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The Experienced San Fran REALTORS® Defeat Mission Moratorium

One sure way to exacerbate the already steep housing challenges in San Francisco would have been a 30-month moratorium on new development in the Mission District, where housing inventory is low, and in increasingly high demand.  Using an Issues Mobilization grant from the National Association of REALTORS® for the second time in as many years, the 4,600-member San Francisco Association of REALTORS® (SFAR) convinced voters to thwart the threatened ‘Mission Moratorium’ in November.

The city’s infamous affordability crisis has been brought about, in part, by decades of low housing production, explains Jay Cheng, SFAR’s Deputy Director of Government Affairs and Community Relations.  In the historically working-class Mission District, the situation is complicated by issues of gentrification.  Ironically, last year's proposed moratorium backed by far-left housing activists threatened not only to further displace long-term residents, but it would actually have cut off affordable housing funding that is supported by fees from market-value housing projects in the district. 

The back-to-back timing of SFAR’s two issues campaigns increased the association’s sophistication and impact the second time around, notes Cheng.  In 2014, it had defeated a proposed additional transfer tax with an energetic, multilingual campaign and get-out-the-vote effort, completely funded by the REALTORS®.  “Thanks to our success with the transfer tax campaign, we were able to build a strong coalition to help fight the moratorium.  We leveraged the generous grants we received from the REALTOR® Party and our state association to secure sizeable financial support from our coalition partners.  For both campaigns, we received tremendous help and guidance from NAR's amazing team.” 

SFAR’s anti-moratorium coalition reached voters through direct mail and online advertising, a paid social media campaign, and cable and broadcast television advertising; then door-to-door canvassing and live phone banks.  A big push in the second phase of the campaign sought to persuade swing voters, notably among San Francisco’s strong Chinese and LGBT communities.  The Inter-board Solicitation Program of the California Association of REALTORS® helped get the campaign past the finish line, funding the last television advertising salvo with help from boards all over the state.  “It’s fantastic, the way these contributions of $1,000 and $5,000 can add up to so much, and have such an impact,” says Cheng.    

He also notes that in San Francisco, politics are a ground game.  “We respect the street fighters!” he laughs, adding seriously that the city’s voters are extremely sophisticated.  “If you don’t knock on their door and explain your position on the issue, you won’t have their respect—and you’ll hear about it.”  That’s where SFAR’s 400 volunteers made the difference, putting in 3,000 volunteer-hours reaching out to the voting public. 

With the power of the REALTOR® Party behind them, those member volunteers were working to protect their livelihood: the number of SFAR members able to work as active REALTORS® in the Mission would certainly be limited by a moratorium like the one that was on the ballot.  “As much as we’re trying to help our members today,” adds Cheng, “we need to be thinking long-term.  We need to have enough product for our members to work with, to ensure a sustainable future for real estate.” 

SFAR and its coalition defeated the Mission Moratorium with 14.4% of the vote in an election with a fairly high turn-out, but plenty of work remains ahead.  “When you’re talking about housing in San Francisco,” says Cheng, “this campaign is just the last maneuver in an ongoing battle.  We have to keep at it, to solve the problems and move our city forward.”  To that end, Cheng serves on the Mayor’s Housing Task Force, which convenes parties on all sides of the issue to sit down together to find lasting, viable housing solutions for San Francisco.

To learn more about how the San Francisco REALTORS® defeated the threatened Mission Moratorium, contact Jay Cheng, Deputy Director of Government Affairs and Community Relations of the San Francisco Association of REALTORS®, at 408-691-0423.

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