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Programs: Can Housing Priorities Work with Historic Preservation

This piece was originally published in our January-March 2023 edition of SF Heritage News. To view the full issue, click here.

By Christine Madrid French, Director of Advocacy, Programs & Communications

The “Housing Element 2022 Update” is the unassuming name for a big project with an ambitious goal: to shape the future of housing in San Francisco. The comprehensive program (outlined in a 2873-page document) includes policies, programs, and priorities for the next eight years. J.K. Dineen, reporting for the San Francisco Chronicle, noted that this “state-mandated road map” guides “where to build 82,000 homes over the next eight years, including 46,000 units that will be aimed at low- and moderate-income households.” The 10,000 unit-build per year is a 36% increase from the last housing element, according to calculations, and far more than the current 3,000 housing units constructed in 2022.

In November, San Francisco Heritage invited Dineen to moderate a conversation on how heritage conservation fits into the Housing Element and the tensions that emerge when large policies neglect to approach historic structures with care. Panelists included Scott Wiener, California State Senator; Glynis Nakahara, Japantown Task Force; Rachel Brahinsky, University of San Francisco; Chris Foley, Ground Matrix and S.F. Historic Preservation Commission; and Fernando Marti, architect, housing activist, and writer.

A group of 80 people gathered at the Haas-Lilienthal House to participate in the 90-minute conversation. Brahinsky advocated to “apply preservation on a community scale, and think about not just a building, not just a place, but the human experience in those places.” She encouraged everyone to get past the politics of the issue and “really think about what makes San Francisco San Francisco.” Nakahara agreed with empowering a community to have agency in their own future. Wiener promoted collaboration as well, noting there does not need to be “an inherent tension between historic preservation and housing,” though he did encourage preservationists to be “very targeted, surgical, and focused” in their efforts. Marti addressed displaced businesses when he mentioned that “incentivizing housing on commercial properties is a good thing, but what happens to those commercial uses that serve their communities” when they are moved? Foley, as a developer, brought a different lens to the discussion, stating that success depends on local and state representatives working together on the issue. Brad Paul, SF Heritage Board Member, closed with the offer of resources and the expertise of SF Heritage to “work with all of you and the community to figure out ways to reuse some of the older historic office buildings downtown by converting to housing.”

The panel discussion included State Senator Scott Wiener, Glynis Nakahara, Rachel Brahinsky, Chris Foley, and Fernando Martí during a housing- focused program hosted by San Francisco Heritge on November 10 at the Haas-Lilienthal House. Watch the event recording on our website.  



cultural districtsCommunity VoicesPublic housingHousingHistoric Preservation

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