A YIMBY Action Endorsement Questionnaire. View all November 2018 Questionnaires.

Theo Ellington

Candidate - San Francisco District 10 Supervisor

How would you increase overall housing production? Give us a few policy ideas you think would be most impactful, making sure they are genuinely relevant to the position you hope to be elected to.

In order to address the housing crisis we must increase the overall production of housing. I firmly believe supply and demand is a real thing. I also believe, as stated in the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, the State must apply pressure so all cities partake in providing the additional supply of housing needed to reach our goals. My policy approach will consist of removing barriers from the planning process and identifying creative land-use strategies to build more housing in our city.

During my time as Commissioner for the Redevelopment Successor Agency we funded and built 1,049 affordable housing units across the city, including 242 for formerly homeless families. At the time, we were able leverage tax increment financing to fund affordable housing projects at every income level. As a former board member of Chinatown Community Development Center, we built hundreds more new units of housing throughout the city. I will continue the same pro-growth philosophy as Supervisor.

How would you increase Affordable Housing production? Would you support bonds (such as the $4 billion dollar bond on the CA November Ballot) or increased taxes, and in what amounts?

As Supervisor, I will first explore existing initiatives that have proved to work like expanding the Small Sites Acquisition program or making it easier to build and legalize accessory dwelling units. Although SB87 failed to pass the state level, the concept of increasing height limits and building along transit corridors is sound public policy.  I will explore a local version of the measure with more clear definitions and direct investments in transportation options. Lastly, we must address the fact that the cost to build has skyrocketed in the past few years. Modular housing has proved to be viable option to decreasing housing cost.

I will also look to implement new policy ideas like:

  • Designation of special zoning corridors where the city conducts environmental reviews and specific guidelines housing development;
  • By-right zoning for projects that meet environmental needs and where the unit count is at least 50% affordable;
  • Increasing height limits along clearly defined transit corridors;
  • Requiring the Mayor Office of Housing and State Agencies  to take an inventory of all “Opportunity Sites” across all districts for potential places to build housing (not limited to surface parking lots, clustered gas stations, vacant lots, underutilized city property, unhealthy fast food restaurants, shopping malls, BART/Caltrain hubs.);  
  • Further developing regional strategies that include working with the State to reinstate redevelopment agencies and tax increment financing on temporary bases.

For funding, I would definitely support the $4 million bond measure, but as stated earlier I’d encourage localities to work with State/Federal governments to:

  • Create funding tools in the form Community Challenge Grants or Tax Increment Financing for special zoning corridors;
  • Expand on: the tax credit programs to include workforce and middle income housing as opposed to only low-income housing.

Do you support legalizing multifamily buildings or “upzoning” single family home only neighborhoods, such as the west side of San Francisco or ? What do you think is appropriate for currently zoned low-density neighborhoods, those with parcels limited to one or two units? Please be specific and use examples relevant to your area.

One of the largest variables affecting our housing crisis is the unnecessary cost burden associated with our complicated zoning structure. Our greatest opportunity to explore upzoning is along our transit corridors.  For example, if you look at 3rd Street in District 10, increasing height limits where there is an existing light rail is appropriate. But we need to expand beyond just transit corridors. In single family dwellings, we must implement tenant protections that ensure zero displacement. Despite the lack of political will to upzone low-density neighborhoods, every neighborhood needs to share the burden of building more housing.  If we establish “special zoning districts/corridors” we can use policy to alter strict zoning neighborhood requirements and build more housing.

Did you or would you support Senator Scott Wiener’s bill SB 827 to eliminate density restrictions and upzone residential areas near transit, in its latest drafted iteration or with minor amendments? The bill would have allowed four to five story multifamily buildings within a half-mile of transit stops, and a right to return for displaced tenants. Would you pursue implementing a local version of a transit-oriented upzoning in your city or town?

I supported SB-827 because it was the first time in decades we’ve had an honest conversation on the state level about building more housing.  However, there were several ideas that lead me to believe that the measure would be difficult to pass: the broad definition of a transit corridor, no clear tenant protections, and lack of dedicated funding to for transit and other infrastructure investments.  In theory, it makes sense to build along our transit corridors, but it has to be responsible and reflective of the community values. As Supervisor, I would pursue a local version of transit-oriented upzoning, but I would ensure zero displacement and funding mechanisms to ensure our transit goals are aligned with our development and housing goals.  

Do you think every neighborhood should build multifamily subsidized Affordable Housing, and if so how do you plan on accomplishing that?

