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The Mystery of SF's New Housing Element 2022 Update

•••••••••• February 23, 2023 ••••••••••

It's hard to know how seriously to take the new SF Housing Element. In the past, goals were set, goals that were routinely not met. This Element is supposed to be not a goal but a promise. Moreover, the State is said to be determined that it be taken seriously. Yet in this 21st Century, what is a “promise?” Is trying enough? Suppose the housing market doesn't cooperate?

We may not know how seriously to take the document, but surely the radical progressives have scored a victory of words. The document, adopted–unanimously by BOS and the mayor–is full of strong language and culpabilities. SF is to repair and reform. Inclusive communities are to be fostered by an Element centered on racial and social equity. It funds eviction defense. The Element promises to provide an abundance of permanent affordable housing, which will require a substantial increase in public funding. It doesn't just double down on past housing goals; it triple downs, promising radical change.

The Element goes right after the “Well-resourced Neighborhoods.” (Ready the bulldozer, here we come!)

“Well-resourced Neighborhoods” are guilty of plenty, explains the new Element. Racism, greed, selfishness–if you've only done well for you and your family, it's time to recognize your many sins and reform.

Nor does the new Element aim just to provide tens of thousands of low-income housing (one-quarter to half in Well-resourced Neighborhoods). It aims to build inter-generational wealth for the oppressed. It spends in poorer neighborhoods as well as building out and fully integrating Well-resourced Neighborhoods.

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Won't the City just do as it should, as it promises? Good luck with that. With this new Housing Element, it undertakes to do an awful lot. It is to rezone, focusing on adding low and moderate-income housing opportunities in Well-resourced Neighborhoods, including 100% affordable subsidized housing. To date, demolition of single-family housing has been avoided, but this Element considers future avoidance as prohibitive to promises of this Element.”

Housing is declared a “right” in this Element.

Housing as a right may lead to a lawsuit against the City. We've seen this movie before. There are two friendly parties who pretend to be adverse in court. They come to a “settlement,” and a local judge blesses it. Now the City and its Family have “no choice”: it's got to comply with the court-ordered settlement.

Housing is a Human Right

It's not yet established that the right to housing is a personal one. But one can imagine the advocates picking an ideal (best possible) plaintiff, then suing to establish the right as personal. Once established, that plaintiff will be entitled to monetary damages for denial of her right to housing. The suit will establish that the City failed to fulfill its responsibility to her to offer and provide adequate affordable housing, as promised. Then housing advocates will use the test case as precedent for more. There's certainly an abundance of ammo for a lawsuit in the new Housing Element.

Won't the City just do as it should, as it promises? Good luck with that. With this new Housing Element, it undertakes to do an awful lot. It is to rezone, focusing on adding low and moderate-income housing opportunities in Well-resourced Neighborhoods, including 100% affordable subsidized housing. To date, demolition of single-family housing has been avoided, but this Element considers future avoidance as prohibitive to promises of this Element. The most vulnerable are a special concern going forward. A very high bar is set.

Nor is funding likely to be a valid excuse, for the new Housing Element acknowledges that a substantial increase in public funding is required. The whole Board of Supervisors and Mayor signed on while knowing that hard financial times are coming at the City like a freight train.

Where all this goes is anyone's guess. But just out of the blocks it looks like the race is seriously on. The mayor has issued an Executive Order requiring many departments to sign on and promise their part. She's imagined committees and regular meetings and reports. She's got a well-publicized Housing for All plan.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the new Housing Element is: where are the Chinese? They've gone missing! The document leaves no doubt about the culpability of whites and the corresponding oppression and entitlement of American Indian and Black residents of SF, oh, Latin(o)(ex), Japanese, and Filipino communities, too. But it's as if there is no Chinese community in SF. Is it that this community is inconvenient because it owns plenty of property in SF despite being the past victim of discrimination?

Should this new Housing Element come to pass as written, SF is in for lots of change, along with much construction, disruption, expense, and, undoubtedly, controversy. In less than a decade, much of SF housing will be subsidized housing.

So, what to think of the new Housing Element 2022 (sic) Update? Is it just a piece of performance theater? Obligatory? Or is real change coming? One Supe (Engardio) has smartly gotten out front: he wants Dom-i-Cities (five-story multi-family housing) dotting the Westside neighborhoods to create a city like Paris.

Only time will tell how this radical plan plays out.

(The new Housing Element 2022 Update calls for 82,069 new units to be built during the eight years from now until the end of 2030. Of that, 40% are to be for extremely low, very low, or low-income households, with an additional nearly 17% for moderate incomes. For middle-income: the City will “support” private investment.)

Steve Lawrence is a Westside resident and SF Public Utility Commission stalwart. Feedback: lawrence@westsideobserver.com

January 26, 2023

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