We all agree that certain long-term COVID-19 impacts have become clear. San Francisco’s Downtown needs a reimagining as a way to bring back people and vibrancy to the area However, it is misguided to believe the answer is as simple as the rosy picture painted in the recent San Francisco Chronicle Editorial entitled “Downtown San Francisco is Dying. This bill could help save it.”
AB 2011, which streamlines market-rate housing on “commercial corridors” (70 feet wide streets), as well as speeds up affordable housing, has some potential benefits as highlighted in the editorial. But this bill will also cause significant harm if further final amendments aren’t made as this deal with related bill SB6 is rolled out. That is why we, along with many other organizations working in low-income communities of color, oppose the current version of AB2011. We also oppose its similarly harmful companion bill SB6, unless critical racial equity amendments are incorporated.
A one-size-fits-all market-rate housing solution will, by definition, always produce inequitable results. Like so many of the recent free-market-solution housing bill proposals, this bill is missing the simple equity lens needed to ensure it is placing more market-rate housing where it is safest and most needed, while at the same time keeping it away from areas where our vulnerable residents are likely to endure harmful localized impacts.
While it is conceivable that the challenging process of converting downtown offices into market-rate housing would happen – and affordable housing as well – at the same time what is nearly certain is that the bill would also unnecessarily speed market-rate housing onto vulnerable, Covid-weary cultural corridors across the city. A prime example is Mission Street, the lifeblood of San Francisco’s Mission District.
To understand the impacts of the bill as proposed, let’s consider a well-known example: the “Monster in the Mission” housing project. Through community organizing and a subsequent City commitment, this notorious 331-unit market-rate proposal at 16th and Mission BART plaza was eventually transformed into a soon-to-be affordable housing project community members had envisioned as the “Marvel in the Mission.”
If AB2011 had been in place at the time, the Monster would have received an expedited streamlined process without community review. The “Marvel” affordable housing outcome would never have been a possibility. The Mission would have been forced to suffer the devastating displacement and cultural impacts of yet another expensive market-rate condo building right above BART, a perfect site for low-income residents who are heavy public commuters. A new building like the “Monster” at the heart of this low-income, BIPOC area would have displaced small businesses, replacing them with upscale boutiques to serve the new clientele, increased nearby tenant harassment and evictions, and put price pressure on the lowest rents of tenants in surrounding buildings. (Damiano & Frenier, 2020)
AB2011 overrides input from historically excluded and discriminated against communities such as the Mission, and overrides critical neighborhood stabilization policies put in place between Mission organizations and City departments through the Mission Action Plan 2020 process and through the Calle 24 Cultural District Design Guidelines.
Walking down the struggling Covid-impacted Mission Street corridor today, it is clear what additional harms could come if AB2011 is passed as written. It would cause the displacement of dozens of Latino, Asian, and Middle-Eastern immigrant businesses and bring thousands more upscale residents onto this low-income corridor.
We have proposed equity amendments to the bill’s author to ensure more racially equitable results: I. Applying the measure principally to highest resourced areas while leaving out Cultural Districts and low-income BIPOC census tracts; II. Instituting more-meaningful small-business protections by prohibiting streamlining of buildings with active community-serving businesses within the past five years; III. Requiring Extremely Low Income affordable units be included in all streamlined projects statewide. And -- if we really want to see the vision painted in the recent Chronicle editorial realized -- apply the law solely to commercial-only zoned spaces.
1. Damiano, A., & Frenier, C. (2020, October 16). Build Baby Build?: Housing Submarkets and the Effects of New Construction on Existing Rents. Build Baby Build?: Housing Submarkets and the Effects of New Construction on Existing Rents. https://www.tonydamiano.com/project/new-con/bbb-wp.pdf