Yes. It’s especially important to increase unit construction in places that have historically resisted change–that’s where opportunity sites can prove to be more plentiful. I will also push for more inclusionary housing.  For large-scale projects, inclusionary housing percentages are normally negotiated through an extensive community benefits process and should remain as such. However, as Supervisor I will push for the highest inclusionary percentages possible for all projects both large and small.  We saw unprecedented numbers with projects like 5M, Mission Rock, and Pier 70. Our next challenge is holding the new waterfront developers accountable to similar, if not better inclusionary numbers. In some cases, building inclusionary housing increases the cost of a development project.  I argue that it’s best to integrate communities and provide shared amenities within mixed-income neighborhoods. Individuals thrive when their overall quality of life is improved.

I will accomplish the task by doing what I did at the Warriors and on OCII: bridging the gap between the community and developers, and finding courses of new action that work for everyone.

Please also refer to see question two for more about my approach to building housing and creating policies that promote housing.

By-right development grants automatic approval to zoning- and building code-compliant housing projects (both Affordable and market-rate), removing review of those projects by local commissions like the Planning Commission. It does not apply to any projects seeking variances from existing city law. Yes or no, do you support by-right development? Please be specific.

As of now I would consider a by-right process for zoning for projects that include a majority of or all affordable housing units.  We know and understand the rules and process associated with building market-rate housing. Additionally we also understand the need for middle-income and workforce housing.  During the approval process for the Warriors Arena—we took advantage of AB900 which streamlined challenges to CEQA appeals if a project reached certain environmental benchmarks and made certain commitments.  I’d like to see something similar for housing that takes into considerations the total number of affordable units, physical location, impact on transit and other community amenities (like open space, schools, etc.), and the environment.  There is no doubt that we need more housing, but by-right development should be used to create clear outcomes. If this proves to be successful we can expand to market-rate projects as well.

How would you streamline the housing permitting process in your city or county? Describe some pre- and post-entitlement changes you would make.

Our permit process for building housing has become burdensome. It lacks predictability, certainty, and clarity for all parties involved.  Because of the extreme housing shortage, middle class families are being forced to leave the city in record numbers. Streamlining zone-compliant development is good public policy that speeds up much needed affordable housing.  

I propose regulation similar to a local version of AB-900, which allows for a streamline of approvals and CEQA appeals if the project reaches and maintain certain environmental goals. I would broaden the definition of those goals to incentivize affordable housing targets.  This local measure shall also include an “outcomes based” or “performance based” model rather than a discretionary review.

Consolidated permit review process for affordable housing developments so that single inspection are made available for safety, fire, and structural needs.

For a more long-term approach: I would create a task force to build out a transparent online portal, with all documentation easily available to the public. This would help small developers/contractors/architects with a simple and streamlined permitting process. The task force would also be tasked with providing recommendations to make the process more efficient.

I would also recommend streamlining public hearings for change-of-use goals for affordable housing projects funded by the city.

What is your philosophy on inclusionary zoning, which mandates that market-rate housing pay for a certain percentage of lower-income units? Do you believe there is an inclusionary percentage that will create less overall housing and less low-income housing, ie that we can kill the golden goose with rates like 50% inclusionary?

I am in favor of more affordable homes, period. You can trust that I will fully support measures that give people more places to live in San Francisco. With that said, I am more in favor of building units on-site whenever possible.  However, I am also aware that in some cases it’s more advantageous to establish an in-lieu fee as a means of fully subsidizing housing. If the city grants a developer rights to build on public land then inclusionary zoning is a must.  On the other other hand, inclusionary zoning can be used as a bargaining tool. Inclusionary zoning can be a tool used to increase height limits to increase size and unit count to accommodate families who hope to stay in San Francisco.

What do you think about the idea of a jobs-housing balance? For example, San Francisco’s Central SoMa Plan? The area plan adds 40,000 jobs and 7,000 housing units, and is likely to be passed by the the Board of Supervisors without accompanying housing. Do you think San Francisco should have an “act two” for this plan and zone for more housing, and if so where? Generally, do you think we should build housing to accommodate a growing economy?

I firmly believe we should zone for more housing, and it’s a shame that we continue to pass laws that protect the interests of wealthy corporations at the expense of a family. In my district, people are choosing between paying for groceries and paying for rent. We can’t continue down this path for too much longer. We must fight for housing. In terms of the Central SOMA plan, we have to provide a more balanced jobs to housing ratio.

Currently, many governing boards will follow the wishes of a district official on housing in their district, even if other officials disagree. Would you follow this tradition? For instance, would you adhere to the informal custom at the Board of Supervisors to give “supervisorial prerogative” to district supervisors when deciding on housing projects in their districts? Do you think officials should be able reject housing in their districts?

