By Chris Reed
A weekend story about the gross failure of affordable housing policies in San Francisco contained plenty of public frustration and official consternation. But it also is one more example of the very shallow way this issue is almost always covered by California journalists, which means they are part of the problem. Here are the story’s key details:
When real estate developer Forest City began construction on a new apartment complex at 2175 Market St., it announced that it would build more affordable units than required by the city — 20 percent instead of 12.
The response was overwhelming. Forest City put a booth in the lobby of the building — chosen because it is centrally located, near public transit and well-recognized — and handed out more than 6,800 applications.
For 18 apartments.
Despite the odds, 2,595 individuals and families completed and returned the eight-page application. Their names were put in a lottery to draw 400 finalists.
Four hundred names for 18 apartments, 11 of them one-bedrooms.
CA’s piecemeal approach to affordable housing can’t work
This article bridles with barely disguised journalistic anger over the failure of local and state government to deal with affordable housing concerns.
Doug Shoemaker, president of the California branch of Mercy Housing, an affordable housing nonprofit, says this is the worst market he’s ever seen. Mercy just opened a 100-until affordable housing building for families at Fourth and Channel Streets. There were 2,995 applications.
“The demand is just intense,” he said. “It was a horrifying reminder of just how hard it is. I’ve been in this field for 20 years and for people looking for apartments this is the most depressing market I have ever seen. It is painful to watch any of it, but what horrifies us most is the homeless families.”
Sara Osaba, a single parent, can’t get over the irony. A former UC Berkeley student, she moved back to San Francisco from Vermont, where she was working for nonprofits, helping low-income immigrants.
“I’ve worked 30 years helping immigrant families find housing,” she said. “Now I’m one of those families. I’ve gone from being a contributing member of society to being essentially homeless.”
State emphasizes process, not results
But any anger should extend to California’s government beat reporters for the complete absence of context in their coverage of this issue. The starting point for understanding why the state is so bad on this big issue is a 2003 Public Policy Institute of California report. I wrote about it last year when analyzing a San Diego affordable housing policy fight with the same dumb dynamics as San Francisco’s: