Supervisor Aaron Peskin (Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)

Exposing special interests in the room and at the ballot box

Modern life is pretty overwhelming. It happens to all of us; we allow ourselves to become overcommitted, and our work suffers as a result. Members of the Board of Supervisors are no different. For two months in a row, Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s column in the Marina Times has contained pretty significant mistakes.

In his March column about the Affordable Housing Bonus Program, the supervisor identified the plaintiffs in the Napa density bonus lawsuit as “developers,” when, in fact, the plaintiffs were a farmworker group called Latinos Unidos del Valle de Napa y Solano. Latinos Unidos is a nonprofit that promotes the interests of immigrant laborers.

In his April column, Peskin corrected his March mischaracterization, but went on to make another blunder. He wrote, “This official census data [the American Community Survey] shows a one-year in-migration of 63,991 people, with an out-migration of 62,757 residents — a net population increase of 1,234.”

In fact, the U.S. Census population estimates for San Francisco County shows the population has increased by more than 10,000 people per year, every year, since 2010. In particular, the population estimate for San Francisco in 2014 is 852,537. The estimate for 2015 is 864,816. This represents a population increase of 12,279, not 1,234. Peskin’s numbers leave out approximately 11,000 people each year who move to San Francisco by being born here.

The Controller’s report on the effect of last year’s Proposition I suggested about 64,000 new people moved to San Francisco every year since 2010. Based on the above census data, about 12,000 of those new people become a net addition to our city every year. Some of this net population increase is made possible by new building; some is made possible by crowding.

In order to make room for the 52,000 people who come here each year that aren’t accommodated by new building or by crowding, 52,000 current residents have to leave. This is displacement. Inevitably, the people who are displaced are lower income than the people who can stay and, inevitably, they are not homeowners. They are renters.

This is why I started the S.F. Bay Area Renters Federation. Too many of The City’s land use decisions are made by homeowners, like Supervisor Peskin. Since homeowners
cannot be displaced, the issue of displacement is theoretical to them. They can try to imagine what it might be like to live in fear of displacement, but they cannot actually feel the fear.

This is why homeowners, like Peskin (or Dean Preston or Dennis Richards), prioritize sentimental concerns like neighborhood character over practical concerns like housing San Francisco’s growing population and preventing the displacement of lower-income residents by new, higher-income residents.

Homeowners and landlords have a special interest in maintaining the status quo in their neighborhood. Exclusivity increases the value of their properties and, in the case of landlords like Supervisor Peskin (or Spike Kahn and Eric Arguello, supporters of last years’ moratorium on building in the Mission), it increases the amount of rent they can charge their tenants — or the debt of gratitude the tenants owe if they choose to charge below market rates.

In 2014, San Francisco built 3,514 homes and thereby saved 7,000 people from being displaced. Maybe next year, we can build 6,500 homes and save 13,000 people from being displaced.

To perfectly accommodate 64,000 new people a year, The City should aim to build 30,000 new housing units per year. We may never get there, but every new house we build will increase San Francisco’s net population by, and prevent displacement of, however many people live in that new house.

As a renter, I have a tenuous claim on the place I live. I can be pushed out by a higher-income newcomer. My special interest is to do everything I can to try to make sure that a higher-income newcomer has a new place to live, so I can protect myself from being displaced.

Sonja Trauss is the founder of the S.F. Bay Area Renters Federation and S.F. Bay Area Renters PAC.

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