Key Findings on Displacement & Gentrification in the Bay Area

30 11 2015
REWS map

The Urban Displacement Project includes interactive maps showing the stages of displacement and gentrification around the Bay Area.

The Urban Displacement Project of UC Berkeley, which CCHO worked with as part of the regional HUD Grant Process that ended this year, just released their Executive Summary, filled with important findings from their research into gentrification and displacement in the Bay Area.

Among the key findings:

  • “There is no clear relationship or correlation between building new housing and keeping housing affordable in a particular neighborhood”
  • “Gentrification and displacement are regional”
  • We aren’t even halfway through the housing crisis: “More tracts are at risk of displacement in the future compared to those already experiencing it”

And perhaps most importantly, what has kept at-risk neighborhoods stable? “Policy, planning and organizing” – or more specifically, “a combination of subsidized housing production, tenant protections, rent controls and strong community organizing.”

The crisis isn’t over, but we have the tools to help mitigate it.

Read the Urban Displacement Project’s full report here or visit their website at

The Fight Doesn’t End with the Election

17 11 2015

920x920Our very own Peter Cohen was featured on KTVU’s post-election wrap-up!

His conclusions?  It’s not the end of the fight for the Mission or short-term rental regulations, and though the Housing Bond was a big win, we need to push even harder for the funding and policies to make housing affordable in our City (how about a couple more Prop As?).

Here’s to carrying on the fight in 2016!

Watch the full clip here.


Photo Credit: Eric Risberg, AP.

How to Really Vote for an Affordable City

28 10 2015

Our latest op-ed in The Examiner.  Read the original article here, and vote YES on Props A, D, F, I, J, and K!

In this November’s election, voters have an opportunity to weigh in on six measures that together form an “Affordable City” platform for 2015: Propositions A, D, F, I, J and K.

The phrase “an affordable city” has become very popular in San Francisco, and almost every campaign, whether for or against a housing measure, claims its stance will result in an affordable city. And in some instances, this “affordable city” language is used as a divisive strategy, encouraging voters to pick and choose certain propositions over others for purely political purposes.

The reality is that our housing crisis is complex and, despite what some consultants and development advocates say, an affordable city will not come with a single ballot measure. Rather, there is a need for multiple meaningful measures to address the various facets of our housing problem.

What’s fascinating is that this November’s ballot provides a comprehensive set of measures that, taken as a whole, allows San Francisco voters to support an affordable city by protecting tenants, preserving neighborhood character and producing an equitable balance of affordable to market-rate housing.

Though complexity is often seen as the ultimate evil in campaign strategy, we think San Francisco voters can handle the complexity of these multiple measures, resist the divide-and-conquer rhetoric and see the ways these measures work together to confront our city’s affordability crisis.

Proposition A, the $310 million Affordable Housing Bond, provides the public resources we need for the production of housing units. A quarter of it will be used for the critically important rehabilitation of our public housing stock, another quarter will go to first-time homebuyer programs and teacher housing programs, and half of it will go to the development of new permanently affordable homes. The housing bond is an important first step toward a funding strategy to fulfill last year’s Housing Balance measure and make 50 percent of all new housing affordable to low-income, moderate-income and middle-income residents.

Proposition K will dedicate underused, publicly owned properties for affordable housing. In addition to funding, a critically important challenge for the production of housing is acquiring sites to build on. One of the exciting aspects of this proposition is that it sets up the possibility of “air-rights” development over existing public uses, which could potentially bring in new revenue to city agencies while providing space for affordable housing above those public facilities. The first example of this might be at the new Central Subway station at Fourth and Folsom streets.

Proposition I, the “Pause for a Plan in the Mission,” creates a much-needed 18-month hold on development approvals to create an antidisplacement plan for the Mission. If we are going to meet the mandated Housing Balance goals in the most hard-hit gentrifying neighborhoods like the Mission, The City needs to begin acquiring private sites for affordable housing and ultimately develop affordable housing strategies neighborhood by neighborhood. Prop. I will give The City time to start this important process in the Mission.

Proposition D addresses the housing balance in private development. The Giants’ Mission Rock project shows that not only is there a new expectation that private development build mixed-income communities, but that it is indeed feasible for large developments to provide 40 percent on-site affordable units and to price these for a broad range of incomes. What if every new development made at least that same commitment?

Proposition F preserves our existing rent-controlled stock, the largest category of housing that is still relatively affordable to most San Franciscans. Maintaining a Housing Balance is not just about producing new affordable housing, but also, and just as critically, not losing existing housing. The latest threat to our rent-controlled housing has come from the profits to be gained by keeping housing units off the rental market and turning them into so-called “short-term-rentals” for vacationers on sites like Airbnb and VRBO. Prop. F creates reasonable regulations that still allow individuals to legally rent out their bedrooms or units for up to 75 days a year, but also allows The City to enforce the rules on short-term rentals and ensures the “platform” companies are accountable for proper business practices of their “host” clients.

Finally, there’s Proposition J, the legacy business measure. The affordability crisis affects not only residential tenants, but also the vital cultural and economic resources
that our neighborhoods depend on. Prop. J creates a program for preserving long-standing neighborhood businesses, arts groups and nonprofits that have served our communities for decades.

There is no single measure that will solve The City’s affordability crisis. But this year, we have the opportunity to consider a slate of measures that work together and lift each other up. Together, Propositions A, D, F, I, J and K provide a platform to the voters for an affordable city.

Voting for an Affordable City: It’s About Ethics, Not Just Economics

28 10 2015

This upcoming Tuesday’s election is garnering a great deal of media attention, as debate rages particularly around housing measures Proposition I and Proposition F.

We think voters have an opportunity on Tuesday to support a slate of measures that work together to begin addressing the affordability crisis, including F and I.

As CCHO co-director Peter Cohen makes clear in Fox 2’s recent piece on the housing measures in the November ballot, these measures are about something bigger than just Airbnb and even the Mission – they are about trends that are happening in urban areas across the US:

“A number of these measures are not just a moment in time aberration, this is the kind of thing that’s happening in response to pressures on urban America as they become very popular places to be in…one of the pressures that’s happening is using housing stock as hotels.”

