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Why San Francisco needs the governor’s housing bill

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Gov. Jerry Brown’s housing proposal aligns California with nearly every other state by granting “by-right” approval for proposed housing if it conforms to the local general plan, zoning and design review ordinances. (Eric Risberg/AP)
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Recently in this paper, Cindy Wu and Sue Vaughan mislead San Franciscans about Gov. Jerry Brown’s housing proposal. They painted a fantastical picture, in which an effort to make housing more affordable is somehow a nefarious corporate plot to use skyscraper-induced vortexes to fling pedestrians into the Bay. The truth is that Gov. Brown recognizes the enormity of the housing crisis and knows state action is necessary.

So what exactly does the governor’s housing streamlining proposal do? The proposal aligns California with nearly every other state by granting “by-right” approval for proposed housing if it conforms to the local general plan, zoning and design review ordinances. Additionally, proposed housing must be at least 20 percent affordable to low-income residents. The percentage is lower in transit priority areas or if the housing is affordable to very-low income people. Crucially, the proposal does not override local affordability requirements, so in post-Prop. C San Francisco, our 25 percent affordability rule reigns supreme.

People worried about high-rise condos blocking the setting sun over Ocean Beach need to visit their local dispensary and chill. Most of San Francisco is zoned for single-family homes, and the governor’s proposal does nothing to change that. Far from “top-down planning,” Brown’s proposal only requires cities to follow their own rules.

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What most irks me about Wu and Vaughan is how they slander hardworking affordable housing advocates who support the governor’s proposal as shills for “corporate CEOs [and] tech investors.” They then follow the 2016 version of Godwin’s Law by likening people like me to Donald Trump. Let’s be clear: Many affordable housing advocates and nonprofit housing developers support the governor’s proposal. Gov. Brown earned their support by revising his initial proposal and strengthening anti-displacement and affordability protections.

Let’s let BRIDGE Housing, the leading nonprofit affordable housing developer in California, speak for themselves. In a letter of support to the governor, BRIDGE Housing declared:

“Your “by-right” proposal would:

• Expedite the construction of housing in California.

• Reduce the risks associated with getting housing entitled and constructed.

• Enable California workers to obtain housing closer to their places of employment and therefore reduce the negative environmental impacts of people driving long distances to work.

• Help businesses attract and retain talent that fuels California’s economy.

• Build quality affordable apartments and single-family homes for Californians in need, including families, seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and people experiencing homelessness.”

BRIDGE Housing understands the scale of the housing crisis. Their 115-unit affordable housing development in San Leandro received waiting list requests from approximately 28,700 people. The housing shortage is real.

And to my fellow bike-riding granola-making vegetarian environmentalists: You should support Brown’s bill, too! Talk of building housing on wetlands is nonsense. The proposal encourages transit-oriented development, which is necessary to mitigate catastrophic climate change.

The academic housing literature is clear. The policies Wu and Vaughan support increase rent burdens for working families, encourage exurban sprawl, segregate cities by race and income and enrich incumbent homeowners at the expense of everyone else. If San Francisco wants to remain a welcoming city of opportunity for its young people, renters and migrants from around the world, we need to drop exclusionary policies and embrace the governor’s housing proposal.

Brian Hanlon co-founded the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund to make housing more affordable or accessible throughout California.

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