Updates on the Housing Balance and Neighborhood Stabilization!

2 08 2014

This piece was recently published in the SF Bay Guardian.  Check out the article here.

Since 1990, San Francisco has developed an incredible track record of building close to 30% affordable housing – but that ratio is quickly slipping away as new market-rate approvals far outstrip funding for affordable housing. In many parts of our city, this imbalance in housing affordability is opening the door for displacement and gentrification, as long-term residents find they can no longer afford to live in their own neighborhoods. A measure known as The Housing Balance was introduced in April and promoted by CCHO members TODCO and SOMCAN with the hope of addressing this crisis. Originating in the West SoMA planning process and developed as legislation for Central City Neighborhoods, this measure was intended to link market-rate development to affordable housing production by setting a goal of at least 30% affordable housing and establishing stricter conditions on approvals of market-rate housing whenever the city fell below this minimum balance. In this way, the Housing Balance measure was meant to compel all sides – the City, market-rate developers, and affordable housers – to work together to achieve a minimum of 30% affordable housing over time.

In June, Supervisor Jane Kim revised the Housing Balance to introduce it as a measure for the November 2014 ballot, extending the reach of the measure to not only establish a 30% affordable housing requirement in District 6, but across the neighborhoods of the city. Perceived as a threat by developers, this new proposal compelled the Mayor’s office to put its own measure on the ballot – a so-called “poison pill” that would over-ride the conditions placed on market-rate development by the Housing Balance. Since that time, the Mayor’s office and Supervisor Kim’s office have been engaged in extensive negotiations, which CCHO supported as a pathway to more substantive outcomes than simply a ballot “war.”

On July 29th, negotiations resulted in a compromise measure—a policy statement that was introduced for the November ballot and agreed-upon terms for a workplan to take the policy statement into action. Though “compromise” is often considered a dirty word in politics, this measure represents a real win for affordable housing. The negotiated outcome allowed Supervisor Kim and housing advocates to up the ante to 33% affordable housing instead of the original 30%, and to get more immediate solutions for the housing crisis started right away. The original Housing Balance was a tool to create leverage, without itself creating ways to produce more affordable housing. This new ballot measure and the workplan terms establish a package of policies and funding to be worked on over the next eight months that will set the conditions to reach the 33% minimum housing balance goal.

If approved by the voters, this new measure will formalize the City’s commitment to maintain a one third affordable housing goal and set expectations for the City’s work plan on how to get there. While lacking the conditional use requirement “teeth” of the original Balance legislation, the policy and work plan sets up the conditions for a future Balance by compelling the City to do the following:

1) establish a housing balance report and require public hearings to hold the City accountable to its goal of minimum 33% affordable housing

2) develop funding and site acquisition strategies

3) develop a strategy to maintain one third affordability citywide, to be adopted concurrently with the Central SoMa rezoning next year

4) make high-rise luxury developments pay their fair share of inclusionary obligations

5) establish a funded Neighborhood Stabilization Trust to acquire small to large buildings and take them out of the speculative market, preserving them in perpetuity as affordable housing for the tenants who live there

6) create immediate Interim Controls to protect PDR (production, distribution, repair/service) businesses and artists in SOMA from displacement (a temporary solution until more permanent protections are established next year)

The pieces of this agreement constitute a step towards addressing San Francisco’s ongoing affordability crisis and stabilizing neighborhoods facing rapid gentrification. It may seem less dramatic than the prospect of a ballot battle with developers, but it is a package to work with that was leveraged from the process of negotiations. However, we must keep an eye on the larger goal of real city-wide affordability. Though 33% affordable housing production is higher than what we’ve achieved in the past, we must not forget this is only a floor – realistic given the funding goals of this measure, but an incremental step toward achieving the affordable housing we need to house all San Franciscans fairly.