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Housing Activists Say Sue the Suburbs, Starting with Lafayette

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San Francisco magazine is reporting that the East Bay community of Lafayette could be in the legal crosshairs of the pro-housing San Francisco group, San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation (SFBARF). According to the magazine's website, the unfortunately acronymed organization is trying to drum up plaintiffs and funding to sue Lafayette, a city of less than 25,000, for not creating more housing. Why would they care, you may ask? The group contends that by not building more homes, suburban communities are contributing to the housing shortage and higher rents throughout the region.

It boils down to this: Many suburban towns want to maintain their traditionally small and sleepy nature, so governments fight to keep the growth of housing in check. In the magazine's article, Gabriel Melcalf, director of San Francisco Planning & Urban Research Association (SPUR) weighs in: "Every neighborhood has an incentive to say no to higher-density development because some of the impacts are felt locally. But when you aggregate that at the level of the whole Bay Area, the net effect of each neighborhood saying no is a profound crisis of affordability."

Their attention is on Lafayette because the city recently approved the Homes at Deer Hill, a development of 44 single-family, $1.2 million dollar homes. Previously O'Brien Homes, the developer, had proposed a moderate-income apartment complex for the site. Back in 2011, O'Brien scrapped that project due to community opposition and issues with the environmental impact report.

Since SFBARF has no legal footing for suing, they are looking for litigants (specifically people who could or would have lived in the proposed apartment complex) and cash through an affiliated and provocatively named website, Sue the Suburbs. What will happen remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: It's the most novel volley yet in the real estate wars.

· City Housing Activists Test Out a Brazen New Battle Cry: Sue the Suburbs! [San Francisco]