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Pro-density renters group grows, snags tech giant CEO gift

March 30, 2015

By Roland Li : bizjournals – excerpt

The San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation, a group of activists who believe more market-rate housing will alleviate high rents, has gained a powerful backer from the tech industry: Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of Yelp.

Stoppelman gave a gift of $10,000 to the group’s founder, Sonja Trauss, a former private school math teacher who began working full-time on promoting real estate development at the beginning of the year.

Stoppelman first heard about SFBARF after his mom forwarded him a Business Times profile of the group, said Trauss. He was interested in helping to the group by participating at planning department hearings and supporting the group on social media, she said. That relationship led to financial support.

“I believe Sonja represents a massive segment of the population that’s been largely ignored in the discussion on Bay Area housing renters,” said Stoppelman. “I wanted to help her personally with a financial gift since she recently gave up her job as an educator to devote herself full time to activism. She’s quickly become one of the most passionate, candid, and talked about voices on this very important issue.”

The local tech companies have been targeted by protesters who argue that the firms’ new employees are exacerbate soaring housing costs and evictions under the Ellis Act. But Trauss believes that rising rents are directly related to a lack of new housing supply, a perspective that Stoppelman shares.

“It’s ridiculous to blame companies tech or non-tech for rapidly adding jobs,” said Stoppelman. “Remember 2008 when unemployment was through the roof and the city was desperate for economic growth? Fortunately, those days are long gone and now we have the ‘high class’ problem of plenty of jobs, but too little housing.”

Stoppelman has previously spoken about housing affordability at industry panels. He also taken a stand on other issues: he wrote an open letter Friday urging states to not adopt laws similar to Indiana’s controversial measure, which critics say allows businesses to refuse service on the basis on sexual orientation…

Critics take aim

As SFBARF grows, it has also attracted critics.

Earlier this month, the Board of Supervisors passed legislation to halt the construction of single-family homes exceeding 3,000 square feet in Corona Heights, despite strong opposition from Trauss.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who sponsored the legislation, wrote on the SFBARF mailing list that he was perplexed by the opposition to a bill that he described as streamlining regulations for mansions…

Other housing activists question whether SFBARF really represents renters.

“I think this is a front group” for developers, said Donald Goldmacher, an independent filmmaker and member of Save Shattuck Cinemas, which opposes the 2211 Harold Way project. “It’s pro-development. It’s not pro-tenant.”…

“We’re not opposed to thoughtful, green development,” said Goldmacher. “That’s not what we’re seeing in Berkeley.”

“I think they are a sham group that is acting as a shill for market-rate developers and other pro-development groups,” said Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, a tenants group. “I find it offensive that they are purporting to represent the voice of renters.”…

I think it’s very deceptive,” said Shortt. “They haven’t proven themselves to be a representation of the community.”

Shortt’s group is pushing for Ellis Act reform, stronger rent control measures, and more community participation and planning for development. It opposes projects like Maximus Real Estate Partner’s proposal at 16th and Mission St., where activists are calling for 100 percent affordable housing or no new construction… (more)

Looks like we have one less math teacher and one more lobbyist.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 30, 2015 12:34 pm

    Reblogged this on Grassroots Actions.


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