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San Francisco Mayor's Race: 3 Questions With Candidate Mark Leno

Mayoral candidate Mark Leno currently serves as California state senator for the 11th Senate District and previously held a seat in the state assembly and served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He has run a small business in San Francisco for over 40 years.

San Francisco mayoral candidate Mark Leno

Bisnow: What do you see as the biggest challenge to building new development in San Francisco?

Leno: Our supply of affordable housing remains far below what’s needed. As supervisor, I authored San Francisco’s first inclusionary housing law, which requires private, for-profit developers to include a minimum number of below-market-rate housing in developments of 10 or more market-rate units. This inclusionary housing has become a national model, securing thousands ... of additional housing units that are affordable for working and low-income San Franciscans. 

While that’s good progress, it’s not nearly enough. When development projects net greater profit from the public investments they receive, we must hold those developers accountable to build greater levels of affordability.

San Francisco is in the midst of a severe housing and affordability crisis. We cannot afford to leave anything on the table. For too long, City Hall has negotiated badly, often prioritizing developer profits over community benefits. This must change if we are to truly address our affordability crisis.

Bisnow: How do you plan to fix San Francisco’s biggest development challenges?

Leno: As mayor, I will work to create, build and refurbish 5,000 low-income, workforce and supportive housing units annually. It’s time to think bigger and think out of the box. That means thinking regionally, and even statewide.

I will also call upon my fellow Bay Area elected officials to join forces and draft a regional housing measure to build affordable housing, stop displacement and address homelessness. In November 2016, Alameda County voters overwhelmingly supported a $600M affordable housing bond, passing with 80% of the vote. I will follow their lead to pass a comprehensive regional housing and homelessness bond that will tackle the region’s housing and affordability crisis broadly.

As mayor, I will draft a comprehensive regional housing and homelessness bond measure that calls upon all Bay Area cities and counties to do their part in addressing this solution. We cannot continue the status quo of passing piecemeal laws and fragmented funding measures that barely graze the surface of this massive challenge. Real leadership means collaborative solutions that will spark real change.

Bisnow: What will be your approach to address affordable housing issues in San Francisco?

Leno: To make our city truly affordable and equitable, we must work on behalf of San Franciscans who already live in affordable housing to protect their housing and prevent displacement by stopping the epidemic of unlawful evictions. That means providing rental assistance as well as legal assistance to keep people housed. As mayor I will pursue taking Ellis Act speculators to court to stop unfair and illegal evictions.

We must be sure that development projects bring value back to San Francisco when we invest in those projects as a city. As mayor, I will revisit the affordable housing mandate to require that projects receiving greater public benefits, like density bonuses or increased height limits, meet a higher inclusionary mandate. We don’t need another study to know it can be done.

Projects like Pier 70 or Mission Rock, where developers are building 35% to 40% affordable, can set the criteria. We should also be looking to set a county-specific area median income to make the qualifications for affordable housing more accessible to middle- and moderate-income San Franciscans, who are struggling to afford the high cost of rent.

As mayor, I will make use of San Francisco’s Small Sites Acquisition program, started by Mayor Ed Lee, to find and purchase hundreds of at-risk affordable housing rental units to make them permanently affordable. I will work collaboratively with neighborhood-based organizations like the Chinatown Community Development Center and the Mission Economic Development Agency to identify affordable housing properties that qualify for the Small Sites Acquisition program and are at risk of being displaced.

We can and must fight to keep San Francisco a place where working people and families can afford to live. This also means finding the funding to expand our Small Sites program so that we can make full use of its benefits. As mayor I will be laser-focused on identifying possible funding streams to strengthen Small Sites and increase our existing affordable housing stock.

Editor's note: This limited series highlights San Francisco mayoral candidates’ views on development and affordable housing based on the same three questions. Bisnow contacted all eight mayoral candidates and will run the answers from each of those who respond prior to the election. The responses are offered for information. Bisnow does not endorse political candidates, measures, laws or ordinances.