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,



Friday News Round Up!

This is what happened while we all watched the Olympics:

  1. Travelers looking to avoid expensive and dull hotels can turn to Airbnb to rent unique accommodations on a per-night basis. Its growing popularity has many New Yorkers, looking to earn a few bucks, posting their apartment for “micro” subletting on the website. It’s a great deal – I recently returned from vacation myself and we booked many of our accommodations through Airbnb. The only problem is that in New York it is illegal. State law requires that those living in residential “Class A” dwellings must stay for a term of at least 30 days. The law was initially designed to crack down on slum landlords turning their properties into dirty and dangerous hotels. Read more at The Atlantic Cities.
  2. If you are familiar with New York City Predatory Equity you are familiar with Larry Gluck. This notorious landlord is perhaps most well known for his role in overleveraging the historic Riverton Houses in Harlem, but we have run into him all over Bronx and Brooklyn as well. Gluck has been on a selling spree. Several months ago he sold 111 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg for $56M, and this week he sold 122 unit Stevenson Towers in the Bronx to a private investor who we believe is named Abraham Greenspan. Greenspan paid $14M for this building – $114,000 a unit. Most buildings in the Bronx go for about $70,000 – $90,000 a unit, according to Crain’s NY. The building has a $10M mortgage with J.P. Morgan Chase.
  3. Public employment is on the rise again, after a long and painful decline. However, these numbers exclude public school teachers, whose ranks continue to shrink. Jordan Weissman of The Atlantic suggests that this inconsistency is a hidden casualty of the housing crisis. Property taxes, which disproportionately fund public education, have fallen in the past several years. Read more.
  4. In the wake of Sunday’s attack in Wisconsin, City Comptroller John Liu has called on Mayor Bloomberg to allow Sikh members of the NYPD to wear religious gear. In a letter delivered to the Mayor this morning Liu writes, “Our City can enact meaningful inclusion of this community by changing NYPD rules to allow Sikhs to serve without having to forsake their turbans and beards.” Washington, DC has recently changed their rules to allow religious garb while on duty, and NYC law requires that workplaces foster supportive environments for all religious practices.

That’s all for today! Thanks for reading – and be sure to tune in next week for a guest post from former Surreal Estate and UHAB Organizing employee Elyssa White!