Lessons on Housing Crises from Code For San Francisco’s National Day of Civic Hacking
Last month, Code for America brigades across the country hosted the National Day of Civic Hacking. While the network’s national theme focused on criminal justice, Code for San Francisco’s own National Day event featured local issues around San Francisco’s housing crisis, one of the Bay Area’s most challenging civic problems. The day brought community members and civic tech enthusiasts to Github’s San Francisco office to hear an array of speakers from the nonprofit and real estate sectors, as well as from academia. The event was designed to include opportunities to both learn and act: in the morning, participants heard from local experts and leaders in housing issues, and in the afternoon, they engaged in project sprints and functional workshops.
These takeaways from the event represent just a sample of the wide range of ideas and insights our speakers shared:
1. Market-rate investment in housing may not be enough to meet housing needs in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Fernando Martí, Co-Director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, presented an analysis of the price and demand factors in SF’s housing crisis to suggest that insufficient housing is being constructed relative to demand, and that because prices are set by the highest level of market demand, a significant portion of the housing that is built remains vacant.
2. There is great potential to leverage housing data to inform housing policy around gentrification and urban displacement. Dr. Karen Chapple, Professor of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley and Co-Founder of the Urban Displacement Project, explained the various ways in which local geospatial data can be used to map urban housing. She showed examples of how to map housing along various dimensions to demonstrate the potential of user-generated geographical information.
3. Advances in local affordable housing require political will and public support to be effective. Jay Cheng, Public Policy Director at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, described how the way in which the local electoral map of supervisors is laid out, along with the city’s zoning system, makes it essential to build political will to move forward with affordable housing projects. He also highlighted how existing permitting systems and processes can be particularly complex to navigate when taking a project from application to finalization.
4. Participation from the tech industry is essential in addressing San Francisco’s housing crisis, as well as the broader relationship between poverty and housing. Marion Wellington, Content & Communications Manager at TechEquity Collaborative, illustrated the historical and economic factors at play in SF’s housing crisis, as well as an overview of anti-tech-industry sentiment, to suggest that tech workers can and should come to the table to be a force for opportunity as opposed to displacement.
5. Housing is ultimately about people. Donna Hilliard, Director of Programs & Operations at Code Tenderloin, highlighted the human foundations of housing, reminding us that the efforts to address SF’s housing crisis must center around the people that are affected by local housing situations.
With these insights in mind, participants moved on to functional workshops on Open Data (led by Jason Lally of DataSF) and on User Centered Design (led by Allen Meyer of San Francisco Human Services Agency), which covered how these practices can be applied to SF’s housing challenges. Civic hacking projects inspired by the talks and panel discussion also began to develop, with participants forming groups to tackle specific housing issues and applying some of the data and design practices discussed in the workshops.
After the event, participants expressed appreciation for the inclusion of subject matter experts in the conversation surrounding the issues at hand. While we all know a true solution to a complex issue like housing can’t be achieved in a single day, we were excited to see the seeds of inspiration begin to take root at National Day, with at least one project group reconvening afterwards at Code for SF’s Hack Night events to continue their work. As we wrote in our initial description of the event: “Our housing problem affects everyone, and it can’t be solved without everyone’s help.”
Special thanks to our venue sponsor GitHub and our supporting sponsor Microsoft, as well as to Code for America and the Brigade Network, for their support in making this event possible.