The housing crisis is on everyone’s mind – even, and perhaps especially so, on the minds of students at San Francisco International High School, where one class recently completed coursework on the local June ballot’s Proposition C.
The proposition would put the city’s inclusionary housing requirement into the hands of the Board of Supervisors, to be adjusted as necessary to the economic times – the requirement is currently fixed in the city charter. Proposition C also sets a much higher bar to begin with, requiring that 25 percent of a new building must be kept below market rate, up from 12 percent.
Students in the course all chose a way to engage with the question politically – some wrote letters to the Mayor, others produced a video, yet others attended marches and rallies or handed out flyers and posters promoting the proposition. Many also created flyers and pamphlets delineating local housing rights – in their native languages, ranging from Spanish to Arabic to Vietnamese and beyond.
For many, it is a very personal issue.
For Xinhao Zheng, space is a primary concern. He lives in a one-room apartment with his parents.
“My parents sleep on the sofa. My sister and me sleep in the same room,” he said.
He knows the city is tightly packed and demand is high. Essentially, he said, he is “waiting for people to leave the city…or we can leave.”
That’s what Mareling Balladares and her family did. Balladares came to San Francisco one year ago. For one month, she lived on Valencia Street with her mother – but the landlord there did not approve of two children living in the apartment and said she needed to move.
“My mom went to organizations but they didn’t do anything. Then she found a studio in Richmond [the city] and said we’ll move. And we said, what? That’s far!” Balladares remembered.
But that’s what was affordable, so the family of three relocated. Balladares’ mother still works in San Francisco and Balladares attends the International High School, a vital resource for recent immigrant students with limited English proficiency (Balladares has secured permission to attend the school, now well outside of her district, until 2018). The family gets up at 3 a.m. to begin their group commute.
“It’s so hard for us. That’s why I want to support proposition C, because if they do more affordable housing, we might move back to San Francisco,” Balladares said.
Her classmate Jennifer Matamoros is dismayed that low-income people are being pushed out.
“The low and middle income people cannot just leave. That cannot be like that. There are many jobs that rich people are not going to do,” said 10th-grader Jennifer Matamoros.
Matamoros and her family live in a guest cottage. She has a bed and a dresser to call her own, but shares the guest cottage with her brother and parents.
“It is hard to live all together in a very small place,” Matamoros said. “I want to do my homework because my brother is jumping on the bed and my father is watching TV…I can’t concentrate.”
Sometimes it’s so hard to concentrate she can’t finish her schoolwork. “I think that I’m very responsible with school. I want to do everything the best that I can, but there was a point where I could not keep going. I just got stuck.”
She’s heading into 11th grade, and worries about her grades going forward.
“We want to move to another place, but it’s too expensive for us. We should have more housing. That’s why I support Prop C,” she said. “There will be more apartments for people like us who are low and middle income workers. We also are humans. We also have the right to live in the city.”
Developers have taken a strong stance against Proposition C, arguing that it will stifle the production of any new housing because constructing new housing will be made economically unfeasible by the 25 percent inclusionary requirement. Further, the San Francisco Chronicle has noted that not a single development in the city has ever met that level of affordability – the notable projects that have promised above and beyond that requirement were able to do so because of special circumstances that cut costs in other ways.
Matamoros is unfazed by the profit argument.
“If they say they will not get too many profits…even if they make 25 percent affordable, they will have 75 percent of other apartments they can charge a lot of money for those apartments. They will always get profits from this,” she said.
Zheng suggested that if private developers are unble to construct affordable housing due to low profit margins, perhaps the government should step in.
“The government can build more buildings instead of developers,” he said. If not, he said, the city must find a way to give developers incentives to build below market rate housing.
While he supports the proposition, Zheng worries that ultimately, San Francisco is simply out of real estate.
“It’s also a little place. So it’s impossible we build more and more buildings,” he said. He sees the inclusionary housing requirement as a temporary solution: “It just solves this problem for now, maybe.”
June 7 is election day! No matter where you stand on the issues, if you’re a vote-by-mail voter you can drop off your ballot at a polling place, otherwise show up at your polling place between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. to fill out your ballot on the spot!