An Affordable City for ALL of Us

London Breed
8 min readJan 30, 2018

I grew up in Plaza East public housing in the Western Addition. Housing insecurity isn’t just an abstract point of policy for me. I’ve lived it. When I was in college, we were told our home was being torn down. It was up to me and my grandmother, the woman who cared for me all my life and now needed to be cared for, to find a new place to live.

With my grandma, growing up in public housing in the Western Addition

I have seen generations of my family, friends, and classmates leave San Francisco. Today, my housing situation is like many living in San Francisco. My home is a rent-controlled apartment in the Lower Haight. Until two months ago I still had a roommate. I’m still paying off my student loans. I drive a sixteen-year-old car and bring coupons to the store. San Francisco is experiencing an affordability crisis, and I’m right there with you.

The post-recession boom created tens of thousands of jobs in a city that was already feeling the squeeze of high housing prices and a chronic housing shortage. Unfortunately, most of us still cannot afford San Francisco’s market rate prices.

We aren’t producing enough affordable housing to meet the needs of our low-income population. People who earn middle-class incomes — teachers, nurses, non-profit workers, police officers — make too much to qualify for affordable housing, but not enough to afford market prices without a second job. The result is rising income inequality and the out-migration of many communities of color from San Francisco. This crisis has dramatically weakened the most essential structures of support in our community.

Young people who are already burdened with unprecedented student debt now live with two … four … even six or more roommates in order to afford rent. Friends I grew up with have been evicted and forced to leave their hometown. Major demographic changes are happening in our neighborhoods. Homeless residents of San Francisco endure packed shelters with little hope of permanent supportive housing. Those of us working to build housing are met with high land and construction costs and layers of public process which delay getting shovels in the ground.

We’re in a housing crisis and we need to address it — this is a problem we CAN and WILL solve.

The housing crisis has grown visibly worse recently, but it is — at its core — the result of decades of bad housing policy in San Francisco and the Bay Area. From 2010 to 2015, San Francisco created eight jobs for every home we built. Yes eight jobs for every home. That’s illogical, unsustainable policy, and rents have skyrocketed as a result.

This isn’t just a San Francisco problem: on both coasts of the United States, rental housing has grown more difficult to afford, and the idea of buying a home seems desperately out of reach for many people. Counties throughout California are struggling with rising housing costs, ever-longer commutes for workers, and increasing homelessness. Job booms like we have seen actually exacerbate the problem, but the fundamental issue is our inability or unwillingness to produce enough housing.

I have the ability and the will to lead San Francisco in building more housing. Without it, people like me who grew up in San Francisco, and people who came here for the values we embrace will simply not be able to stay.

Because, for decades, we haven’t summoned the political will to build enough homes of all income levels, housing prices have really only stabilized during economic recessions. Some desperate folks even find themselves wishing for an economic crash in the hopes that housing prices will fall. But, as we saw in 2008, an economic downturn hurts the neediest among us most, and housing prices bounce right back due to the severely-restricted supply. Families and working people are already struggling to get by. It’s not humane or good public policy to sit back and hope for a rise in unemployment to achieve housing affordability.

At the Robert B. Pitts public housing apartments in the Western Addition, highlighting an ambitious $1.69 billion program to rehab 4,584 public housing units for 8,000 low-income San Franciscans.

I’m a fact-based leader. I look for the reliable studies, for the rational solutions that we know will work. In fact, we have the solution already: we need to create more homes for all San Franciscans: families, teachers, police officers, nurses, students, the elderly, and the homeless. Everyone. At the same time, we need to preserve some of our city’s most valuable affordable housing stock — rent controlled units. We must fight to protect the most vulnerable from eviction and displacement. We need to remember that San Francisco is made great by its people — not by its buildings.

We are a city of refuge that takes care of its own. Yet right now we cannot call ourselves a success.

To live up to our progressive ideals as a sanctuary city, a place where LGBTQ youth can escape persecution, where we take care of the elderly and the disadvantaged, and where someone like me can grow up in public housing and become President of the Board of Supervisors and Acting Mayor, we need to make sure people can afford to live here. We need to make sure enough housing is available for all of us so we don’t pit neighbor against neighbor, fighting over the last remaining two-bedroom apartment in the neighborhood. We know who will win that fight: those with the deepest pockets.

Creating more homes, especially truly-affordable homes, benefits all of us. In one of the last acts of his administration, Mayor Ed Lee set an ambitious goal to create at least 5,000 units of housing per year to combat rising rents. I didn’t see eye-to-eye with Mayor Lee on every issue, but he was right about this. I will honor this commitment.

