Just two weeks after the federal housing department rejected San Francisco’s plan to give local residents a higher chance of winning affordable housing units, the president of the Board of Supervisors is taking a red-eye flight to Washington, D.C. to make the case that the plan is vital to curbing the gentrification sweeping the city.
“I’m struggling to live in this city,” said Supervisor London Breed, who held a press conference to advocate for the “neighborhood preference” housing legislation that was rejected by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in mid-August. “I’m living with a roommate in the city that I was born in — as president of the Board of Supervisors.”
Breed, who represents the Fillmore and Western Addition as the supervisor for District 5, said she was flying to the capital overnight Wednesday to meet with the under secretary of the federal housing department on Thursday. The federal decision against the city’s neighborhood preference program directly impacts hundreds of affordable housing units in the Mission District.
Some 455 affordable housing units will come online in the Mission District in the next five years, not including those within market-rate developments. Neighborhood preference would have reserved about 180 of them for those living within the neighborhood, but now none of the units will be guaranteed for Mission District residents.
In Washington, Breed will tell the housing department that “what’s happening right now” in San Francisco’s affordable housing lottery “is not working” to protect communities of color from displacement, she said, and that the department should reconsider its stance on the neighborhood preference law.
“I’m going to have to go real Fillmore on him,” she added.
The law, approved by the Board of Supervisors 9–2 in December 2015 after months of heated debate, would have set aside 40 percent of affordable housing units for qualified applicants who live within the supervisorial district where the project is located, or live within a half-mile radius of the project.
But the federal housing department vetoed the plan in mid-August, saying it violates the Fair Housing Act and could “limit equal access to housing and perpetuate segregation” in San Francisco. A spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.
The results of the federal stance against neighborhood preference are unclear. The federal housing department only has control over the projects it funds, but can also enforce against violations of the Fair Housing Act.
If the federal housing department chooses enforcement, San Francisco could back away from the plan for fear of losing funds, meaning local residents would not receive preferences for both fully affordable housing developments and subsidized units in private developments as a result.
On Wednesday, Breed said the federal housing department has perpetuated racial segregation by failing to sign off on the city’s plan to combat displacement.
“The policies that they created have continued to segregate the city,” Breed said. She will go to Washington with a delegation of city housing officials and the support of Mayor Ed Lee, who is urging the federal housing department to reconsider its stance on the law. Senator Dianne Feinstein and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are also backing the neighborhood preference plan.
Blacks and Latinos in San Francisco have disproportionately low access to affordable housing units. Black people got just 4.7 percent of affordable housing units in San Francisco despite being 5.7 percent of the city population. Latinos are even more underrepresented, getting just 11 percent of privately-owned subsidized units and 5.4 percent of city-owned affordable housing units, even though they make up 15.3 percent of the population.
“I know that ground zero right now is the Mission,” Breed said. “I know that when we build affordable housing here in the Mission without neighborhood preference, we can’t lie and tell people they’re going to live there. We can’t pretend anymore.”
The press conference on Wednesday was held at 1950 Mission St., currently the site of the Navigation Center, the city’s flagship center that helps the homeless find housing. The shelter will be replaced by 160 units of affordable housing built by Mission Housing in the spring of 2017.
Joshua Arce, a board member of the non-profit housing developer Mission Housing and a candidate for District 9 supervisor, called the press conference to support Breed in her upcoming meeting with the under secretary of the federal housing department.
Referencing the 1950 Mission St. project, Arce said that Mission District residents should get first priority to get into affordable housing like that planned for the site.
Roberto Hernandez, the founder of the anti-gentrification group Our Mission No Eviction, said policies like neighborhood preference are “not enough” but a step towards preserving communities of color that have been ravaged since the tech boom.
“Every African American I grew up with is gone, every Filipino I grew up with is gone,” Hernandez said. “I feel lonely at times, depressed at times, sad at times.”
“Roberto, I’m lonely too,” said Breed later in the conference, when she took the mic. “I grew up right here in the Western Addition, and the people who I grew up with, they don’t live here anymore, they can’t afford to live here anymore.”