Affordability affects everyone, even those who are well off. A city needs a diversity of income levels, cultures, and minds to excel and envision a better future. We can't afford to lose our way and become a city that only the world's wealthiest can afford. Here are primary areas of focus.
Housing is central to the issue of affordability in San Francisco today. We're not alone: major cities around the world are actively working to solve issues of affordability and inequality. As cities like ours become more attractive, the demand to live here only increases, putting pressure on existing residents and turning property from homes into profits.
While there's no single magic fix to this problem, there are a variety of steps we can take to get a grip on the situation today and plan for a better, more inclusive future.
Rent control is a controversial topic, with many economists arguing that it artificially keeps rents low for those lucky enough to have secured a lease earlier, while over-inflating the prices of new rental units. There are plenty of economic theories that back this up, though in the real-world, the direct impacts are much less clear. Cities without rent control have seen rents grow considerably as well, and rent control has succeeded at keeping evictions low for those who have spent the longest time in their communities, helping to shape them to what they are today.
There is huge value in encouraging longer-term commitment to our city, as long-term residents have a higher likelihood of giving back to the community, participating in government, and taking pride in their neighborhoods. Many of the people seeing evictions today helped create the community that has become so attractive to those looking to move here.
It's important to understand the goals behind our housing model to properly balance them: lowering prices for rental units on the market today while protecting the tenant rights of those who live here already. With this knowledge, we need to expand common-sense rent control and rent stabilization laws.
Building New Housing
It's important for all of us to understand that building more housing is essential to stabilizing the demand to live in San Francisco. This does not mean San Francisco needs to become a second Manhattan. For example, the city of Paris is 10% smaller than San Francisco, close to 3 times the population, and only a single skyscraper. We can build housing intelligently, maintaining the commitment and character of the neighborhood, representing a fundamental San Francisco architectural style that we can be proud of, and ensuring that all new housing is met with appropriate investment in affordability, natural space, and small business opportunity.
One aspect that's complained about frequently in housing construction is the amount of back and forth and regulations that occur throughout the process. While some of this is actually great, giving neighbors and residents an opportunity to express concerns and avoid buildings that plow over a neighborhood, it can sometimes become overly cumbersome to building effective housing.
We need to reform our building codes and policies regarding housing construction, giving neighbors and residents say earlier in the process, and more freedom once appropriate decisions have been made. We need city leaders, community organizations, and architects to come together to establish community-oriented, San Francisco-specific models for construction that developers can follow for more rapid approval.
Keeping Housing for Residents
Keeping San Francisco as a home for San Franciscans also involves ensuring housing units are not simply being acquired to use for very occasional use or as real-estate investment. Plenty of investment opportunities exist that do not prevent San Franciscans from staying in their homes or moving into new homes. The vibrancy of our city hinges on our ability to have our housing filled with actual residents.
In order to combat those who wish to leverage our homes solely for profit, a luxury or vacancy tax on those who do not treat their San Francisco home as a residence can help offset this, along with an outright ban on purchasing a unit which is then left vacant for a prolonged period of time.
While it's easy for cities to work with developers on massive-scale developments—it lets the city dictate what they want, and it provides ample opportunity for dealmaking behind closed doors—there are very few examples of these creating culturally, socially, and economically successful neighborhoods. We need clear guidelines for a platform that enables growth organically, allowing individuals to create new housing for themselves and others.
A More Democratic Planning Process
Our planning process is incredibly opaque and vague and lacks clear guidelines. While communities and neighbors are involved in the process, it occurs far too late and quickly descends into fights, while the city is able to negotiate political deals early on. We need to set the rules in advance transparently, letting the planning department work to move development along within that framework.
Housing availability is an issue that affects the entire Bay Area. It's important to realize that this issue cannot be solved by solely looking within our city limits. Working with surrounding cities and municipalities to achieve regional housing goals will help offset the burden from San Francisco alone. We have an incredible opportunity to have a true regional housing plan, that allows for better housing policy across the Bay Area.
A new era of reliable, affordable public transit
Muni today is not a transit system that reflects our city's needs. Learn more about Muni reforms in the Grand San Francisco plan.
Transportation is the second-highest monthly cost in our lives, and public transit, as well as transportation options like bicycling and walking, are critical to any discussion about affordability.
AAA estimates put car ownership and operation at anywhere from $9,000 – $12,000 per year. A transit system that you can rely on for all of your daily needs can save you up to $1,000 per month. That's more than the average San Franciscan spends per month on food, alcohol, clothing, and personal care, combined. Making our city safer, more engaging, and reliable for public transit, bicycling, and walking are critical to keeping options for low-cost mobility within the reach of every San Franciscan.
