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Development Without Displacement

San Francisco continues to face an unprecedented housing affordability crisis. With the exception of the brief dip in the rental housing market during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s harder and harder for working families to afford to live in San Francisco.


The City must pursue policies to help us build the housing we need to tackle our affordability crisis while protecting our existing communities from displacement. This is more critical than ever as our Planning Department is currently gathering community feedback on an update to the General Plan Housing Element.


State law requires cities to update their General Plan Housing Element every eight years, with the next update due in late 2022. The purpose of the Housing Element is to express our city’s collective vision and values for the future of housing, identify priorities for decision-makers, guide resource allocation for housing programs and services, and define how and where the City should create new homes for San Franciscans and future residents. The challenge is that this update will need to accommodate the creation of 82,069 total new units in San Francisco by 2031, of which 57% (or 46,598 homes) need to be below-market-rate units affordable for low- and moderate-income San Franciscans. These targets are set by state and regional agencies and triple our city’s current housing targets. San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland are already responsible for the majority of new housing in our region, and also have an enormous backlog of fully entitled housing units that have not been constructed. So, as we plan for where to build all these new market-rate and affordable units, we must ensure that we distribute them equitably and avoid fueling gentrification and displacement in sensitive communities.


Thankfully, a statewide “Sensitive Communities” detailed analysis and mapping have been formally published by the Urban Displacement Project of UC Berkeley (sensitivecommunities.org) to assist policymakers across California cities in identifying communities where residents may be particularly vulnerable to displacement. Sensitive communities are those who currently have populations vulnerable to displacement in the event of increased redevelopment and drastic shifts in housing cost, and are currently experiencing displacement pressures. The Richmond District is made up of more than 50% of people of color, and over 60% are renters, many of whom are low-income and vulnerable to displacement. Despite being identified as a “High Resource Area” by the California Fair Housing Task Force, much of the Richmond District has also been identified as a sensitive community by the Urban Displacement Project. While our neighborhood is a wonderful place to live with great schools, vibrant commercial corridors, and access to open space, we must remember that many of our neighbors are working-class people of color who could be displaced in the event of increased redevelopment.


Good housing policy demands a place-based “do-no-harm” framework to guide policies and uphold the right to community planning and self-determination of lower-income communities of color after decades of disenfranchisement on development decisions that affect their neighborhoods. Policies that incentivize increased market-rate development in sensitive communities would result in housing marketed to higher-wage newcomers that are unaffordable and inaccessible to lower-income communities and would lead to increased gentrification and displacement. Rather than imposing additional market-rate development incentives in sensitive communities already experiencing displacement pressures, we need policies that incentivize increased development of 100% affordable housing and mixed-income housing where a majority of units are affordable for lower-income and moderate-income households. Not only is this equitable, it is also in line with our housing targets, which call for a majority of the 82,069 new units to be affordable for low- to moderate-income San Franciscans.


Later this month I will be introducing a resolution urging the Planning Department to incorporate the Urban Displacement Project’s Sensitive Communities map in the 2022 Housing Element and implement policies that incentivize more affordable housing and less displacement in our sensitive communities in the Richmond and across the City. To learn more about the Housing Element and provide feedback to the Planning Department, visit sfhousingelement.org.


Prior to this resolution, I have authored and supported many policies to protect tenants and low-income homeowners and keep people in their homes. I authored resolutions to advocate the removal of language barriers from the State’s rent relief program, and to support the Democratic US Senators’ Low-Income First Time Homeowners Act which would create a new home loan program that would allow qualified first-time homebuyers to build equity and wealth at twice the rate of a conventional 30-year mortgage. I have also co-sponsored Supervisor Dean Preston’s legislation to prevent eviction and late fees for tenants who lost income due to COVID-19 and more recently co-sponsored Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s legislation to give tenants in buildings of 5 or more units the right to organize and form a Tenants Association. Tenants, especially those in large buildings managed by corporate landlords, deserve the right to organize a “union at home” and have a voice in their living conditions.


Alexandria Theater Update

The Alexandria Theater was once a neighborhood treasure in the Richmond that attracted families and film fans from all over. But since the theater closed in 2004, the Alexandria has sat vacant despite years of efforts from neighbors and Supervisors to reactivate it. The current owners had plans approved in 2019 to build a swimming pool on the ground floor with office space and a learning center for children above. Financing challenges related to the pandemic have unfortunately delayed this project and could result in the owners selling the building.


My office and I have been working with the owners and city departments to explore any potential options for this site if they are unable to complete their plans; we simply cannot allow this building to remain vacant for another 17 years. This is privately owned property so our influence is limited, but if you have any questions on what we are doing to make progress I would love to hear from you. Please reach out to my office at chanstaff@sfgov.org to share your thoughts!


This article was published in the Richmond Review in November 2021.

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