Thursday, May 12, 2016

There are no disposable people

 Remarks at the Faith in Action Affordable Housing Action
May 11, 2016
by the Rev. John Kirkley

As we gather to reflect on the housing crisis in our city, I want to place our policy discussion within the context of our common life.  Housing policy should not be developed in a vacuum.  It should be driven by grassroots, citizen engagement in the larger questions of who we are and what we value.  What kind of community do we want to be?  How do we preserve the things that we value, those things that make San Francisco worth living in, even as we welcome new people to our city?  What is the moral vision that informs – and when necessary, constrains –  our political judgments and policy choices?

I’ve been part of a multicultural, interfaith group of San Francisco clergy leaders who have been reflecting on these questions.  I want to share with you the values that shape our moral vision, uniting us across a wide spectrum of identity and belief.  I invite you to consider these values as a set of criteria by which we might evaluate the various proposals we will hear tonight. 

To begin, we affirm that all human beings are created by God, equally deserving of respect, dignity and opportunity. In light of this, housing is a basic human need and a fundamental human right. It is not a privilege. This means a minimum baseline of safe, affordable housing should be available to everyone.  There are no exceptions.  There are no disposable people.

We also value being part of a community that is inclusive and diverse.   We are rightly proud of San Francisco’s rich history of being a place of refuge for immigrants, refugees, queers, artists, cultural creatives - and, yes, entrepreneurs.  We fear that San Francisco is becoming a tale of two cities – one for the extremely wealthy, and one for everyone else.  Do we want San Francisco to be an exclusive enclave of the rich, or an inclusive community that celebrates human diversity?

The median home price in San Francisco is around $1.1 million. One bedroom apartments rent for $3.4K/month and two bedrooms for $4.65K/month. Meanwhile, the average household income of San Franciscans is $83,000.

Think about that. To afford to buy a home here, you need an average household income of about $254K/year and a down payment of $240K. Only 11% of San Franciscans can afford to buy a home at these prices.  Renting isn't any easier, given that a household of average means would spend 67% of its pre-tax income on rent for a two-bedroom unit.  Part of the problem is that in the past five years, the City has not built nearly enough new housing to meet the demands of job and population growth. More building and greater density is part of the solution.

However, the housing that is being built is overwhelmingly luxury housing for the 11% who can afford it, because that is where the money is to be made. Some of that housing lies empty, because it is purchased by investors simply as a place to park money rather than house people.  What about the other 89% of us who can’t afford this housing?

Poor and middle-class households are being displaced at an alarming rate, especially in communities of color. This means that teachers, nurses, social workers, clergy, artists, police officers, and paramedics cannot afford to live here. Even tech workers are beginning to be priced out, especially once they have kids. Forget about it if you work in service industries.

Homelessness is an extreme form of displacement.  People living in homeless encampments are among the most vulnerable in our community.  They, too, need to be integrated into the fabric of our city in ways that respect their dignity as human beings.  People need to have basic shelter and safety needs met before other needs such as health care, education and employment can be addressed adequately.

We value human dignity and community diversity.  We also value sustainable communities:  communities that are capable of caring for people and the places they live over the long haul.  Such care requires two things:  time and love.  People who love their community are motivated to care for it, to preserve its vitality and integrity, and not simply exploit it for short term personal gain. 

Long term residents with deep roots and strong social ties are an irreplaceable form of social capital.  We squander such capital at our peril.  Tech cycles go boom and tech cycles go bust.  People who love this city, and the rich fabric of families, neighborhoods, schools, congregations, small businesses, arts and activist groups that they sustain, are the common wealth that enriches us all. 

It is time for people of faith and all people of good will to speak up for the values of community, compassion, and sustainability.  It is time for our housing policies – and our public policies generally – to reflect a moral vision.  That can only happen if you and I are actively engaged in the development of those policies, and hold our city officials accountable for ensuring that they reflect our values. Thank you for being here tonight.  May we challenge each other to continue the difficult but meaningful work of creating a San Francisco for all people.

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