Vowing to share the prosperity of the flourishing technology industry that has sent real estate prices soaring, Mayor Ed Lee delivered an upbeat State of the City address Thursday as he unveiled plans to build more middle-class housing, expand free Muni, help more residents buy homes and end poverty for 500 families.
During his first four years in office, the mayor has faced persistent criticism about the impacts of the booming tech industry in San Francisco: significant neighborhood changes, displacement of residents, as well as rising rents and evictions.
During his 36-minute address, the mayor acknowledged these concerns while pledging to address them.
“This is San Francisco, and as long as I'm mayor, we won't leave anyone behind,” he asserted.
For some, the course of action struck a bittersweet political note. Supervisor John Avalos suggested the mayor has waited too long.
“It's a little late, but if he finally wants to focus on the ideas that many others in San Francisco have been trying to make happen in the last four years, maybe The City will do more than go backwards on affordability and can do more than inch forward in the right direction,” Avalos said.
Supervisor David Campos received support from the mayor to expand the free Muni for youths program to seniors and the disabled. Lee has also added $600,000 to finish overhauling the 57-bed homeless shelter at 1 S. Van Ness Ave. with the addition of 27 beds for LGBT homeless by June. The project was supported by Campos, among others, as the local LGBT homeless population has increased.
Campos said the mayor has rightfully created an agenda that addresses San Francisco's “most pressing issue” — having the largest income inequality gap of any major U.S. city — but noted specifics were lacking.
“The issue of inequality is a very difficult issue to tackle,” Campos said. “It's easier said than done.”
Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee, a nonprofit tenants-rights advocate, said she was “very pleased” that the mayor discussed preserving rent-control units as part of his overall housing crisis strategy.
The mayor said that as The City builds toward meeting his goal of 30,000 new or rehabilitated housing units by 2020, he wants to prevent displacement by increasing funding for eviction defense and helping tenants buy their rent-controlled buildings.
“Eviction defense and tenants buying buildings, we can definitely get behind,” Shortt said.
Lee also announced a November housing bond and a new housing investment fund to partner with private and philanthropic groups for middle-class housing, affordable housing and a rebuild of public-housing sites.
The mayor said that during the next decade, he wants to see an investment of $100 million from the government-pension fund into homebuyer loans of $200,000 for up to 150 families annually. But Shortt questioned the wisdom of this strategy.
“How realistic is it that people can afford homeownership in this market even with down payment assistance?” Shortt asked.
One-bedroom rents average about $2,800 a month and home sales reached a nearly $1 million median price.
Building on efforts to house the homeless, the mayor announced plans to create 500 more supportive-housing units and create a navigation center at 1950 Mission St. to immediately house nearby homeless sleeping in tents.
“It's shameful how many people still sleep on our streets,” Lee said.
The mayor, who is up for re-election in November, stated he wants to be “held accountable” in his efforts to address the affordability issue.
“I will keep working night and day to see that our rising prosperity benefits every San Francisco resident,” Lee said.
That includes what he is calling Project 500, an effort to help 500 families move out of poverty.