San Francisco Bay Area Renters' Federation

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The San Francisco Bay Area Renters' Federation (SFBARF) is a political advocacy group formed in response to the present-day San Francisco housing shortage.[1] SFBARF advocates for more housing development, and fewer zoning restrictions on the production of housing.[2] It is one of several recently formed YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) groups in the San Francisco Bay Area.[3]

History, organization, and membership[edit]

SFBARF is an unincorporated club.[4] The organization's acronym barf, a slang term for vomiting, was deliberately chosen to improve the group's name recognition.[5]

SFBARF engages in anti-"NIMBY" political activity, such as rallying for housing projects, campaigning for legislation, and organizing events.[2][6] The press has referred to SFBARF as an "avidly pro-development grass-roots activist group" aiming to increase the height and density of buildings allowed under San Francisco Bay Area zoning regulations.[7] The New York Times says of the group:

"Its platform is simple: Members want San Francisco and its suburbs to build more of every kind of housing. More subsidized affordable housing, more market-rate rentals, more high-end condominiums."[8]

The group was founded in early 2014 by local activist Sonja Trauss, a self-described anarchist.[8][6] Previously a prep school math teacher,[6] Trauss now leads the group full-time.[8]

As of April 2016, the group had a mailing list of 500 people and a "a few dozen hard-core members — most of them young professionals who work in the technology industry — who speak out at government meetings and protest against the protesters who fight new development."[8]


Opponents have accused the organization of being funded by the real estate industry.[2] SFBARF has denied this claim, saying they have raised no money from real estate developers.[9] Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman has donated $10,000 to the group.[2]

Campaign to take over SF Sierra Club[edit]

In 2015, SFBARF campaigned to take over the leadership for the San Francisco chapter of the Sierra Club, claiming that the local chapter opposed high-density development, such as 2015's Proposition D in Mission Bay.[10] According to the San Francisco Business Times, SFBARF "believes that blocking dense housing near transit encourages sprawl," which is environmentally destructive.[11] The national Sierra Club strongly supports infill development.[12] The campaign was criticized in an editorial in VICE, which said that one of the candidates SFBARF supported, Donald Dewsnup, had a history of using "shady" activism tactics.[13] (Dewsnup was later convicted of voter fraud.[14]


The group has invoked California's Housing Accountability Act in order to sue cities when they attempt to block, restrict, or down-size housing development.

Their first suit was in 2015, when SFBARF sued the city of Lafayette, California for blocking a housing development. The group referred to this as part of their "Sue the Suburbs" campaign, creating a website under this name.[15] The suit claimed that under California's Housing Accountability Act, the Lafayette city council could not force developers to reduce the density of a housing project, since the project already complied with all zoning laws.[16] In a televised debate with SFBARF, Lafayette mayor Brandt Andersson argued the suit was unwarranted, saying that Lafayette should "keep multi-unit housing downtown" near the BART station.[5]

SFBARF v. City of Berkeley 2017[edit]

In April 2015, a developer submitted an application to tear down a dilapidated building at 1310 Haskell Street in Berkeley, and replace it with three two-story homes. In July 2016, the Berkeley City Council voted 5-0 (with 4 abstentions) to deny the proposal. The city was sued by the SF Bay Area Renters Federation, who argued that denying the application violated California's Housing Accountability Act (HAA). In October 2016, the city settled the lawsuit by agreeing to reconsider the proposal.[17]

In July 2017, the judge ruled in favor of SFBARF.[18] In September 2017, the Berkeley City Council voted to approve the project and settle the lawsuit.[19][20][21]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "SFBA Renters' Federation". Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d McIntire, George (July 1, 2015). "Nobody Can Figure Out How to Fix San Francisco's Housing Crisis". VICE. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  3. ^ Murphy, Katy (2017-11-12). "'Homes for human beings': Millennial-driven anti-NIMBY movement is winning with a simple message". San Jose Mercury News. Archived from the original on 2017-11-23. Retrieved 2018-06-14.
  4. ^ "SF Bay Area Renters Federation". localwiki. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  5. ^ a b Smith, Heather (17 Sep 2015). "Urban activists set out to sue San Francisco's suburbs". grist. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  6. ^ a b c Lydia DePillis, How a prep school math teacher has exploded the debate over affordable housing in San Francisco, Washington Post (February 9, 2015).
  7. ^ Lamb, Jonah Owen (October 2, 2014). "Pro-development activist group SFBARF agitates for more housing". SF Examiner. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d Dougherty, Conor (2016-04-16). "In Cramped and Costly Bay Area, Cries to Build, Baby, Build". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2016-04-25. Retrieved 2018-07-02.
  9. ^ Li, Roland (January 29, 2015). "Bay Area renters group advocates for more density to solve housing crisis". San Francisco Business Times. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  10. ^ Purchia, Robyn (October 14, 2015). "SFBARF keeps the Sierra Club in check". SF Examiner. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  11. ^ Li, Roland (Oct 7, 2015). "Housing crisis spurs fight over the soul of the S.F. Sierra Club chapter". San Francisco Business Times. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Montgomery, Kevin (November 19, 2015). "Why Are Redditors and a Cyber Bully Trying to Take Over San Francisco's Sierra Club?". VICE. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  14. ^ Lamb (March 22, 2017) "SF pro-development activist takes plea deal in voter fraud case." SF Examiner. (Retrieved July 6, 2019.)
  15. ^ "Sue the Suburbs". SFBARF. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  16. ^ Modenessi, Jennifer (December 9, 2015). "Lafayette sued over luxury homes approval". Contra Costa Times. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  17. ^ Knobel, Lance (1 March 2017). "Legal action likely after council rejects housing project on Haskell Street".
  18. ^ Taylor, Tracey. "Berkeley's bid to stop new housing being built overruled by judge". Berkleyside. Berkeleyside. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  19. ^ Taylor, Tracey (2017-09-08). "After long legal dispute, Berkeley approves application to build 3 homes on Haskell Street". Berkleyside. Berkeleyside. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  20. ^ Kim, Alicia (2017-12-05). "Housing development on Haskell Street ready for development". The Daily Californian. The Daily Californian. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  21. ^ Dougherty, Conor (2017-12-01). "The Great American Single-Family Home Problem". The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on 2017-12-04. Retrieved 2017-12-05.

    Whatever the specifics, what is happening in Berkeley may be coming soon to a neighborhood near you. Around the country, many fast-growing metropolitan areas are facing a brutal shortage of affordable places to live, leading to gentrification, homelessness, even disease. As cities struggle to keep up with demand, they have remade their skylines with condominium and apartment towers — but single-family neighborhoods, where low-density living is treated as sacrosanct, have rarely been part of the equation. If cities are going to tackle their affordable housing problems, economists say, that is going to have to change.