San Fran makes “Affordable Housing” “Unaffordable” via Government regulations

San Fran has a housing shortage.  It does not have a laundromat shortage.  The owner of a large laundromat wants to tear down the facility and build housing that is affordable—just as Mayor Lee and now Mayor Breed want.  Instead, after five years and one million dollars  in extra fees, he is closer to getting the permits.  But the affordable housing is now unaffordable, except to the rich—the new tenants will have to pay for the last five years, legal fees, lobbyist fees, studies that were never needed.
“But instead of sailing through the permitting process, Tillman has spent five years and over $1 million just trying to get approval to redevelop his own property. Anti-gentrification activists and city politicians have gone to extreme lengths to stop him.

“My site is the easiest site in the city to build,” he says, and yet “it’s taken me longer to get to this point than it took for the United States to win World War II.”

Tillman’s troubles started in 2014, when he first sought permission to redevelop his property. Though San Francisco has a well-earned reputation for being a hard place to develop, Tillman says staff at the city’s Planning Department were initially very enthusiastic about his project.”

We do not need bonds or tax incentives to build needed housing—just get government out of the way.

sanfranciscohomeless

The Most Contested Apartment Building in America

One San Francisco man has spent five years fighting city hall and neighborhood activists just to get permission to develop his own land.

Christian Britschgi & Justin Monticello Reason,  3/19/19

  • Robert Tillman’s idea of converting a coin-operated laundromat into a new apartment building initially had a lot of things going for it.

Except for his laundromat—one of three within a 100-yard radius in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District—no businesses or tenants were located on his property, meaning no one would be displaced by its redevelopment. The site was already zoned for housing and was close to a major commuter rail stop, big pluses in a highly regulated, transit-obsessed city. Best of all, the new building would bring 75 additional apartment units to a city suffering from a severe housing shortage and some of the highest rents in the country.

ADVERTISING But instead of sailing through the permitting process, Tillman has spent five years and over $1 million just trying to get approval to redevelop his own property. Anti-gentrification activists and city politicians have gone to extreme lengths to stop him.

“My site is the easiest site in the city to build,” he says, and yet “it’s taken me longer to get to this point than it took for the United States to win World War II.”

Tillman’s troubles started in 2014, when he first sought permission to redevelop his property. Though San Francisco has a well-earned reputation for being a hard place to develop, Tillman says staff at the city’s Planning Department were initially very enthusiastic about his project.

 

The real opposition came from the neighbors. The Mission is a historically working-class district that, less than two decades ago, was still mostly Latino. But that population has been shrinking as wealthier white residents move in, and housing prices are rising even faster there than in the rest of San Francisco.

This situation has sparked a backlash from anti-gentrification activists who oppose almost any new construction in their neighborhood. But the activists’ obstruction isn’t helping the displaced, says Todd David, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition.

“There is displacement in the Mission. Latinos are moving out. Nobody’s arguing about that. The reason that the displacement is taking place in the Mission is because we haven’t built any housing there in 15 years,” says David. “When you have people with resources competing with people with fewer resources for a limited commodity, who’s going to end up with that commodity?”

Mission activists have rejected this reasoning, instead choosing to oppose any new development that is not completely reserved for low-income renters. That would, of course, include Tillman’s mostly market-rate project, which attracted increasingly heated opposition as it worked its way through the city bureaucracy.

One 2018 community meeting saw these tensions bubble over.

“There was an activist at that meeting who literally told my daughter that she wished my daughter had been blown up in the Boston bombing,” Tillman says. “There was another activist at that meeting who said to one of my gay supporters, publicly, ‘We don’t want people like you in the Mission. Go back to the Castro,'” a neighborhood known as San Francisco’s gay district.

Opponents at the meeting argued that Tillman’s project was too big and bulky to fit with the neighborhood’s character. Others demanded he sell the property to the city or a community developer that would then build affordable housing.

When voluntary suasion proved unsuccessful, these activists appealed to the San Francisco Planning Commission—tasked with approving new development—to delay or stop the project.

The commissioners parroted many of the activists’ complaints about the size and bulk of the proposed apartment block, with one arguing that letting Tillman go forward would be like “plopping a foreign object into this area and not thinking about the consequences.” But thanks to a state-level “density bonus” law—which allows developers to build more units than would otherwise be allowed under certain circumstances and limits the ability of local governments to reject new development—the Planning Commission was largely unable to impose new conditions on Tillman. In November 2017, the body reluctantly voted to greenlight the project.

This did not mean that Tillman could start construction, however. The approval kicked off a second round of delays driven by the infamous California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires almost all new projects to go through extensive reviews of their potential environmental impacts.

Crucially, CEQA allows third parties to appeal the approval of a project if they feel a particular impact has not been sufficiently examined. Because the list of eligible impacts is long and the cost of filing an appeal is low—$617 in San Francisco—anti-development groups can easily use the law to slow or stop projects they don’t like. That’s exactly what happened to Tillman.

In January 2018, a lawyer representing Calle 24, a Latino merchants’ association, filed a CEQA appeal. It claimed that the city had not done enough to study the planned apartment building’s impact on the cultural character of the Mission neighborhood and on the health effects on nearby students.

The San Francisco Planning Department recommended the appeal be rejected, stating that Calle 24 had “not demonstrated nor provided substantial evidence” to back up their claims of insufficient environmental review.

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.