When talking about the Realtors’ Propositions P and U on this November’s ballot, two widely opposed measures that mess with the wonky details of how affordable housing is built in San Francisco, it’s easy to lose sight of the real people who stand to lose if these measures pass.
Prop. U is a divisive measure that takes away vital and already limited affordable housing resources from low-income San Franciscans. It undermines The City’s longstanding inclusionary housing program, which has successfully created several thousand affordable units within private developments. Currently, developers must provide inclusionary units for both middle-income and low-income households. Prop. U cynically undoes this by robbing Peter to pay Paul, taking away the limited inclusionary homes for low-income folks and opening all of them up to higher-income earners. It does this without creating a single new unit of housing. Even more insidious, Prop. U will apply retroactively to nearly a thousand existing inclusionary units, allowing landlords to double the rents they charge, creating an incentive to evict low-income tenants.
So who stands to lose if Prop. U passes? Who are the real faces of inclusionary housing?
We spoke with three inclusionary tenants and asked them to share their stories.
A family returns to its neighborhood
Rico Riemedio spent seven years applying for inclusionary housing before he won a spot in a new building in the South of Market for himself, his wife, step-daughter and 85-year-old mother.
When his family first immigrated to San Francisco from the Philippines in 1973, they moved to SoMa, an area with many Filipino immigrants. Rico’s family eventually left San Francisco, but his mother always wanted to come back. When they finally returned to The City, they could only afford an in-law apartment up a tall hill in the Excelsior. Without an easy way for his mother to travel or even a window for her to look out of, Rico felt like he was “keeping my mom in solitary.” Now, his mom is happy to be back in their old neighborhood, where she can easily get around and knows the community.
As a volunteer at the Bayanihan Community Center and a part-time caregiver, Rico thinks about the impact that losing low-income inclusionary housing would have on his community. “How about the seniors, the elders who live here?” he asks, pointing out that caregivers for seniors make around $13 per hour. “People who make a lot of money aren’t going to help the seniors. … We’ve got to have a place for people who do minimum wage jobs for The City.”
An organizer stays in his community
The housing crisis affects nonprofit workers, too, like the second inclusionary tenant we spoke with (who asked to remain unnamed). A community organizer, he understands having to choose between community and work, and being able to afford housing. After being evicted from their previous home in the Mission, he and his partner searched for affordable housing for a year, bouncing from sublet to sublet.
The thought of leaving San Francisco while organizing within The City didn’t make sense to him: “I was committed to staying here,” he said. He had even crunched the numbers, calculating that if they moved to the East Bay, the money they would have saved on housing would quickly be eaten up by the cost of commuting.
Inclusionary housing has allowed them to continue to work for their community. When asked what he would do if he were evicted from his current home as a result of Prop. U, he paused and said he has two options: He might have to leave San Francisco, maybe even California, or he would have to stop doing community work — neither of which he wants. But he doesn’t think he’d be able to find another home he could afford outside of inclusionary housing: “If I couldn’t afford an apartment two years ago, I can’t afford it now.”
From homeless to housed
Larry Richards credits the work his caregiver did to find him inclusionary housing with keeping him alive: “Fantasia Brown saved my life in several ways because of inclusionary housing,” he said.
Because of a tumor on his spine, Larry has been disabled since he was a teenager. Before he won the lottery for an inclusionary unit in 2014, he was homeless for almost a year. Homelessness, inhumane in any situation, becomes deadly when you are medically fragile like Larry. Without a home in which to plug in his oxygen machine, he had to go to the hospital several times because he couldn’t breathe. If he had not found the inclusionary housing where he now lives, he said, “I would be dead on the street.”
Now that he is safely housed, his caregiver is struggling to find her own affordable housing and is worried she may have to eventually leave The City and stop caring for Larry. Finding affordable housing is “like a needle in a haystack,” she said — something that would only get worse with Prop. U.
When talking about the threat Prop. U poses to low-income housing, Larry reiterated that this is a real health threat for many San Franciscans. When you are disabled, he said, “you don’t earn money like everyone else … if you take away from the pool for very-low and low-income [housing], you damage the most fragile people in The City … Why take away from the poorest of the poor? There should be more inclusionary housing, not less.”
Each of these people is a vital part of San Francisco. Our city’s low-income inclusionary housing program has made it possible for them to continue being a part of this city – improving the health of their families, themselves and their communities. The Realtors’ Prop. U would make the threat of eviction real for them, and, along with Prop. P, would make it harder for everyday folks to find homes in The City that they know and love, and that they are working hard to make better. Vote no on P and U, and say no to divisive measures that disrupt the lives of the people who make up the fabric of San Francisco.
Erin Reeves is communications director at Council of Community Housing Organizations.