Fighting to Save San Francisco’s Diversity

zoeHappy New Year to everyone! I hope your year has gotten off to a great start and that you haven’t broken too many resolutions so far . . .

One of the biggest changes for me this year is my recent election to become the new Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Many of you have probably heard about “Alice,” or seen club members in our signature purple t-shirts around the Castro before elections days, or have attended our annual Pride Breakfast that we produce every June on Pride Sunday. You might not know, though, that it was the first registered LGBT Democratic Club in the nation.

The club was founded in 1971 by Jim Foster, a gay rights activist who had been organizing with the Society for Individual Rights (SIR) to elect pro-gay candidates in San Francisco for several years. Until that time, there had been some gay and lesbian advocacy groups, but gay political goals had never been incorporated directly into the platform of a major American political party. Foster chartered Alice to initiate gay advocacy within the Democratic Party and led the way for many more LGBT Democratic Clubs across the country. The club has a proud tradition and, of course, it all happened right here in San Francisco. I’m honored to help carry its mission forward.

I will periodically bring up various public policy and political topics in my columns, and while I don’t expect my personal views to differ that much from the Alice B. Toklas club’s endorsed positions, I do want to be clear that this column represents solely my personal perspective and should not be interpreted as any official position of the club.

One of the hottest topics right now in San Francisco, and the Bay Area, is the skyrocketing housing costs. Home prices and rents have increased dramatically, as we have all experienced. According to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index, San Francisco is the least affordable housing market, with only 16% of our homes considered “affordable” for families earning the area’s median income. It is also ranked by the National Low Income Housing Coalition as the second least affordable metropolitan area in the country for rentals, right behind Honolulu.

To help organize tenants and brainstorm solutions, a series of neighborhood Tenants Conventions are being held throughout San Francisco, put on by the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition. These will all culminate in a citywide Tenants Convention on February 8th at SEIU Headquarters (350 Rhode Island). I attended the Castro Tenants Convention at the LGBT Community Center earlier this month.

What impressed me was that the meeting was focused on brainstorming ideas for solutions, both legislatively and from a grassroots organizing perspective, to increase the stock of affordable housing in the city and to help respond to Ellis Act evictions. Since the Ellis Act is a statewide law, there are limitations as to what can be done at a local level, but there is still some room for preventing unlawful evictions and assisting those impacted. Ideas ranged from giving tenants first right of refusal to purchase their property when converting to condos, to increasing relocation allowances, to offering subsidies for teachers and nonprofit workers to live in the city. The idea that got the largest laugh was “making Silicon Valley more attractive!” – obviously an acknowledgement that many Silicon Valley workers would rather live in SF and commute to their tech jobs than live down the peninsula.

It’s a complex issue with no easy solutions. Last week Mayor Ed Lee, in his State of the City Address, laid out a seven-point plan to create 30,000 new and rehabilitated homes in the city by 2020, with a third of those made affordable to low- and moderate-income families. The mayor also advocated for building housing faster, not only prioritizing construction of affordable housing, but also building market-rate housing so those with the money to purchase a home don’t face a continually tight market and instead go into the rental market and drive rents up.

There is no doubt this will be the issue of 2014 in San Francisco, and we will be keeping a close eye on various proposals in City Hall, on the ballot, and in Sacramento. The ultimate goal will be to keep San Francisco’s wonderful diversity and keep it a place where families and people from all walks of life – artists, teachers, non-profit professionals, janitors, tech workers, cooks, nurses – can call our city home.

Zoe Dunning is a retired Navy Commander and was a lead activist in the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She currently serves as the 1st Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party and is Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club.