Housing reform, now

We can't accept a plan that relies only on the market to produce and fund some affordable housing
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OPINION The Board of Supervisors is poised to vote on a crucial charter amendment to set aside more than $30 million per year for new housing. Since the mayor is talking about a huge budget crisis and a lot of people may complain that more funding for affordable housing will make the flow of red ink worse, it's important to understand what this issue is all about.

While many of us are aware of the exodus of working-class people, most San Franciscans are unaware that the city is in the final stages of the largest rezoning effort of the past 50 years. The Eastern Neighborhoods plans will set new land-use rules for the Mission District, eastern SoMa, Potrero, the Central Waterfront, and parts of Bayview.

Those areas are going to be opened up to vast new developments, including as many as 20,000 new housing units and tens of thousands of square feet of new commercial development. I can think of no greater opportunity — nor any greater potential disaster — than the Eastern Neighborhoods rezoning effort.

Opening up the Eastern Neighborhoods for new housing without a commitment from the city to provide more resources for affordable units will guarantee that the new neighborhoods will exclude working-class residents and exacerbate the affordable-housing crisis in San Francisco for years to come.

In the Mission and many other districts, despite the cry for more affordable housing, the city has not prioritized housing for working-class San Franciscans. We hear a lot of talk from city hall, but in reality most of the new housing that gets built is far too expensive for most residents. This is a huge crisis — and the charter amendment will finally give affordable housing its rightful attention from the city.

We can't accept a plan that relies only on the market to produce and fund some affordable housing. We've seen what that means: for more than seven years, while the community has waited for the Eastern Neighborhoods plans to be completed, housing for the wealthy has been built and housing for everyone else has been an afterthought. The Board of Supervisors has set an ambitious goal — 60 percent of all new housing should be below market rate — but the Planning Department and the Mayor's Office of Housing have failed to produce a comprehensive strategy to meet that target.

So despite the budget crisis, the timing of the Affordable Housing Charter Amendment could not be any better. A measure that designates a significant amount of money every year for housing for working-class San Franciscans can finally bring accountability and a commitment from the city to build and retain affordable housing and plan for inclusive new neighborhoods.

We can't sit idly by while the disparities widen between rich and poor, whites and people of color — or we will wake up 15 years from now and see the result, the continued exodus of working-class families and other lower-income communities. San Francisco is the only city I know of whose Latino population is stagnant and whose African American population is declining. The time to act is now. The Board of Supervisors should approve the Affordable Housing Charter Amendment, making it one of the key issues in 2008 for San Franciscan progressives.

Eric Quezada

Eric Quezada is the executive director of Dolores Street Community Services and a candidate for District 9 supervisor.

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