Voting YES on Prop F and Prop I is about saying what we think urban areas should look like and what type of City we want San Francisco to become.

We like the last word that CCHO co-director Fernando Marti has in this NBC piece about Prop I: “It’s an ethical mandate that we should have a diverse city, and that runs counter to the market.”

Would Prop I Slow Gentrification in the Mission?

26 10 2015

With the Emperor's Bridge Campaign on Valencia Street.

KALW reporter Liza Veale’s answer: Prop I would be “a means to doing better planning.” (So, yes!)

Listen to her full piece on Prop I here.


Photo credit: Flickr user Mark Hogan.

Vote No on S.F. Prop. C: Filing Requirements Harm Democracy

22 10 2015

CCHO recently co-wrote a piece in The Chronicle about Prop C with Gabriel Metcalf of SPUR and Debbi Lerman of the San Francisco Human Services Network.  Read the original article here.

SF Chronicle photo Prop C op-ed

Proposition C will have a chilling effect on the ability of nonprofit organizations to be part of the public process. It will hurt our local democracy. We agree with Prop. C’s worthy goal of increasing transparency about the sources of funding for “expenditure” lobbying. But by using the ballot rather than the normal legislative process, the drafters excluded affected communities from the public debate, producing a measure filled with unintended consequences.

Prop. C would redefine any person or any group that spends money to educate or engage the public on city policies — be it community outreach, media, research or reporting — as an expenditure lobbyist. These so-called lobbyists would then have to register with the Ethics Commission, pay annual fees, and file monthly disclosures. The measure applies the same burden and intimidating scrutiny to individuals and organizations operating with a civic purpose as it does to profit-driven businesses. That includes your day care, senior services, neighborhood centers and every other nonprofit organization with an interest in public policy.

San Francisco’s nonprofit organizations have a long history of successful public-interest advocacy for significant social, environmental, economic and cultural changes to address community needs in areas such as civil rights, health care, housing, energy, parks, transit, arts and economic development. They work on everything from the smallest neighborhood problems to issues of global significance like climate change.

Prop. C’s requirement for all organizations to meet the same onerous requirements would ironically reinforce the pay-to-play dynamics that the measure is intended to shine light on. Only nonprofits with enough money to buy good legal counsel are going to be comfortable wading into the new set of requirements. Meanwhile, less well-funded, more “amateur” voices will be less able to participate.

This measure should have been directed by the Ethics Commission to the Board of Supervisors as legislation, where it would have undergone a fully vetted process in the most public forum. This would have allowed for easier correction of flaws and unintended consequences. Enacting Prop. C at the ballot will lock us into an inflexible and far-reaching law that is nearly impossible to amend. There is certainly a way to provide more transparency into the “AstroTurf” organizations — faux-grassroots efforts that are fronts for economically interested entities. If the voters reject Prop. C, we should work on a better measure that does just that.

Organizations from a broad spectrum of political backgrounds oppose Proposition C, including SPUR, the Council of Community Housing Organizations, San Francisco Human Services Network, S.F. Tenants Union, AIDS Housing Alliance, Senior & Disability Action, Latino Democratic Club, San Francisco Rising, Jobs with Justice, United Educators of S.F., SEIU 1021, the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council, and the San Francisco Labor Council.

This well-intentioned measure may appeal to voters concerned about the influence of money on politics in America, but will actually do more harm than good.


Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images.

ABC 7 News Feature on Prop I: Let the Mission Cool Off

19 10 2015
Prop I no eviction

Mission District artist Rene Yanez was interviewed on ABC 7 about the displacement happening in the Mission.

CCHO co-director Peter Cohen was featured in ABC 7’s recent piece about the displacement ravaging the Mission and Proposition I, the measure that would temporarily pause market-rate development in order to come up with solutions to stabilize the neighborhood.

Mayor Lee, also featured in the piece, claims that, “If we stop building housing – be it market, middle income, or low income – we’re gonna kill ourselves.”

CCHO responds: “Sometimes you need a cooling off period, to step back, take a wider view of what’s happening and come up with a solution.”

Check out the full clip here, and vote YES on Prop I!

The Secret Mistake of Prop C: Chilling the Voice of Our Grassroots Communities

12 10 2015

Our Co-director Fernando Martí recently co-wrote an op-ed in The Examiner on Prop C with Debbi Lerman of HSN and Rebecca Cappy of Alliance for Justice.  Read the full article below, or click here for the original.

Proposition C on November’s ballot was intended to root out so-called “astro-turf” nonprofits fronting for politically influential corporations, but instead casts too wide a net and sweeps in our city’s patchwork quilt of community- and faith-based organizations that represent the voice of neighborhoods and vulnerable communities. By doing so, Prop C threatens San Francisco’s rich history of including diverse public voices in policy debates. Instead of running the risk of failing to comply with complicated registration and reporting requirements, many small and medium-sized organizations will simply decide not to engage in advocacy.

San Francisco relies on community and faith-based organizations to provide a broad array of health and human services for children, youth and their families, seniors, people with disabilities, homeless families and people with HIV/AIDS, as well as building and managing most of The City’s affordable housing. Nonprofits also provide arts and cultural resources, job training and small business economic development assistance. Our reliance on community-based organization is known throughout the world as “the San Francisco model.” Moreover, neighborhood groups abound in San Francisco, bringing an organized voice to the public policy process and providing the infrastructure for civic engagement. That, too, is a recognized hallmark of San Francisco.

Yet, in a process that had no community outreach, Prop C’s creators inserted poorly drafted language into an otherwise commendable measure that will have a chilling effect on those voices. It was a mistake. The measure’s authors missed the target and are now explaining the mistake away by arguing that it’s simply acceptable collateral damage for the larger cause of clamping down on the astroturf nonprofits.

