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'If We Had Seen This Level of Displacement by a Natural Disaster, We Would Have Called Upon the Federal Government'

David Campos, the Mission district supervisor, wants to save the neighborhood by blocking luxury condos—and donning a Robin Hood cap.

 

This is "Think Tank," an occasional series of conversations with Bay Area power players, conducted by San Francisco editors. Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Name: David Campos
Job: Supervisor, District 9
Age: 45
Residence: Bernal Heights

For years, you have not been shy in pointing out that we’re in a housing crisis. Now, via Proposition I, you’re proposing that we address this—by effectively blocking all new housing. How’s that work?
The supply-side housing economy believes that the way you address the housing crisis is not to build housing for the middle class or working class but to focus on building housing for the ultra-rich. And the benefits will trickle down. That hasn’t worked, right?

So, the plan is to institute an 18-month moratorium...and then come up with a plan?
We’re going to pause for two purposes. One, to identify and acquire land for the purpose of building affordable housing on it. And, second, to develop a detailed plan. If you let the free market work on its own, what we’ll have is more luxury housing being built.

Do you hope that if construction is limited to affordable housing, land prices will drop enough for the city to buy its way in?
That’s certainly not my intent. The way the market is working now in the Mission, we need time to be competitive. Even a pause will not guarantee that we can do everything we want to do.

Actually, it won’t guarantee that you can do anything you want to do. 
I think what we’ve seen is that pausing to discuss the issues has been a positive thing. I’ll make this point: The largest amount of funding identified for this neighborhood, $50 million in the $310 million Proposition A affordable housing bond, happened because of this effort.

You demonstrated on the steps of City Hall while wearing a Robin Hood cap. Politically, is it a good idea to equate your movement with highway robbery?
We may be wearing the hats, but we’re not the ones doing the robbing! It’s corporate interests who are running the show.

You’re also campaigning hard to more tightly regulate Airbnb, which many claim is cannibalizing the housing supply. Why do the conventional tenets of supply and demand apply to Airbnb, but not to building housing in the Mission?
It’s not that we are in denial of supply and demand. To the contrary: The way we see supply and demand working in this area, the free market has created a situation in which every single available piece of land in a very short period of time is taken up by developers who want to build more luxury housing.

The builders of those luxury dwellings are mandated to provide a percentage of affordable housing, too. I guess you’re saying that model isn’t cutting it.
That’s playing around the edges. Let’s go to the heart of the problem. We have to ask for help from the federal government. If we had seen this level of displacement of people by a natural disaster, we would have called upon the federal government to come help us.

This was a disaster partially of our own making.
I think the disaster was partially of our own making because we followed flawed housing policy. San Francisco has become ground zero in terms of this phenomenon. We are arguably the wealthiest city in the country. If we cannot get this right, who can?

Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco

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