Early voting starts today, and of all the housing measures on the November ballot, perhaps none is more contentious than Prop. I, the Mission moratorium.

The measure, which requires a simple majority to pass, would pause all market-rate housing for 18 months and prevent the conversion of light industrial space, known as production, distribution, and retail (PDR), in the Mission District. Proponents say it will give the city and non-profits time to formulate a plan for developing affordable housing in the Mission, while opponents claim any pause in construction is counterproductive if the goal is to build more housing.

“We’re in a shortage, so we need more houses not less,” said Sonja Trauss from the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation, a new group founded in May 2014 that promotes a supply-side approach to the city’s housing shortage. “It’s not really a complicated position. We really need a massive building program.”

Gabriel Medina, the policy manager at the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) and a leader in the “Yes on I” campaign, doesn’t buy that argument.

“If you keep building more housing and offices for [people], you’re increasing the demand [for housing]. The more you continue to build the more you’re going to continue to displace people, as we’ve seen during this building boom in the Mission,” he said. “Construction of market-rate [housing] attracts more people who have high incomes, and it’s a self-perpetuating cycle that you can’t outbuild.”

The “Yes on I” campaign argues that building market-rate housing actually increases demand instead of decreasing it by attracting even more people to San Francisco. Such housing also raises rental and commercial prices for existing residents, they say, which is why a pause on development is needed to formulate a plan for affordable housing in the Mission.

“The most important thing with Prop. I is leverage and negotiating with the city,” Medina said. Prop. I requires that San Francisco create a plan for housing in the Mission District by early 2017 to make at least 50 percent of new housing in the neighborhood go to low and moderate-income residents. The latter includes those making from $36,000 to $86,000 for a single-person household.

While San Francisco has built a fair amount of market-rate housing in recent years, it has only finished about 14 percent of its needed low and moderate-income housing, according to the Planning Department. To those in favor of a moratorium, that performance means a plan is needed.  

“The fact that there’s no plan for affordable housing in the Mission is why [Prop.] I is on the ballot,” said Jon Golinger, an environmental attorney and a co-chair of the new political organization Vision SF. “[Prop.] I is on the ballot to demand a plan.”

Ted Egan, the city’s chief economist, however, published a report last month that said a moratorium would have no long-term effect on housing in the Mission.

“A temporary moratorium would lead to slightly higher housing prices across the city, have no appreciable effect on no-fault eviction pressures and have a limited impact on the city’s ability to produce affordable housing during the moratorium period,” the report read.

Medina, for one, does not share that analysis.

Under Egan’s logic, it’s ‘Build, build, build and don’t look at what that actually looks like on paper or in the real world,’” he said. “For us, we’re looking at the people and the building environment.”

In the fight between non-profits and developers, one side is vastly outspent. The “Yes on I” campaign has raised some $80,000 for the election, while its opponents have brought in some $500,000, a $200,000 chunk of which is coming from developers for the controversial 16th and Mission housing project.

The ballot measure is similar to a 45-day moratorium Supervisor David Campos brought to the Board of Supervisors in June, which was voted 7-4 but required nine votes to pass. Its failure led MEDA and other groups to reconceive of the moratorium as a ballot initiative, gathering the needed 15,000 signatures in three weeks in time for November’s election.

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  1. I have lived in S.F. over 15 years, and now I live in the Mission. I am still undecided about Prop I, but I must say I am turned off by the hints of reverse racism coming from Pro I side. There seems to an undercurrent of racism like when the Spanish speaking woman in the video said, “we want to keep the Mission Latino.” There are a lot of different groups living here, and we need a solution that works for all of us.

  2. Supply-side housing policy advocates envision doom and gloom should Proposition I win next month. But how could that be? The Mission District as delineated in Prop I is less than 3 square miles – or less than six percent of San Francisco’s total area. There are few available real estate parcels remaining for large projects within that area.
    Even if the issue of a pause had never been raised, at the current rate of development it would be only a few short years before the available space is used up. At that point, the supply-siders will be stumped: the demand will still be as high as it is now, but there will be nowhere left to build additional supply. The only way to create more land would require displacing residents and business, demolishing existing structures, and then building. Such is supply side’s undeniable Doppelgänger. Without vacant lots, displacement is fundamental to development – or, as it used to be called, redevelopment.
    Pausing construction in a small area of the city for 18 months will have no effect on construction elsewhere (except possibly to speed it up and lower costs as resources would be shifted). Well, it might also make people in other neighborhoods realize that uncontrolled development of unnecessary luxury condominiums undermines and even destroys the quality of life for current residents there, as it has done to so many people in the Mission District.
    Neighborhood groups throughout San Francisco are already pushing back against development projects – in SoMa, on Cathedral Hill, on Ord Court, in Hayes Valley, along the southern commercial corridor of Divisidero Street, in Park Merced, and at the base of Potrero Hill. For decades, Russian Hill residents have resisted attempts to build on the disused reservoir at Hyde and Francisco Streets – a four acre spot that could be developed to provide a quite significant supply of housing. In this case, however, the developers are out of luck because the well-heeled Russian Hill neighbors – and Mark Farrell, their otherwise pro-development, supply-side-touting Supervisor – have insisted on local control of the neighborhood.
    The best part of Proposition I is that it sets out to democratize city planning. Yes, its specific provisions are focused on the most embattled neighborhood, and that is the best reason to support it. Yet, there is the additional benefit that other areas of the city will have an important precedent when its voracious appetite leads the Beast to those greener pastures.
    30 years ago, uncontrolled development in San Francisco generated significant concerns about population density, the loss of affordable housing, traffic congestion, and esthetics. The Board of Supervisors listened – and passed a 120-day citywide moratorium on the demolition of existing houses and on major additions so that the concerns could be taken seriously. The city did not fall apart.

    This time around, too few members of the Board of Supervisors are committed to that kind of hard work, so now it is our – the voters’ – turn. I am voting Yes on Proposition I to save the Mission, because I love San Francisco, and to help build something better than what developers are forcing on us.

    1. Well said, Scott. I hang the Yes on I sign prominently on the window of my Mission Street Business. I have lived in the Tenderloin for almost 20 years and agree with your sentiment that what is currently happening in The Mission, if not checked, will inevitably happen in every other neighborhood. That is why it is so important that every San Franciscan vote yes on I!