On Guard: Supervisor Wiener’s Mission moratorium opposition lacks alternative plan 

Build, build, build. Supply and demand. It’s simple economics, people!

That’s the (overly simplistic) argument made by pro-development groups in San Francisco to solve our rental crisis. It’s also the argument made by Supervisor Scott Wiener, chief opponent of Supervisor David Campos’ Mission housing moratorium.

The plan goes before the Board of Supervisors for a contentious vote Tuesday, and the meeting will undoubtedly be an hours-long affair.

The moratorium would halt housing production in a portion of the Mission unless it’s 100 percent below market rate. It would last for at least 45 days, but up to two years, in order to give city government time to formulate a plan to address the neighborhood’s housing needs.

Wiener is arguing against the moratorium, even as Mission residents plead for housing relief. That’s fine, but what he has yet to do is offer an alternative approach.

Wiener has said The City needs to build, but Mayor Ed Lee is already doing that. Building more housing might in five to 10 years help flatten out rental prices, but how many low- to moderate-income residents — in the Mission or elsewhere — will be displaced while everyone waits?

Some 8,000 Latinos left the Mission in the past 10 years. And that’s out of the Mission’s general population of 56,873, according to the 2013 American Community Survey. How many more will leave in the next five? We need short-term solutions as much, or more, than long-term ones.

Importantly, the moratorium is only one tool in the box.

Everyone is arguing the merits of the tool, but no one is focused on its main objective: Purchasing 13 available parcels on which The City can develop below-market-rate housing.

This is big. When Campos first floated the idea of the moratorium on May 4, 18 parcels were identified as available. Since then, four were bought, one was pulled from the market and none were purchased by The City, which just couldn’t move fast enough.

Wiener even agrees, somewhat.

“The City needs to start acquiring sites in general,” Wiener said. “I had a deep, deep frustration for a long time that The City has not moved quickly enough to purchase sites.”

He then pointed out how San Francisco can change its ways.

“We have the funds,” he said. “The affordable housing trust fund is generating $50 million a year, in addition to funds from the inclusionary housing program.” If Campos wants the moratorium so The City can purchase the sites to build below-market-rate housing, and Wiener supports such purchases, then what’s Wiener’s plan?

“I don’t know enough about the details of those sites,” he said.

That’s odd, since a recent city budget analyst report offered all of those details. What we do know is that Wiener supports land acquisitions for below-market-rate housing, in the Mission and the Castro, which he represents. “Absolutely I would support that,” Wiener said.

What’s funny about this debate is that Wiener, Campos, and their allies and enemies all want the same thing: more housing. It’s just that word “moratorium” that’s getting in the way.

If Wiener, Lee and their conservative democrat supporters can figure out a way for The City to buy those housing sites in the Mission before some private developer, then make a concrete promise to do so — and quick, before it’s too late.

And to the housing supply and demand supporters: If you truly believe a moratorium would be bad for The City’s housing production, you should stridently tell Wiener to craft a plan to immediately purchase these 13 sites. If you don’t, your arguments to “build, build, build” ring as hollow political hot air.

Take Action: Write Supervisor Scott Wiener (scott.wiener@sfgov.org) to tell him to support the purchase of 13 parcels of land in The Mission, and hold him to his stated public policy position of building more affordable housing. Attend the Board of Supervisors meeting at City Hall Tuesday for the moratorium vote.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

About The Author

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Born and raised in San Francisco, Fitzgerald Rodriguez was a staff writer at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and now writes the S.F. Examiner's political column On Guard. He is also a transportation beat reporter covering pedestrians, Muni, BART, bikes, and anything with wheels.
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