The implications of this measure are significant. Nonprofits often spend money on research, media, reports and studies, and polling to educate or engage the public on city policies. The intimidating prospect of small nonprofits being required to register as “lobbyists” will have a chilling impact on this advocacy and civic engagement work. The $2,500 threshold, which does not increase with inflation, is too low and creates a trap for unwary advocates. Once branded as a lobbyist, individuals and organizations will be required to pay an annual $500 registration fee for the privilege of expressing their free speech rights, and file monthly reports on their advocacy activities. Nonprofits are already subject to federal and state disclosure requirements. Adding new bureaucratic hurdles and fiscal liabilities for small organizations will drive many nonprofits out of public policy debates, and consequently disempower low-income and vulnerable populations.

San Francisco’s grassroots and neighborhood organizations have a long history of successful public interest advocacy for significant social, environmental, economic and cultural changes to address community needs, from civil rights to health care. This service-based and community-building mission is far different from private sector industries, nonprofit front organizations, and individuals motivated by personal gain. The drafters of this measure could have focused on corporate disclosure of large donations to nonprofits for lobbying purposes; such a measure would achieve the goal of exposing fake organizations set up to create false credibility, without burdening and repressing the voices of nonprofit community groups who advocate in the public square.

Prop C is well-intentioned, but has flaws that its drafters did not thoroughly consider. This measure should have gone through the Board of Supervisors as legislation, where it would undergo a fully vetted process in the most public forum and would allow for easier correction of flaws and unintended consequences. Instead, the proponents have locked in an inflexible and problematic ballot measure.

After careful reading of its implications, organizations from a broad spectrum of political backgrounds, from SPUR to the Council of Community Housing Organizations, the San Francisco Human Services Network and Alliance for Justice, are all opposed to Proposition C. Also opposed are the Latino Democratic Club, District 5 Democrats, the Tenants Union, the Affordable Housing Alliance, San Francisco Rising Alliance, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), SEIU 1021, the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council and the San Francisco Labor Council.

Should this measure be defeated, we will have the opportunity to come together as a San Francisco community after November to fix the mistake and restore a reasonable expenditure lobbyist ordinance that truly addresses the moneyed threats to our public process.

Vote No on C.

The CCHO 2015 Affordable City Voter Guide

22 09 2015

Taken together, the ballot measures in this year’s election are part of an Affordable City agenda for San Francisco, dedicating funding and sites for affordable homes (Props A and K), protecting our existing rent-controlled homes (Prop F) and long-term small businesses (Prop J), holding developers to high affordable standards (Prop D), and allowing communities to determine their own future (Prop I).

We hope you take a moment to read our Voter Guide, and that you vote for an Affordable City this November!

CCHO Slate 2015 outsideCCHO Slate 2015 inside

Predicting Gentrification in the Bay Area

3 09 2015
Table showing the categories used to map the stages of displacement and gentrification in the Bay Area.

Table showing the categories used to map the stages of displacement and gentrification in the Bay Area.

Some of the most promising research to come out of the Bay Area HUD Grant Process that CCHO was a part of (also known as the “Regional Prosperity Plan”) is a recently-released study by UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project.  Using data on housing, income, and demographics, researchers created a Regional Early Warning System for Displacement as a way to better understand the stages of gentrification and displacement and to help predict which parts of the Bay Area may be impacted next.

Check out the Urban Displacement Project’s website to see their maps of transformation in the Bay Area, or read the full study here.

The big takeaways?  Gentrification and displacement exist on a spectrum and are far more widespread than we generally imagine, with nearly half of Bay Area census tracts at some stage of displacement. And based on the project’s predictions, the transformation of the Bay Area is far from over, with more tracts at risk of future displacement than are currently experiencing it.  In other words, we need to step up our efforts to stabilize communities, and fast.

The study was recently featured in a San Francisco Business Times article by reporter Cory Weinberg, which highlighted some of the neighborhoods at risk of displacement (read the full article here).  It was also discussed on KQED’s Forum in an interview with project director Miriam Zuk (listen here).




The Affordable Housing Bond, and Fulfilling the Promises of Last November

3 09 2015

Our latest op-ed in the Examiner.  Read the original article here.

Supporters of last year's Prop K at a pre-election rally in 2014.

Supporters of last year’s Prop K at a pre-election rally.

The first local measure on this November’s ballot will be Proposition A, the $310 million Affordable Housing Bond, a critical proposal to provide necessary funding for addressing the current housing crisis. But though Prop A has the potential to do a lot, it is important to remember where it came from and that it is just one important piece in a package of measures we need to pass this year and next to make a real dent in The City’s housing crisis.

The Affordable Housing Bond didn’t appear on the ballot out of nowhere. It is part of an ongoing work plan that came out of last November’s Proposition K Housing Balance measure, which was passed with overwhelming voter support. Prop K created a mandate for The City to make 50 percent of all new housing affordable to residents who are low-income and middle class.

To do this, Mayor Ed Lee, the supervisors and housing advocates agreed to a comprehensive work plan, including a land acquisition strategy, a “Neighborhood Stabilization Trust” to protect existing at-risk buildings, higher affordability standards for new area plans, interim anti-displacement controls, an annual report on how The City is meeting its Prop K goals and a multi-pronged funding strategy.

The funding strategy is where the bond comes in.

Some might narrowly suggest the affordable housing bond was the only purpose of last year’s Prop K Housing Balance measure. But, in fact, it was a comprehensive and interrelated set of agreements, and there is much work to do this year and next to follow through and make that a real deal.

True, “there is no silver bullet”

What last year’s Prop K acknowledged, in all of its (admittedly) confusing complexity, is that addressing San Francisco’s affordability crisis means addressing the complicated questions of housing policy, of which funding is one key part:

• How do we fund and find sites for new affordable housing?

• How do we stop our precious rent-controlled housing from being transformed into something else?

• How do we plan for equitable development in our neighborhoods, when development seems out of control?

The answers to these questions do not come in easy, pre-packaged solutions, nor is there a “silver bullet” (really, shouldn’t we strike that phrase from our collective vocabulary?). Rather, there are multiple interrelated approaches and incremental steps, addressing various facets of the problem. We need to employ a range of tools.

