for Measure S to limit housing construction. Part of the $4.6 million AHF spent went to mailing fake eviction notices to LA voters. They frightened many low-income residents and led the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to send a cease-and-desist letter.

Today, AHF funds “Housing Is a Human Right,” a nonprofit with a nice-enough name, and shares a lobbyist with the blatantly segregationist group Livable California, both of which oppose SB 50.

Senator Scott Wiener, SB 50’s author, recently wrote in an email that “AHF and Weinstein are now effectively California’s NIMBY-In-Chief.”

“As someone whose community has been so deeply impacted by HIV, I’m deeply offended by how they misuse HIV healthcare dollars,” Wiener, who is gay, recently said of AHF.

This isn’t Wiener’s first run-in with Weinstein. In 2014 Weinstein attempted to open a new pharmacy in the Castro without applying for a conditional use permit for consideration by the Planning Department and community members. Wiener, then serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors enforced Planning Commission rules. Weinstein sued Wiener and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars funding his opponents’ campaigns.

If the AIDS Healthcare Foundation truly believes that Housing is a Human Right, they’re not doing a very good job of advocating for it. 

A recent report from UC Berkeley's Terner Center and Urban Displacement Project takes a close look at local market conditions in four case study neighborhood to predict what would likely happen if SB 50 passes.

One prediction is that SB 50 will result in more homes in wealthier neighborhoods than poorer neighborhoods because their lots near transit are larger and less utilized, offering developers the opportunity to build more homes. 

While displacement is a real concern, evidence indicates that building more housing isn’t associated with displacement through eviction. The most significant risk factor for displacement is poverty. Rising rents also hurt renters, which happen when demand outstrips supply for homes.

The Urban Displacement Project found that SB 50 is likely to ease displacement. It will cause a four-fold increase in new housing and a five-fold increase in units of affordable housing. Not only that, but more of those new homes will be built in wealthy neighborhoods than without SB 50.

Not only that, but concessions to ease displacement often end up favoring richer communities. For example, pushback from opponents led to changes that mean SB 50 now exempts famously NIMBY and wealthy Marin County from upzoning.

The California State Senate Governance and Finance Committee recently voted five to zero to move SB 50 out of committee. There is absolutely no credible reason to believe SB 50 could possibly exacerbate California’s affordability crisis. All the available evidence suggests SB 50 will ease displacement, lower average rents, shift the burden for building from poor to rich neighborhoods, and increase the production of affordable housing, reduce carbon emissions, shorten commutes, and ease income inequality. Let’s hope for the future of California that it passes.

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