What Santa Brought the Developers

15 12 2016

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


High-rise buildings in SF.  Photo credit: Emma Chiang, SF Examiner.

High-rise buildings in SF. Photo credit: Emma Chiang, SF Examiner.

Last Thursday at the Planning Commission, affordable housing policy in San Francisco took a giant step backward. For the very first time, a developer took advantage of a state density bonus law — a law that was intended to incentivize affordable housing — but in practice is becoming a big giveaway that allows developers to rack up bigger profits without providing a single additional unit of affordable housing.

Luckily, there is a clear way to correct for this giveaway — by setting our local affordable housing requirements, known as “inclusionary housing,” going forward at the appropriate level to recover the value of these giveaways.

The state density bonus law was written back in 1979 as a way to incentivize developers to build affordable housing. In exchange for building a certain number of affordable units, a developer would get a number of bonuses: additional market-rate units, or reductions in required parking, open space or setbacks.

In some markets, however, we don’t actually need to give developers extra profits to get them to build affordable units. With our incredibly hot housing market, developers can easily afford to include affordable housing in their projects — and they have been doing that since we passed our original local inclusionary requirements in 2001.

In fact, not a single project in San Francisco has ever taken advantage of the state density bonus. That is, until last Thursday, when the developer for a 200-unit market-rate project at 333 12th St. claimed the bonus.

Seems like Santa Claus came early for the developers, and he didn’t even ask if they had been naughty or nice.The problem with this state law is that it actually sets a lower standard than San Francisco’s current inclusionary requirements. Because of this, the initial intent of the law — to incentivize more affordable housing — is totally undermined. By providing exactly the number of affordable units they would have provided anyway, the developer at 333 12th St. is allowed to build 52 more market-rate units and zero additional affordable ones — drastically increasing their profits while giving nothing to The City or everyday San Franciscans in return. A project that was originally supposed to provide 18 percent affordable units will end up providing only 13.5 percent. The end result is effectively a reduction in the development’s contribution, a “value” to the developer in monetary terms of about $3.8 million. Talk about a giveaway!

Now that the very first developer has taken advantage of this bonus, a dangerous precedent has been set, and developers from here on out will want their own gifts from Santa Claus.

After Thursday’s Planning Commission hearing, Commissioner Myrna Melgar said, “It is an unconscionable giveaway. The City should not so easily stand aside and risk letting this impact on our city’s affordable housing policy become standard practice … The City really should do whatever it can, and quickly, to change our local policy to fix this problem before it escalates further.”

The hearing turned into a display of frustration, with the developer’s reps flatly, and smugly, telling commissioners there was nothing The City could do, and the commissioners one by one expressing their discontent with essentially being forced to approve a huge development that reduces affordable housing.

Commissioner Rich Hillis said during the commission’s deliberations, “It’s unfortunate that the application of a state law that’s to provide more affordable housing actually ends up with less affordable housing … to go from 18 percent we end up at 13.5 percent … I think we’d all say that’s a little odd …”

To be clear, increasing density of development is not the issue — that is a matter of good planning and design and appropriate fit. Instead, what is needed is a balance between market-rate development (with rents far beyond what the average San Franciscan can afford) and truly affordable housing. We need to uphold the initial spirit of the state density bonus law, which was based on the idea that developers could get more only in exchange for giving back more.

Moving forward, we do have an avenue for fixing this and preserving our local affordable housing policy. Currently, the City Controller is leading a process to assess the “feasibility” of the inclusionary percentages set by June’s Proposition C. The final meeting for this process is Monday and the recommendations that result will help set our inclusionary housing requirements for the foreseeable future.

In the controller’s initial report, published last month, they recommended a maximum of 18 percent inclusionary for rentals and 20 percent for condominiums, as an amount that could be easily supported by developer’s profits, and additionally suggested increasing this percentage over time at a set annual rate. However, as it is now, the controller’s calculations don’t include the state density bonus because this bonus has always been viewed as “theoretical” (since no developer had ever taken it). Well, this bonus is no longer theoretical.