Prop K funding strategy

The Prop A Affordable Housing Bond is a lynchpin of the funding puzzle. A quarter of it will be used for the critically important rehabilitation of our public housing stock, another quarter will go to first-time homebuyer programs and teacher housing programs, and half of it — $150 million — will go to the development of new permanently affordable homes.

This is an important step forward toward our real affordable housing needs and will create momentum for realizing Prop K’s comprehensive funding strategy with a broad sweep of other measures, like neighborhood-level infrastructure finance districts, a pied-a-terre housing fee, workforce housing requirements on commercial projects and a tiered approach to inclusionary developer fees. (These may sound like abstract technical policies, but over the next year will become more familiar to San Franciscans looking for answers.)

What we need — and what last year’s Prop K promised — is not just one magic solution, but a slate of solutions. Some of those solutions are coming before voters in November. And within that context, the Affordable Housing Bond is one of the critical pieces that will bring to fruition the comprehensive plan for affordable housing that voters mandated in last year’s Housing Balance measure.


A Leading Voice on Urban Planning in CA Debunks Housing Trickle-Down

20 08 2015

Read below for CCHO co-director Peter Cohen’s op-ed in 48 Hills challenging Gabriel Metcalf’s recent claim that progressives are to blame for the housing crisis.   

48hillshousingdashboard photo

The city’s own figures, presented in this chart, show that SF is building far more luxury housing that it needs — and costs for the rest of us aren’t coming down

A few weeks ago, Gabriel Metcalf, the president of SPUR published a provocative article in a national on-line magazine casting blame for San Francisco’s housing affordability crisis on its progressive political activism.

The answer from Metcalf, of course, is: Build, build, build more market rate housing, because the problem is not enough supply, supply, supply of market-rate housing. It’s the same repetitive 1980s-style trickle-down economic theory mantra from SPUR and the pro-development boosters we’ve heard for the past two years.

At one level, it’s a curious time to point fingers when the mayor wants everyone to hold hands for this November’s affordable housing bond, and Gabriel Metcalf is actually on the bond’s campaign committee.

But what is really interesting is that Metcalf’s piece provoked several responses from outside the local progressive community.

First came an article and then an op ed by Mark Hogan, a local architect and principal at OpenScope Studio. Hogan is hardly a radical lefty.

Hogan asks, “Who is to blame? I have a hard time blaming progressives.”  He goes on to explain:

“Looking back, nobody in the early ’90s would have predicted the level of immigration and income inequality we have now. Metcalf points out that we should have been building 5,000 units of housing yearly since then, but this is unlikely considering the realities of development in a cyclical regional economy and it would have seemed high prior to the first dot-com boom. Far more units have been permitted since then, but only a fraction of them have been built and this has more to do with economics than obstructionism.”

Thank you Mark Hogan. That pretty much debunks the Metcalf argument.

Then came an article from Robert Cruickshank, political commentator and writer for California Progress Report and for Calitics.

Cruickshank writes:

“Too often, the SF housing crisis is used to attack progressives from the right, in the service of free market solutions – even though, as the historical evidence makes clear, this crisis was not their fault. Progressives have spent the last two decades fighting to make SF more progressive. Had they been listened to, perhaps SF might still be affordable today.”

He concludes by saying:

“Ultimately SF is at the leading edge of a problem that is now facing all US cities. Urban America has become expensive. As we live in an era of increasing inequality, and in a time where macroeconomic policies favor investments that benefit the rich over those that benefit the poor or the middle, no market solution alone can solve the problem.”

Thank you Robert Cruickshank. That again debunks the Metcalf argument.

But finally came the kicker from William Fulton, who is considered by many to be California’s guru of city/urban planning. Fulton is the author of Guide to California Planning (now in its 4th edition), publisher of the California Planning & Development Report, former Mayor of Ventura and former vice president of Smart Growth America.

Fulton can fairly be described as a traditional politically centrist planner, not a radical or even a “progressive” as we think of thought-shapers in a San Francisco context. But this article is very insightful. Fulton clearly debunks the simplistic argument that increasing market rate housing supply will stabilize housing prices or even make housing prices overall more affordable.

The most salient excerpts:

“The problem is that under some market conditions, more supply doesn’t lead to market equilibrium because it actually creates its own demand… Santa Barbara has housing prices that are not supported by the underlying dynamics of the local economy, for one very simple reason: The uber-rich from around the world drive up home prices by paying premium prices, often for houses they don’t actually occupy very often. This throws the supply-demand equation out of whack; if you build more houses, the result might just be more uber-rich folks from out of town showing up to buy them, and that doesn’t help ordinary folks”

“That’s happening because the interplay between supply and demand is more nuanced than traditional economics would suggest, and because the interplay between the market and politics isn’t always rational.”

“The folks taking the cool jobs may not be uber-rich, but they have tons more money than everybody else, and so they drive prices out of sight. Build more market-rate housing, and you’ll just accelerate the cycle – more smart kids will show up wanting to work for tech start-ups, and that means you’ll have more tech start-ups, and pretty soon demand will rise faster than supply – in large part because you increased the supply.”

He does go on to show his generally pro-development position, which is fine and expected from Fulton. But the fact that William Fulton–a true planner’s planner–paints a definitive argument relevant to the San Francisco “market” that counters the local boosters is a key turning point in the seemingly endless debate about whether our crisis of affordability is simply solvable by increasing market-rate housing supply.
So, thank you William Fulton. California’s top planner really debunks SPUR’s Gabriel Metcalf on the theory of Trickle-Down housing policy.

In what seemed too perfectly timed to be simply ironic, the Sunday following Metcalf’s piece the Chronicle published an article on the front page business section titled: “Want a luxury apartment in San Francisco? You’re in luck”.
There couldn’t be a better “case study” to prove Fulton correct in his critique of the supply-side argument. Really, how much luxury housing does San Francisco truly need?


CCHO’s Peter Cohen on KPFA!

11 08 2015

Listen to the interview here (skip to minute 33).

