San Francisco’s land use committee continued Mayor London Breed’s housing streamlining legislation on Monday, spotlighting concerns that the law might ease the demolition of rent-controlled housing in certain circumstances.
The Land Use and Transportation Committee, made up of supervisors Myrna Melgar, Dean Preston and Aaron Peskin, voted 3-0 to approve certain amendments to the legislation, but will continue its hearing on Oct. 16 at the next committee meeting.
The legislation, which Breed introduced April 18 with Supervisor Joel Engardio, is an effort to accelerate housing production across San Francisco and help the city meet its state mandate to build 82,000 new homes, half of them affordable, in the next eight years.
If the city fails to reach its goal, the California Housing and Community Development Department will take away the city’s local authority and state funding for development.
On Monday, the committee approved three amendments to Breed’s law that would exempt certain housing projects from neighborhood notification, give authority to the Planning Department to greenlight state density bonus projects, and forego hearings that could delay approvals for senior housing projects and projects on large lots.
But the discussion on Monday shed light on a particular topic: Demolition of rent-controlled housing.
About a dozen residents, tenant activists and nonprofit representatives showed up at the chamber, and around 60 called in to join public comment, taking turns to voice support or opposition to the legislation.
District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey and District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman also joined the meeting, and raised concerns about the legislation’s impact on renters. Dorsey noted that, as a renter himself, he wants to find out if the legislation would affect rent control.
Aaron Starr, a manager at the Planning Department, assured the supervisor that the legislation would not do so: Any rent-controlled units demolished would have to be replaced.
Rich Hillis, the director of the Planning Department, said later in an interview that the type of housing eligible for demolition without a hearing is narrow: A one- or two-unit home that does not have tenants nor a history of eviction, and that is not a historic building.
Hillis said that his department is generally focusing on spurring development on commercial corridors, like Geary, California and Lombard streets, that have not seen a lot of housing.
Molly Goldberg, executive director of Anti-Displacement Coalition, said that she disagreed with Hillis, and that the legislation would disproportionately impact low-income tenants and tenants living in in-law units.
Aaron Peskin, President of the Board of Supervisors, reflected on the planning code and its history, admitting that, as a result of decades of overlapping layers of work, the code needs to be vetted and updated.
“I think it does make sense to go through and figure out whether or not a can of peas is outdated and needs to be thrown out,” Peskin said. “But I think you’ve got to look at each and every can and determine whether it still has a shelf life and it’s still edible and still has some utility.”
Peskin emphasized community engagement when working on a bill. He also brought up how he discourages monster homes, but encourages adding density while maintaining affordable rates to solve the housing crisis.
He also pointed out that there will be vexatious litigants who abuse the system. District 5 Supervisor Preston said, after reviewing the bill, that he would want more clarity from the Planning Department on “different rights of neighbors around demolitions and receiving 311 notifications.”
Preston also said he is concerned by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development’s push for demolition of rent-controlled units. Preston welcomes the mayor’s office to be present at a meeting in the future to discuss the bill; the Planning Department on Monday once again answered questions that were directed to the mayor’s office.
Mandelman, also questioned whether the bill will hurt rent controlled housing. But he said, the board has “allowed a level of process to develop over time that is impeding” housing.
“How do we make sure there’s not a tsunami of speculative evictions that have been held in check all these decades by this process?” Mandelman asked, acknowledging that the concern raised by tenant activists and other members of the public is valid. “We’ve been bleeding rent-control units for a long, long time, and many in my district”
As the city plans to demolish smaller rent-controlled units to make way for more density, Melgar, the chair of the committee and the District 7 supervisor, called for a cost-benefit analysis to have a better idea of how much rent-controlled housing would be affected by the city’s plan to approve 82,000 new homes by 2031.
“I think probably not that much, because most of this is geared toward a larger development,” Melgar said. “It’s really small potatoes in terms of the rest of what’s in this legislation, which is the big number.”