With the precedent set by 333 12th St., it is very real — and it should, beyond a doubt, be included when determining how much affordable housing market-rate development can contribute to The City.

In fact, the controller has already acknowledged in preliminary recommendations that the state density bonus impact is “significant” and needs to be captured in setting the inclusionary rates. The 333 12th St. “case study” makes the answer quite clear: We need to increase the baseline inclusionary requirement by 7 percent to break even on the reduction caused by state density bonus. It is the only recourse The City has to recapture what the state has given away to developers. Let’s end the giveaways and remain true to the intent of San Francisco voters.


Broad Statewide Coalition Releases Policy Framework for Housing Crisis

5 12 2016
Californians for Affordable Housing, the statewide coalition of community, tenant, affordable housing, labor, and environmental organizations, including CCHO, that worked to stop the Governor’s “by-right development” proposal last summer, released a statement today setting out core principles and a policy framework for addressing California’s housing crisis as the legislature convenes its 2017 session.
Read the full statement below, or view/share on Facebook here.

California Has a Severe Affordable Housing Crisis

California is facing a severe shortage of housing for low-income families – a shortfall of 1.54 million rental homes for extremely low-income (ELI) and very low-income (VLI) renter households, (California Housing Partnership Corporation, April 2016). Factoring in the needs of moderate-income households who are increasingly being left out of the real estate market dramatically increases this number.


In “hot market” urban communities housing prices have soared and gentrification has brought unprecedented displacement, hitting long-time African American and Latino/a residents particularly hard, and even encroaching on historic Chinatowns.  The growth in market rate and luxury housing development in historically working-class neighborhoods, landlords evicting to rent or sell to people with higher incomes, speculation in the real estate market and the foreclosure crisis have combined to put long-time residents at tremendous risk of homelessness.  We need policies at the state and local level that combat displacement and ensure that residents in our California communities are safe and stable in their housing.


We must be clear that this is a crisis of affordable housing.  Some cities are performing very strongly on their Housing element targets for market rate housing, but falling far short when it comes to housing affordable to low and moderate income people. For example, in the Bay Area over the last Housing Element cycle through 2014, ABAG reported that 99% of the projected market rate/above-moderate-income housing “need” was accomplished, while only 28% of all other needs for very-low, low- and moderate-income housing were achieved (www.abag.ca.gov/files/RHNAProgress2007_2014_082815.pdf), while in the San Diego region for their last Housing Element cycle through 2010, SANDAG reported that 152% of the projected market rate/above-moderate-income housing “need” was accomplished, while only 21% of all other needs for very-low, low- and moderate-income housing were achieved (www.sandag.org/uploads/publicationid/publicationid_1928_18891.pdf).


There is a tremendous imbalance in the housing production system which needs to be addressed. At the same time, many other cities and towns in the state are failing to build their fair share of housing, period – at all levels of affordability – and are most often falling abysmally short when it comes to affordable housing, which shuts out low-income people from many places with good schools, jobs, and other opportunities.  We need state policies to strengthen and enforce existing laws designed to make sure each community is contributing its fair share of affordable housing.  In addition, we need to ensure that all California communities have the resources and policy tools to perform and to succeed as “good actors.”


The housing affordability problem is also not simply one of producing and protecting supply—household incomes have not kept up with the cost of living, and the benefits of the latest economic boom have been concentrated in a narrow segment of the workforce and in an investor class.  A full third of California’s workforce are “low-wage” workers.  Ironically, the increasing strain to stretch incomes farther to afford housing includes the workers who build the housing that today’s real estate market is pricing above their own means. Policies to solve the affordable housing crisis must be cognizant of a jobs-housing “fit” – that is, both incentivizing housing in California communities that is affordable to the actual workforce of those communities and promoting jobs that pay a decent wage.


