EDITORIAL Another flurry of public concern over rising rents in San Francisco — driven by one-bedroom apartments listed for almost $4,000, a well-attended forum on gentrification in the Mission, fresh residential and commercial evictions, and a poll showing 63 percent think the city is building too much luxury housing — has been ignited. And once again, it's falling on deaf ears at City Hall.
Working class residents, small businesses, and nonprofits are being driven out of San Francisco, unable to keep up in a city that increasingly caters to chain stores, wealthy residents, and tourists (both vacationers and conventioneers).
When Mayor Ed Lee and kindred politicians, who have fueled the rising rents with tax breaks and pro-landlord policies, are asked about the problem, they mouth stale rhetoric about job creation, change the subject (gee, we now have bike share!), or cite far-off and insufficient solutions like the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
San Francisco's landlords are doing great — despite the sob stories published recently by tone-deaf local media outlets such as San Francisco Magazine — and they've actually been emboldened to start attacking rent control as somehow hurting renters, threatening the last lifeline of diversity in the city.
The whole debate has gotten so surreal that it would be funny if it weren't so serious. The future of San Francisco is at stake, yet nobody at City Hall with any clout seems to be taking it seriously. So here are a few places where our policymakers could start:
- End corporate welfare. Twitter is valued at $1 billion as it prepares its initial public stock offering, so it doesn't need a $22 million multi-year tax break from city taxpayers. In 2012, city tax breaks nearly quadrupled, reaching $14.2 million (and that's not even counting the $2 million annually that Airbnb is simply refusing to pay). Enough! We need that money more than Wall Street does.
- Hold developers accountable. Lennar Urban has been sitting on public land in southeast San Francisco for a decade while housing officials just let it slide. Lennar should front-load affordable housing or lose its land. Threaten a citywide moratorium on all market-rate housing permits until more low-income units come online and watch what happens. And protect existing rent control apartments from illegal subletting.
- Stand with people, not capital. Put the clout of San Francisco behind Richmond's threat to buy underwater mortgages, using eminent domain if necessary, as Sup. David Campos proposed. Mayor Lee's Housing Authority "reforms" should cater to residents rather than developers. Push for state-level reforms like pro-tenant changes to the Ellis Act, a Prop. 13 split role, and the right to control commercial rents and vacancies.
It's time to change the conversation.