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S.F. City Attorney Blasts Obama Administration's Rejection of Anti-Gentrification Plan

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San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera at a press conference. ( Sara Bloomberg/KQED)

The recent decision by federal housing officials to reject a local measure aimed at easing the effects of San Francisco's housing crisis on low-income and minority residents will further displace some of the city's most vulnerable communities, the city's top lawyer said.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) denial of San Francisco's neighborhood preference plan "is wrong as a matter of law and public policy," City Attorney Dennis Herrera wrote in a letter to HUD Secretary Julián Castro on Thursday.

"Without the plan, the opportunity to remain in the neighborhood will not be possible for those low-income residents who are most vulnerable to displacement," Herrera wrote.

The measure sets aside 40 percent of new affordable housing units for qualified residents who already live in a district where a new affordable development is being built.

It was aimed, in part, at helping to keep African-American residents from being priced out of the city.

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HUD officials say the program could violate the 1968 Fair Housing Act by limiting equal access to housing and perpetuating segregation.

Addressing Gentrification

Herrera argues that the city's plan addresses gentrification forces that were unknown a half-century ago and not what Congress intended the housing act to address.

The city attorney's letter comes a week before a delegation sent by Mayor Ed Lee is expected to meet with HUD to work out a compromise anti-displacement policy.

It also comes as the housing development that was the focus of HUD's rejection, the Willie B. Kennedy Apartments in the city's Western Addition, has begun accepting applications.

The top official for the project's developer says it's complying with HUD's directive.

"We don't really have a choice," said Don Falk, CEO of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC).

The federal agency is providing rental subsidies to the project.

Falk says he expects up to 5,000 people to apply to live in nearly 80 units at the space on Turk and Webster streets.

"In the affordable housing world, when a beautiful new building opens up, they are overwhelmed with applicants," Falk said.

The application process for the development began last Friday. It is expected to last about three weeks.

KQED's Matt Beagle contributed to this post.

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