Core Principles for “Solutions”

Proposed solutions should be evaluated based on their consistency with the following principles:

  1. Does the proposed solution focus the state’s limited resources on meeting the most-pressing housing needs, i.e. people who don’t have a home or low and moderate income families paying an astronomical portion of their income for housing?
  1. Does the proposed solution support creation of jobs paying family-supporting wages?
  1.  Does the proposed solution requireallcommunities to take responsibility for making their housing accessible to people at various income levels, especially local workers?
  1.  Does the proposed solution protect the state’s natural beauty and support itsclimate changegoals?
  1. Does the proposed solution allow existing residents to remain in their community?


Policy Framework

  1. Tools to combat displacement & preserve existing housing and residents
    • tenant protections from unfair rent increases & evictions,
    • preservation of existing federal and state subsidized housing,
    • preventing landlord discrimination based upon source of income (for example, from Section 8 or other rent subsidies),
    • regulation of short-term rentals,
    • strong building code enforcement that combats deferred maintenance, and enforceable protections for the right to organize and against retaliation
  2. Strengthen & enforce existing “fair share” laws to increase production of affordable housing
    • update the Housing Element planning process toensure accountability that sufficient sites that are actually feasible for affordable housing are zoned and made available for affordable development in all communities.
    • reward actual RHNA “performance” of very-low-, low- and moderate-income housing production,
    • authorize regional funding sources and jobs-housing linkage programs
  3. Stable funding for expanded production of affordable housing 
    • a stable & ongoing source of funding for affordable housing,
    • improve financing for community land trusts, expand community ownership models,
    • ensure that public land is used for the public good
  4. Tools for affordable housing production
    • authorize local inclusionary zoning for rental housing
    • streamlining local processes for approving 100% affordable development
  5. “Rewards” and accountability mechanisms
    • link state allocations for transportation to affordable housing “performance”


If there are questions regarding this statement, please contact: in Southern California, Amy Schur of ACCE at aschur@calorganize.org or 2138043161, and in Northern California, Sam Tepperman-Gelfant of Public Advocates at stepperman-gelfant@publicadvocates.org  or 4156258464.




















FAITH IN ACTION BAY AREA / PICO, San Francisco and San Mateo Counties

FAITH IN THE VALLEY / PICO, San Joaquin, Fresno, Merced, Kern, Stanislaus


CAUSA JUSTA : JUST CAUSE, San Francisco and Oakland



LA VOICE, Los Angeles










(PARTIAL LIST AS OF 12/5/2016 9:00 AM)

Reflection on the Election: Mixed Results for Affordable Housing

14 11 2016

Our latest op-ed in The Examiner, reflecting on last Tuesday’s election results.  Read the original article here.

Photo Credit: Paul Chinn, SF Chronicle.

Photo Credit: Paul Chinn, SF Chronicle.

Here in our Bay Area “bubble,” we continue to reel from the national news — worried not only about what this shift means for people of color, immigrants, women, and LGBT community, but also about the direct impacts that will be felt in the coming months in federal funding for housing, health care, and other critical social programs.

Trump filled the void left by the mainstream Democratic Party in abdicating its role to provide both a narrative and solutions for the issues critical to the working class. The party platform barely touched on homelessness, affordable housing or income inequality.

Even here in San Francisco, mainstream politicians linked to the centrist party machine had little to offer in the way of real housing solutions that build broad progressive coalitions with the city’s working and middle classes. Scrappy grassroots measures beat the odds while well-funded efforts fell short. Building strong local progressive coalitions is now more necessary than ever to offer an alternative vision and effective policy solutions for the housing crisis.

The Good

The only measures that brought necessary new revenue came from grassroots efforts, with little support from the political establishment. Proposition C, an expansion of $260 million in previously authorized earthquake funds to rehab existing buildings, especially those with at-risk tenants, and preserve them as permanently affordable housing, won with an overwhelming 76-percent yes vote. Proposition W, a transfer tax on luxury properties to fund free city college for San Franciscans, got 62 percent. Another surprising grassroots win was Proposition X, to protect arts and light industrial spaces in The City’s working-class neighborhoods, with 59 percent.

