Prominent San Francisco pro-housing advocate Sonja Trauss has announced her candidacy for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, 6th District seat. The 6th District—currently represented by Jane Kim, who cannot run for reelection due to term limits—encompasses the booming South of Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods as well as the Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island settlements. Trauss is a well-known housing advocate who has become increasingly prominent on a national level as the head of the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation (SFBARF), a pro-development, pro-housing group that advocates for increased housing production in San Francisco and its environs. As a result of advocacy efforts with SFBARF, Trauss has become a leader of the Bay Area’s nascent “YIMBY” (Yes In My Backyard) movement, a loose coalition of housing advocates seeking to promote increased development of varied housing types, from supportive and deed-restricted affordable housing to market-rate apartments and even luxury-oriented condominiums. The growing coalition is unified by a general belief that broadly-based and diverse housing production is one of the necessary requirements for general urban affordability. These groups promote the concept of “filtering,” housing jargon for the phenomenon by which new market-rate housing is gradually transformed into more affordable housing stock as it ages and is replaced by newer units with each successive economic cycle. Most moderate- to low-income renters, according to the premise, live in housing that was originally developed at market-rate, so limiting market-rate housing production today simply imposes a constraint on affordable housing supply further down the line while building more of can boost future supplies of affordable housing stock. The concept has its flaws, namely that the process it supports is a generational one that does not directly address contemporary affordability concerns or stop ongoing displacement phenomena. There are also concerns regarding whether “filtering” applies to luxury units, which existing communities fight against based on the belief that the production of this type of housing increases rents outright. The transition from single-issue advocate to politician (if she wins the seat) will be a welcome challenge for Trauss, who told The Architect's Newspaper (AN), “The job of Supervisor is so different from that of an issue advocate—When you’re supervisor, the only thing your constituents have in common is geography.” Trauss characterized District 6 as one of the few areas of San Francisco that has actually built new housing in adequate numbers over recent years. As a neighborhood adjacent to highways, formerly occupied by manufacturing and industry, and now full of new residents, South of Market in particular needs “wider sidewalks and calmer traffic” to ensure safety for the area’s new residents, according to Trauss. Trauss is also hoping to push the Board of Supervisors to act to alleviate homelessness in the area and is looking forward to making sure existing residents of the district’s Treasure Island area “are well taken care of” as that neighborhood prepares for the implementation of a new master plan and redevelopment scheme developed by SOM and Perkins+Will. Trauss also hopes to serve the district’s homeless population by working to fund more new supportive housing developments. She said, “Supportive housing is the thing that solves the problem for the individual on a personal basis, we need more of it. I will try to get supportive housing built in other neighborhoods, as well.” And what will become of SFBARF? It will go on, according to Trauss, who explained that the remaining team members will continue to advocate for new housing across the region and that her current position with the group will simply be filled by someone else. She said, “all the other people working on [SFBARF] are talented and dedicated, they don’t really need me."
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The San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation (SFBARF) is suing the Berkeley, California City Council over allegations that the body has repeatedly violated California’s Housing Accountability Act (HAA), a 1982 piece of legislation that compels municipalities to “not reject or make infeasible” housing developments that help meeting housing needs. As is well-documented, the San Francisco Bay area—and not to mention, pretty much the entire state of California—is suffering from a prolonged and detrimental housing affordability crisis, a phenomenon that has been compounded by the heavy-handed influence that single family homeowners wield over the approval of new housing projects in low-density neighborhoods. In a civil court filing with Alameda County, SFBARF—and the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education fund (CaRLA), a statewide nonprofit founded to ensure compliance with HAA that has joined SFBARF in the suit—alleges that the Berkeley City Council has violated HAA by rejecting the application for a new three-family development at 1310 Haskell Street. The development aims to replace a dilapidated single family home with three new single family units. The R-2A zoned parcel, the suit alleges, was being developed in compliance with “all applicable, objective general plan and zoning standards and criteria, including design review standards” and even had a use permit issued for the new development. Problems arose when unhappy neighbors appealed the project to the City Council, which then voted to scuttle the project’s previous approvals. According to the suit,
Under the HAA, if a proposed housing project complies with a city’s general plan and zoning standards, the city may not disapprove or condition the project at a lower density unless it provides written findings supported by substantial evidence that the project would have a specific, adverse impact upon the ‘public health or safety’ that cannot be mitigated.A later City Council meeting rescinded approvals for the project for good, as City Council members argued that because the project required a demolition permit to remove the existing residence, HAA did not apply. The demolition permit, the City Council argued, constituted a discretionary approval that voided the HAA “general plan and zoning standards” requirement mentioned above. The City Council then, the suit alleges, continued to pursue this course of action despite the Berkeley City Attorney's opinion that approvals like demolition permits were in fact covered by HAA’s broad scope and authority. The suit alleges further that rather than enforce HAA legislation, the Berkeley City Council instead changed course on the project due to Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) outcry, a course of action HAA was explicitly designed to prevent. The suit is the second attempt by SFBARF to “sue the suburbs” to comply with HAA legislation. A previous suit against the community of Lafayette was settled in May 2017. For now, the case will continue to make it’s way through the court system unless the City Council changes course.