London Breed for San Francisco Mayor

From embracing civil rights in the 1960s, to the LGBT rights movement, to defending immigrants, San Francisco has a rich history of welcoming people of all stripes. Today’s issues around inclusivity stretch beyond civil rights into economic inclusion, and our toughest issues like housing and homelessness require difficult choices. Only one candidate commits to address these challenges in a way that considers all San Franciscans: Board of Supervisors President London Breed.

London would build a lot more badly-needed housing

The greatest of San Francisco’s challenges is housing affordability: median one-bedroom rents consistently exceed $3,000 per month, and the $1.6 million median asking price for homes is nearly double its value five years ago. A shortage of housing units is to blame, as the San Francisco metro permitted only one housing unit for every 6.4 jobs between 2012 and 2016, by far the lowest ratio of any metro. This is fundamentally an issue of inclusivity; to truly welcome new people, you must provide them a place to live.

In 2014, the late Mayor Ed Lee pledged to build 5,000 housing units per year to chip away at this shortage, up from around 2,000 over the prior 25 years. He roughly kept that promise, and rents have increased less quickly since. From Tokyo to Seattle, the evidence is increasingly clear that adding housing reduces rents.

Six-month rolling averaged data from RentJungle (author’s calculations).

Building more housing would not only lower current rents. It would also create economic opportunity for people in other parts of the country who would enjoy higher wages in San Francisco — for example, registered nurses here earn double the national average — if they could afford moving here.

London Breed is the only major candidate vowing to honor Lee’s 5,000-unit-per-year commitment (and then some). She’s also the only candidate who supported SB 827, the California bill authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) which would have legalized apartments (upzoned) near transit. Breed has spearheaded several initiatives to build more affordable housing — including Prop D, a commercial rents tax funding affordable housing which I support — and streamlining and zoning reforms like HOME-SF, which allowed projects to add homes if they increase the below-market-rate (BMR) units. All these together demonstrate deep and rigorous commitment to addressing our crisis-level housing shortage.

The other leading candidates — former State Senator Mark Leno and (my) Supervisor Jane Kim — focus almost entirely on BMR over market-rate housing. For example, Leno touts 5,000 BMR units resulting from his inclusionary housing law as a Supervisor in 2002 — under 350 units per year. Kim’s record highlights only the percentage of BMR units, rather than the number of them (it also misrepresents her claim of “40% affordable housing” projects).

No, [market rate housing could never be affordable for the middle class]…The only way to make San Francisco more affordable is not by building a lot more market rate housing as possible, it’s by building as much Affordable and middle-income [BMR] housing as possible. — Jane Kim

Just as California’s 4-million-home shortage would require around a trillion dollars of investment — orders of magnitude beyond any proposed affordable housing bonds — San Francisco cannot address our shortage with BMR alone. Only London’s policies grasp that, which is why the pro-housing group YIMBY Action gave her their sole endorsement.

London recognizes housing as a core but not sole component of other issues

Along with housing, the core issues discussed on each candidate’s platform page include homelessness, safety, education, and transportation. Each of these is somewhat rooted in our housing shortage, and it’s no coincidence that London published her housing platform before any other. Her homelessness platform points out that “69% of surveyed homeless residents were living in the City when they became homeless” and her number one priority is to “keep people housed,” including by “[building] 5,000 more housing units each year.” Her education platform calls first to “Create Affordable Teacher Housing.” And her transportation agenda opens with “[Building] Transit-Oriented Housing & Closer Communities.” This emphasis on housing in other platforms dwarfs Kim and Leno’s.

She also has researched proposals particular to each domain, which help San Franciscans with diverse needs: funding various transportation solutions from bike lanes to rail, and recognizing the role of TNCs and scooters in reducing private vehicle usage; raising teacher pay and launching universal pre-K; investing in treatment for people with addiction, and reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals; creating safe injection sites, and reforming and decriminalizing conservatorship; and more. Her policy papers embrace a wide variety of approaches for these complicated issues.

London listens to constituents and experts

SB 827 was controversial among progressive groups, some of whom recalled developers building in poor areas and existing residents being pushed out. Although low-income people are significantly more likely to support housing in their community, these progressive groups contributed to SB 827’s demise. London took a risk in supporting it, as she did in pushing her own upzoning program. But she did so in part because she knew the research that adding housing to areas of all income levels — as SB 827 would have done — generates broad affordability. This is a consensus opinion among career researchers in the space, and a group of 17 of the most respected fair housing and civil rights experts later offered a full-throated endorsement of the bill.

Opponent Jane Kim has not demonstrated the same respect for expert opinion. When she ran for state Senate in 2016, she also introduced Prop C that required the share of units in market-rate buildings reserved for below-market-rate units to be raised from 12 percent to 25 percent. The measure passed, and she ignored economic feasibility studies which predicted anything above 18 percent would reduce the production of subsidized units.

