Alice in Yimby Land — To Attack a Democratic Socialist, SF Yimby Resorts to Make Believe

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Heather Knight has teamed up with SF Yimby on a hit piece published today, totally mischaracterizing my housing record. The Yimby “report” on which the article is based, is not just one-sided, leaving out the thousands of units of housing I have personally voted to support, but it’s also frankly just make-believe. Reading it is like a children’s fantasy book, sort of like Alice in Yimby Land.

For over 20 years, I’ve led efforts to expand tenant rights and promote affordable housing. This record has continued since I took office in December 2019. As the first Democratic Socialist elected in San Francisco in 40 years, I’m proud of my housing record on the Board of Supervisors, especially during this challenging time in a global pandemic.

I authored and we passed Prop I to raise $150–200m annually for affordable housing by taxing the rich, and passed Prop K to authorize the creation of 10,000 units of social housing. We just announced a $64m Emergency Housing Acquisition Program to use Prop I money to take property off the private speculative market, form community land trusts and prevent pandemic displacement. This is the serious work to create permanently affordable housing.

We passed eviction bans and prevented displacement during the pandemic. We fought for and won $32 million in rent relief from Prop I. We passed Prop F in 2018 to create the tenant right to counsel program, which has kept thousands of renters in their homes, and after going to bat in the budget process, this year we became the first city in the U.S. to fully fund a universal right to counsel program.

I authored and 74% of voters passed Prop. K, to authorize 10,000 units of municipal housing in San Francisco, reversing the push to privatize public housing by passing a mandate for more. We shamed the Administration, after years of ignoring the problem, into allocating $2.7 million for long overdue emergency repairs for public housing at Plaza East. We fought back against unfair rent hikes at Midtown Park Apartments, to make sure the mostly African-American residents could stay in their homes. Yimbys co-opt language about racial equity, then ignore the actual work that’s being done, and often actively try to undermine it.

I have also led on providing housing to those on our streets, especially when people were forced out of shelters in the pandemic. We launched a successful Safe Sleeping Site, championed Shelter-in-Place hotels, secured the Oasis Hotel for homeless women and families, and are fighting to acquire the Gotham Hotel and other sites for permanent supportive housing.

This is all on top of my record for 20 years consistently championing tenant rights and affordable housing as one of the leading advocates in the state. That record includes leading the fight to save rent control (defeating Prop. 98), championing Ellis Act reform to save rental housing, forcing slumlords to make repairs, increasing inclusionary housing requirements, banning eviction of teachers during the school year, launching the California’s only renters’ rights hotline that’s served tens of thousands, consistently supporting affordable housing funding, and countless other efforts.

But you won’t find any of the actual work I’ve done to fight for real, actual, affordable housing, and to promote housing stability in the Yimby attack piece.

Even on its own terms, the report is wildly inaccurate. Since taking office less than two years ago, I have approved more than 5,500 units of housing, 39% of which has been affordable. That includes one of the three projects approved in the Hub that’s in my district, at 98 Franklin, which includes 354 units, with 86 affordable units on site, as well as $5 million in affordable housing fees. I also championed adding 31 additional units to an affordable housing project on Stanyan Street, which the Mayor’s Office agreed to fund a year later.

But that’s not what you would find in the Yimby “report.” They claim I “opposed” homes being built in San Francisco simply because years ago I sought amendments to state housing legislation to increase affordability and transit funding — but it’s only in a make believe world that you could claim that seeking amendments to state legislation is the same as opposing actual housing.

Their section on homes I supposedly “blocked” is also pure fiction. Calling for further study on promoting racial equity as part of the proposed Hub, one of the city’s largest zoning plans, is bettering the plan, not blocking it. Not to mention that I voted to approve all three Hub development projects that were actually before the Board.

Their claim about the proposed UCSF expansion is absurd. I voted for a two month delay in UC presenting the first phase of its plan to the CA Regents so we could get greater commitments on affordability, transit, and enforceability of the MOU between the City and UC Regents. UCSF conceded the minor delay would have zero impact on any construction timeline. Thanks to these efforts, demands of the UC workers for deeper housing affordability — so workers could afford the units — were met by amendments a week later.

This is a fundamental flaw in how Yimby and columnists like Heather Knight see the world — if one doesn’t immediately accept whatever a developer proposes, then they are somehow “blocking” housing, when in reality they are often doing the work to make it better. This is case in point. No housing was blocked or delayed; instead, we won additional affordable housing commitments.

My record and views have been consistently mischaracterized by Yimbys because of my long-standing criticism of their lack of commitment to affordable housing and tenant rights. Yimbys believe in a market-drive, trickle-down theory of housing, which in San Francisco, is just housing for the rich and for investors. This is exactly who funds Yimbys, so it’s no wonder that they see the biggest threat to their advocacy in an effective, Democratic Socialist elected official, doing the real work to make affordable housing a reality without relying solely on a market system.

They are taking a page from the playbook of Republican leadership, declaring that facts don’t matter, and attempting to craft their own version of reality. It’s disappointing, but not surprising, to see the Chronicle enabling this. Regardless of the baseless attacks, I’ll continue the hard work of protecting tenants from displacement and creating more affordable housing for the people of San Francisco.

District 5 Supervisor, San Francisco