Affordable-housing advocates were surprised to find out a group representing real-estate developers was taking credit for getting District 4 City Councilmember Tony Young elected in 2004.
Young, a Democrat who represents a largely African-American district, was equally surprised.
“I can't remember if the [Building Industry Association] endorsed me,” he told CityBeat Tuesday, “but I did ask for their endorsement.” However, he added, “not by any stretch of the imagination can you say they are the ones that got me into office.”
The confusion stems from the website iCrusader.org, which highlights the BIA's marketing and data-management software program called Crusader. The website points to Young's 2004 bid to replace his predecessor, Charles Lewis, who died in August of that year. Young's election, the website says, proves Crusader's ability to mobilize voters. According to the website, the Crusader software program generates targeted e-mails and letters in support of development-friendly political candidates and legislative issues, which are then sent to building-industry employees.
Young, who ran against former two-term City Councilmember George Stevens, was the BIA's “preferred candidate.”
“With his opponent's [Stevens'] strong name recognition, it was important to provide an extra push for Tony Young,” the website says. “The BIA sent out an alert to those who wanted to vote along with their industry association.”
The result, the website states, was Young's election. “And all of the people who helped out through Crusader to get Young elected were rewarded by the outcome. They saw the tangible results of their involvement.”
The website describes two other “case studies” where Crusader was successfully employed: one involved keeping a “no-growth” candidate off the Oceanside City Council and the other was the defeat of Santee's Prop. X last year, which, if passed, would have prohibited development on steep hillside slopes.
The iCrusader website prominently features words and images of civil-rights leaders Gloria Steinem, Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr.-a point affordable-housing advocates take issue with.
“It may be a little misleading for folks to see those images being used [by] an organization that represents for-profit companies,” said Paul Karr, spokesperson for the Center on Policy Initiatives, a social-justice think tank advocating on behalf of low-income workers. “These weren't for-profit activists.”
Young said he hadn't seen the website until CityBeat brought it to his attention. Links to the site had been circulating among local affordable-housing advocates, who hoped it wasn't evidence of a quid-pro-quo relationship between a moderately progressive politician and developers.
Folks like Richard Lawrence, who heads the Affordable Housing Coalition of San Diego, were surprised when, last month, Young voted to support a change to the city's inclusionary-housing ordinance-a law mandating residential developers either sell a certain number of units at an affordable price or pay a fee. The BIA sued to have the law overturned, but then agreed to settle with the city. The settlement could mean a blow of between $10 million and $40 million to the city's affordable-housing trust fund.
“It certainly looks that way,” Lawrence said, when asked if he saw a link between Young's vote and the website's assertion, “that he is repaying the BIA for whatever support they're providing him.”
A spokesperson for the BIA did not return CityBeat's phone call and e-mail by press time.
Young said his vote for the settlement had to do with how the city attorney's office was handling the lawsuit. “I know some folks have a visceral attitude against the BIA, and I don't,” he said. “The [BIA has] to be part of the solution for any affordable-housing issues.... There's just no way around it.”
His district needs residential development, he said, pointing to several projects in the pipeline. “These are all attainable housing, and none of them will use the in-lieu fee [option]. They're all going to build the affordable component on-site.”
According to figures provided by the San Diego Housing Commission, very little development has happened in District 4 over the past couple of years. Between July 2003 and March 2006, only 59 new units were built, as compared to District 2, which includes downtown, where more than 6,000 units went up.
Lawrence, who spoke to Young about the website Tuesday and found out the City Council member wasn't aware of it, said he'll keep pushing Young to advocate for affordable housing in his district.
“We've just got to keep the heat on Tony to do what best represents the interests of his constituents.”