Diversification of Housing
Great public transit enables housing to diversify across the city and region, not only in certain pockets. San Francisco neighborhoods that are well-served by transit are bearing a disproportionate burden of housing availability. Effective, reliable transportation across the city will increase opportunity throughout San Francisco, helping to distribute housing and business opportunities to all of our neighborhoods, rather than skyrocketing prices in specific regions.
Transportation + Housing
Any good housing construction plan needs to be co-developed with a strong investment in transportation, both from city planning and from developer investment. As our city grows, our network of services needs to scale alongside, which costs taxpayer money. While the city gains additional taxes from new development currently, it's only enough to maintain the status quo. We need to be increasing service on, not just maintaining, our existing lines, but also reinvesting in new rapid, frequent, and reliable service to serve our residents today and the residents of our city's future.
There's no form of transportation cheaper than walking. While we can't always walk everywhere for each of our daily needs, we can improve investment in our streets, increase pedestrian safety and health, encourage better streetlife, and prioritize walking whenever possible. Similarly, bicycling offers an incredible transportation option for further distance at higher speeds, but our city simply lacks the infrastructure to provide safe and reliable bike routes for biking to be a real option for a majority of San Franciscans today. Growing our bike network will not only help reduce traffic congestion and ease parking burdens, it will provide yet another inexpensive transportation alternative for our residents and visitors.
Going beyond, my city hall will aggressively pursue transit capital investment while doubling down on maintenance and infrastructure funding. By aggressively pursuing funding sources for Muni, we can grow our network and ensure that funding scales with residential and business growth in the city. Virtually every major world city has dedicated funding sources for their public transit that dwarf our own.
San Francisco's economic lifeblood.
Small businesses aren't just critical to our economy, they're fundamental to the diversity of options available in San Francisco. We have an incredible opportunity to reduce the barriers to creating and running small businesses in San Francisco and serve as a model for cities around the globe.
Marklets: Small Business Incubation
Lowering the barrier to creating a new business is vital to allowing the opportunity for anyone to take a risk and start a business of their own. Every San Franciscan with a skill, a passion, or a dream should be able to try their hand at running a business.
I'm excited to introduce the concept of Marklets, a uniquely San Francisco small business incubation program. Through a partnership with the city and a low-cost monthly fee, small businesses can get off the ground with extremely minimal overhead. Through a simple revenue model, the city shares a percentage of the business revenue to cover the costs of the program, reinvest in the program for expansion, and to positively impact the surrounding neighborhood. A successful business can choose to grow out of the program into their own space in the city.
Sutro Cash: Keeping Our Money Local
Even when you shop locally, a percentage of your money does not stay local through such things as transaction fees and credit card payments. These costs are footed by businesses you shop on, either impacting the sometimes razor-thin profit margins, raising prices, or both.
It's time to take this concept citywide through an initiative I'm calling Cash SF. The concept is simple: a cash-less debit model that would allow for zero-transaction-fee direct payments. By partnering with our local credit unions and banks, together we can pioneer a citywide plan that saves businesses money, keeping prices lower, keeping money local, and supporting our local financial institutions.
Learn more about Cash SF and how we can reduce business costs and keep our money local.
Lunch Checks: Stimulating Local Restaurants
A number of new businesses have chosen to locate their offices in San Francisco. While the increase in job opportunities in the city is excellent, many of these businesses remain much more insular to San Francisco than elsewhere, going so far as to cook and serve food every day for their employees. While a great perk for those lucky enough to be able to experience it, we're not investing in our local restaurants, grocers, and other food establishments.
A model pioneered decades ago in Europe could have the opportunity to drastically impact our local food establishments. I'm calling the plan Lunch Checks.
With Lunch Checks, employers of any size would have a payroll tax-free option to provide money to their employees that can be used to purchase meals. In conjunction with Cash SF, this money could be accepted at any food establishment in lieu of cash. Employers would have the option to subsidize Lunch Checks for their employees as well. This has the great opportunity to stimulate restaurants and food establishments around the city.
Commercial Rent Stabilization: Limiting Egregious Evictions
Commercial rent control was banned in California decades ago, largely as a reaction to an overly restrictive commercial rent control measure in place in Berkeley. The time has come to again put pressure on the State to pass an update to this bill to allow for mediation between tenants and landlords in the event of extreme rent increases. Far too many small businesses are forced to close quickly and unexpectedly, without sufficient time to react, negotiate, or even make plans. Closure of long-time small businesses can have major impacts on a neighborhood's affordability and culture, not to mention the livelihood of the owners.
Increase Commercial Real Estate: Simplifying Zoning
One easy way to reduce costs for small businesses is to increase the amount of commercial real estate available. Compared to other cities with similar density, San Francisco has one of the lowest ratios of commercial to residential property throughout the city. In addition to Marklets, which would help spread the opportunity of small business across the city, we need to retrofit commercial space outside of existing commercial corridors. That means simplifying the process of converting uninhabited space (e.g., garages) into a space for a local business.