The next big fight

Supervisors seek to prioritize affordable housing in the eastern neighborhoods
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steve@sfbg.com
San Francisco's eastern neighborhoods — the Mission District, Potrero Hill, Showplace Square, Dogpatch, the Central Waterfront, and SoMa — are shaping up to be a prime battleground in the fight over who will determine the city's future.
Can city officials, working with community groups, set development standards that will create adequate housing for all income groups, protect the job-generating businesses that use light-industrial property, and include enough open space and other community benefits? Or will the community have to, for the most part, simply accept what the market forces are willing to provide?
This is the basic dichotomy at the heart of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, which has been in development for years and will be unveiled by the Planning Department sometime in 2007. In anticipation of that release, members of the Board of Supervisors are attempting a preemptive strike in the form of a resolution demanding the plan prioritize affordable housing and other public needs.
The 11-page resolution — which was sponsored by Supervisors Sophie Maxwell, Jake McGoldrick, Aaron Peskin, and Tom Ammiano — restates policies from the city's General Plan, particularly its Housing Element, and emphasizes the need for the Planning Department to ensure those policies are reflected in land-use decisions for the eastern neighborhoods.
The problem is that the city isn't meeting its goals, particularly in the realm of affordable housing. The resolution notes that the Housing Element calls for 28 percent of new housing to be affordable to people with moderate incomes, 10 percent affordable to low-income residents, and 26 percent affordable to those with very low incomes.
Yet the city's inclusionary housing law calls for developers to offer only 15 percent of their units below market rate, and a study associated with that law's recent update indicates most developers won't build if asked to contribute more (see "Homes for Whom," 6/18/06, at www.sfbg.com). The vast majority of what's now being built isn't affordable to even middle-class San Franciscans — a far cry from the 64 percent of such housing called for in city policies.
"We do not have a housing crisis in San Francisco," Maxwell declared during a Dec. 12 hearing on the resolution. "We have an affordable housing crisis."
Most of the progressives who constitute the board majority agree with Maxwell's statement, which has been made before by housing activist Calvin Welch and some of the community groups pushing the resolution. They all want the eastern neighborhoods, where a disproportionate number of low-income San Franciscans live, to be where the city begins to correct its housing imbalance.
"We need land specifically set aside for affordable housing, and the best place to do that is in the eastern neighborhoods," Maxwell said at the meeting. "Let's make this official city policy."
Or as McGoldrick told the Guardian, "What we're talking about here is a paradigm shift of major proportions." He sees the eastern neighborhoods as the ideal place to create and protect working-class housing with aggressive affordability goals, and he said, "Those developers who can't meet those goals will have to build in other parts of the city."
But real estate speculators and developers who have spent years waiting to move forward their projects in the neighborhoods have attacked the resolution and its goals. The stakes are extremely high.