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SF planning director sounds gentrification alarm, calls housing supply “inadequate”

Longtime planning head plays it down the middle

The contentious South Van Ness development that started the whole mess.
Courtesy Lennar

On Friday, the head of the city’s Planning Department sent a letter to local lawmakers calling for vigilance on gentrification but also stating that “the supply of housing in the region is inadequate.”

So says the San Francisco Examiner regarding city Planning Director John Rahaim’s seemingly finely tuned appeal to City Hall about the never-ending plight of the Mission District.

The missive appears to be a coda to last month’s strange, shocking scene at City Hall, in which a 157-unit development in the Mission seemed poised to skate to approval only to be thrown back at the last minute.

EQRoy/Shutterstock
EQRoy-Shutterstock

Rahaim explained to lawmakers,”I personally share many of the concerns raised at the hearing about the serious challenges to our city’s racial, cultural, and economic diversity posed by the current economic climate.”

The contention in question concerns developer Lennar’s ambitions to erect condos at 1515 South Van Ness.

Though 25 percent of the new homes would be affordable, local activists, skeptical of market-rate development, argue that the remaining 75 percent will attract only hyper-wealthy renters.

With them will come upscale businesses that longtime locals can’t afford, followed by even more high-priced housing.

But it was those speaking in favor of the new building whose words made the most impact. Which ultimately turned out to be a problem for the project.

When Sonja Trauss of the YIMBY group Bay Area Renters Federation (SFBARF) compared gentrification fears to Trump-style xenophobia, outgoing D9 Supervisor David Campos was so offended that he changed his vote on the spot, going so far as to cite Trauss by name.

Now Trauss points out to Mission Local that Rahaim’s letter seems to appeal to her group’s concerns as well.

As the Planning Director loudly sympathized with the plight of longtime Mission locals, working class people, and Latinos (whom his department’s own research indicates are leaving the Mission in droves), Rahaim also acknowledges that the city must build, writing:

“There is simply not enough housing regionally or in San Francisco to meet our needs. Producing housing at all income levels is critical.”

Since 2015, Rahaim’s department has been at work on a program dubbed Mission Action Plan 2020, which aims to stabilize” the Mission at 65 percent low- and moderate-income households.

Rahaim has been planning director since 2008, coming to San Francisco by way of the same job in Seattle.

In an interview earlier this year, he said he plans to stay on in San Francisco for years to come, even as he acknowledged “withering criticism” about the affordability crisis, in which the Planning Department is often the whipping boy of every side of the argument.