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SF Cuts Affordable Housing Breaks for Fire Victims

Meeting crowded with housing issues lasts all night

In the midst of an epic eight hour and 36 minute City Hall meeting on Tuesday (the longest of the year so far), San Francisco lawmakers took the time to bail out fire victims.

Residents who have been burned out of their homes will soon constitute a new preferential class when passing out affordable housing opportunities, similar to housing benefits reserved for people displaced by city redevelopment in the past, or those booted by the Ellis Act.

The law requires that you be unable to return to your previous home for at least six months, and the special consideration is good for up to three years after the fire. Obviously, the seemingly ubiquitous house fires in district nine, including the Mission and Bernal Heights, are the primary political driver here.

But last year the Planning Department warned the city that conditions in Chinatown and the Tenderloin are also twice as crowded as the average neighborhood, creating ominously fire-prone conditions there too. The Bayview is presently the site of the highest volume of fires every year.

Note that this is a long-term measure, aimed at mitigating the broader economic cost of losing your home suddenly and violently. It doesn’t do anything new for you immediately if you’ve just had a fire. Supervisor Scott Wiener's office (Wiener first put the law forward) tells Curbed SF it's impossible to predict how many people might benefit, since we can't predict the economic standing of fire victims.

But the move is still a political winner, since it costs basically nothing and aims at arguably the single most sympathetic group of displaced people. Note that the San Francisco Fire Department contends that the number of fires is actually on the decline, despite their seeming increased visibility.

The titanic meeting also included a 6-5 vote to create a new committee overseeing the doling out of affordable housing, to fire victims and to everyone else.

That’s a win for the Board of Supervisors’ leftmost wing, which executed a complex ritual of extra meetings on arcane topics in a bid to fast track the proposal to voters in November. Presently, the Mayor’s Office of Housing mostly answers to the mayor. (Hence its name.)