CCHO co-director Peter Cohen was recently interviewed on KPFA’s UpFront about CCHO’s strategies for addressing San Francisco’s housing crisis.  Hear Peter debunk the latest claims that the housing crisis can be solved by simply building more market-rate units, and prove that no, Gabriel Metcalf, progressives aren’t ruining the world.  Skip to minute 33 to hear Peter’s interview.logo

Just released! CCHO’s District Housing Snapshots 2014

20 07 2015

Fresh off the presses!  In anticipation of the release of the San Francisco Planning Department’s new Housing Balance Report, we at CCHO have compiled a 2014 Housing Snapshot of each of the 11 supervisorial districts of the City.  The goal of the snapshot is to understand at a finer-grain level where affordable housing is being produced and lost in neighborhoods across the city right now – reflecting not just trends over the past ten years, but the balance of housing production as residents are experiencing it at ground level currently. We will update this District Housing Snapshots report annually.

We hope you take a moment to read the full report.

Overall, only 22% of the new housing produced in 2014 was affordable.  While the city gained 698 deed restricted affordable units last year, it lost 313 existing rent controlled units. Even more troubling is the future trend. Only 8% of the 14,405 entitled units in the 2014 pipeline were affordable. For long-range projects that are not yet entitled, the percent of affordable units is also 8%, a clear sign that without drastic changes, the affordable housing crisis is going to get worse.

Read the full report HERE!


Unpacking the “Affordable Housing Balance” at the Neighborhood Level

20 07 2015

Our latest op-ed in The Examiner.  Read the original article here.

The first “Housing Balance Report” from the Planning Department is fresh off the presses!  This report, the realization of many months of patient advocacy from a broad set of stakeholders and the fulfillment of one of the mandates of last year’s Proposition K, shows how far out of whack housing production has been in San Francisco.

The numbers here are eye-popping. The current citywide affordable housing balance for the past 10 years up to present is 16 percent (meaning only 16 percent of all net housing supply over the past 10 years was affordable housing). And the future looks even worse. Based on the entitlement “pipeline” of projects, The City is slated to produce only 11 percent affordable housing moving forward. We are far behind the goal of minimum 33 percent affordable housing for low- and moderate-income San Franciscans set by Prop K, and, unfortunately, only getting worse.

The dismal citywide numbers should be a wake-up call for everyone. But where the disparity in production becomes painfully apparent is in the neighborhood-level numbers. This report reveals how geographically uneven the production of affordable housing is across The City’s neighborhoods: District 6 (SoMa), District 10 (Bayview) and District 5 (Hayes Valley) received three quarters of all affordable-housing production in the last 10 years. District 2 (Marina) and District 4 (Sunset) only produced 37 and 15 affordable housing units, respectively.

Even more shocking and clearly visible in the district-level “balance” numbers is the degree to which the loss of rental housing from conversions and evictions has completely undermined even the best efforts by The City to produce affordable housing. It’s like we’re running in place: we are losing almost as many rent-protected units from real estate speculation as are gained from new development.

Take a district like the Castro, which has the highest displacement numbers and lost 844 rent-controlled units to evictions and conversions over the last 10 years. As a result, the housing balance in that district is negative — The City has lost more affordable rental units in District 8 than it has produced!

The Housing Balance Report shows many supervisorial districts with the highest levels of displacement have negative housing balances from 2005-2014, including District 1 (535 units lost, with a -32 percent affordable housing balance), District 2 (491 units lost, -70 percent balance), and District 8 (844 units lost, -12 percent balance). District 9 (Mission/Bernal Heights) has the second highest displacement with 688 units lost over the last 10 years, and has a whopping affordable housing balance of 3.4 percent. Is the outcry on the streets any wonder?

The Council of Community Housing Organizations has been doing its own research to drill even deeper, and this week we will be releasing a series of “Snapshots” on housing trends within each of The City’s supervisorial districts over the past year.

Without even counting units lost due to displacement, our research shows the same continuing uneven distribution of affordable housing production: District 10 (Bayview) was the only part of The City that met a minimum 33 percent affordable housing balance in 2014.

District 6, District 8 (Castro) and District 10 were the only districts to receive any low-income housing completions at all, and a significant chunk of that was in the “big three” redevelopment areas of Transbay, Mission Bay and Hunters Point Shipyard.

Moderate-income housing was more evenly produced across the Marina, Chinatown, North Beach, Western Addition, the Mission and Bernal Heights. But if you take overall affordable-housing production in Districts 6 and 10 out of the calculation, the rest of the entire city only produced 83 affordable units (or 8 percent of the total) for low- and moderate-income San Franciscans.

Although all supervisorial districts lost rent-controlled units in 2014, most of them are not producing any affordable housing.

Now that we have the data that shows the true “balance” between market-rate and affordable housing, we need to use it to work toward real solutions.

Clearly, there is a need to increase affordable housing production dramatically and immediately, if even Prop K’s minimum 33 percent housing balance is to be achieved over the coming years. That means securing more sites for affordable housing and securing more funding for both development of new housing and acquisition and preservation of existing affordable housing. The Housing Balance Report also clearly shows the displacement crisis and resulting loss of rental units needs to be confronted if The City wants to make any real progress on affordable housing production goals.

Fortunately, measures addressing all of these needs will be on the ballot or in the legislative process for 2015.

The Surplus Public Lands ballot measure will ensure affordable housing is a priority use for publicly owned sites put up for “disposition” by agencies.

The Affordable Housing Bond ballot measure will provide additional funding for low- and moderate-income housing production and a new middle-income homeownership purchase program.

The Housing Stabilization Trust legislation will establish a comprehensive housing acquisition and rehabilitation program and will focus particularly on neighborhoods with high rates of evictions.

The Just Cause 2.0 legislation will strengthen protections for tenants facing unscrupulous and opportunistic eviction threats.

The Short Term Rentals measure will ensure strong enforcement of The City’s regulations on vacation rentals to protect our rental housing from hotelization.

CCHO has long advocated for a minimum housing balance, not just at the lumpy citywide scale but at the neighborhood level — what residents know to be the real “communities” of San Francisco. This new report from the Planning Department and our own Housing Snapshots research makes clear that we have a lot of work to do to correct the course ahead.

