Regional planners want to put 280,000 more people into San Francisco — and they admit that many current residents will have to leave
THE DISPLACEMENT PROBLEM
ABAG has gone to some lengths to identify what it calls "communities of concern." Those are areas, like Bayview Hunters Point, Chinatown, and the Mission, where existing low-income residents and small businesses face potential displacement. In San Francisco, those communities are, to a great extent, the same geographic areas that have been identified as PDAs.
And, the DEIR, notes, some degree of displacement is a significant impact that cannot be mitigated. In other words, the gentrification of San Francisco is just part of the plan.
In fact, the study notes, 36 percent of the communities of concern in high-growth areas will face displacement pressure because of the cost of housing. And that's region wide; the number in San Francisco will almost certainly be much, much higher.
Miriam Chion, ABAG's planning and research director, told me that displacement "is the core issue in this whole process." The agency, she said, is working with other stakeholders to try to address the concern that new development will drive out longtime residents. But she also agreed that there are limited tools available to local government.
The DEIR notes that ABAG and the MTC will seek to "bolster the plan's investment in the Transit Oriented Affordable Housing Fund and will seek to do a study of displacement. It also states: "In addition, this displacement risk could be mitigated in cities such as San Francisco with rent control and other tenant protections in place."
There isn't a tenant activist in this town who can read that sentence with a straight face.
The problem, as affordable housing advocate Peter Cohen puts it, is that "the state has mandated all this growth, but has taken away the tools we could use to mitigate it."
That's exactly what's happened in the past few decades. The state Legislature has outlawed the only effective anti-displacement laws local governments can enact — rent controls on vacant apartments, commercial rent control, and eviction protections that prevent landlords from taking rental units off the market to sell as condos. Oh, and the governor has also shut down redevelopment agencies, which were the only reliable source of affordable housing money in many cities.
Chion told me that the ABAG planners were discussing a list of anti-displacement options, and that changes in state legislation could be on that list. Given the power of the real-estate lobby in the state Capitol, ABAG will have to do more than suggest; there's no way this plan can work without changing state law.
Otherwise, eastern San Francisco is going to be devastated — particularly since the vast majority of all housing that gets built in the city, and that's likely to get built in the city, is too expensive for almost anyone in the communities of concern.
"This plan doesn't require affordable housing," Cindy Wu, vice-chair of the San Francisco Planning Commission, told me. "It's left to the private market, which doesn't build affordable housing or middle-class housing."
In fact, while there's plenty of discussion in the plan about where money can come from for transit projects, there's virtually no discussion of the billions and billions that will be needed to produce the level of affordable housing that everyone agrees will be needed.
Does anyone seriously think that developers can cram 90,000 new units — at least 85 percent of them, under current rules, high-cost apartments and condos that are well beyond the range of most current San Franciscans — into eastern neighborhoods without a real-estate boom that will displace thousands of existing residents?
Let's remember: Building more housing, even a lot more housing, won't necessarily bring down prices. The report makes clear that the job growth, and population boom that accompanies it, will fuel plenty of demand for all those new units.