Last Thursday evening, May 21st, the SF Housing Action Coalition hosted our 9th Annual Spring Forum reaching beyond the City’s 7×7 landmass, across the bay and down the peninsula to discuss housing, transportation and job centers. We brought together three big city mayors at a sold out SFJAZZ Center to explore these topics.
For the first time, we live tweeted the event from start to finish, so if you want to browse through the discussion check out #SFHACForum2015. And Our media sponsor, The Registry, did a stellar recap of the event, which we’ve brought to you here.
Thanks to all our attendees and over 60 corporate sponsors who made this annual fundraiser a smash hit and make the daily advocacy of the SF Housing Action Coalition possible. Thank you.
Without further ado.
In a Bay Area civic version of the Three Tenors, the three mayors of our region’s largest cities met last week to discuss one of the most pressing issues afflicting their cities—housing. An event held at the SFJazz Center in San Francisco and organized by San Francisco Housing Action Coalition gathered Mayor Edwin Lee of San Francisco, Mayor Sam Liccardo of San Jose and Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland in front of hundreds of industry participants.
Tim Colen, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition opened the event acknowledging the timing of this discussion. “Our interest in regionalism and hosting the discussion tonight is less because it’s a policy area a small group like ours can tackle, then because questions keep coming up in local conversations that we can no longer avoid,” he said.
Colen solicited the help of Gabriel Metcalf, president and CEO of SPUR, and the founder of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, to moderate the discussion, and the first question went to Oakland’s Mayor Schaaf whose East Bay city has seen a surge in development activity, interest and subsequent price increases. According to Schaaf, the city is in the midst of a development boom with 850 units under construction (40 percent of which are affordable), with another 11,000 somewhere in the entitlement process—the potential for transformation is great, she added, even though it is faced with challenges of its own.
“Oakland struggles a little, because we share the construction costs of San Francisco, but the rents are not the same.” The ability for developers to pencil in new construction is more challenged, “but we have got to build more housing,” added Schaaf.
The city has the second fastest rising rent rate in the country, according to the mayor, which is creating a lot of fear that the city will change, and than the new prosperity will not lift all the residents and that it will push out the current ones.
“We cannot build our way out of the problem, we have to do other things that also provide security for the people who are already here,” said Schaaf, but also realizing that certain forces cannot be stopped. “I cannot build a wall around our city. I cannot keep new people from moving here. In some ways we should be proud that people have discovered the awesomeness of Oakland.”
In San Francisco, which is experiencing its biggest building boom since the 1920s, Mayor Lee is faced with an economy that has perhaps outgrown the physical place, the housing stock and the transportation system. At the same time, the city may be outgrowing the ability of its citizens to deal with the changes, said Metcalf soliciting a response from the mayor.
“This is a very different time for San Francisco, historically,” said Lee. “We have to have those delicate conversations with historic NIMBY attitudes.”
“A lot of people instantaneously forget that we’re still coming out of [the] recession. And we’re very fortunate to have come out of it quite quickly. We’ve always had strong tourism, we’ve kept that, but we didn’t know that tech and healthcare would be such drivers of strong economic vitality,” said Mayor Lee.
The city is pushing forward a number of initiatives in an attempt to curb escalating housing costs that are changing the fabric of San Francisco.
“The past two years, we’ve invested over $13 million to prevent evictions,” he said. “We’re pouring in millions of dollars in neighborhood stabilization funds. Can we buy wholesale buildings under threat? Yes, we can. We’ve done that.”
At the same time, the city is also tackling head on initiatives that propose development mortaria as a response to increased housing costs and is trying to find solutions that work with the proponents of those actions. “This is a time not to moratorium ourselves to death,” Lee added.