Don’t Believe the Hype: Affordable Housing Does NOT Depend on Market Rate Development

22 06 2015

Our affordable housing op-ed series continues in The Examiner!  Click here for the original article.  And be sure to check out Tim Redmond’s follow-up article in 48 Hills here.

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Market-rate developers and some of their cheerleaders at City Hall have started a new myth to justify the continuing tsunami of luxury housing development: that affordable housing is dependent upon market-rate development. The argument goes that the fees paid by market-rate developers are an essential “revenue source” for affordable housing and without them our affordable-housing supply pipeline might come to a standstill. Nonsense.

That myth conveniently ignores the fact that inclusionary fees on residential development are not even at the level of the “nexus” to simply mitigate the demand for new affordable housing that is generated by the market rate housing. The City’s Residential Nexus sets the mitigation level at between 25 percent and 30 percent if the affordable units are provided on-site, or between 33 percent and 43 percent if those units are provided off-site, allowing the primary project to be fully built out as luxury housing. So, the 17 percent to 20 percent in inclusionary fees, which the developers are touting, DON’T EVEN PAY FOR THE MITIGATION of market-rate housing impacts, let alone “produce” any net new affordable housing.

And the fee structure set by The City is remarkably low, compared to the actual cost to provide those units. This is because The City actually set those fees based on a lower construction cost than the typical luxury tower, and then capped our ability to raise those fees in the city charter with the 2012 Prop C measure. How much can a market-rate project actually pay to mitigate the impact of its development? For proof, we can look at what a developer negotiated earlier this year in the Transbay Redevelopment Area, where the fee cap does not apply. That developer agreed to pay nearly four times the inclusionary fee that developers pay elsewhere in The City, much more in line with real costs and the actual nexus.

Moreover, The City’s housing production data shows how false the argument is that somehow affordable housing is dependent upon market-rate development. In 2011, at the low-point of market-rate housing production, The City produced (i.e. paid for) 207 affordable housing units, which was 59 percent of all housing built that year! While market-rate development was stalled because of a lack of finance capital from investors (who seem to refuse to finance any construction unless they can be guaranteed at least 25 percent returns on their investment), The City with its public funding sources continued to invest in affordable housing production. By contrast, there were 3,454 housing units built in 2014 of which 490 were affordable housing units, a mere 14 percent of total production. In other words, the “housing balance” was terrible. Affordable housing on balance got worse, not better, as the real estate market boomed. With market-rate housing not even paying its way to mitigate the affordable housing demand it creates, this outcome is not a surprise.

Where does that funding for affordable housing really come from? By its very nature, affordable housing means that tenants pay low rents. Bank loans, paid back by that monthly rental income, are a much smaller part of financing affordable housing than in market-rate projects. Instead, affordable developments depend on higher equity investment (think of it as a much higher “down-payment” portion), most of it being from private investors receiving federal tax credits. These federal investments, however, have to be leveraged by our local city investments, of which the market-rate developer fees are only a small part, one that varies greatly depending on the booms and busts of the economy — the bulk comes from property tax increment, hotel and business taxes (the Prop C Housing Trust Fund), and jobs-housing linkage fees on commercial development.

Another flaw in the myth is the argument that market-rate developers are part of an affordable housing solution by “feeing out” on their inclusionary housing requirement. At the same time, those same City Hall and development boosters contradict themselves by making a big deal out of “mixed-income” development. And yet that is precisely what the inclusionary housing program does and why below-market-rate (BMR) units are essentially aimed at moderate income households: people making salaries from clerks to teachers who are also priced out of “the market.” That was the vision of the inclusionary housing requirement, not a simple “in lieu” fee payment program, and yet there are some who celebrate the fees that come from developers when they DON’T build BMRs for moderate income households. The contradiction is profound.

This myth about affordable housing being dependent on fees from market-rate development is a clever but inaccurate distraction. If these same mythmakers really cared about the connection between market-rate development and affordable housing production, they would be promoting an enforceable housing balance requirement (linking the amount of market-rate housing to the amount of affordable housing), and they would be working hard to increase the percent of inclusionary housing, and the in-lieu fees, to accurately reflect the true nexus of impacts created by market-rate development. But that’s not really what they are interested in, is it?

Photo credit: 48 Hills.

Thanks for coming to the 4th Annual CCHO Party!

18 05 2015


Thanks to all of you Friends of CCHO for coming out and making our 2015 CCHO Party a success!  It was great to see you all there, and to be reminded of how many friends and allies we have in this important moment of struggle to make affordable housing a reality in the San Francisco Bay Area.

And congratulations once again to this year’s incredible honorees: Sue Hestor and the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project!

Want to see more photos from the party?  Check out the album
(And if you‘re feeling nostalgic, there are also photos of the 20122013, & 2014 CCHO Parties!)


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The Giants Are Playing a Numbers Game with Affordable Housing

14 05 2015

And another one!  Our latest op-ed in 48 Hills.  Read the original article here.48hillsgiantsnewplan-e1431473441372

We love our baseball team, but we don’t like the way the Giants are playing games with last November’s Proposition K, the Housing Balance Measure.

Last week, the Giants publicly announced plans for developing a set of highrise luxury towers on a parking lot across from AT&T Park, on land that is leased from the Port of San Francisco.  The plan is evidently queued up to go to the ballot in November for voter approval of a height increase from its current open space designation to allow development up to 280 feet in height, making the argument that it will result in affordable housing.

On the surface it looks to “match Mayor Ed Lee’s affordable housing goals,” according to the Chronicle, as a third of the 1,500 new units built will reportedly be “affordable housing.”

That may sound good – but in reality the Giants are changing up the goalposts (or more apropos, they’re moving the baselines) on the housing standards of Proposition K’s 33% affordable goals.

Prop. K sets specific goals for achieving an “affordable housing balance” of low income, moderate income and middle income housing and market-rate housing production:

  1. The measure calls for a minimum 33% affordable housing defined for low-income households up to 60% of the City’s median income (or $58,000 annual income for a family of three) and moderate/middle income households up to 120% of the median (about $110,000 annual income).
  2. On top of this 33%, Prop K calls for an additional 17%of housing affordable for middle income households above $110,000 and up to $150,000 annual income.

