A 2014 Balanced Housing Agenda for San Francisco
On January 17th Mayor Lee delivered a seven-point plan meant to address San Francisco’s housing crisis. We applaud the priority this Mayor has given to housing affordability, and how could he not? It’s the number one issue for San Franciscans today. The Mayor’s plan has many laudable goals, including his emphasis on protecting tenants and at-risk rent-controlled units and increasing affordable housing production, but the devil, as they say, is in the details. The particular policies and prioritization of resources the City chooses in the coming months will make or break those big goals. We live in a constrained, dense and largely built-out 48-square mile land area, and the Mayor’s plan makes clear that it will take much more than a blind faith in the real estate market to get us back on track to housing affordability. The Council of Community Housing Organizations couldn’t agree more.
The Mayor’s plan calls for building 5,000 units per year, with at minimum a third to be affordable to low and moderate income families (up to 120% of median income, which is $116,500 for a family of 4). We’re already building 3,500 market-rate units per year, with no additional incentives needed for the private market. But the other 1,500 new homes would have to be permanently affordable, and that will require a heavy lift. We’re down for that, and our community housing organizations are ready to get to work with the City on achieving that goal. But only hard commitments with guarantees and accountability will get us there.
Following is CCHO’s Housing Agenda for how the City can get to this guarantee of a minimum 1,500 low and moderate income affordable units per year. To achieve this, we need to commit City resources and public sites to the production of new low-income housing, rebuild our public housing with the needed resources, work to take our most at-risk rent-controlled stock out of the speculative market, make sure “the market” meets its obligations to moderate-income residents by building inclusive mixed-income communities, and ensure complete neighborhood infrastructure and a bus system that works for all. Underpinning all this has to be real accountability to guarantee that we continue to build at the very least the City’s historical Housing Balance of a minimum of 30% housing affordable for households up to 120% of the median income.
Public Sites for Affordable Housing
- Rebuild Public Housing with the Right Resources
- Reclaim Rent Controlled Buildings from the Speculators
- Make the Market Build Mixed-Income Communities
- Ensure Equity in Transit and Neighborhood Services
Guarantee Balanced Housing Development
Public Sites for Affordable Housing
- Sites. Any underutilized publicly-owned sites, including those owned by the City’s enterprise departments, that are viable for affordable housing, should be prioritized for 100% affordable housing, in line with our the policies of the General Plan Housing Element and the existing Surplus Properties Ordinance.
- Permitting. Affordable housing and mixed-income developments should be prioritized with an accelerated permitting process, with a dedicated ombudsperson position to shepherd these project through.
- Revenue. We need to ensure that Prop C funds are prioritized for new production of affordable housing as was intended by the voters, and develop new revenue sources: e.g., possibly update the Jobs-Housing Linkage with added categories for tech and for-profit educational institutions; and extend the Hotel Tax to Air-BnB units and corporate suites
Rebuild Public Housing with the Right Resources
a. Dedicated Resources. We commend Mayor Lee for taking the unprecedented step of confronting the Federal abandonment of Public Housing. Our community housing organizations are committed to working with our public housing tenants to rehab and rebuild their homes the right way with a community based housing model. But we know that public housing can’t and shouldn’t be rebuilt “on the cheap” as was done in the past. If we are not going to “rob Peter to pay Paul” with the Prop C funds that support the citywide pipeline of new affordable housing development, the City needs to commit a separate dedicated source for the public housing renovation program.
b. Services. Key to the success of our community housing model is breaking down isolation and integrating our communities with the surrounding neighborhood and social services, all of which require a sufficient City commitment to resources for the public housing initiative.
Reclaim Rent Controlled Buildings from the Speculators
a. Acquisition program. The city loses hundreds of rent-controlled units each year to condo conversions, and even more through Ellis Act and demolitions leading to TIC speculation. We’ve had a program on the books for 5 years for a small sites acquisition/rehab program to target those vulnerable buildings and purchase them to preserve as permanently affordable mixed-income housing. Now is the time to put that program into action, with resources for a rapid-response acquisition fund. We appreciate that the Mayor is strongly supporting this as a priority.
b. First Right of Refusal for Tenants. For an acquisition program to really help vulnerable tenants, we need legislation to give existing residents in these small buildings a first right of refusal and a waiting period to arrange financing to purchase.
c. Speculator Tax. We finally need to finish the work Harvey Milk began 40 years ago with an anti-speculation transfer surtax, to disincentivize speculators who evict tenants and flip houses within two years, by levying a significant tax on their profits.
d. TIC controls. This has unfortunately amounted to an unregulated loss of rent controlled units. We need to define TICs in the Planning Code, require permitting and tracking of this change, and ensure Building Code compliance.
Make the Market Build Mixed-Income Communities
a. Inclusionary Housing Units. Ensure on-site and off-site “below-market-rate” units in all private developments, as was the intention in the city’s inclusionary zoning legislation. This can be achieved with incentives for off-site units, raising the price of fee-outs to reflect real costs, and giving priority to on-site and off-site buildings in the permitting process possibly resulting in three or four times as many middle-income units as we produce now.
b. Secondary Units. Legalizing and allowing new secondary units can harness the private market, but we need to ensure that these do not lead to a new wave of speculation. A successful secondary unit program must ensure rent control in all units in pre-1979 buildings, prevent speculation through conversion to condos or TICs, and help low-income homeowners with rehab loans.
c. Privately-Funded DALP. We can’t put public subsidy into anything for incomes over 120% of median income (which is $116,500 for a family of 4), limited equity, etc. But a privately funded DALP, for example by the tech sector, could service their workforce with higher household incomes up to 150% of the median income.
Ensure Equity in Transit and Neighborhood Services
a. Transit Equity Charter Amendment. Make construction of new housing easier – both in City departments, with more staff and less process; and in the neighborhoods, by giving those neighborhoods the infrastructure they need to thrive with growth. Transit improvements should ensure low income and transit-dependent communities will have the service capacity and reliability they need.
b. Revenue for Transit. In the context of true guarantees for equity in the use of funds, we support the new revenue that the Mayor’s VLF may bring in. But revenues should also come from those who most benefit from public transit and who have the greatest impacts: e.g., update the Transit Impact Development Fee program with fees for the new tech industries and new residential development.
c. Nonprofit rents. Find solutions to the private-market rent burden faced by critical social and health service providers in our neighborhoods, including a possible commercial inclusionary policy.
d. Small business displacement. Gentrification is not simply about the displacement of tenants, but about the wholesale transformation of people’s neighborhoods and commercial districts. We need policies to stabilize local-serving small businesses.
Guarantee the City’s Affordable Housing Balance
- Development Tracking “Dashboard”. This requirement for real-time tracking of all development approvals and construction projects by affordability level in comparison to the City’s General Plan Housing Element goals was approved by the Board and signed into law by the Mayor in December 2012.Yet it has never been implemented by the Planning Department. The Mayor should insist that this tracking program be given the highest priority and be operational before the end of the first quarter of 2014.
- Housing Balance Policy. The concept of an Affordable Housing Balance keeping to the city’s historic ratio of building at least 30% affordable housing, while far below our State-mandated goal of 62%, will ensure that whatever overall goal the City sets for new development (whether it’s 3,000 or 5,000 or however many units per year), will achieve the minimum 30% affordability. This kind of balance wraps all the City’s housing programs together into a continuum addressing the needs for a diverse base of residents. Without that balance, the goal of “Housing for All” and true progress toward meeting our General Plan Housing Element goals are simply aspirational and there is little incentive for all of us to work together.