Concerned about housing affordability and tenant rights? Support SB 50

By Scott Wiener and Cyn Wang

As San Francisco residents and housing advocates, we envision a future in which everyone has a place to live: where young families can create lives for themselves, where people aren’t sleeping on the streets anymore, and where no one living in our neighborhoods has to experience housing insecurity or fear eviction.

Unfortunately, that is not our current reality. That’s why we are working together to fight for an affordable Bay Area where everyone – seniors, young people, veterans, teachers, service workers, nurses – can thrive.

Median rent in San Francisco for a one-bedroom apartment is an astounding $3,490 a month. It costs, on average, $1.3 million dollars to buy a home here. If you live in the city, these numbers are likely no shock to you. For all too many, it’s becoming nearly impossible to afford to live in San Francisco. We all know community members – family, neighbors, and friends – who might even have full-time jobs, but who are still struggling to survive here. We talk to people every day who deal with housing insecurity, and it’s clear that the affordability crisis is a widespread epidemic that impacts almost everyone.

The people suffering the most are middle- and low-income people, who cannot afford sky-high rents and who are forced to couch surf, live out of their cars, or become “mega-commuters” — driving into the city for work from places hours away where housing is more affordable.

One major contributing factor to the housing crisis is our zoning laws, which prohibit multi-family homes from being built in a large majority of San Francisco and California generally, particularly in wealthier neighborhoods. Right now, it’s illegal to build affordable housing and apartment buildings in over 70% of San Francisco.

That’s why we are working to pass Senate Bill 50, a housing bill that legalizes affordable housing and apartment buildings in transit- and job-rich areas in California. It’s eligible to move forward this January, so it’s no surprise that the conversation about the bill has reached a fever pitch in the past few weeks, with significant misinformation and exaggeration circulating around the legislation.

SB 50 is a landmark bill to foster stronger, more equitable and inclusive communities and put an end to the restrictive, exclusionary, low-density zoning that perpetuates segregation, exacerbates our housing affordability crisis, and undermines our climate goals by inducing sprawl development and long commutes. This critical legislation focuses new growth in wealthier communities that have failed to build their fair share of housing over decades, while safeguarding the ability of low-income communities to determine their own future. By effectively ending single-family zoning in many parts of the state, SB 50 directly confronts a practice that started as an exclusionary tool to keep low-income and people of color out of wealthier neighborhoods, and is used to this day under the mantra of “local control” and “neighborhood character.”

SB 50 promotes robust and inclusive development at all income levels with a significant affordability component and strong protections for the most vulnerable among us. That’s why SB 50 contains strong tenant, affordability, and anti-demolition protections. We need to ensure those who are at risk of losing their homes are able to stay where they live, and that communities are inclusive of people at all income levels.

To end our housing crisis, we must move forward a multi-pronged approach – one that includes tenant protections, affordable housing mandates, and market rate building as key pieces of the puzzle. Why market rate? Currently, 90% of low-income people actually live in market rate housing. We need to stabilize the market, but we also need to dramatically increase housing supply if we want costs to come down. The only alternative to a future of housing abundance is the broken status quo: soaring housing demand pushing out working class people, with no new inventory to stem the tide.

With respect to the objections we hear about SB 50, we heard similar objections to another one of Senator Wiener’s housing bills, SB 35, which streamlined the housing approval process and has been used throughout the state to create desperately needed affordable homes quickly, in addition to forcing wealthy communities to allow housing. Most recently, in Los Angeles, two new affordable housing developments were approved using SB 35’s mandate. Numerous San Francisco affordable housing projects are using SB 35 to accelerate the approval process. Like SB 35, SB 50 will help affordable housing developers that want to build in parts of our city where it’s traditionally been forbidden, and unlock the potential to build the homes needed by our city’s nonprofit workers, teachers, and first responders who make too much for traditional affordable housing and too little for the market. This includes allowing more housing on San Francisco’s west side, including District 4 (Sunset and Parkside), where a mere 52 net new units were built over the last decade.

Anyone who is worried about housing affordability and tenant rights should join with us in supporting SB 50. It’s one of the few proposals that’s bold enough to tackle our housing crisis while protecting low- and middle-income renters.

Scott Wiener is a state senator representing San Francisco and northern San Mateo County. He previously served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Cyn Wang is a native San Franciscan, small business owner, parent, and candidate for Democratic County Central Committee (AD-19).

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