If you have followed any sort of housing policy discussions in the Bay Area no doubt you’ve heard of SFBARF. Equally admired/reviled I know that the founder of the group has been accused of everything from being a shill to group being some fakey astroturf operation. But you have to hand it to Sonia Trauss, few people could deal with the seething hate that gets directed her way by anyone that she tosses a “NIMBY” at.
It’s not surprising though when I started this blog 10 years ago my “rah rah” housing standpoint was side-eyed and I regularly accused of working for a “developer.” Fairly sure that some people who figured I would go away after one or two years (because of the whole working for a developer theory) still expect me to pack it up one day when my shill work is done.
Anyway, if you haven’t read the great piece on SF BARF and the state of housing in general in San Francisco, and really the region in general, it is worth your time.
Ms. Trauss is a self-described anarchist and the head of the SF Bay Area Renters’ Federation, an upstart political group that is pushing for more development. Its platform is simple: Members want San Francisco and its suburbs to build more of every kind of housing. More subsidized affordable housing, more market-rate rentals, more high-end condominiums.
Ms. Trauss supports all of it so long as it is built tall, and soon. “You have to support building, even when it’s a type of building you hate,” she said. “Is it ugly? Get over yourself. Is it low-income housing? Get over yourself. Is it luxury housing? Get over yourself. We really need everything right now.”
The group’s build-more platform may be politically contentious, but economically speaking, it is anything but controversial. The Bay Area was expensive even before the tech boom. And the supply of new projects, while increasing, remains decades behind population growth.
But BARF members are so single-minded about housing that they can be hard to label politically. They view San Francisco progressives as, in fact, fundamentally conservative. That is because, to the group members at least, progressive positions on housing seem less about building the city and more about keeping people like them out.
The tech boom takes much of the blame for soaring housing prices. But the pro-development movement has less to do with tech as an industry, and everything to do with newcomers as a class.
“There’s that book, ‘What’s the Matter With Kansas?’” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR, an urban policy research organization. “What’s the matter with San Francisco? Why is it that in a city that’s two-thirds renters we have adopted a housing policy that is horrible for renters?”
Even initiatives like the rent control ballot initiative that is in the signature collecting phase is designed to only help current renters and when you have members of that effort encouraging a halt on residential development in order to preserve easy parking for a job, well, therein lies the problem and the point of the Gabriel Metcalf quote. We don’t really do much to help ease the burden of renters and the housing policy we have locally is all about preserving the quality of life for existing residents, but only those that own their homes and have a certain level of stability. For the most vulnerable, their quality of life is not important.