July 29, 2022 Corey Smith

Telling Housing Fact from Fiction

As San Francisco’s housing crisis has grown progressively worse, so too has our city’s discourse around housing. Having spent the past six years working to advance evidence-based solutions to SF’s housing shortage, displacement, and affordability crisis, it’s been alarming to watch housing conversations become increasingly devoid of facts. What’s worse, much of the inaccuracy is coming directly from SF Supervisors themselves. 

Just last month alone, the Board of Supervisors held hearings on three measures that sponsors claimed would create more affordable housing by (a) changing zoning laws to allow for more multi-family housing, (b) requiring rent control for all new buildings, and (c) speeding up the approval process for new affordable homes. 

In response, the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board laid out why these were nothing more than cheap theatrics in service of a status quo that is failing San Franciscobecause they included stringent new requirements that would make it prohibitively expensive and onerous (and therefore unlikely) for affordable and market rate builders alike to create new homes. 

What’s worse, when confronted with feasibility studies and other such data documenting why their proposals will do little to create more housing, some Supervisors simply resort to name-calling (one has called HAC team members everything from “sociopaths” to “neocons”) and outlandish falsehoods (“developers are coming to bulldoze your neighborhood!”). This is both embarrassing conduct from elected officials and deeply disrespectful to residents who deserve an intellectually honest debate about realistic solutions to SF’s top priority problem.

It also underscores why it’s essential for voters to know where to turn for reliable information about what’s actually causing our housing crisis and which solutions are based on facts versus fiction. Here are three ways to help discern the difference.

1. Check the data. When reading about housing, look for articles that cite research and analysis conducted by professional number crunchers. In San Francisco that includes the Chief Economist’s Office, Controller’s Office, and Planning Department. These three offices recently conducted feasibility studies and concluded that none of the Board of Supervisors recent housing proposals would spur much new home construction, which is as important for voters to know about as it is inconvenient for the Supervisors who proposed them.

2. Read policy experts. These include academics at Bay Area institutions such as UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project and Othering & Belonging Institute, statewide specialists like those at the CA Legislative Analyst Office, and policy reporters like Jerusalem Demsas and Conor Dougherty who rely on evidenced-based research to explain housing issues.

3. Compare voting records. A careful examination of Supervisors’ votes on housing measures (here’s an example) will tell you what you really need to know about what politicians are doing – or not doing – to seriously advance solutions. And if they can’t substantively explain their actions, it’s probably not a great idea to trust their words. A good place to turn are voter guides published by data-driven think tanks like SPUR and pro-housing organizations like YIMBY Action.

San Francisco is rapidly running out of time to solve our housing shortage and affordability crisis. Voters have run out of patience. It’s time to demand that our electeds prioritize solving our housing problems with the urgency and honesty our city deserves.

Corey Smith

Corey Smith is HAC's Executive Director and can be reached at corey@housingactioncoalition.org.

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