Meet Eric Shaw, the director of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD).

Eric Shaw
Eric Shaw

Mayor London N. Breed appointed Shaw to the post last year. He previously served as an adviser to the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, where he coordinated community planning and engagement activities associated with recovery from the 2018 Camp Fire. Shaw has served as the director of the Office of Planning for Washington, D.C., and was the director of community and economic development for Salt Lake City. He also previously worked in the Bay Area for Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the San Jose Redevelopment Agency.

What issue have you spent the most time on this year?

MOHCD was charged with quickly launching and effectively implementing the Emergency Rental Assistance program. We coordinated local, state, and federal partners to deploy $120 million in resources to ensure that we were supporting low-income residents who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beyond the new challenges presented by the pandemic, we also remained focused on our housing development goals and efforts. There is such an urgent need for affordable housing in San Francisco, which requires us to work closely with city partners to continue making deals to design, build, and lease up properties for our communities.

Share an interesting statistic or fact about housing in San Francisco.

While San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities to live and build in, we have some of the most committed residents who support and invest in affordable housing solutions. We are fortunate to have more than $1 billion made available through city bonds because our residents truly see housing as both a community asset and as infrastructure.

What makes MOHCD different from local housing agencies?

Our department is directly housed within the Mayor’s Office, which helps facilitate a deep connection between the mayor’s goals for housing and how MOHCD addresses housing. We are unique in that we are like an investment bank, a foundation, and a rental agency rolled into one. It requires our office to be very technical—employing expert staff with many years of professional experience, in addition to very diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences—to strategize and carry out innovative and equitable housing solutions.

What’s been the biggest move that your office has made in the past year?

We are committed to institutionalizing and operationalizing racial equity principles into all that we do and advancing opportunities for BIPOC developers. It was motivated not just by our desire to do good, but by working in community with our staff, partners, and the people we serve to identify how we can embed the racial equity framework into our goals, structures, and processes.

What are your expectations for evictions over the coming year as different moratoriums end?

MOHCD has made it very clear that no one will be evicted for nonpayment of rent due to COVID-19. In addition to this expectation, mayor Breed has funded the Eviction Defense Collaborative and the Tenant Right to Counsel Program, which is the strongest in the country, to help low-income tenants respond to lawsuits and avoid eviction.

When you visit an affordable housing development, what do you look for?

I always ask “is it a home?” It isn’t just about affordability, housing, and development. It’s about creating spaces for people to live, thrive, and build community. We are dedicated to ensuring that we use culturally competent and inclusive practices to address structural inequities so that residents—especially BIPOC and low-income communities that have historically been displaced—can continue to call the great city of San Francisco their home.

What would you change about urban planning?

I would want to make sure that planners show up having done their due diligence in terms of the policy research needed to have authentic engagement with the community. I would change the approach from collecting community thoughts to authentic dialogue around how to make responsive development. In addition, we need a reimagining of housing. Housing is civic infrastructure, as well as a key tool for implementing the various other goals of a city and a community—not just housing-related outcomes, but that of educational, economic, health, and cultural prosperity.

What was a pivotal moment in your career?

Every move has felt pivotal in my career. I’ve been fortunate to work around the country supporting equitable development, all of which has manifested itself differently. One of the big moves in my career so far was starting as a Mayor’s Fellow in Washington, D.C., and being able to be at the ground floor of the conversations around how to develop a city just as it was starting to grow. Another was being the director of planning for the Louisiana Recovery Authority after Hurricane Katrina and having the opportunity to imagine what resilience and equity looked like in order to respond to the needs of the state, at a time when resilience and equity was not yet universally talked about.

What skills have helped you the most in your career?

It’s incredibly helpful to be able to deeply understand the mission of the organization I am a part of, and to understand why I took on a role to realize that mission. I have to love what the organization is trying to execute and I have to be able to trust that I am the right person to do it in that moment. This reminds me that the mission is bigger than me—bigger than all of us—and it helps me not get tripped up in the smaller, more trivial parts. The sense of privilege and excitement that I feel for the work comes from realizing the mission every day, especially when it comes to affordable housing.

Did you pick up any new hobbies or interests during the pandemic?

I was able to perfect Carla Hall’s flaky buttermilk biscuit recipe.

What do you listen to when you’re in a car?

Beyoncé and Megan Thee Stallion. It helps me get in the mindset to take on the day.

Burritos or tacos, and why?

Tacos because you can have more of them. You can only eat one burrito, but you can eat 10 different tacos! I live in San Francisco’s Mission District so, either way, it’s great knowing I’ll be able to get some of the best burritos and tacos around.

What’s next for Eric Shaw?

I’m going to continue to serve the people of San Francisco. There is no shortage of work and opportunity being the housing and community development director for the city.