The Sad

As a counterpoint, the administration’s housing measures in this election, the joint Propositions J & K, met with mixed results. San Franciscans voted overwhelmingly for the CharterAmendment to fully fund both transportation and homeless services, but rejected by a similar margin the companion measure to fund this through a three-quarter cent sales tax. Nor did Proposition S — which also would have dedicated funding toward ending family homelessness, as well as funding for community arts programs — garner enough voter support to pass. Those losses are real disappointments, and leave short our resources to seriously tackle housing for The City’s homeless populations. Had a broad progressive coalition campaign been forged, it might have been able to counter the false promise of Proposition Q’s “Housing Not Tents.”

Proposition Q was a real spoiler to the measures on homelessness. It offered no funding or real housing solutions, but was pushed by moderate democrats as a political attention-getter. And it successfully drew enough backlash against homelessness to narrowly win by 52 percent. The implicit message was, “Why should voters support a tax measure for housing (Prop K) when they can simply vote for Housing not Tents (Prop Q)?” This loss will cause an immediate crisis in the mayor’s budget, as their projections had already assumed the revenue from the sales tax measure to fund the new Department of Homelessness.

The Ugly

And then there were two other duplicitous measures, Propositions P and U, direct attacks on affordable housing developers and on The City’s inclusionary housing policies in the name of providing for the middle class. They both went down in resounding defeat, getting only 33 and 35 percent respectively. A scrappy grassroots opposition, complete with street actions and sidewalk press conferences, defeated the $1.3 million yes-campaign funded by the National and State Realtors’ Associations. Despite the passing of Prop Q, the defeat of the Realtors gives us hope that San Francisco can continue to fight the encroachment of Trump-style bigotry at the polls. We can address the needs of middle-income families shut out of the real estate market by building broad coalitions, rather than the Realtors’ approach of pitting San Franciscans against each other.

Local Solutions Work

What we saw around the state is the realization by voters that neither the state or federal governments are offering any real ways to address the housing crisis. All they have had to offer in the past year is the false panacea of deregulation of market-rate housing. Local folks understand that, yes, it’s about supply, but supply of real affordable housing for everyday low- and middle-income people. We need to look at comprehensive policies that PROTECT tenants, PRESERVE the affordable housing we have, and PRODUCE new affordable housing, both publicly subsidized and by requiring market-rate developers to build mixed-income communities. Looking at the landscape of successful local ballot measures across the state, we see a range of solutions that address each of these issues.

Grassroot efforts in Richmond, Mountain View, and Oakland passed rent control measures, despite tremendous opposition by realtor and big landlord interests. This marks the largest expansion of rent control in California in 30 years, and sets a precedent for other jurisdictions.

Alameda and San Mateo counties both passed significant affordable housing funding measures, and Santa Clara County is likely to pass one as well. Berkeley passed a business tax on rental income, capturing a portion of landlords’ “unearned” profits from increasing rents. East Palo Alto similarly passed a business tax on big landlords. These taxes directly link landlord profits with the funding for affordable housing.

In Los Angeles, the Mayor went all in to champion a $1.2 billion bond for supportive housing for homeless people, which passed with 76 percent of votes. And as San Franciscans last June expanded our affordable housing requirements on private developers, Angelenos this week voted for Measure JJJ, which will require a minimum percentage of affordable units for low- and middle-income residents in residential buildings that need special city approval and a prevailing wage standard for developments receiving upzonings.

While Trump may have won at the national level, locally our democratic leaders can be successful in developing real solutions by building center-left coalitions. We can look to the best in us, work together, and win. Protect, preserve, produce!


