OPINION San Francisco used to be an eclectic city, filled with working class folks, people of color, lots of artists, and families. But that’s changed dramatically. The black population has dismally plummeted, to 6.3 percent, according to the most recent census. Families of color are streaming out, expensive condos and sky-high rentals are shooting up, and the unique mix that once was the city and made it such a diverse and culturally rich place to live and thrive is changing.
Three years ago, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom decided that private developers in San Francisco needed a local stimulus boost. The housing bubble had burst and taken the economy down with it, but Newsom wanted to ensure that private development in the city continued. So he proposed that private developers be allowed to defer paying the neighborhood impact fees on their projects, thus delaying funding for safety-net programs that help existing residents of working class neighborhoods fight displacement.
His proposal passed in 2010, and since then the Eastern Neighborhoods, SoMa, and the Octavia/Market Area have seen an upswing in private development projects coupled with rising eviction rates and housing costs, while affordable housing throughout the city becomes harder and harder to find. Because neighborhood impact fees were deferred services that would help vulnerable populations were underfunded by a total of almost $53.5 million — in 2011-2012 alone.
That lost money impacted affordable housing construction, affordable child care, development of parks and other types of open spaces, infrastructure and pedestrian-safety measures, neighborhood schools and libraries, and eviction prevention services.
Meanwhile, out-of-town private development companies are set to make millions of dollars building high-end rental units and luxury condominiums that the average San Franciscan can’t afford.
Given that private market-rate residential development in San Francisco is speeding up regardless of displacement dangers, it’s even more necessary today to strengthen and sharpen the tools our neighborhoods have for fighting displacement.
A longstanding question for San Francisco has been how to keep it from becoming a place where only the very wealthy can afford to live while the rest of us have to commute in to the city that we work in and love. Now as we field off another local housing boom fueled by speculation, we are faced again with needing to ensure that we prioritize San Franciscans over profit.
That’s why tenant groups, affordable housing advocates, and San Franciscans fighting for the right to stay in their city will be urging the Planning Commission to end the fee deferrals. The Planning Department staff has studied the issue and recommends that the Newsom program be allowed to expire; that would bring back the funds needed to invest in the vitality and vibrancy of our neighborhoods.
Come join us in helping get San Francisco’s priorities back on track at the Planning Commission meeting Thursday June 13th at 12pm in room 200 of City Hall. Private development is not worth more than the well being of working class communities, immigrants, families, LGBTQ, and tenant communities.
Maria Zamudio is a housing rights organizer for Causa Justa: Just Cause