Maxwell’s Housing Agenda Sacrifices Tenants

by Randy Shaw on October 23, 2006

“I think it is appropriate, the rental market is very, very difficult.”
– Maxwell on Lennar’s elimination of 400 rental units at the Naval Shipyard

After running unopposed in 2002, San Francisco Supervisor Sophie Maxwell will again be easily re-elected on November 7. Although Maxwell pledged in 2001 to help preserve the city’s economic and racial diversity, she has increasingly moved to undermine this goal. Maxwell has promoted upscale development in the low-income African-American neighborhoods of Bayview and Hunters Point, and last week endorsed Lennar’s breaking its agreement to build 400 rental units at the Hunters Point Shipyard. Maxwell is also urging her colleagues to kill Angelo Sangiacomo’s proposed 1900 rental unit project at Trinity Plaza, seeking to rewrite an agreement to rebuild 360 units of rent-controlled housing on the site. In the upper middle-class, predominately white enclave of Potrero Hill, Maxwell has sought to sharply restrict housing development, helping to ensure that neither market rate nor affordable units get built. While Maxwell speaks powerfully about keeping working- class people in San Francisco, her recent actions contradict this.

District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell faces her second re-election campaign without a well-funded challenger. Since the district was drawn to include high-voting Potrero Hill in the same district as two historically low-voting black neighborhoods, District 10’s representative can win election solely by serving the needs of the richer neighborhood.

Sophie Maxwell’s late mother Enola is a Potrero Hill legend, and the Supervisor has remained politically unbeatable by maintaining the neighborhood’s support. Potrero Hill has boomed during Maxwell’s tenure, as a neighborhood whose home prices were comparable to those of Bernal Heights in the 1980’s are now more in line with upscale Noe Valley.

Maxwell has backed luxury condo projects throughout the city, and has been rewarded with major campaign contributions from the Shorenstein Co. and other large developers. But she has been careful to limit development in Potrero Hill. She has virtually halted housing development in lower Potrero Hill, where long-vacant industrial and production, distribution and retail spaces appear ripe for conversion to housing.

Her recently released Eastern Neighborhoods Plan will, if passed, forever protect her Potrero Hill constituents from dealing with the increased restaurant lines and traffic that would come from new housing in the area. While the Plan claims to encourage affordable housing, it imposes requirements that will ensure that neither affordable nor market rate units get built.

In fact, while Potero Hill has economically boomed during the Maxwell years, few if any affordable projects have been built in the neighborhood to help maintain its economic diversity. And under Maxwell’s new plan, no such units will be built for the foreseeable future.

When Maxwell joined the recently-elected as part of a panel at New College in 2001, she spoke bitterly of how the city’s white power structure promoted the displacement of African-Americans from the Haight-Ashbury and Western Addition. She pledged to help stem the tide of blacks leaving San Francisco, which was encouraging to hear.

Despite Maxwell’s anger at the Redevelopment Agency’s past conduct, she was the driving force behind the creation of the Bayview-Hunters Point Redevelopment Area. Maxwell has supported all of national developer Lennar’s moves in the community, from the elimination of rental housing to its plan to team with the 49ers on a stadium-housing deal.

If Michela Alioto-Pier, or another Supervisor that never questioned developer prerogatives represented District 10, such silence would be understandable. But Maxwell has been openly confrontational toward potential developers in upscale Potrero Hill, and provided a detailed analysis challenging Angelo Sangiacomo’s 1900-unit project outside her district at Trinity Plaza.

Why does Maxwell not aggressively scrutinize developers’ claims in low-income, African-American Bayview-Hunters Point, when she does so in other neighborhoods?

When the Redevelopment Agency Commission was scheduled to vote last week to allow Lennar to avoid building rental housing at the Naval Shipyard, Maxwell’s office did little or nothing to alert Bayview-Hunters Point residents. But you can be sure that Maxwell’s office would never allow a major land use hearing involving Potrero Hill proceed without informing that neighborhood.

Maxwell’s curious opposition to helping maintain San Francisco’s economic diversity is further highlighted by her recent attempt to rewrite the carefully negotiated Trinity Plaza Apartments agreement. Although she voted for virtually the identical agreement over one year ago, Maxwell has now decided that “Saving Rent-Controlled Housing” is not that important.

Forget the fact that the Trinity Plaza Tenants Association and the San Francisco Tenants Union view the agreement requiring the one for one replacement of all 360 rent-controlled units as an historic, and unprecedented victory. Maxwell decided about a month ago that she doesn’t like it, and circulated a letter to her colleagues questioning the deal.

Maxwell allowed the wealthy and powerful Lennar Corp. to walk away from building 400 rental units in a low-income black neighborhood, even though they got a good deal in the first place for building housing on Redevelopment-owned land. But Maxwell is now trying to rewrite the 100% privately funded Trinity deal so that San Francisco’s largest rental housing project in fifty years does not get built.

This election season has led to much discussion about how the District 6 condo boom may soon alter the demographics and/or politics of the district. A Supervisor who cared about maintaining economic diversity would recognize the political impact of adding a minimum of 1000 new tenant voters at Trinity Plaza, and try to get ground to break as soon as possible.

It’s already not healthy for District 10 to have a minority of progressive upper-income white homeowners being able to control the politics of that district; allowing less progressive white condo owners to also control District 6 would not appear to further Maxwell’s stated agenda for the city.

Strangely, Maxwell is now raising unjustified fears over the new Trinity units becoming condos, rather than rental units. But Lennar’s now exclusive condo project at the Naval Shipyard did not bother her, as shown by her quick support for the elimination of about 400 rental units there.

Maxwell accepted Lennar’s contention that there was no market for rental housing without considering why 1900 rental units are proposed at Trinity. If Maxwell now believes that its not financially feasible to build rental housing, she should be leading the fight to get Trinity built rather than doing everything she can to delay construction..

Maxwell distributed her anti-Trinity memo to her colleagues without meeting with Trinity Plaza representatives to discuss her concerns. That meeting might have given her information to undermine Lennar’s claim that the rental market is dead. This in turn may have led her to persuade the Redevelopment Commission to force Lennar to keep to its agreement to build the 400 rental units.

Two days after the Agency and Maxwell accepted Lennar’s claims about a poor rental market, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story titled “San Francisco Rental Market is Red-Hot.”

It appears that George W. Bush is not the only politician avoiding the reality-based world.

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