San Francisco Voters Support Progressive Housing Platform by Large Margin

10 11 2016

Despite everything that has happened politically on the national level, Tuesday’s election brought some important local wins for affordable housing.  Yesterday, the Housing Forward campaign released a statement on the successful passage of Proposition C and defeat of Propositions P and U, copied below:

Prop C wins with 76 percent; Props P & U Handily Rejected Despite Million Dollar Realtor Campaign

YesOnC_12x18_Sign_NoDislcaimerSan Francisco – Voters supported a progressive housing vision for the City yesterday, overwhelmingly passing Proposition C, the Housing Preservation Bond, and rejecting Propositions P & U, two dangerous anti-housing measures sponsored by the Realtors Association.  The latest election results continue to confirm that San Franciscans want sensible and inclusive measures that address the City’s housing crisis.

“I am grateful to San Francisco voters for approving this critical affordable housing and anti-eviction measure,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin about Proposition C, which needed a two-third majority and secured 76 percent of the vote.  “They overwhelmingly affirmed the one measure on a long and complex ballot that creates more affordable housing.”

Proposition C frees voter-approved funds from the 1992 earthquake bond and authorizes their use for other critical life and safety upgrades while preserving these buildings as permanent affordable housing.  The measure had support of a unique and diverse coalition, including the Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods, the United Educators of San Francisco, the San Francisco Building Trades, the Sierra Club, the Tenants Union and housing developers.

No_on_P_U_12x18_Sign_NoDisclaimerPropositions P and U were funded by the California and National realtors industry with a million dollar campaign, but Proposition P was rejected by 67 percent of voters and Proposition U was firmly opposed by a 65 percent margin.  Billed as affordable housing measures, they would in fact have blocked the creation of new housing and pit middle- and low-income San Franciscans against each other for the same limited supply of housing.

Proposition U was a direct attack on the City’s cutting-edge inclusionary housing policy that was just approved by voters in June. By passing Proposition C in June, by 68 percent, voters increased affordable housing requirements and created minimum levels for both low- and middle-income households.

“These results are decisive:  the resounding defeat of Propositions P and U by San Francisco voters is a clear indictment of the Realtors attempts to thwart affordable housing and further turn this city into a playground for real estate speculation,” said Peter Cohen of the Council of Community Housing Organizations.  “Voters once again showed support for inclusionary housing policy for low- and middle-income San Franciscans, and voters created a critical new funding stream that will bring new affordable units on-line.”

The Bogus Housing Study the Chron Loves

1 11 2016

Our latest op-ed in 48 Hills.  Read the original article here.

Authors’ note: This opinion piece was submitted to the San Francisco Chronicle in response to the paper’s editorial on Sunday Oct 22nd titled “A clear-eyed report on the housing crisis,” but the editors would not publish our submittal. So it is provided here to allow San Francisco readers the opportunity for an alternative perspective from the Chronicle.

The city’s own figures, presented in this chart, show that SF is building far more luxury housing that it needs — and that’s missing from the BAC report.

The city’s own figures, presented in this chart, show that SF is building far more luxury housing that it needs — and that’s missing from the BAC report.

The San Francisco Chronicle last Sunday gave a glowing review to the Bay Area Council’s latest report on housing policy.  At least the BAC was correctly characterized as “a pro-business think tank.” Though in the same breath the editors claim that the report “avoids ideological dogma.” Well, let’s dig a bit into the Bay Area Council’s analysis, then.

First, what is “the supply problem?”  In the Bay Area region over the period from 2007-2014, the total permitted new housing was only 57% of the official need as identified in what’s called the “Regional Housing Needs Allocation” that is prescribed by the state of California. One might jump to the conclusion, as does the Bay Area Council, that therefore any policies to increase whatever kind of housing supply is a “solution.”

But an inconvenient truth, of many hidden in this report, is that the RHNA is broken down into categories of housing affordability, and the fact is that 99% of the market-rate housing need was permitted across the Bay Area region from 2007-2014. By contrast, only 28% of all needed below-market housing was permitted for households from the poorest to middle-income families. So, “the supply problem” is about affordable housing that the real estate market is simply not producing for the vast majority of Bay Area residents. Policies as advocated by the Bay Area Council and the development industry that simply fuel more market-rate housing in the name of solving an affordable housing deficit are misleading at best.

