Letter to the Editor: SB-50 Won’t Solve Housing Crisis

Please see the attached letter from Richmond District and Sunset residents (via two organizations, Richmond District Rising and D4ward) in response to Senate Bill 50, as it moves towards being heard in committee.

Senate Bill 50 will not solve the housing affordability crisis

By D4ward and Richmond District Rising

On January 6th, State Senator Scott Wiener revived Senate Bill 50 which was sidelined in committee last year. His recently revised bill has been hailed by some as “California’s model for addressing the urban housing crisis” by proposing housing development incentives in “jobs-rich” and “transit-rich” areas. But will this “model” provide affordable housing that the state so desperately needs?

Our organizations, based in the Sunset (D4ward) and Richmond (Richmond District Rising) neighborhoods of San Francisco, support the production of more housing in our community that is affordable, ensures stability for existing residents and maintains diversity in our neighborhoods. We stand in opposition to SB-50 because this bill takes away agency from communities to consider local needs in planning and shaping how neighborhoods develop. Instead, SB-50 gives the real estate industry control over development which will result in the growth of luxury housing for the wealthy, increased gentrification and increased market-rate housing prices that will result in the displacement of working families, communities of color and other vulnerable communities.

Relying on For Profit Developers

Depending on for-profit developers will not make housing more affordable, no matter how many units are enabled by new legislation like SB-50. San Francisco already has more than 70,000 units of housing either under construction or approved to be built. Yet the cost of housing continues to get more expensive, not more affordable. Why is this happening, not only in San Francisco, but statewide? A recent New York Times article revealed that new housing construction is designed to cater to high-income households, focusing on luxury high rises based on speculation that tech will continue to lead to increasing wealth.

The Business Times reports, “Given the phenomenal wealth created in Bay Area real estate, any sign of slowing home-price appreciation raises concern.” Market rate developers and the banking industry are not in the business of creating supply so that housing prices will fall – at least not to the levels that working class professionals like teachers and even tech workers can afford, and especially not that seniors or others who aren’t employed can afford. Developers and bankers are in the business of making profit, not building affordable housing.

Sensitive Communities and Environmental Concerns

As wealth increases in California, driven by some of the most profitable and well-capitalized companies in the world, those who are not benefitting from this wealth are being displaced. SB-50 appears to acknowledge that speculative housing development causes displacement, so it allows “sensitive communities” some time to plan how they will deal with the impacts of SB-50 prior to implementation. The problem is, as long as the Ellis Act (which allows landlords to evict all tenants regardless of other renter protections because the landlord elects to shut the building down) and the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act (which limits the ability to have real rent control) stand in the way of more comprehensive tenant protections, and as long as there are no new resources for building housing that is truly affordable, sensitive communities have very little to work with. Instead, we will see more luxury housing built near transit while people with lower incomes continue to get displaced to the suburbs or out of state, leaving families split apart and local small businesses also feeling the impact.

Our neighborhoods, including those on the west side of San Francisco, are already becoming more densely populated, as people are increasingly living in roommate and subtenant arrangements, or are crowding into in-law units. You don’t need shiny new condo towers to have increased density. People are increasingly living in roommate and subtenant situations or are crowding into in-law units. We feel it when we push onto the already overcrowded Muni buses and light rail trains. Pushing out current residents in favor of a few wealthy residents doesn’t seem to make sense from either an economic or an environmental perspective.

What Should Our State Legislators Do?

1) Repeal the Ellis Act – if a landlord doesn’t want to operate an apartment building, they can sell the building. The threat of eviction shouldn’t be hanging over every tenant in the state.

2) Repeal Costa-Hawkins. As wages increase, landlords just raise the rent. It’s just another form of wage theft. We need real statewide rent control with a network of enforcement, and local jurisdictions should be able to fine-tune their rent control programs to meet the particular circumstances of their local areas. AB-1482 isn’t the answer as it has too many exceptions, lacks enforcement and doesn’t give local jurisdictions enough latitude to customize.

3) Prioritize state resources to be available for cities and counties to be able to purchase land for affordable housing development and also fund its construction. Stop selling off public land to for-profit developers.

4) Explore the possibility of large scale tax reform to simplify our system of taxes, reduce inequality and provide increased funding for transportation infrastructure and affordable housing.

Let’s make sure we’re building the units we need to sustain economic opportunity for everyone. Let’s not buy into the “trickle down” theory that increasing the supply of luxury housing will solve the affordability problem. It’s time to scrap SB-50 and work on legislative solutions that will create greater equity, stability and affordability.

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