The Real Story Behind Newsom Housing Numbers Tell A Different Story

by Randy Shaw on August 5, 2005

Accompanying Mayor Newsom at his Wednesday press event trumpeting his “HOME 15/5” housing goal was the President of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the CEO of the SF Association of Realtors. How fitting. After all, by the Mayor’s own statistics, nearly 10,000 of the projected 15,000 new units will be purchased by those earning over $115,000 per year. Thousands of these new units will sell for over $1 million, and while many will serve as quasi-hotels for the international elite, the new developments will primarily bring more wealthy, politically moderate to conservative voters to San Francisco. A crisis once defined as a lack of “affordable” housing now finds its solution in building housing “at all economic levels.”

The chief critique of Mayor Newsom HOME’s 15/5 press conference, made by Supervisor Chris Daly and others, is that the Mayor appeared to be taking credit for housing that he had no role in creating. But the deceptions surrounding the alleged new housing goal are even more disturbing.

Let’s start with the claim by Lee Blitch, President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce. Blitch stated, ” I applaud the City for taking action to make housing available for city residents.”

I would also applaud such action, except most current city residents cannot afford the vast majority of the 15,000 units to be built. So what Blitch should of said is that he applauds the city for allowing housing to be built that will attract new, affluent consumers to move to San Francisco.

The mismatch between the financial capacity of existing San Francisco tenants, and the projected sales prices for newly built condos, was entirely glossed over in Wednesday’s proceedings. The statistics showing that over 95% of San Francisco tenants cannot afford to buy a home in the city are available and undisputed, but the Mayor and others preferred to operate in the world of unreality where “city residents” are the chief beneficiaries of the housing boon.

Jim Fabris, CEO of the SF Association of Realtors, described the new 15000 units as “an unprecedented opportunity for families.” He added that HOME 15/5 will “help our families to live, raise children and put down roots in our city by making housing opportunity more readily available.”

Unfortunately, families with children in San Francisco are even less able to purchase housing than single adults and childless couples. HOME 15/5 not only does little for “our” families, but unless current inclusionary housing priorities are changed, the housing boon will only speed up the exodus of families with children from San Francisco.

Of course, there is a far easier and cost-free way that the Realtors could help families put down roots in the city: stop evicting families through misuse of the state Ellis Act. Realtor support for state law protections of San Francisco families would do more to increase housing opportunities than anything in HOME 15/5.

As popular as it has become to claim that San Francisco needs housing “at all price levels,” few outside the Mayor’s Office, Association of Realtors, and the Chamber of Commerce see a need for more luxury housing. Yet lost amidst the cheering over a prospective 15,000 units is the fact that housing for the wealthy will be the largest single component of this growth.

San Francisco’s response to a housing crisis defined by tenants paying too high a percentage of their income for rent, and being unable to afford a home, is to approve construction of thousands of units that accomplish neither goal.

That’s not something to celebrate.

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