May 21, 2019

The Hometown Tour: San Francisco

Roundtable participants sit around the table, four are seen laughing.

Local leaders and Axios' Ina Fried at the Hometown Tour: San Francisco. Photo: Sergio Gomez for Axios

Last Friday, Axios' Ina Fried hosted an Expert Voices Live discussion in San Francisco as part of the Hometown Tour, digging into the state of affordable housing in the city.

Why it matters: 28 local leaders — organizers, officials, developers, and financiers — discussed how to house San Franciscans in a way that is best for local communities.

1 Big Thing

Ina Fried kicked off the conversation by asking the participants what they hope most people could understand about the housing crisis in San Francisco.

Brock Keeling talks at the breakfast roundtable.
Brock Keeling, Editor at Curbed SF, shares his opinion. Photo: Sergio Gomez for Axios
  • Carolina Reid, Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning at University of California Berkeley, emphasized that everyone needs to take responsibility for the housing of children: "A safe, affordable and stable home is the single most important thing you can do to promote children's economic mobility."
  • Brock Keeling, Editor at Curbed SF, from the perspective of the media industry, noted the need to get the word out about the housing crisis: "There is a need for beat reporters who exclusively cover this."
  • Todd David, Executive Director at the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, stressed the lack of housing supply: "The underlying fundamental problem is a lack of supply at all levels of affordability."
Janet Liang talks during the breakfast.
Janet Liang of Kaiser Permanente talks about homelessness as a health issue. Photo: Sergio Gomez for Axios

Participants also highlighted the humanitarian and social equity impacts of the housing crisis.

  • Luis Granados, CEO at Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), on race as it relates to the crisis: "For all solutions...there needs to be a strong racial equity lens because the people that are being affected are majority people of color."
  • Janet Liang, President of the Kaiser Health Plan, Inc. and Hospitals, on homelessness and housing as a health issue: "The growing number of people on the street...aside from it being a human moral crisis, it is also a public health crisis."

Structural Barriers

Structural barriers, and the need for their elimination, was reiterated throughout the morning's conversation.

  • Laura Foote, Executive Director at YIMBY Action, called for change in the permit and building processes: "Anyone who can build sound housing shouldn't have to have political connections and savvy in order to get your permit."
Man talks at breakfast table.
Peter Cohen talks about land prices. Photo: Sergio Gomez for Axios
  • Peter Cohen, Co-Director at the Council of Community Housing Organizations, mentioned the need to strategize when purchasing affordable building sites — a huge expense before the building stage even begins: "We tend to be chasing the upper end of the market cycle — paying incredible amounts of money for a piece of dirt."
  • Judson True, Director of Housing Delivery for the Office of Mayor London N. Breed, said he was proud to work for a mayor who has grown impatient: "We cannot look at how long things take for things that we say we care about, and say that it's acceptable. We cannot have teacher housing that takes 10 years to even begin building."

On April 24, Mayor Breed introduced a Charter Amendment to make 100% affordable teacher housing subject to as-of-right approval in San Francisco.

Community Voice

Noni Session talks at breakfast.
Noni Session shares her perspective. Photo: Sergio Gomez for Axios

Ina highlighted the tension between the seemingly restrictive homeowner veto versus the ability for communities to have a voice in the projects coming to their neighborhood.

  • Noni Session, Executive Director at Easy Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative, stressed the importance of starting with the residents that will be living in the housing, rather than the developers: "So if we're asking questions around how to incorporate people who typically aren't heard to be in charge of their own outcomes, the solution is to begin the process with them."
  • Jon Dishotsky, Co-founder and CEO at Starcity, a community and co-living housing developer, echoed Ms. Session's statements: "We ask the community first — is this something you want in your neighborhood — and go from there."

Call to Action

Amie Fishman, Executive Director at the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, encouraged the group: "This is the urgent time and the urgent moment for generational change solutions."

Woman talks at breakfast table.
Amie Fishman delivers her call to action. Photo: Sergio Gomez for Axios

Gail Gilman, CEO at the Community Housing Partnership, left the group with this final task, "Every person around this table should smile or acknowledge the person they see on the street today, because that simple act of kindness is really important."

Thank you Wells Fargo for sponsoring this event.

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