A new housing development seen in the Mission District in 2015. (Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)

Senate Bill 35 will cause further displacement of communities of color

Let’s set the record straight: Our organizations understand the need for more housing across the state, in San Francisco and in the Mission. It just can’t be housing that harms our most-vulnerable community members. We say, “Yes to Equitable Development In My Backyard” (YEMBY).

Most would agree that building market-rate housing in San Francisco’s Mission would be different than in The City’s Marina. Same for Palo Alto versus East Palo Alto, where market-rate housing would have very different community impacts. There is no one-size-fits-all urban regional planning guide.

So why is the state legislature looking to impose such a uniform policy around housing approvals across all California communities?

If passed as currently drafted, state Sen. Scott Wiener’s by-right development bill, Senate Bill 35, would mean eligible market-rate housing proposals across the state would be approved “by-right” — they would not be subject to case-by-case local approvals or review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

A uniform policy to expedite all development is based on the concept that more building equals lower housing prices. While this may be true long-term on a regional or statewide level, this concept tells only half the story, as it fails to add into the equation how market-rate developments are often a short-term catalyst for displacement of low-income communities of color. When market-rate developments are built in these communities, they are likely to be at price points that are completely out of reach of local residents, making these developments essentially luxury housing.

Proponents of SB 35 might claim that communities such as the Mission experience gentrification and displacement even during periods of little development; therefore, they argue that luxury development does not contribute to these harmful impacts. This is spurious logic: if A, therefore not B. Luxury development greatly exacerbates the cycle of gentrification and displacement in the Mission and in similar vulnerable low-income communities across the state.

A few years ago, the Mission community — facing a glut of luxury housing developments and a paucity of affordable housing units — started making our voices heard. This happened on the street, at the Planning Commission and through city-planning processes such as the Mission Action Plan 2020. This advocacy translated into several affordable-housing developments now in the pipeline and also many greatly improved market-rate projects that mitigated some of the most harmful impacts of this wave of luxury development.

Community involvement has resulted in increased 25 percent inclusionary affordable-housing commitments, land dedication for 100 percent affordable housing, additional space in new developments for community nonprofits and blue-collar spaces, and below-market retail for neighborhood community-serving businesses.

This all happened on a local level. If the state had previously stepped in with by-right approvals for these market-rate developments, the community’s voice would have been silenced and its needs gone unaddressed — with devastating impacts.

To ensure SB 35 addresses the needs of California’s most-vulnerable communities now and into the future, it must provide:

-A “safe harbor provision” for low-income communities within cities where development is already happening and communities are facing gentrification and displacement pressures.
– A higher affordable-housing requirement above what is already required locally in exchange for state-imposed by-right approval.
– A time limit on each by-right approval before the developer must start actually building the project, for without an expiration date on building approvals the bill’s metrics become unreliable and subject to manipulation.

Our organizations support these critical amendments to SB 35 that would ensure its application would result in more equitable outcomes. Housing is a civil rights issue: All communities are not alike, and the impacts of this proposed legislation will be radically different and inequitable across California’s diverse communities.

Luis Granados is the executive director of the Mission Economic Development Agency. Erick Arguello is president of Calle 24 Latino Cultural District. Eye on The State is a monthly column that examines the local implications of housing proposals brewing in the Capitol from the perspective of community, housing, labor and environmental advocates representing everyday people.

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