Heading into what may be an uncontested re-election year, Mayor Ed Lee is expected to deliver his State of the City address today with a not-surprising focus on San Francisco's ongoing housing crisis.
This year, Lee plans to launch new initiatives such as a below-market-rate housing investment fund, but also discuss waging a fight against poverty in San Francisco, where the income inequality is among the worst in any major U.S. city.
Speaking at the expanding Bayview's Wholesale Produce Market — which sells fruits and vegetables to local restaurants, hotels and corner stores — the mayor will emphasize the importance of middle-class jobs like manufacturing.
“These are the kinds of jobs that I want to be paying attention to for families in The City,” Lee said Wednesday during a media preview of his speech.
While the mayor's cozy relationship with the technology industry has come under attack, it helped him turn around the local economy and build a strong political base. But criticism persists over high rents, displacement, changing neighborhoods and the possible loss of manufacturing commercial space.
Taking aim at these issues, the mayor discussed Wednesday his focus on “getting back to the basics of fighting and ending poverty in The City” while “making sure we don't lose this middle class.”
Housing will once again take center stage. About 4,000 new or rehabilitated housing units were created last year, building toward the mayor's goal of 30,000 such units by 2020. Of the 4,000 units, 25 percent are required to be affordable for certain income levels, which is below the 33 percent goal.
This year, the goal for new or rehabilitated housing units is 5,000.
To help reach that level, Lee is announcing a new investment fund similar to efforts in New York and Los Angeles. It involves partnering with philanthropic entities, nonprofits and private developers to purchase land and build projects with below-market-rate units.
“We are creating a new investment fund that will directly contribute to middle-income housing, a nut that has been very difficult to crack,” Lee said.
San Francisco receives state and federal subsidies for housing below 80 percent of the area median income, but not for middle-class residents, which is up to 150 percent of the area median income — $145,000 for a family of four. Real estate prices remain high, with one-bedrooms averaging about $2,800 a month and home sales reaching a nearly $1 million median price.
Lee noted that Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff and angel investor Ron Conway, a prominent backer of the mayor, have given millions of dollars to the health industry, but “I'm trying to direct that same philanthropic arm toward my challenge on housing.”
To also boost housing funding, the mayor will announce a bond for the November ballot, likely in excess of $200 million, that he hopes will attract matching investments. The mayor said he wanted to invest $100 million of The City's pension funds during the next decade into the down-payment assistance homeowner loan program, which would provide loans of $200,000 to up to 150 families annually.
An effort to use public land for housing development will continue, the mayor said, but he is also working with the San Francisco Interfaith Council, an organization of local religious groups, about development on its members' land, including parking lots.
The mayor will recommit himself to trying to reform the state Ellis Act law, which allows building owners to evict tenants in order to get out of the rental business. He said he has met with local real estate interests to try and win them over in the effort and plans to again work with state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, on a bill despite last year's failed efforts.
“I want the Realtors to join me in this fight,” Lee said, denouncing real estate speculation.
Noting that Ellis Act evictions are down, Lee said: “Greed does not sleep. It's not just a Wall Street movie. It is real. I am going to keep that pressure up and have eviction defense programs that are very strong in The City.”
Lee vowed that his administration will discuss fighting poverty this year.
“Let's identify 500 families that are in poverty today,” Lee said. “What does it mean for them to really get out of poverty and start doing it family by family by family?”
The mayor's staunchest critics will be on hand to hear the details of what Lee is doing to address the challenges of a city undergoing significant change, including John Avalos, who was the runner-up to Lee in the 2011 mayor's race.
“Even with his supposed popularity, the mayor refuses to take stands on important issues and fails to show any real vision in how to lead The City,” Avalos said.