Second, what is “the permitting problem?” The BAC asserts that enough housing isn’t being built because cities are slow or obstructionist in issuing building permits. So, the solution they and others in the development industry have peddled is to make the approval of development “by right,” eliminating local discretion. But it is important to clearly understand, as the Bay Area Council’s “clear-eyed report” does not, that approval of a development project—what in the business is called an “entitlement” approval—does not mean that a project will actually get built.

The inconvenient truth here is that cities don’t build market-rate housing, developers and their financiers do. So, approving a development project is no assurance that the developer will actually break ground and build the project any time soon.

Real estate development is a business, like any other commodity production, and the timing of constructing a housing project is based on playing the “market-cycle” to maximize investment returns, not necessarily on the needs or timing of public policy. The result is a disconnect between the approval of housing projects (the entitlement by local governments) and their actual production.

In San Francisco, for example, there are approximately 14,000 or more units approved for construction in the “pipeline” than are actually being built, and, on average, that backlog has increased by almost 700 units every year. That’s not even counting the approved housing from the massive Park Merced, Hunters Point/Candlestick, and Treasure Island developments, already-approved units of housing for which those developers have not pulled building permits.

So, the BAC “solution” to eliminate local discretion over approving development—and in the process cutting out environmental review, community involvement and the ability to maximize public benefits from development—are traded off for total uncertainty and simply a wish that this will result in actual new units on the ground. You won’t hear the development industry advocating for a “use it or lose it” provision that requires an approved project to begin construction within a specified period of time, let’s say a generous 18 months, as that would mean they’d be on the hook to actually build housing rather than simply speculating on housing approvals.

Real solutions to the local and state affordable housing needs would start with: 1) adding real “teeth” to state Housing Element law, such as linking transportation funding to actual affordable housing permitting and construction; 2) authorizing local “inclusionary” requirements on private development to ensure lower-income and middle-income housing is produced; 3) closing loopholes in state Ellis Act to preserve existing affordable housing, and regulations on short-term rentals and second-homes that are reducing available housing supply, and; 4) creating a new permanent source of state funding for affordable low-income and middle-income housing, such as a document recording fee on real estate sales.

These are just some of the tangible policy actions that would clearly target the problem. Politically difficult, yes, given the guaranteed resistance from the “pro-business” interests who want the public to believe in their own brand of solutions. But certainly more useful than the doe-eye magical thinking that is dished up in the latest report from the Bay Area Council.

Faces of Inclusionary Housing: The People Who Will Be Hurt by Prop U

31 10 2016

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

San Franciscans say No to P & U at an event in front of NEMA, an apartment building with on-site inclusionary housing.

San Franciscans say No to P & U at an event in front of NEMA, an apartment building with on-site inclusionary housing.

When talking about the Realtors’ Propositions P and U on this November’s ballot, two widely opposed measures that mess with the wonky details of how affordable housing is built in San Francisco, it’s easy to lose sight of the real people who stand to lose if these measures pass.

Prop. U is a divisive measure that takes away vital and already limited affordable housing resources from low-income San Franciscans. It undermines The City’s longstanding inclusionary housing program, which has successfully created several thousand affordable units within private developments. Currently, developers must provide inclusionary units for both middle-income and low-income households. Prop. U cynically undoes this by robbing Peter to pay Paul, taking away the limited inclusionary homes for low-income folks and opening all of them up to higher-income earners. It does this without creating a single new unit of housing. Even more insidious, Prop. U will apply retroactively to nearly a thousand existing inclusionary units, allowing landlords to double the rents they charge, creating an incentive to evict low-income tenants.

So who stands to lose if Prop. U passes? Who are the real faces of inclusionary housing?

