Memo to SF Supes: On Affordable Housing, Don’t Be Joe Manchin

Approving money for social housing is a clear mandate—and the opposition talking points are the same old tired nonsense we have heard before.


This guy just attacks government programs. SF can do better.

NOVEMBER 29, 2021 — This week, the Board of Supervisors will vote on Supervisor Dean Preston’s $64 million supplemental appropriation for social housing. The measure is supported by an incredibly broad coalition of labor unions, affordable housing advocates, community groups, faith leaders, tenants, and working people across San Francisco. It would save more than 500 vulnerable tenants from eviction, and create hundreds of permanently affordable homes through the city’s small sites acquisition program.

Four supervisors have not yet committed to support the proposal. Our message to them: Don’t be Joe Manchin.

Most San Franciscans agree that Sen. Joe Manchin is a national disgrace, a Democrat serving corporate interests and using bogus austerity arguments to gut absolutely essential investments in things like paid family leave. What motivates an elected leader to oppose a broadly popular investment in the health and well-being of our people? Why pretend we can’t afford to solve problems when we can?

We know the answer when it comes to Joe Manchin. He isn’t interested in solving these problems or maximizing solutions that work for struggling families. He is interested in keeping the richest and wealthiest in our society happy, undertaxed, and with growing bank accounts. Funding Medicare, taxing the rich, providing childcare—all positions broadly supported by Americans—are nonstarters for Joe Manchin.

People assume things are different in San Francisco. We are about to find out. The debate over the proposed $64 million for social housing is strikingly similar to the national debate described above.

The $64 million supplemental is a part of fulfilling the promise of Prop. I, the progressive tax on sellers of property worth $10 million or more that passed last year and is bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars. The revenue is now pouring in and the city has the opportunity to spend it as the voters intended—for affordable housing.

It’s not some fluke that Prop. I won despite being outspent 20-1. A parallel social housing measure won with 74 percent support. Just as 78 percent of Democrats nationally support expanding Medicare, three out of every four San Franciscans support social housing.

Meanwhile, the proposal on the table is to resource an anti-displacement and affordable housing program that everyone claims to support. Under the program, at-risk buildings are purchased to save tenants from displacement and make the units permanently affordable. It’s been chronically under-resourced and now, with Prop. I funding, can finally be scaled up. 

Opponents are throwing two arguments at the proposal, and they’d sound no different if they came from the mouth of Joe Manchin. First, attack the program itself. This is a tried and true GOP and conservative approach. Insert government program name, talk about how flawed it is, and then refuse to fund it. Are there areas for improvement of the program? Of course. A memo with all the necessary reforms has been sitting on the mayor’s desk since August, and the mayor could make any needed changes overnight. The program isn’t the problem; lack of funding for it is.

Second, embrace austerity, and call for a lower amount. This is the most directly channeling Joe Manchin. Under this argument, we are supposed to negotiate against ourselves, because compromise is virtuous somehow, and to appease corporate interests that fear successful government solutions. At a committee hearing, Supervisor Ahsha Safai called for “negotiation” on the amount, never once articulating why the proposed $64 million was too high. Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Office itself testified at a recent hearing it would actually take more like $150 million to bring the program to scale to meet demand, suggesting any reduction below $64 would be unwarranted. The city sits on a $1.2 billion reserve, Prop. I revenues are far exceeding projections, and hundreds of at-risk homes are on the market. Reducing the $64 million would mean saving fewer working families. That’s unacceptable.

Housing affordability is a defining issue of our time. We find ourselves in a city where the cost of living far exceeds what working people can afford. We have an historic opportunity to significantly move the needle on anti-displacement and housing affordability.

Supervisors Connie Chan, Matt Haney, Gordon Mar, Aaron Peskin, Hillary Ronen, and Shamann Walton have joined Preston as co-sponsors, enough votes to pass the measure, but so far one shy of the eight needed to override a threatened mayoral veto. The mayor is actively working to oppose the proposal. Where will Supervisors Rafael Mandelman, Myrna Melgar, Ahsha Safai, and Cathering Stefani land?

Don’t be like Joe Manchin. No back room deals. No hiding behind manufactured austerity concerns. Do the right thing for our city’s future: support the Emergency Housing Acquisition Plan. San Francisco workers are watching. The promise of Prop I must be followed. It’s time to do the right thing.  

Kim Tavaglione is the executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council and co-author of a recently-published “Housing our Workers” report.

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