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Playing politics with middle-class housing

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Construction cranes are seen over downtown San Francisco on March 31, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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As supervisor and state senator, I have worked with people across San Francisco to make our housing more affordable and our neighborhoods more livable.

I am particularly proud to have authored The City’s first inclusionary housing legislation in 2002. The policy requires that private, for-profit developers set aside a minimum amount of housing that is affordable to working and low-income residents, along with their market-rate units.

Since then, San Francisco’s inclusionary housing policy has created nearly 2,000 new affordable units, some rental and some ownership — it works! And this is now a legacy affordable housing policy that we can continue to strengthen and expand.

Voters broadened the inclusionary housing program by passing Proposition C just this past June with an overwhelming 68 percent support. Prop. C broadened the inclusionary housing program and now mandates that developers provide housing in their projects for both middle-income and low-income residents, thereby putting San Francisco once again on the cutting-edge of inclusionary affordable housing policy. I strongly supported Prop. C, and was so pleased to see our city’s voters unified and mutually supportive in their continued embrace of this effective policy.

Immediately, however, the San Francisco Realtors Association responded by sponsoring and funding Proposition U on November’s ballot, a divisive measure that turns back our progress. Prop. U plays politics by turning middle-income against low-income San Franciscans, creating a one-tiered system in which residents compete for the same limited supply of housing. The Realtors’ million dollar campaign does not reveal that their measure also applies retroactively to hundreds of existing affordable housing units, allowing rents to be doubled when the units are vacated — a move that creates incentives for landlords to evict and displace tenants and get significant windfalls from higher rent. It is an incredibly cynical measure.

Prop. U and its companion, Proposition P (also from the Realtors), threatens the hard-fought progress we have made to address The City’s housing crisis while generating profits for developers and Realtors. Plain and simple, they are special-interest-driven measures masquerading as serious affordable housing policy.

This is no surprise. The California Association of Realtors, the San Francisco Realtors’ “parent” organization, is a powerful lobbying force in Sacramento with a long history of blocking affordable housing policy. They worked to stop critical reform of the state’s Ellis Act law, joined the Building Industry effort to overturn San Jose’s inclusionary policy and have blocked funding measures for affordable housing that would have come from a modest fee on real estate sales. And now the Realtors continue their disruptive and divisive agenda at a time when San Franciscans should be brought together, not wedged apart.

A coalition of nonprofit affordable housing and tenant groups oppose Propositions P and U. These are people on the frontlines, working every day to keep San Francisco affordable for everyone. I am proud to stand with them to vote No on Propositions P and U this Nov. 8, and I hope you will join me.

Mark Leno represents District 11 in the California State Senate.

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