San Francisco's loss

Heading East: San Francisco is losing much of its diversity, cultural edge, and working class to the East Bay -- can anything be done?

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"I must say that Oakland is more fun," says City Council member Rebecca Kaplan of her city.

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San Francisco is increasingly losing its working and creative classes to the East Bay and other jurisdictions — and with them, much of the city's diversity — largely because of policy decisions that favor expensive, market-rate housing over the city's own affordable housing goals.

"It's definitely changing the character of the city," said James Tracy, an activist with Community Housing Partnership. "It drains a big part of the creative energy of the city, which is why folks came here in the first place."

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Now, as San Francisco officials consider creating an affordable housing trust fund and other legislative changes, it's fair to ask: Does City Hall have the political will to reverse the trend?

Census data tells a big part of the story. In 2000, the median owner-occupied home in San Francisco cost $369,400, and by 2010 it had more than doubled to $785,200. Census figures also show median rents have gone from $928 in 2000 up to $1,385 in 2010 — and even a cursory glance at apartment listings show that rents have been steadily rising since then.

Tracy and other affordable housing activists testified at an April 9 hearing before the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee on a new study by the Budget and Legislative Analyst, commissioned last July by Sup. David Campos, entitled "Performance Audit of San Francisco's Affordable Housing Policies and Programs."

"There's a hearing right now at City Hall about our housing stock and how it's been skewing upward toward those with higher incomes," Board President David Chiu told us, noting that it is sounding an alarm that, "Creative individuals that make this place so special are being driven out of the city."

Oakland City Council member Rebecca Kaplan said that San Francisco's loss has been a gain for Oakland and other East Bay cities, which are enjoying a new cultural vibrancy that has so far been largely free of the gentrifying impacts that can hurt a city's diversity.

"You can add more people without getting rid of anybody if you do it right. Most of development is looking at places that are now completely empty like the Lake Merritt BART station parking lot, empty land around the Coliseum, and the West Oakland BART station," Kaplan told us. "We have to commit to revitalization without displacement."

Yet the fear among some San Franciscans is that we'll have just the opposite: displacement that actually hinders the city's attempts at economic revitalization. "What's at stake is the economic recovery of the city," Tracy said. "You can't have such a large portion of the workforce commuting into the city."

TOO MANY CONDOS

A big part of the problem is that San Francisco is building plenty of market-rate (read: really expensive) housing, but not nearly enough affordable housing. The report Campos commissioned looked at how well the city did at meeting various housing construction goals it set for itself from 1999 to 2006 in its state-mandated Housing Element, which requires cities to plan for the housing needs of its population and absorb a fair share of the state's affordable housing needs.

The plan called for 7,363 market-rate units, or 36 percent of the total housing construction, with the balance being housing for those with moderate, low, or very low incomes. Developers built 11,293 market rate units during that time, 154 percent of what was needed and 65 percent of the total housing construction. There were only 725 units built for those with moderate incomes (just 13 percent the goal) and just over half the number of low-income units needed and 83 percent of the very low-income goal met.

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