Assemblyman-elect Matt Haney does not notably stick out as he wanders the streets of the Tenderloin, but everyone seems to know who he is. He’s tall, with a black, long-sleeved Laborers Union t-shirt, black athletic pants and white Nike high-tops. He has a few days’ stubble, which might be intentional and might not. Regardless, people here gravitate toward him — and, as his recent crushing electoral victory would attest to, they seem to like him just fine. He is, as he makes his way toward La Cocina at Hyde Street and Golden Gate Avenue, approached by a small army of well-wishers. After we order coffee and sit down, he is still greeted and congratulated by a string of constituents.
“Great victory. Over-WHELMING victory!” says a tall Black man coming in for a fist bump.
Haney smiles. “Uh, well, that’s what happens when you mess with the Tenderloin.”
Mission Local: You were decried as an opportunist for your pivot to more vocal calls for housing construction, but you’ve described this as an “evolution.” Can you tell us a bit about this evolution?
Matt Haney: I represent the supervisorial district that builds most of the housing for the city. I’ve been deeply involved in that, and supported it, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’ll never be enough to meet the housing affordability and housing scarcity issues that we have. I came into office understanding other neighborhoods would come up with their own community plans that worked for them. And build housing. And do their part. Three years in, for the most part, that hasn’t happened.
ML: Who have you complained to about this?
MH: All of the westside supervisors, of course. I would tell people when I ran for supervisor that I’m for building more housing here, that’s my responsibility, and, of course, I’m for building more housing on the westside. People asked why I didn’t support state bills upzoning the westside, and my initial instinct, in line with my values, was, let’s upzone the westside, but let’s do it the right way and ensure affordability levels and protect character of neighborhoods.
And then I saw projects get shot down, one after the other. Really, nothing got built and no community plans came forward. It gave me an understanding of how, in order for these things to be solved, you can’t make it so easy for folks to say “no” or “let’s wait.” Because, whether it’s on housing or homelessness or services, there really is often an incentive to push it onto someone else.
ML: So, where does it go from here?
MH: San Francisco is going to have to pass a legally compliant housing element that will allow us to build 82,000 units of housing in the next eight years. That will require significant upzoning, streamlining, and public investments to be believable on its face. I support that process. If local San Francisco leadership doesn’t take that process seriously or put forward a plausible path to get to that level of units, then I’ll work with my colleagues in Sacramento to intervene. I think that’s the right way to do it.
ML: What does “intervening” entail?
MH: If significant changes don’t happen at the local level, not only can the state legislature intervene, but so can the Attorney General and the state housing department. There are cities around the state submitting plans that are so ridiculous. Los Angeles put forward a plan that it had to re-do because it proposed something like demolishing 10 blocks and making high-rises. People in Sacramento are laughing at them. I don’t want that to be San Francisco.
ML: But this isn’t quite “Field of Dreams;” it’s not like if you upzone it, they will build.
MH: It’ll take unprecedented public investment. It’ll take regional and statewide housing bonds, for social housing. And at a scale this state hasn’t seen before. That requires leadership.
There’s no way we can meet our housing goals just by changing some zoning laws. More than 50 percent of the housing has to be for lower- and middle-income people. So it’s going to take massive state investment. And local investment.
ML: And this isn’t just a San Francisco problem.
MH: No, it’s not. Most cities and counties are not building enough. Here, it’s more dramatic because of the level of demand. It’s reflected in our rents.
Part of my understanding of housing is coming out of my own experience here in my district and my environment. I represent SoMa and mid-Market, and we build most of the housing. I represent the Tenderloin, and we represent the failure of our city and state to confront issues relating to housing and homelessness — and they collectively use this neighborhood as a dumping ground and containment zone, rather than actually move on these issues.
So, I’m sitting here basically at the bottom of the river. I’ve decided to go upriver to solve these problems rather than keep pulling bodies out here.
ML: Where does “build more housing” end, and “do away with anything that’s ever bothered a developer, ever” begin?
MH: We have to change zoning laws to allow more housing and make greater public investments in public housing, but my position has never been “whatever a developer wants, say yes.” Absolutely not.
And I have been very clear about this: I am pro-labor and pro-housing. I want workers from diverse communities who build housing here to be paid a living salary with benefits, pensions and protections. I am not supportive of streamlining that allows for housing to be built and shipped here. I think organized labor should build the housing.
ML: There’s been a lot of talk about building housing, but the majority of your constituents are renters, as are the vast majority of San Franciscans. What can you do for them right away?
MH: The big things we’ve been fighting for change for a long time that I can pick up and champion are Ellis Act reforms and Costa Hawkins. That’s limited our ability to prevent speculation, and to stop evictions and expand rent control. We’ve got to be smarter on that. I also think [one of the] things we have to look at closely is building on what we’ve done during the pandemic. Systems to help people with rent debt emergency and rental assistance, and making those broader statewide, would go a long way toward preventing evictions and keeping people in their homes.
I’m really interested in how we can provide stronger protections against evictions like we did here. We should limit exorbitant rent increases, even in newer buildings. And I think renters — and landlords — should have to register. That way we can see if patterns emerge and better intervene to help people.
ML: You’re in favor of landlord licensing?
MH: Yes, absolutely.
ML: So the Realtors were ill-advised in spending that money on your behalf?
MH: I didn’t take any money from the Realtors. They came in with a late Independent Expenditure campaign attacking David Campos and Chesa Boudin. That had more to do with antipathy toward David, which seemed personal, and opposition to Chesa, than it had to do with me. I have never worked with the Realtors. I have never spoken to them. They spent money against me in 2018. I have supported every tenant law that has come in front of the Board of Supervisors. I have co-sponsored every one.
ML: There’s been a lot of talk about your pro-housing position as a key to victory but much less in terms of how you consolidated across-the-spectrum support from labor.
MH: The role that labor played in my coalition was huge. SEIU is the biggest and most progressive union in San Francisco. I worked to get every single union. I met the members and showed up.
Also, and this hasn’t really been talked about in any of the post-election analysis, I won the [Asian and Pacific Islander] vote overwhelmingly. By 40 points in Chinatown, by 40 in Viz Valley.
And that’s because I had a track record I could point to: I chaired the Budget Committee and I delivered for Chinatown during challenging times for them. My record was strong — and recent. I think I have taken a balanced approach on public safety. I have not been like, “give the police whatever they want and however they want it,” but I understand the importance of community policing and foot patrols, and officers in Chinatown speaking Cantonese. And, for a lot of voters, that’s where they’re at right now.
ML: And where is that? Where are voters right now?
MH: I think we’re building a new coalition. It’ll be a progressive coalition. I think San Francisco voters are progressive. San Franciscans are for economic justice. They want to see wealth not concentrated only in the hands of billionaires and big corporations. They want rights and protections and living wages for working people. They support tenants’ rights. They want aggressive solutions to confront climate change and inequality. For as strong as possible a level of women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, racial justice. We want to fully fund public institutions and increase taxes on people at the top to do so.
I think most San Franciscans want to see housing built everywhere. I think most would even accept it next to them. There’s no reason to be afraid of it.
No matter how you define yourself ideologically, most people think San Francisco is on the wrong track, and its politicians are disconnected from its needs. Can you find a handful of people who think San Francisco politics is working great? I’d be shocked. So, people near-universally think San Francisco-style politics — with fights over small stuff and political labels and machines that make little sense outside this seven-by-seven — is failing.
As elected officials and candidates, we have to be responsible for that. We can’t dig deeper and say, “no, it’s the voters who are wrong.”
This Q&A took place on Friday, April 22. It has been edited for clarity and length.