We spoke with three inclusionary tenants and asked them to share their stories.

A family returns to its neighborhood

Rico Riemedio spent seven years applying for inclusionary housing before he won a spot in a new building in the South of Market for himself, his wife, step-daughter and 85-year-old mother.

When his family first immigrated to San Francisco from the Philippines in 1973, they moved to SoMa, an area with many Filipino immigrants. Rico’s family eventually left San Francisco, but his mother always wanted to come back. When they finally returned to The City, they could only afford an in-law apartment up a tall hill in the Excelsior. Without an easy way for his mother to travel or even a window for her to look out of, Rico felt like he was “keeping my mom in solitary.” Now, his mom is happy to be back in their old neighborhood, where she can easily get around and knows the community.

As a volunteer at the Bayanihan Community Center and a part-time caregiver, Rico thinks about the impact that losing low-income inclusionary housing would have on his community. “How about the seniors, the elders who live here?” he asks, pointing out that caregivers for seniors make around $13 per hour. “People who make a lot of money aren’t going to help the seniors. … We’ve got to have a place for people who do minimum wage jobs for The City.”

An organizer stays in his community

The housing crisis affects nonprofit workers, too, like the second inclusionary tenant we spoke with (who asked to remain unnamed). A community organizer, he understands having to choose between community and work, and being able to afford housing. After being evicted from their previous home in the Mission, he and his partner searched for affordable housing for a year, bouncing from sublet to sublet.

The thought of leaving San Francisco while organizing within The City didn’t make sense to him: “I was committed to staying here,” he said. He had even crunched the numbers, calculating that if they moved to the East Bay, the money they would have saved on housing would quickly be eaten up by the cost of commuting.

Inclusionary housing has allowed them to continue to work for their community. When asked what he would do if he were evicted from his current home as a result of Prop. U, he paused and said he has two options: He might have to leave San Francisco, maybe even California, or he would have to stop doing community work — neither of which he wants. But he doesn’t think he’d be able to find another home he could afford outside of inclusionary housing: “If I couldn’t afford an apartment two years ago, I can’t afford it now.”

From homeless to housed

Larry Richards credits the work his caregiver did to find him inclusionary housing with keeping him alive: “Fantasia Brown saved my life in several ways because of inclusionary housing,” he said.

Because of a tumor on his spine, Larry has been disabled since he was a teenager. Before he won the lottery for an inclusionary unit in 2014, he was homeless for almost a year. Homelessness, inhumane in any situation, becomes deadly when you are medically fragile like Larry. Without a home in which to plug in his oxygen machine, he had to go to the hospital several times because he couldn’t breathe. If he had not found the inclusionary housing where he now lives, he said, “I would be dead on the street.”

Now that he is safely housed, his caregiver is struggling to find her own affordable housing and is worried she may have to eventually leave The City and stop caring for Larry. Finding affordable housing is “like a needle in a haystack,” she said — something that would only get worse with Prop. U.

When talking about the threat Prop. U poses to low-income housing, Larry reiterated that this is a real health threat for many San Franciscans. When you are disabled, he said, “you don’t earn money like everyone else … if you take away from the pool for very-low and low-income [housing], you damage the most fragile people in The City … Why take away from the poorest of the poor? There should be more inclusionary housing, not less.”

Each of these people is a vital part of San Francisco. Our city’s low-income inclusionary housing program has made it possible for them to continue being a part of this city – improving the health of their families, themselves and their communities. The Realtors’ Prop. U would make the threat of eviction real for them, and, along with Prop. P, would make it harder for everyday folks to find homes in The City that they know and love, and that they are working hard to make better. Vote no on P and U, and say no to divisive measures that disrupt the lives of the people who make up the fabric of San Francisco.

Some SF Ballot Measures Trump Would Love

31 10 2016

Our recent op-ed in 48 Hills on the Trumpian politics of Props P,U,Q, & R.  Read the original article here. 