Source: Steven Buss

The experts’ predictions came to pass, and London Breed had to step in to reduce this share back to 18 percent to restore the housing pipeline.

I led the charge at the Board of Supervisors to ensure our affordable housing requirements are based on sound economic feasibility analysis to maximize affordable housing production.London Breed

Each of London’s five platforms provide specific details on her policy proposals, backed up by research and evaluation of past work, much of which she commissioned as a Supervisor. The most rigorous of these is her homelessness platform, a 4,000-word opus which includes an addendum of further research and eight charts. Neither Leno nor Kim have anywhere near half the content on their Issues pages. She takes the facts seriously and would hit the ground running with specific goals backed up by experts in City Hall.

London would be a mayor for all San Franciscans

London’s platforms on housing and transportation are respectively titled “An Affordable City for ALL of Us” and “Transportation that Works for Everyone.” Her policies are true to these headlines, and I believe her rhetoric would translate to deep, genuine thought of including all of her constituents.

As a YouTube employee, I saw this most personally when my colleagues endured a shooting in April, the seventh Bay Area mass shooting in the past decade (I was not in the office on that day). It occurred at YouTube’s San Bruno headquarters, and many — probably most — employees there live in San Francisco. Along with Mayor Mark Farrell, London immediately tweeted condolences and a pledge to fight for gun control; neither Mark Leno nor Jane Kim ever did.

Following Leno and Kim’s joint endorsement message that “the city belongs to us,” my friend Jane Natoli, a trans woman and five-year San Franciscan, wrote to ask “Do I count as a real San Franciscan?” Nobody should have to wonder this, but London’s challengers elicit divisive sentiments and these resulting questions.

Kim and Leno claim to take back San Francisco from the “billionaires,” but this facade holds little water. First of all, they’re only talking about one person: Ron Conway, whom they’ve painted as a Soros-esque villain, despite his progressive activism on healthcare, gun control, and immigration. Their criticism is hypocritical, as Conway also invests in the venture capital firm of Mark Farrell, who replaced London Breed as interim mayor following Lee’s death and Kim’s ouster of London. Independent expenditure campaigns — local PACs — support all major candidates, who cannot control them. And Kim has taken money from developers after approving high-rises in her district.

Jane Kim’s voter pamphlet entry, which doesn’t mention billionaires, offers more clues:

This is our city. Let’s take it back…We need fundamental change that puts San Francisco’s people and neighborhoods first…Real change is possible if we come together to put San Franciscans first.

Similarly, Mark Leno’s entry says he’ll “protect the character of our neighborhoods.”

This clearly means new people aren’t wanted. Maybe it’s just tech workers? Or given Jane Kim’s anti-apartment rally in a single-family-home area, does it mean apartment dwellers (more likely to be low-income and people of color)? This dog-whistling may be effective at securing votes of longtime rich white residents, but it shouldn’t be effective at securing the mayor’s office. Either we’re open to newcomers or we’re not.

“Imagine if instead of bringing all these new folks from out of town…” Then [Mark Leno] paused, his voice trailing off for a moment, before adding, “…they are welcome to come, of course.” — San Francisco Magazine

Tech workers are undoubtedly a privileged group in San Francisco and in the world. And yet the vast majority of my colleagues in the space — many of whom are immigrants, LGBT, people of color, people with disabilities, and other groups San Francisco emphatically welcomes — wants to use that privilege to contribute to this amazing city. Amid a possibly-renewed anti-tech backlash, London’s inclusive rhetoric can help unite our city so we can solve our greatest problems together.

On the surface, San Francisco is a liberal haven, opposing Trump’s terrible federal policies, caring for the poor, and embracing diversity in all its forms. But we need to back up these ostensible values with real policies, some of which may be controversial. If low-income people cannot live here without waiting years to win a subsidized apartment lottery, are we truly open to them? If parents have to choose between two-hour high-carbon commutes and sharing a one-bedroom apartment — to send their child to a school where teachers make the same choice — can we really call ourselves green and pro-family? And if our mayor decides who counts as a “real San Franciscan,” and makes policies that advantage those people over their other constituents, are we really a mecca of diversity?

We need a mayor who will stand for all of us, so that we can all stand for each other. That means building housing for all San Franciscans, funding transportation for all San Franciscans, educating children of all San Franciscans, and making streets safe for all San Franciscans. The only candidate committed to that vision is London Breed.




Co-founder & CEO of PolicyEngine. Founder & president of the UBI Center. Economist. Alum of UC Berkeley & MIT. YIMBY. CCLer. Former Google data scientist.

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Max Ghenis

Max Ghenis

Co-founder & CEO of PolicyEngine. Founder & president of the UBI Center. Economist. Alum of UC Berkeley & MIT. YIMBY. CCLer. Former Google data scientist.

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