Newsom's huge housing failure

If officials keep it up, the city will continue to get richer, whiter, and more boring

EDITORIAL The single biggest issue facing San Francisco today is affordable housing. Nothing else even comes close. Housing costs are displacing, at a rapid pace, the people who make San Francisco such a great city — artists, writers, musicians, small-business owners and employees, families with kids, blue-collar workers, municipal workers, service-sector workers ... basically, anyone who isn't rich. And the vast majority of the new housing that's getting built is selling at such high prices that it does nothing to help the situation.

That's why it was crazy for Mayor Gavin Newsom to refuse to sign a modest $28 million affordable-housing allocation — and why the supervisors need to pursue this, push back, demand that the money be spent, and make it clear that Newsom's budget proposals will be in trouble if it isn't.

And this veto ought to be a huge issue in the mayor's race.

It's also why progressives need to start thinking big about how to address the housing crisis.

Let's start with a simple fact: Newsom has done next to nothing for affordable housing in this city. All the important initiatives have come out of the Board of Supervisors and the nonprofits. He's been willing to let private for-profit developers get away with giving the city only a pittance of affordable units in exchange for immensely valuable project approvals; only because the supervisors forced the issue has the city increased the inclusionary housing requirement. And it's still way too little.

In fact, linking all affordable-housing money to market-rate projects is a losing game for San Francisco. Even if the city forced developers to make half of their new units affordable, that wouldn't meet the current need as laid out in the city's own documents. San Francisco's General Plan states that two-thirds of all new housing built in this town needs to be below market rate.

Every time the city approves a major new project that's (at best) 20 percent affordable, that ratio gets worse. If city officials keep approving projects with small set-asides, the city will continue to get richer, whiter, and more boring; the end game — a city population inching close to 80 percent millionaires — isn't something anyone should consider acceptable.

The allocation Sup. Chris Daly proposed wouldn't put more than a dent in the problem. But it would be money coming from the city's General Fund, not money tied to more luxury condos — and that's an important step. It reflects how the city needs to be thinking over the next few years.

Redevelopment money has funded affordable housing in the past, but much of that will run out soon. Finding other sources for the hundreds of millions of dollars San Francisco needs every year to even begin to keep pace with the need has to be a top priority — and Newsom and his opponent (and we're convinced there has to be and will be a serious opponent) need to tell us where that money's going to come from.

Meanwhile, San Francisco activists need to start looking at long-term planning priorities for housing that include some tight limits on how many new market-rate units can be built. Combining a cap on luxury condos and a new source of affordable-housing money can change the entire development equation in San Francisco.

And if Newsom won't go along, then the supervisors need to make very clear that his budget is dead on arrival. *