Newsom's problem with affordable housing

The fact that Newsom has paid no political price for his continuous opposition is stunning

OPINION No mayor in modern San Francisco history has opposed more affordable-housing initiatives than Gavin Newsom. It's time to make him pay the political price.

Newsom is the primary foe of Proposition B, which would create an affordable-housing fund in the city's budget. At a time when fewer than 1 in 10 San Franciscans can afford the cost of a median-priced home and some 40 percent of all tenants spend 50 percent or more of their income on rent, the mayor's position is a civic tragedy.

There's currently only about $3 million permanently budgeted to affordable housing in the city's $6 billion budget. Proposition B would increase that to about $30 million. Half of the funds would go to the construction of homes of two bedrooms or more for families with dependents, and 40 percent would be earmarked for homes affordable to people earning $18,000 a year or less (including seniors, people with AIDS, people at risk of homelessness, and our neighbors with other special needs).

The measure is supported by the Democratic Party, the Labor Council, the Sierra Club, and more than 50 other neighborhood, community, and environmental organizations.

Newsom's opposition to Prop. B has to be placed in the context of his opposition to every major affordable-housing initiative proposed by either the Board of Supervisors or neighborhood residents over the past five years. Newsom and his administration opposed affordable-housing mandates for the Hunters Point Shipyard, proposals to increase affordable-housing fees for market-rate developers in the Market/Octavia Plan area, and increased affordable-housing fees for developers of the high-rise luxury condos at Rincon Hill. And, in a stunning display of arrogance and indifference, he refused to allocate some $30 million appropriated for affordable housing by the Board of Supervisors last year — and then held a campaign-style rally in support of that refusal, arguing that the city already spent enough on affordable housing!

Last month, Newsom's Planning Commission passed on to the Board of Supervisors an Eastern Neighborhood Plan under which less than a quarter of the new units would be affordable to anyone earning less than $120,000. The city's own General Plan says San Francisco needs nearly two-thirds of all new units to be affordable if the city is to house its own workforce — a key requirement in any green, "smart growth" development policy of the type the mayor says he favors.

Newsom claims his opposition to Prop. B stems from his concern about set-asides in the budget. Yet Newsom, as mayor and supervisor, has supported every other set-aside placed on the ballot. It's just affordable housing that he opposes — even though Prop. B, which sunsets after 15 years, would account for less than 2 percent of the budget over that period and would leave some $47 billion in discretionary funds on the table.

The fact that Newsom has paid no political price for his continuous opposition to affordable housing is stunning. It's time to change that — pass Proposition B with a resounding yes vote this November.

Calvin Welch is a member of the campaign for San Francisco Housing Fund — Yes on B and a longtime affordable-housing advocate.