San Francisco is often unfairly parodied as a haven for NIMBYs– a place where everyone claims to want more affordable housing, just not in their own community. But, as I always tell visitors, the issue is more nuanced and the outcomes often more positive. There are more YIMBYs than NIMBYs.
Just a few months ago, I spoke with a packed room of residents of the City’s Diamond Heights neighborhood about our newest development – affordable homes to be built on land donated to us by a generous benefactor. It is a wonderful opportunity in an area where such homes are hard to come by.
The level of community support was heartening to hear. While many speakers were, of course, keen to see a development that complimented the existing character of the community, and had a number of detailed questions, this was done in an atmosphere of constructive engagement.
These Habitat homes will be for families in what we call the “missing middle” – households earning between 40%-80% of area median income. These families earn too much to be eligible for subsidized rent and far too little to buy in to the market. They work as nursing assistants, construction laborers, and grocery store clerks – roles that are essential to thriving communities.
This is how affordable development is done in our region: making sure the construction is tailored to the specific needs of each municipality, community, neighborhood and street. A one-size-fits-all model simply won’t work and will quite rightly be rejected by residents who want to be consulted on projects.
So why does the impression still exist that the City is anti-development? Well, because too often the loudest anti-development voices are not balanced by the views of the many residents who are pro-development when it is done in the right way and is responsive to the needs of each community.
It is a solid foundation on which to build. With significant additional resources, and further legislative efforts to drive affordable building, more will come.
Major funding and legislative support
The success of Proposition 1 in November will deliver up to $4 billion in funding to affordable housing projects across the state. This will make a substantial impact on the economic viability of homebuilding for developers and residents alike.
Pending legislation, championed by Assemblyman David Chiu, seeks to restore redevelopment agencies, and the hundreds of millions of dollars they provided each year for affordable homes, and would also boost the state’s low-income housing tax credits. Bills AB11 and AB10 will come before committees in April for further scrutiny and there is hope that newly-installed Governor Gavin Newsom will support them, too.
If we can combine these legislative pushes, make sure the voices of working families are heard, and build on the frequent goodwill of local communities then we will be on track to make a meaningful difference in housing supply for those in most need. Habitat invites all San Franciscans to join us on this journey.
Maureen Sedonaen is the CEO of Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco, which builds affordable homes in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin counties.