Today, when skyrocketing rents result in ever increasing homelessness and force residents to leave the city, most of the decisions regarding affordable housing as well as commercial development projects are made by a small group of people without independent review or public supervision. One measure on the November ballot, Proposition M, aims to tackle this issue by increasing accountability and transparency in development. Prop M would create a seven-member Housing and Development Commission that would oversee the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Economic and Workforce Development.
Currently, this office does not hold public hearings and operates without the input of the public; Prop M would conduct public hearings and open meetings so that the public would be able to provide input on decision-making around development and housing as well as City-sponsored events, such as the America’s Cup.
The proposition would also require the Commission to review major development agreements before being approved by the Board of Supervisors.
Three members of the committee would be appointed by the Mayor, three by the Board of Supervisors, and one by the City’s Controller.
“At a time when affordable housing is the No. 1 issue, there is no public venue to talk about how San Francisco is investing in affordable housing and development,” commented Cindy Wu, Deputy Director of Chinatown Community Development Center, Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party and former San Francisco Planning Commissioner. “Development agreements often happen when the Mayor’s Office negotiates directly with the developers. Prop M would include public comment, and that’s the point. It’s a venue for people to have their concerns be heard.”
It is not a secret that providing services and housing for underserved population never were in the list of priorities of Mayor Lee’s office. Building housing units happened not only without a plan, but also without essential definitions of the need of affordable housing. Several uncoordinated programs resulted in longer waiting for some and quicker housing for another. Nobody knows real number of candidates.
This initiative is endorsed by the San Francisco Democratic Party and a multitude of tenant’s and housing rights organizations. One of the few opponents of the proposition, Supervisor Mark Farrell, named the initiative costly, giving the estimate of millions of dollars. Those who follow city politics know that for Supervisor Farrell, even one dollar spent on the needs of the underserved is too much, but this particular estimate is generally thought to be greatly exaggerated.
The creation of the seven-member commission that would oversee housing and economic development will find ways of optimal use of financial resources, and it will ultimately save, not waste money. Presently agreements are developed without any independent review when mayor negotiates with developers. Since housing developments impact directly every San Francisco resident, there should be a place to give public voice.
Prop M would also provide a space for discussion for the development of affordable housing.
While the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development is working on creating affordable housing, no one is actually talking about affordable housing in terms of where it should be located or who the target population should be, Wu says. While many different populations—homeless people, families, seniors, to name a few—are in need of housing, there must be a strategic conversation about who should be prioritized and how all of these populations can best be served best.
“We need to have affordable housing in all districts of the city so everyone can have access,” she says.
San Francisco will definitely benefit from open discussions about housing developments, which are currently planned behind closed doors. Today, decisions about investments of huge amounts practically have no accountability to citizens. The media attention for this proposition has created a situation where Prop M may be lost in the long alphabet of measures that are on the November ballot, despite its importance. This November, remember to vote YES on Prop M.