I’m running because our current way of deciding housing policy isn’t addressing the needs of our families. I will reject any custom, however ingrained, that prevents us from building new affordable homes. As mentioned in an earlier question I would work with the Mayor Office of Housing, State Agencies, SFUSD, CCSF, and other Supervisors to take a citywide inventory of all “Opportunity Sites” across all districts for potential places to build housing (not limited to surface parking lots, clustered gas stations, vacant lots, underutilized city property, unhealthy fast food restaurants, shopping malls, BART/Caltrain hubs).

How would you strengthen tenant protections? Give us a few policy ideas you think would be most impactful. Feel free to explore issues such as Right to Civil Counsel, your position on Costa Hawkins, etc.

First off every approved project in the city should avoid displacement at all costs. Tenant protections are important because evictions are so devastating. For that reason, it’s imperative that we keep the cost of housing down. Because of our inability to build new homes, tenant lives are being turned upside down. All tenants deserve tools like the right to civil counsel, but the most immediate solution to our tenant crisis is to build.  I support funding non-profits like Open Door Legal (in Bayview) that provide universal access to legal services including unfair evictions. We must also explore ways to strengthen protections for vulnerable populations like seniors, families with children in enrolled in school, formerly homeless, persons living with disabilities, etc. It is also important to include our public housing residents who are often overlooked. As the re-envisioning is underway, residents still need certainty and reassurance that they can remain in SF.

Do you support a vacancy tax for empty units and/or undeveloped parcels? Cities like Paris and Vancouver collect vacancy taxes on homes that are not the primary residences of their owners in an attempt to encourage use of those units. Other municipalities are exploring taxes on vacant parcels to encourage development. What are your thoughts?

I support a vacancy tax, which will encourage more development of homes for families in my district.

Do you support the repeal or reform of Proposition 13? Prop. 13 is a state law that caps property taxes at 1% of their assessed value at purchase. The law allows only property tax reassessment increases up to 2% per year or allows reassessment if the property changes ownership by being sold (but not inherited). The law also requires state and local tax increases to be approved by a two-thirds majority. Please speak about your position on both commercial and residential Prop 13.

Split roll reform is probably the most pragmatic solution here, as there isn’t the political will to repeal Prop 13 entirely. It seems prudent to consider separating the industrial/commercial property tax use from the residential tax use, and considering individually how each could be used to fund new homes for our families.

What is your opinion on street tent encampments and people living in vehicles? Do you support enforcement action against unhoused people living in tents, RVs and cars? Give us some alternative policies you think would be most impactful in addressing homelessness.

Of course, our best solution to our city’s homelessness is to address the root cause: housing affordability. By increasing the supply of homes, especially at the affordable level, we will be able to prevent the devastation that homelessness causes families. But there’s more that we can do.

We can..

  • Expand navigation centers to include satellite wellness programs in conjunction with local medical clinics.
  • Rehabilitate existing housing and begin to build modular housing to    connect homeless families.
  • We must end the endless loop of criminalizing homelessness and the mentally ill by working with our local hospital to provide care for patients
  • Work with existing medical care facilities (i.e. Laguna Honda Hospital and General Hospital) to expand current operations to include care for those suffering from mental illness or substance abuse.
  • Establish metrics for city departments to encourage better interdepartmental communication between SFPD, SFFD, DPH, HSA and others that spend tax dollars on city services.

What local and regional transit or other multimodal initiatives would you propose? Give us ideas of new transit lines, fare integration, bike lanes, infrastructure upgrades, etc. How can we expedite these policies and move away from car dependency?

Car dependency is suffocating us, and preventing us from access to land that could be used for new homes. The primary goal of any D10 Transit Plan should be connect the southeast side of San Francisco to the rest of the city. Transit should not divide neighborhoods, but bring them together.  One significant transportation problem facing Bayview is a lack of efficient T-train service. We need to increase the frequency of the T, limit switchbacks at 23rd street, and allow all the trains to service the entire neighborhood from Dogpatch down to Vis Valley. Lastly, we need to increase the speed of service by giving trains priority (signal override) at stoplights.  We also need more robust east to west connections to ensure transit riders and bicyclist have access to/from Bayview and Potrero Hill. We must also address the congestion along 3rd Street and Illinois. Right now, both street are very dangerous and cause problems for pedestrians and cyclists. Additionally, our religion has dropped the ball on our water transit. We need a robust system to supplement the other regional lines and in case of an emergency.

Our city will not be able to move away from car dependency until basic infrastructure needs are met in D10.

Is there anything else you would like the membership to know about you or your positions?

No answer provided.

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