Together that’s a 50% affordable housing goal.  It’s a sensible one-to-one ratio of price-restricted housing units to match the number of market-rate (aka “unaffordable” units) produced by private development. And importantly, it’s a “both/and” outcome that addresses affordable housing needs for a wide range of low, moderate, and middle-income households, rather than the divisive tactic of pitting the classes against each other over a fixed-size pie.

The mandates of Prop. K have come to set a standard for responsible development in the city, with big developments like Pier 70 committing to providing 30% affordable housing consistent with Prop K’s low- and moderate-income definitions.

The Giants are positioning their project in the public eye as following suit, but unfortunately are using Prop K’s 33% like it’s a numbers game, trading out low- and moderate-income housing and replacing it with housing targeted at higher incomes. We hear rumors that a big chunk of their “third affordable housing” will be geared above 120% of the median income — in other words above Prop K’s 33% goal.  Rather than a both/and proposal consistent with the full 50% affordability range of Prop K, the Giants appear to have put up an either/or scenario.

Though middle-income San Franciscans are clearly being affected by this affordability crisis, pitting lower-income and higher-income San Franciscans against each other along class lines is wrong. That’s why Prop K. took a both/and approach, calling for 50% of the units to include middle-class as well as low- and moderate-income units.

We welcome, for example, the Giants’ proposal to add teacher housing to the mix – it’s high time we heard a developer say this.  Teachers in San Francisco, even tenured teachers, earn below 90% of the City’s median income – exactly in Prop K’s moderate-income bracket, and what the City’s inclusionary housing program asks developers to provide.

But above that, the real estate development “market” has not been building any new family-sized units for what Prop K calls middle-income households with, for example, two teacher incomes.

So adding that layer of affordable housing to the Giants housing proposal is a helpful move. But we are confident the teachers union sees this is as additive to low- and moderate-income housing, not as an alternative, and it would be crass for the Giants or city hall to use the educator community as a wedge on this issue.

Let’s not forget that all of this development is happening on public land leased from the Port.  If we can’t expect even the modest low-, moderate-, and middle-income housing goals of Prop K (which are significantly lower than the optimal City Housing Element targets for affordable housing) to be implemented on publicly-owned land, how can we expect the city to make real the voter’s mandate anywhere?

The income targeting for affordable housing is not a game—low- and moderate-income housing up to 120% of the median income is not interchangeable with “middle-income” housing priced above that level.  If the city is to truly address this crisis, we must demand that developers, including our beloved Giants if they are going to enter the development game, build housing for both/and the low-income, moderate-income and middle-income workers of San Francisco as Prop K calls for.  The Giants can – and should – do better for their city.


Photo Courtesy of 48 Hills.

On Both Sides of SF Bay, Public Lands Should Go to Below-Market-Rate Housing

14 05 2015

Our latest op-ed in The Examiner.  Read the original article here.

From Oakland to San Francisco, the message to city officials is clear: Publicly owned land should be used to provide desperately needed affordable housing, not to support more luxury development.

Activists in San Francisco and Oakland took over their respective City Halls last week, demanding housing justice.

These are not just protests about unfair evictions or the misuse of public resources. They are a response to the explosive growth of income inequality in the Bay Area — the fastest growing in the nation. They are standing in direct opposition to the ideology, heard from city administrations on both sides of the Bay, that unchecked market-rate development will somehow address this affordable-housing crisis.

On May 5, housing activists occupied the Oakland City Council chambers for three hours, chaining themselves in front of the council members and unfurling a banner reading, “The People’s City Council.” Their action prevented a vote to sell a parcel of public land on East 12th Street for $5 million to a market-rate developer, in violation of the city’s own goals for expanding affordable housing. The developer planned to build a 24-story, 300-unit luxury tower.

“If we don’t build affordable housing on public lands, where will it be built?” asked the activists.

Three days later in San Francisco, housing activists converged at City Hall, occupying the rotunda to capacity, dropping banners from the galleries, and delivering their demands to Mayor Ed Lee.

The activists called on the mayor to declare a state of emergency due to the housing crisis, with a temporary moratorium on evictions and on luxury development in the Mission. Activists demanded city officials use the moratorium to buy time to expand tenant protections and make the necessary budget allocations to purchase sites and build 3,000 new affordable homes over the next five years. The chants of “Mayor Lee, we don’t need no luxury!” from outside the closed door of Room 200 echoed throughout the building.

But the message, it seems, still hasn’t sunk in. On Monday, in echoes of Oakland’s proposed sale of public property, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors heard about a new proposed sale of city-owned property at 30 Van Ness Ave. for, you guessed it, a luxury high-rise! This was the first public discussion on the matter, though apparently it has been quietly in the works at City Hall for a year, with nary a mention of The City’s 2002 Surplus Properties Ordinance that requires surplus city properties to be used for and/or to fund affordable housing. Nor does the request for proposals to developers for the 30 Van Ness site even mention the minimum 33 percent low- and moderate-income housing goals enshrined in Proposition K that was adopted by the voters in November (or the additional 17 percent of middle-income units on top of that). There’s also no mention of the recently adopted Surplus Lands Act at the state level that requires, at minimum, 25 percent affordable housing on public sites sold for private development.

Our publicly owned land is an invaluable resource for building new affordable housing. In a city with increasingly limited open space, the land itself is far more valuable for affordable housing than fees we could get from its sale. Setting a high bar for affordable housing included within the 30 Van Ness property disposition terms should not be seen as “getting less money” for the site — a public property is not a cash cow — but rather as an investment in affordable housing to maximize the value of this public site. We can no longer afford to sell off these sites to the highest bidder, supporting more luxury development while our low- and moderate-income workers struggle to find suitable housing within city limits. In the spirit of last week’s housing demonstrations, The City should at minimum honor the Prop. K standards and use the property to leverage a significant inclusion of affordable housing.

