chroniclers of this city’s housing crisis, last Thursday was
crammed with drama worthy of an opera or at least a mini-series.
The action began at the weekly meeting of the
Planning Commission. Their curiosity and conscience piqued by a
recent Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition presentation, the
commissioners had called for enlightenment in the form of "an
informational presentation on the Residence Element of the General
Plan’s approach to assessing housing need, the relationship
between job growth and housing need, and the status of the current
Office Affordable Housing Production Program (OAHPP) and how it is
addressing this housing need." Heavy stuff.
Enter Amit Ghosh, of the Planning Department,
armed with graphs and statistics profiling projected changes in
population, jobs, and housing stock over the next 20 years. He was
there, he said, to explain a process: the state requires San
Francisco to revise its General Plan by the end of the year to meet
changing conditions in the city. According to Association of Bay
Area Governments estimates, San Francisco will host slightly more
than 100,000 new jobs over the next 20 years. Because of coordinated
regional transit patterns, most new employees will reside outside
the city; only about 16,000 new households will actually need
shelter within its borders. To meet this increase, ABAG proposes
that San Francisco build 2,716 units annually over the next six
years. The fees paid by developers under OAHPP will serve as seed
money to build 36 percent of these projects for low- or
Imagine the thoughts in the commissioners’ heads
as Ghosh spoke. Why on earth had their last meeting been disrupted
by angry MAC representatives?
There was an aside, almost casually thrown out. In
fact, Ghosh said, San Francisco’s housing need is greater than
these figures suggest because of the unique characteristics of its
population: the "affordability gap," the large number of
homeless and disabled people. It’s a matter of housing policy
rather than a part of the Residence Element of the General Plan.
Not, he implied, his bailiwick. He deferred to Marcia Rosen of the
Mayor’s Office of Housing.
The commissioners stared. "Who should we be
working with?" asked acting chair Beverly Mills.
Rosen added consternation to confusion. She
pleaded for better coordination and communication among agencies. No
one in the Planning Department had told her she might be asked to
make a presentation; no one in the Planning Department even told her
office how much money was in the city’s coffers to build
She outlined the city’s situation as she saw it:
we need more than 50,000 new units — right now. "While we
work to find affordable housing, other land-use policies are raising
prices. We need to base our planning on the existing population, not
on anticipated growth."
Meanwhile, across town, a similar confrontation
was being played out on the streets of San Francisco. Inside the old
armory at Mission and 14th, Eikon and its new dot.com
tenants were throwing a party to celebrate the city’s imminent
approval of their conversion project. On the wide sidewalk outside,
the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition had organized a party of its
own, to urge the Planning Department and the Planning Commission
"to look at more than the architectural or physical
environmental impacts. If they are doing their jobs, and adhering to
the planning code, they need to look at the preservation of the
existing neighborhood's residential and commercial character."
In the air around the building, the lilt of lively music mingled
with the rumble of a bullhorn. ■