Some of the new homes we build will be rent-restricted; some will be offered at market rate. Folks ask me all the time: why build any market rate housing? Can’t we just build 100% affordable housing to meet this crisis?

Here’s the problem: state funding for the creation of affordable housing has largely dried up, and the administration in Washington is actively working to undermine federal support for affordable housing. The cavalry isn’t coming; the money just isn’t there. We need to act locally and regionally. We need to stretch every housing dollar, and the production of market rate housing is critical to subsidizing new affordable units.

Additionally, we need to build more market rate housing to take the pressure off existing housing stock and reduce displacement. The economy is growing, and we are creating many jobs in the Bay Area without adding the housing needed to absorb these residents. Supply and demand is real and we will see rents continue to climb if we don’t address it. More housing at every level is critical to solving this crisis.


I have a record of delivering on good housing policy, and am running as the most pro-housing Mayoral candidate in the race.

  • I led the charge at the Board of Supervisors to ensure our affordable housing requirements are based on sound economic feasibility analysis to maximize affordable housing production.
  • I am championing the Housing For All measure raising the tax on commercial rents to generate $1 billion and provide over 10,000 homes for middle income families, and hundreds more to help move people off our street. Our measure stabilizes current renters in their apartments through the Small Sites Acquisition Program and provides new units in new buildings.
  • I passed groundbreaking Neighborhood Preference legislation that prioritizes neighborhood residents for the affordable units in their community. As a result, we are seeing an increase in local residents moving into new affordable housing. And when the federal government tried to stop our legislation, I took a redeye flight to Washington and changed their minds.
  • I co-sponsored HOME-SF, which allowed for transit-oriented projects to include more homes in exchange for the inclusion of a greater number of affordable units and a focus on family-friendly units (2 or more bedrooms).
  • With Mayor Lee, I was the lead sponsor on our $310 million housing bond in 2015, Prop A. And I was the lead co-sponsor on the $261 million affordable housing bond in 2016, Prop. C.
  • I wrote and passed Neighborhood Commercial Transit District legislation to maximize transit-oriented housing in my district. When political opponents demanded I rescind it, I said absolutely not. We must prioritize infill housing.
  • I have fought for the right to civil counsel for tenants facing eviction. People deserve a lawyer when their home is on the line. In 2016, nearly 1,800 eviction notices were served in the City, and 90% of the tenants were unrepresented by legal counsel.
  • I spent more than a year negotiating with the property owner to acquire the McDonald’s location on Haight and Stanyan streets to build 100% affordable housing. Without this acquisition, there were very few other opportunities to build affordable housing in the Haight Ashbury community.
  • I wrote and passed legislation to remove parking minimums and allow unused spaces in buildings to be converted into new housing.
  • I’ve helped invest city resources to create more affordable housing in San Francisco, with a particular focus on addressing the teacher shortage we’re facing today.
  • I secured $2 million to renovate vacant public housing units for 179 formerly homeless families ensuring they were not left waiting in our shelters.
  • In partnership with labor unions, I recently announced a giant step forward toward building modular housing. Modular housing allows us to build supportive housing for the homeless more quickly and affordably.


  1. Help create an affordable city for ALL of us.
  2. Protect and expand our affordable and rent-controlled housing stock.
  3. Increase funding for all types of housing preservation and creation.
  4. Keep Mayor Lee’s commitment to build 5,000 units per year.
  5. Fund and build hundreds of modular homes for homeless people.
  6. Build housing on underutilized sites around the City, working with neighbors and property owners as we did at McDonald’s on Haight.
  7. Reform San Francisco’s archaic approval process for code-compliant new housing and streamline the application process, with automatic approval for code-compliant, 100% affordable projects.

Our housing crisis didn’t happen overnight. This is a long-term problem, and we need a creative, multi-faceted solution and a Mayor who’s committed to making it happen.

We are a city that welcomes newcomers, that provides protection for those who seek refuge, a city that takes care of our own. We should never make people battle each other for housing, or pit newcomers against current residents. We should never let our people be thrown out on the street, let gentrification gut our neighborhoods, or force families to the suburbs. For our people and our environment, we must do better.

We share common values as San Franciscans: we help each other; we welcome newcomers; we innovate and learn; we focus on facts; we work together; and we find creative solutions.

I ask you to join me in fighting for an affordable city for all of us. Together, we have a bright future ahead.