Some of San Francisco’s biggest developers met with city officials Thursday afternoon at SPUR to confront what they see as the political backlash against growth sparked by the influx of tech workers, the luxury construction boom and rising housing costs.
“We have a housing crisis,” said Jim Lazarus, senior vice president of the Chamber of Commerce, as he entered the closed-door meeting. “People are feeling that they are going to lose their housing.”
The development community, Lazarus said, needs to remind people of the building boom’s positives so the backlash does not impede the economic benefits coming to The City.
Oz Erickson of Emerald Fund was the only developer entering the meeting who commented about the housing crisis to The San Francisco Examiner, saying there needs to be a “solution that works for everyone.”
The group was brought together by Gabriel Metcalf, who heads SPUR, a nonprofit urban think tank, as part of an ongoing effort to solve The City’s housing crunch, Metcalf said.
“At times like this crisis, people are desperate for constructive solutions,” he said. “What we don’t want is for no-growthers to make the problem worse for their own purpose.”
One example of how the politics of development and housing have again been thrust into center stage is the defeat of the 8 Washington St. condo development on November’s ballot, said people who did not attend the meeting but are among those debating how to solve the problem.
“I think there is a fear of backlash,” said Nate Ballard, a Democratic strategist, when reached by phone Thursday. “When housing prices rise, those that are displaced can react angrily at the polls and that’s understandable.”
The way out of the crisis, Ballard said, is to build — a sentiment echoed by SPUR and Mayor Ed Lee.
“There are certain immutable laws of economics and one is the law of supply and demand,” Ballard said.
Others disagree, arguing there is no proof the market, which has thus far built mostly luxury units, can alone reduce or stabilize rents.
“We need to build more housing, but all housing is not equal,” said Jon Golinger, who headed the successful anti-8 Washington campaign.
The way out of the problem, he argues, is to stabilize the rental market by tightening eviction rules and to strongly encourage developers to build more moderately priced housing.
“For every 8 Washington [developer] that says let me build that … there’s another builder in line,” Golinger said about worries that new rules will frighten builders.
Whatever the solution, the problem cannot be swept under the rug with a splashy slogan, said Peter Cohen, executive director of the San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations.
“Pulling a bunch of folks together by SPUR and saying we better be a little careful here because the public sentiment may turn against us” is not a solution, he said.