June 13, 2016 Andy Mullan

The Rise of the YIMBY

Andy Mullan ScreenshotI’ve had a revelation. I’m not going to complain about housing anymore. It doesn’t do any good. I’ve probably complained about the price or availability of decent housing in San Francisco every day for the last five years, and, if anything, the situation has only gotten worse. The city’s population continues to grow, and prices continue rise well beyond what the median working person can reasonably afford.

I guess I thought that if I just complained to everyone I met, somehow my song of woe would make its way to the ears of our city’s policy makers. I believe that in a housing crisis, the only real solution is more housing, and I, wrongly, believed that my view was the consensus. I thought our problem was that government and the market were just too slow to act. But I was wrong about that too. There’s a loud and influential anti-housing development coalition in San Francisco.

See former SF Bay Area Guardian editor, Tim Redmond’s May 18th post, Why Allowing More Housing Makes Housing More Expensive. Long-time housing activist Calvin Welch wrote something similar in his SF Controller Shows “Supply & Demand” Does Not Work in the San Francisco Housing Market. Spoiler alert: that’s not what the city’s Controller showed.

But surely no one takes these views seriously?” I can hear you thinking to yourself. 

Au contraire! These views are taken very seriously. Much of the anti-housing development sentiment are born out of a fear of gentrification and displacement. Both issues are extremely valid concerns, but rejecting housing development has only made the problem worse.

Housing, in all its forms, is a public good, but many in San Francisco don’t see it that way. That’s why the city-owned, 17-acre, BART-adjacent Balboa Reservoir currently sits vacant. That’s why the unfairly maligned, but terrific Affordable Housing Bonus Program sits in legislative purgatory at the Board of Supervisors. That’s why there was a ballot initiative to ban housing development in the Mission last year. It doesn’t matter how many studies the City Economist produces showing stopping development doesn’t make the city more affordable. It doesn’t matter that the state’s Legislative Analyst reports that new market-rate housing reduces displacement.  

We don’t just need more housing. We need a paradigm shift. We’re not going to convince the Tim Redmonds and Calvin Welches to come over to our side, we need to convince the people who believe that we need to stop talking, and start building housing to speak up. Because, I can’t hear you.  

Thanks to the great folks at the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, and other YIMBY organizations like Grow SF, and SF Bay Area Renter’s Federation, I’ve seen the light. We’re all going to need to work a little bit harder. They’ve shown me that we can’t just whine about rent anymore. Frankly, voting isn’t enough either. We need to show up at Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings and demand more housing. We need to speak in favor of every housing development that comes before those boards. We need to speak in favor of increasing the amount of housing proposed in each project.

“Ugh public meetings?” you whine. “Aren’t they really inconvenient?”

This is an unfortunate reality. Most public meetings are at times when people with jobs are at work. But just tell your boss the truth. Your boss will probably understand because your boss is also probably having trouble finding housing. It’s your duty to help change the way housing is developed in San Francisco. Take a late lunch, bring your computer, and invite your boss to come with you. The reality is that employers would spend less time worried about recruitment and retention if the cost of living in this city weren’t bananas.

Luckily, the SFHAC staff do everything to make it as convenient as possible to come to hearings. They’ll fill out your speaker’s cards, send you text messages with updates, and let you know exactly the best time to show up.

“Ugh public meetings?” you whine. “That sounds really lame.”

I’m going to be honest with you. This will not be the coolest thing you’ve ever done. I wish I could tell you that all of San Francisco’s sexiest singles were all just sitting around City Hall in a state of partial undress, but that just isn’t true. But you know what’s less hot than spending your evening at City Hall? Living in a dump with 16 other people because the median rent is $3,500. The best way to spice up your love life is to get your own apartment. The best way to get your own apartment is to help get as many apartments built as possible. The best way to get apartments built is to join a pro-housing organization (become a Friend of SFHAC!) and start showing up at public meetings. There are over 60,000 units in the housing development pipeline right now. One of those could be yours, but it won’t happen on its own. Projects are appealed all the time, and they won’t survive without your help!

Join me! Come sit with me at the next Planning Commission meeting.

And next time you think “ugh public meeting?” think of a future where all the gross hair in the bathroom drain is yours.

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Andy Mullan

Andy Mullan, a New Hampshire native and Bayview resident, moved to San Francisco from Washington DC in 2012. He quickly became interested in SF politics because, “Being engaged with your local government is a really incredible learning experience.”

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