Courtesy Alfred Twu/SFBARF

A Monster Mash to shock us out of SF housing crisis

Monsters are becoming as ubiquitous as Democrats in San Francisco. Like the million shades of blue that define our Democratic spectrum, multiple monster images now illustrate our housing crisis.

First, there’s the “Monster in the Mission” named by low-income housing activists and artists who fear 10 stories of market-rate housing proposed above the 16th Street BART station.

The development is opposed — despite offering some below-market-rate units — because it will mostly house tech workers and encourage further gentrification of the neighborhood.

Then there’s the “NIMBY Monster” for what happens when residents with a “not in my backyard” mindset try to block development: much-needed new housing gets killed.

The twist is that some of the people circulating the “NIMBY Monster” cartoon on social media are low- income artists who reject the “Monster in the Mission” point of view. They believe building more market-rate housing is the only way to afford living in San Francisco. They’re tired of being outbid on a limited supply of older units that would normally be less expensive starter homes — if the wealthy had something else to buy. And they don’t want handouts. Sonja Trauss, 33, wants to be able to rent and eventually own a home in San Francisco without what she calls the indignity of housing subsidies that are long on rules and wait lists.

As the founder of the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation, Trauss has gotten lots of media attention for her purposefully punk acronym, SFBARF. She lives in West Oakland and until recently was a low-paid high school math teacher. Now she organizes around housing full time. Her street-theater skills match those of the Google bus protesters as she makes it fun and hip to support more development — the taller and denser, the better.

Trauss sends shock waves through community meetings when she calls for 50-story high-rises next to quaint neighborhoods of single-family homes. While I would never support anything that extreme, I believe we need to be shocked out of a 40-year housing mantra of less development and more price controls that was well-intended but led to our current state.

The laws of supply and demand do apply in San Francisco, and our only hope to solve the housing crisis is to change our knee-jerk reaction against any mention of height and density. Supervisor Katy Tang represents western neighborhoods known to vehemently oppose density, yet she has the political courage to advocate for reasonable development along transit and commercial corridors where existing height limits are underutilized.

As a westside homeowner, it’s in my interest to fight high density to protect quality of life and property values. Yet I remind my neighbors how much we hate being City Hall’s ATM since homeowners have to pay for every parcel tax despite being in the minority.

If we agree to five or six stories of ownership units along westside transit corridors like Ocean Avenue (with vibrant retail below, not just vape shops), we’ll create more homeowners to share the tax burden — and allies to question the point of the taxes in the first place.

Plus, we’ll help make room for the next generation.

I serve on the board of SF Moderates, a group that wants more young and creative people to become homeowners in San Francisco. We gave Trauss a grant of $5,000 to produce four panel discussions seeking common sense solutions to our housing crisis.

Her first panel attracted nearly 100 millennial-age renters who haven’t been here long enough to benefit from rent control and fear being forced out of San Francisco by an overheated housing market.

For boomers and Gen-Xers like me who were able to come to San Francisco and build a life, it’s tempting to preserve our piece of utopia by embracing housing policies that keep newcomers out. But it’s a monstrous way to plan for San Francisco’s future.

Joel Engardio lives west of Twin Peaks. Follow his blog at Email him at

Bay Area NewsHousing MarketJoel EngardioNIMBYSFBARF

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