The topic for years was the city’s housing shortage, and how it was escalating prices. It was amazing to hear the wave of counterproductive, even clueless, solutions that 10 of the 11 supervisors would suggest for the problem. These ranged from decreasing building densities to strengthening bureaucratic review, to placing construction moratoriums on certain neighborhoods, to strengthening tenant protections that are already strict, and that have led landlords to abandon between 10,000 and 30,000 units citywide.
But there was one who has advocated for more housing construction across California. In the process, he has become the political representative of a grassroots movement called Yimbyism, and is slowly redefining what it means to be a California progressive. It’s beyond rare in San Francisco for a project to bring pro-housing advocates together with some of the city’s most inflexible anti-development activists, all in support. To answer a burning need that is indisputable housing for low-income seniors, some homeless and others in danger of becoming it.
The senator’s name leading this agenda is Scott Wiener. Along with advocating for more transit funding and HIV prevention measures, he immediately became the public face of San Francisco’s pro-housing movement. He introduced different legislation that would allow, respectively, micro-units, more student housing around universities, extra in-law units for existing homes, and density bonuses for new projects.
“San Francisco’s self-described progressives are the people who are trying to monopolize that moniker they lost their way on housing at some point,” he said, “and started aligning themselves with people who wanted no housing. And it exacerbated the problem. And it screws low-income people, it screws seniors and it screws young people. And so we’re trying to readjust and make very clear that supporting new housing is a progressive position.”
Of course, Nimbyism (Not in my backyard) remains strong in San Francisco, and Wiener wouldn’t speculate on how long it might be before the pro-housing stance becomes mainstream progressive consensus. But he’s at least trying to spread the concept throughout California; one month after being elected senator, he authored a bill that would ease the development process statewide. It mirrored an unsuccessful by-right housing proposal made last year by Governor Jerry Brown. If successful, Wiener’s bill would codify a pro-housing momentum that, 7 years ago in San Francisco, only he seemed to be championing.