To its credit, The City, after several years of no new affordable-housing sites, just this month published requests for proposals for building 100 percent affordable housing on two underutilized publicly owned sites: a former school and a San Francisco Public Utilities Commission parking lot in the Mission, for housing for low-income tenants. A sure sign that action gets the goods! It’s a good start, and a model that shows what we can accomplish with our other publicly owned sites. The site at 30 Van Ness should not be exempt from that conversation.

In the end, the message is simple: public lands in community hands.

Housing Our City’s Workforce

7 04 2015

Martí and Cohen at it again! Below is our latest op-ed in The Examiner. Read the original article here.

One of the bitter ironies of this boom economy is that a widening range of our city’s workforce is shut out by the real estate market.

This isn’t because the pace of market-rate production hasn’t kept up with demand. It is simply that, in the city with the highest growth in income inequality in the nation, housing prices chase the highest dollar, leaving working people of many types fending for themselves.

Right now, there is a lot of rhetoric around middle-income housing with little in the way of concrete proposals. Some are trying to curry favor with voters by pitting the need for middle-class housing against support for low-income families. Others claim that The City has done enough for affordable housing. However, the City’s own numbers belie such assertions. The Third Quarter-2014 Residential Pipeline Summary shows that only 55 percent of needed low-income housing has been produced over the last six years. By contrast 103 percent of market-rate housing need has been built.

Nor is our city’s workforce being helped by turning housing units into pied-a-terres for wealthy nonresidents, or by dedicating apartments for corporate suites and vacation rentals, or by unscrupulous speculation on rental apartments to flip them to tenancy-in-common units and condos. The reality of evictions (1,977 evictions reported by the Rent Board for 2014) is a stark contrast to pronouncements about how well The City’s affordable-housing production is keeping up with the crisis of displacement.

The housing crisis is relative, of course. Far more low-income workers face serious rent burdens and threats of displacement — and many upper-middle-class professionals can still afford to rent or buy in certain neighborhoods. But if we are to truly address this crisis, we must resist attempts to pit San Francisco residents against each other along class lines, and instead acknowledge what lies at the heart of both low- and middle-income workers’ struggle for housing: that real estate development is currently serving only the needs of the very top.

No attempt to further incentivize the market will change this. Instead, if we are to ensure housing for the majority of our city’s workforce we must both increase public funding for affordable housing and more aggressively harness private capital and real estate development to produce moderate and middle income housing.

Who is the middle?

Proposition K, the housing balance measure passed by voters in November, mandates The City to build not only at least 33 percent affordable housing, but also another 17 percent affordable to the middle class. This is a sensible 1:1 ratio of price-restricted housing to match the number of unaffordable units produced by the market.

The Mayor’s Office of Housing defines middle income as households making between 50 and 150 percent of the area median income — in dollars and cents that is roughly from $35,000 to $100,000 annual income for a one-person household, and from $50,000 to $150,000 for a family of three. For comparison, construction laborers, postal service clerks, and school paraprofessionals and entry-level teachers are all under 100 percent of the median income for one-person households, while families composed of two credentialed teachers could be earning up to 140 percent of the AMI.

We can look at the income distribution in one San Francisco neighborhood to understand how this squeeze on the low to middle-income spectrum plays out over time. Since 2000, the Mission lost roughly 3,000 households that earned under $75,000, while households earning between $75,000 and $100,000 stayed roughly the same, and the neighborhood gained roughly 6,000 households earning over $100,000.

Market-Rate Development

As the market isn’t currently providing the housing San Franciscans need, the City must aggressively harness private development and investment to address the widening affordability gap that the real estate market is creating. Four ways this can be done:

Downpayment assistance: The City has a very successful revolving-loan fund that has helped hundreds of first-time homebuyers — with almost zero defaults. In 2012, the Proposition C Housing Trust Fund added an additional $15 million to that program. While venture capitalists are busy playing the tech casino game, we need to find prudent investors, whether from technology or pension funds, willing to put their money into a stable investment that will support our moderate- and middle-income workers. This would seem like the least that the technology sector could do after the open arms and tax breaks they have been given.

Increasing inclusionary housing: Currently, most of our new moderate-income housing has come from The City’s inclusionary housing ordinance, which requires developers to offer a portion of their new units at below-market rates. This program could clearly be expanded to do more. We know from 13 years of the program’s existence that it is more than feasible for market-rate developers to provide below-market units on-site — some have built 20 percent on-site units at current zoning. The challenge however is that many developers simply choose to pay a relatively modest fee (compared to their sales prices) instead of including affordable units with their projects. We need to ensure that more developers actually build units.

The current fixed pricing for BMRs works well for many smaller households, but leaves out households with, for example, two teachers who together earn too much to qualify for the two and three bedroom units. Allowing a dial that adjusts the number of below-market-rate units provided based on the income levels served, especially for larger units, would maintain the intent of the program while benefiting a wider range of residents.

Trading density for more affordable units: If we are going to allow developers to build higher-density buildings, with greater profits, it should be in exchange for producing a greater percentage of below-market units. Already new microunit projects and group housing tech dorms that greatly increase density are moving forward with no additional affordability. Here again, the idea of the private investment sector stepping up to the plate by creating a privately funded buy-up program to subsidize additional price-restricted units above the inclusionary level is worth exploring. The City should proceed with caution, however, carefully crafting decisions to change densities or heights by neighborhood, with attention to maintaining a human scale and to affordable construction methods. All these ideas need to be additive to our existing rules, rather than chipping away at our current inclusionary policy.

Housing for families: Today’s real estate market incentivizes the construction of studios and microunits, allowing developers to cram more units (and profit) onto each floor. But there is an acute demand for family-sized units which the market is not providing. To provide more family units, The City could require inclusionary units to be measured as a percent of total floor area of a market-rate development (rather than a set number of units) and require developers to provide a mix of modest-sized one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments, along with family-friendly amenities in larger buildings, such as ground floor childcare and playground open space.

By focusing on concrete solutions that address the failures of the current development market to provide housing for all, rather than resorting to divisive political rhetoric about the middle class, we can house our City’s workforce.