What Makes a Politician “Pro-Housing”?

by on November 19, 2015

San Francisco’s Jane Kim-Scott Wiener 2016 State Senate race  is off and running. And the campaigns are already battling over which candidate is the most “pro-housing.”

Wiener allies have claim in tweets that Kim is insufficiently pro- housing due to her opposition to the Park Merced rebuild and support for the Mission market-rate housing moratorium. Kim responded on Twitter (#FactsOverAttacks) with statistics showing that far more housing was built in her District 6 since 2005 than in Scott Wiener’s District 8.

Since 2005, D6 has out-housed D8 by a 14,060-1041 margin. And more importantly, 3414 of these new units were affordable compared to only 407 in District 8.

Kim and Wiener did not take office until January 2011. But more housing has clearly been built in Kim’s district than Wiener’s since that time.

Kim’s reliance on these numbers left Wiener backers crying foul. One argued that it’s not “fair to give her credit for being Supe of the district with easy to develop parking lots.” Others noted that Kim’s district had “less neighborhood opposition to new housing.”


That latter point could not have been more untimely.

It was made the same day that D6 opponents of the 5M project spent several hours testifying at the Board of Supervisors against the project. Kim took far more heat from project opponents than Scott Wiener ever has about a housing development. Kim was even accused in SOMCAN’s press release of backing a project that was “on course to destroy the SoMa Filipino, Latino and African American community.”

Kim’s support for a 40% affordable housing project—whose historic terms she negotiated, as she did the Giants deal— was under attack from longtime allies. Staying the course under this pressure requires a lot more political backbone than when politicians are criticized by those who would never support them anyway.

I think you have to go back to Matt Gonzalez and Chris Daly’s courageous votes in December 2004 on behalf of small builders in Potrero Hill  for another example of a progressive supervisor being vilified for supporting housing.  And Gonzalez and Daly only had to withstand blistering criticism by the SF Bay Guardian; Kim faced hours of public testimony from a segment of the Filipino community that used outrageously false attacks in accusing her of causing displacement and evictions in SOMA.

After the 5M project was approved late Tuesday night, nobody could rationally claim that Jane Kim was anything but “pro-housing.” I suspect a lot of people who once believed critics arguing otherwise now have a new perspective on Kim’s record.

What does “Pro-Housing” Mean?

Must a “pro-housing” politician support every proposed housing project? The answer is no. Yet there is a vocal group of San Francisco activists who believe otherwise, and who are trying to redefine “pro-housing” in such knee jerk terms.

The illogic of their position is that it ignores the impact of projects on nearby housing as well as the population for which a project is built. For example, it was reported in 2014 that half of New York City’s Midtown luxury condos were largely vacant.

Was it “pro-housing” to support developments that are primarily pied-a- terres for non-residents? Or are backers of such projects really anti-housing because they denied Midtown land to house actual New York City residents?

Similarly, two projects were proposed for the Tenderloin in recent years whose market-rate units were crammed right up against low-income housing. This would diminish the quality of life for those longtime residents. Backing such projects is not  “pro-housing” as both endangered the existing affordable housing supply.

In response to opposition these projects were redesigned and then won community support. But under the misguided reasoning of those criticizing Jane Kim, opponents of the original plans—which included housing developer TNDC—were “anti-housing.”

Automatically supporting every project proposed in San Francisco is not “pro-housing.” As much as some Mission activists are criticized for never finding a market-rate project they can support, uncritical reverence for anyone who submits plans to build anywhere in San Francisco is no better.

The Larger Agenda

San Francisco’s housing crisis has many components. Building new housing is a critical part of the solution, but not the exclusive strategy.

I’ve written previously — “Blame Realtors for SF’s Housing Crisis”— how the chief cause of the city’s housing crisis is the state’s preemption of local rent controls on vacant apartments. Yet tenant protections are routinely ignored by the crowd that wrongly sees new construction as the sole solution.

That’s why identifying politicians as “pro-housing” must account for the full housing agenda. It doesn’t help when politicians support new construction but oppose tenant protections. Nor does it work when politicians only care about tenants in place and ignore the need to increase the housing supply.

In my experience, progressive Supervisors have more often seen the big picture. Aaron Peskin and Chris Daly put together deals for some of the city’s biggest housing deals, and Jane Kim is now doing this for the current Board. In contrast, moderate Supervisors are said to be “pro-housing” while ensuring that few units get built in their own districts—and these politicians often oppose stronger tenant protections.

Housing will be a key issue in the Kim-Wiener race, and the candidates have stark differences on this issue. The outcome will send a strong message about what housing stands San Francisco voters favor amidst a housing crisis that shows little sign of abating.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron.  He encourages you to read his new book,  The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco


Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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