The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

What’s up with San Francisco Affordable Housing? A Message from Elyssa White!

Hi Surreal Estate readers!

I’m back for a guest post, all the way from my hometown, and current city of residence, San Francisco. Since leaving UHAB to return back to California, I’ve started working as the Program Manager at The San Francisco Community Land Trust.

SFCLT is sort-of like the UHAB of San Francisco, only we are comprised of two staff people (myself included), so our scope is clearly much smaller. We’re also a startup – born in 2001. SFCLT’s goal is similar to UHAB’s – we aim to create permanent, affordable, Limited Equity Cooperatives and Resident Operated Non- Profit Cooperatives to preserve, protect, and create affordable housing the least affordable rental city in the US (If you don’t believe any place could be more expensive than NY check this out.)

I am intimately aware (personally and professionally) from living in NY, that rents and a short supply of affordable housing create an extremely challenging arena for an acceptable quality of life in NYC.

Strangely enough, in progressive little San Francisco, it’s 100 times harder to advocate for affordable housing due to unique economic conditions and mass gentrification from Silicon Valley during this present tech boom.

If you are interested in the ins-and-outs of what went wrong in SF check out this Huffington Post article. Here are the basics of what you need to know: the California Redevelopment Agency (the equivalent of NYC’s HPD) was slashed by our Governor Jerry Brown because of the aching economy. That means NO new funding for affordable housing except for what was planned before 2009. Yes, you should be saying, YIKES!

Add a mountain on top of a mole hill (or actually, a mountain on top of another mountain), and factor in the reality that Twitter, Zynga, and lots of other tech companies are experiencing an astronomical boom and want to move their offices in to low-income neighborhoods (think Wall Street invading Harlem). Now you can imagine the disastrous housing crisis here and the context in which I am now working.

But – it ain’t all bad.

First, there’s SFCLT. In April this year we bought our second building, and we expect to buy two more in 2013. That’s right, during this hopeless time, we are the only affordable housing developers looking to buy small sites to  create the same self-sustaining, cooperative, tenant-choice model UHAB brilliantly demonstrates in NY.

Additionally, San Francisco politics are so progressive that there is an affordable housing charter amendment, called the Housing Trust Fund, which will emerge on November’s SF ballot. The gist: SF wants to create a permanent source of affordable housing funding (to the tune of $1.5 Billion dollars) for rehabilitation, stabilization, and development of new units of affordable housing. And it specifically endorses cooperative low income home ownership! Let’s hope it passes!

Lots of other amazing work happens on a daily basis here as well. Of particular note, the Housing Rights Committee is working with residents at Park Merced to fight a massive Predatory Equity scheme. And yes, the players are the same as the ones in NY (say hello to Stellar Management and Larry Gluck!). And yes, the owners are now in default despite their intention of razing 1,500 units of affordable, rent-regulated housing in order to increase profits.

That’s the quick and dirty SF run down for now. Thanks for reading, and while you’re at it – take a minute to consider donating to two worthy causes. UHAB Organizing and SFCLT.

Sending lots of Cali love,

Elyssa

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