Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
It’s a misguided idea that would only exacerbate the city’s housing and displacement crisis.
Members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors have proposed a moratorium on new private development in the Mission District—the historically lower-income Latino neighborhood that’s been ground zero in the city’s most recent housing and displacement crisis. It’s a bad idea, even if its heart is in the right place.
According to a 2014 report by the Mission Economic Development Agency, the number of Latinos living there fell by nearly a third between 2000 and 2013, a displacement that largely resulted from no-fault evictions.
Advocates of the moratorium, which could go up to a vote as soon as June 2, say that hitting pause on new, market-rate multi-family housing would give the city needed time to purchase land and develop plans for affordable public housing. If the moratorium gets enough support, it could be extended for up to two years.
“If things continue the way they are, the community, the neighborhood, will change to the point where it's no longer recognizable,” David Campos, the supervisor who introduced the proposal and who represents the Mission, told VICE. “For the city to have a fighting chance to be able to actually buy the limited amount of land that's left, a pause is needed.”
Campos and his supporters mean well: They want to stop the forced, mass exodus of long-time residents from the Mission and maintain the diversity the neighborhood is known for.
But they assume that new development is what’s been driving the displacement. In fact, the opposite might be true. This sets up a false, zero-sum relationship between “luxury” and “affordable” housing.
Over at Medium, Scott Wiener, also a member of the S.F. Board of Supervisors, has written a compelling explanation about how Campos’ proposal would only exacerbate the problems it’s trying to solve. Wiener addresses the notion that a surge in luxury housing has driven up rents in the District. In fact, compared to the rest of the city, the Mission has seen worryingly little development:
In 2014, a grand total of 75 new units were produced in the Mission, out of nearly 4,000 citywide — approximately 2% of San Francisco’s total housing production. Compare this to 1,193 in South of Market, 800 in Mission Bay, 188 in Hayes Valley, 164 in Potrero Hill, and 117 in Upper Market.
Logically, the better solution to the Mission’s displacement is to increase the housing supply there, not red-tape it. By moving forward with the moratorium, it’s not only “luxury” development that would come to a halt. Any development with less than 100 percent of units priced below market rate would be stopped, even projects where half the units are are meant for low or moderate incomes. Privately built projects are the most reliable source of affordable housing, argues Wiener, and without any new units coming from private developers, there’d be more pressure on the stock that exists, inevitably resulting in more evictions.
Already, other neighborhoods want in on the moratorium. Thursday, a group of residents in Bayview will rally for their representative to support the moratorium and propose a similar plan for their neighborhood, which has seen significantly more new development than the Mission.
San Francisco is experiencing a housing crisis, and letting things “continue the way they are,” as Campos says, isn’t good policy. But stopping development in its tracks to wait for the city to act isn’t either. What is? Better neighborhood planning, smarter permitting, and allowing existing homes to add secondary units are all part of the answer. The city has its work cut out. But more and more affordable housing can and does come out of new, private development.
As the economist and urbanist Ed Glaeser recently wrote, also in Medium, “Every time you say no to a new development, you are saying no to new families who want to live in the city. You are making sure that housing is more expensive for everyone else.”