City Hall

City Hall: Gordon Mar

Our Vision for Affordable Housing

For decades, the Sunset District has lost more affordable housing than it has built. This isn’t just a statistic, it’s the stories of thousands of our neighbors being displaced, and many on the brink. I ran for supervisor because I want the Sunset to be affordable for working families and seniors, to be a place where our children can afford to live when they grow up. I promised to bring more affordable housing to our neighborhood, and I’m working to keep that promise.

Meanwhile, new state mandates mean San Francisco must plan for more housing, including on the west side. Updating of Plan Bay Area triggered by state housing production and greenhouse gas reduction mandates will require us to plan for an estimated 82,000 new housing units over the next eight years – more than double the number of units we planned for over the last eight years. 

We need to ensure our housing goals reflect the needs of our residents, and in San Francisco, that means prioritizing housing that is actually affordable to the people who live here. As a member of the Board of Supervisors and the Association of Bay Area Governments, I pushed to focus San Francisco’s allocation on our City’s actual housing needs by writing and passing a resolution calling for a focus on affordable housing and acknowledging that we have been exceeding our production goals for market rate housing mostly in the form of luxury condos. That’s why I wrote that resolution, why I commissioned the City’s first ever Jobs-Housing Fit Report, and why I authored legislation to require these reports going forward.

There is no question that more housing is in our future. The question is what we build, how, and for whom. 

That’s why we launched Sunset Forward, a community-driven process to craft a collective vision for a livable, diverse and thriving future in the Sunset District. If we don’t plan for our neighborhood’s future, private developers empowered by new state laws will do it for us. Through the participation of community members, Sunset Forward will create a community plan that sets local priorities on housing, transportation, and neighborhood businesses and services in District 4. And what should that vision be? To quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Our goal is to create a beloved community, and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”

We are in an affordable housing crisis, and on different levels, we all feel its impacts. In the Sunset, eight in 100 of us are living in poverty, and 36 in 100 of us are officially burdened by housing costs. If your child is in school, your child shares a classroom with a child who does not have the stability of an affordable home. 

The Sunset District has historically been a beacon for working- and middle-class families, an opportunity to thrive in a safe neighborhood with good schools, vibrant commercial corridors, and world-class parks and open spaces. 

For those of us who have lived here long enough, we’ve seen how the extreme housing affordability crisis is closing these opportunities. Beloved neighbors are being pushed out. Some longtime residents now sleep in their cars or in the streets. Our children are moving away. If we want to preserve the character of our neighborhood as a place families and essential workers can afford to live, we must expand affordable housing and create new strategies to protect and produce it.

In January, I introduced legislation to waive Building Code fees for homeowners who want to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), otherwise known as in-laws, on their property. I also worked with the Planning Department and community partner ASIAN, Inc. to launch the ADU Incentives Pilot Program, providing free technical assistance to District 4 homeowners. This gives our community an important tool to support housing needs and multi-generational living for families, whether it’s seniors who have mobility needs for a ground-floor ADU or adult children wanting to remain in the neighborhood where they grew up.

Accessory Dwelling Units can provide an income stream for homeowners, and more affordable housing options for tenants. Not only have they grown in popularity because of the severity of the housing affordability crisis, but they also give local governments a way to expand housing production relatively quickly, and without the price tag of large housing projects. Our bigger goal is to champion affordable ADUs for both homeowners and tenants through new financing tools and policy.

And we’ve moved to aggressively preserve affordable housing in the Sunset by securing our neighborhood’s first-ever Small Sites Program acquisition in late 2019, followed by our second acquisition last year. Through this program, the City supports nonprofit housing organizations to purchase buildings with tenants vulnerable to displacement, including many seniors. This removes them from the speculative market and converts them to permanently affordable housing. 

We’ve also focused on building new affordable housing, supporting Shirley Chisholm Village (formerly Francis Scott Key), the City’s first educator housing project. It will break ground at the Francis Scott Key Annex nearly a year sooner than previously anticipated, thanks to the passage of 2019’s Proposition E, which I co-sponsored. 

We’re also working hard on the Sunset’s first 100% affordable housing project for families at 2550 Irving St., which is just at the start of a robust process for community input. The announcement of this project has been met with support along with understandable concerns about impacts on immediate neighbors and building design. It’s also been met with some misinformation and disinformation that is both unreasonable and unacceptable. 

We welcome your input on this project, which is why we’re holding a series of community meetings. But let me be clear: I do not welcome the racist, classist and exclusionary idea that essential workers and their families, Black and brown people, or families who have experienced homelessness don’t belong in the Sunset. 

Poverty is not a crime, 100% affordable homes for families are not “slums,” and the greatest threat to our neighborhood character isn’t a building, it’s the hateful rhetoric that has been used by some to smear the families who would live in it. 

Our neighborhood character isn’t just about the height of our buildings. It’s also about our character, how we treat one another and whether we reach across divisions or inflame them. The idea that certain people should be excluded from our neighborhood isn’t a new one. Racial deed covenants and redlining made exclusion explicit in policies that determined who could live in the Sunset – those who were white, and had wealth – a racist and classist mark on our history that continued well into the 1940s, the impacts of which people are still experiencing today.

Right now, it takes winning an actual lottery to access an affordable housing unit in San Francisco. It is a process thousands of our neighbors know because Sunset residents submitted more than 5,000 applications for affordable housing placements last year alone. And any of our neighbors who win that lottery will still be displaced from our neighborhood because we haven’t built any affordable units here.

The 100% affordable housing project at 2550 Irving St. is one step toward changing that. Shirley Chisholm village is another. Expanding ADUs and the small sites acquisitions and Sunset Forward are more steps. 

Step by step, we must expand, protect, and invest in affordable housing in the Sunset. The alternative is exclusion and displacement, and we know that isn’t the character of our neighborhood. 

To get involved with the Sunset Forward planning process, go to sunsetforward.com. To learn more about the 2550 Irving St. project, go to 2550irving.com.

Gordon Mar represents District 4 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He can be reached at (415) 554-7460 or marstaff@sfgov.org.

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