All of us at SFHAC and BayHAC are incredibly grateful to our longstanding friends and partners at Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP for supporting our 18th Annual Housing Heroes Awards as the Presenting Sponsor.
Please enjoy learning more about the firm and its commitment to the Bay Area housing community in this conversation with RJR Partner and Vice Chair of SFHAC’s Board Daniel Frattin.
Why is it so important for RJR to be engaged in the community, and how did the firm decide to get involved with SFHAC and BayHAC?
It’s important that our firm is actively involved in the community. By supporting nonprofits, such as SFHAC, we’re contributing to a future where the Bay Area has enough homes for all those who want to live here. We also believe that our attorneys cannot be successful without having an understanding of the communities they work in and an appreciation for the competing interests that our clients, policymakers, and neighbors must navigate. We strongly encourage active participation in civic and professional organizations, and we’re proud to count an elected official, a planning commissioner, and a number of nonprofit board members among our ranks.
Our decision to get involved with the HAC was a no-brainer. We work closely with residential builders and have first-hand knowledge of the challenging environment they operate in. We also share HAC’s core value that the shortage of new housing construction is the number one impediment to a more equitable, sustainable, and economically successful region, and that new housing should be encouraged in all neighborhoods throughout San Francisco and the greater Bay Area. When HAC was formed 20 years ago, it’s fair to say that San Francisco had a hangover from the car-centric, anti-density policies of an earlier generation – a “housing last” approach that enjoyed vociferous support from many homeowners. We recognized early on that HAC – by bringing together pro-housing constituencies from labor, business, the activist community, and civic organizations – could be both a political counterweight to anti-development groups and a proving ground for pro-housing policy. (It’s also cheaper and better than therapy!)
How has your involvement with SFHAC and BayHAC been beneficial to the firm?
One of HAC’s great strengths is the options it gives its members for plugging into its work and interacting with a diverse cross-section of professionals, public officials, and community leaders. As attorneys, their Legislative Committee and Regulatory Committee have been particularly valuable for us to keep current on what’s happening in city halls across the region and in the state legislature. It also gives us an opportunity to communicate directly with elected leaders and other policy makers. For our younger attorneys in particular, HAC’s committees are a great place to connect with non-lawyers and get a deeper understanding of the players in the housing industry, from finance to construction to labor.
RJR has been a longtime collaborator and friend of SFHAC and BayHAC. Looking back on our years of partnership, what are you most proud of accomplishing together?
Student housing. The Bay Area’s non-profit universities are the backbone of its economic success, but it has become more and more challenging for them to attract students to the nation’s most expensive housing market. The burden of high housing costs falls hardest on students from modest backgrounds, those who don’t have parents to pay rent, co-sign leases, or otherwise help them to compete in a housing market that was—at least until seven months ago—hyper-competitive. For their part, most nonprofit colleges and universities cannot afford to build new housing due to the high cost of land in and around their campuses and city impact fees, especially the affordable housing fee. The result: San Francisco’s colleges and universities have 80,000 full-time students but only 9,000 student housing beds.
We worked closely with the staff at HAC, universities, and other sharp legal minds in HAC’s membership to pass and then fine tune an incentive program to get new student housing built. Since it was passed, more than 2,000 beds of student housing have been built for California College of the Arts, the University of San Francisco, and the Conservatory of Music. And our collaborative efforts continue on a local and statewide level to responsibly increase student housing throughout the region.
We were honored to welcome RJR as the Presenting Sponsor of this year’s Housing Heroes Awards. What are your impressions of this year’s honorees?
These inspiring Housing Heroes highlight the fact that there is no single solution to the Bay Area’s housing crisis and no one person or group who can solve it single-handedly or quickly. Rather, it takes the dedication of behind-the-scenes policy experts like Carol Galante, elected officials like Mayor Libby Schaaf who are willing to take high-profile stands in favor of housing, and community leaders like Lisa Spinali and Jon Winston who are willing to put in the time to move their neighbors toward a consensus more favorable to housing. While each of the honorees come from different backgrounds, they all seem to have something in common: none of them pretend that decisions about housing are without trade-offs or that there is a one-size fits all fix to housing. Instead, they each seem to understand that theirs is a generational effort that will take policy smarts, political savvy, and deep community engagement to fix a problem that has been decades in the making.