Don't miss the rally this Thursday, November 3rd, protesting these divisive measures!

Don’t miss the rally this Thursday, November 3rd, protesting these divisive measures!

This November, the nation will face the possibility of electing a ruthless real estate developer whose rhetoric is filled with reactionary outbursts, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia.

But here we always had the myth to fall back on that “we are in San Francisco,” a liberal bubble that marches to our own tune no matter what the national mood. We take pride in our storied history of protest and radical acceptance.

Of course, we know it’s more complicated than that, and, in truth, we are no more immune than the rest of the nation to the sneaking chill of bigotry. Only a few years ago, San Franciscans passed Sit-Lie, a measure to criminalize homeless people simply for being on the streets.

Today, four more bad-smelling policies that would make Trump proud are before local voters. In these measures, we face similar attacks against those who are different, who are more vulnerable, and who are poor and working class. And we are also given false solutions that promise to provide more for some by taking away from others.

Props Q and R –criminalizing poverty

Propositions Q and R take the heart of Donald’s hate-filled rhetoric and try to implement it in San Francisco. The mean-spirited Prop Q would confiscate people’s tents. Even its name, “Housing Not Tents,” reeks of deception, as it would provide not a single penny for housing nor require housing for anyone forcibly removed from an encampment, offering only the measly single night in a shelter. San Francisco-style fear mongering is much slicker, but no less obvious.  Today’s politicians use clever language that stirs visuals of an animated tent with ferocious teeth, raping and pillaging pedestrians. This vitriol is a central component of the “Trump” tactic of fear mongering meant to drive conservatives to the polls – and it’s taking place right here in San Francisco. They type of anti-homeless propaganda leveled in Prop Q creates the conditions that result in increased hate crimes against homeless people, and worse, get in the way of forging real solutions to the housing crisis that is slowly killing so many forced to remain on the streets.

Prop R is another measure with a misleading title, “Neighborhood Policing,” which would actually take police out of neighborhood stations and create homeless policing units. Homeless people received more than 27,000 citations last year for being poor, and we spent $20.7 million enforcing the 23 anti-homeless laws on the books in San Francisco. The Budget and Legislative Analyst suggests this was a futile waste of money. Prop R sets this bad practice in stone.

Much like Donald’s bombastic claims, these measures appear to be largely politically-motivated, an attempt to forward political careers without providing any real solutions. At a time when the national debate is filled with reactionary rhetoric, San Francisco cannot afford to take the low road. Harvey Milk, who as a Castro activist fought to repeal the sit-lie laws that existed in his day, would be horrified at the prospect of our city of open arms turning in on itself like this.

Props P and U – developer giveaways that divide San Franciscans

Following a similar pattern of divisiveness, Propositions P and U come directly from the SF Realtor’s Association, with a war chest of more than a million dollars paid for by the state and national Realtor’s associations. They are developer and real estate giveaways that Donald would love, and will hurt everyday San Franciscans.

Proposition P claims it will “lower the costs” of building affordable housing, but it could end up killing the kind of affordable housing for which San Francisco has paved the way on a national scale: services-enriched supportive housing for homeless individuals and families, housing for transitional-aged youth, and housing for people with disabilities or for victims of domestic violence. While in most cases the city already receives three or more proposals for each new project, in the case of hard-to-build projects such as those for the homeless, or in communities where specific language or cultural competencies are critical, there may be less than three qualified proposals. Prop P would not allow affordable projects to move forward unless three proposals are received, and would force the city to accept the “best-value” proposal regardless of quality, service program, experience, or cultural competency.

In reality, Prop P fits with Donald’s model of neo-liberal privatization: paving the way for big out-of-town private developers to build shoddy projects on precious public land, with no accountability to the communities in which they build or who they are meant to serve.

Proposition U cynically tries to undo SF’s affordable housing gains while giving developers and Realtors huge windfall profits.  This past June, voters overwhelmingly supported expanding the requirements for mixed-income communities with Prop C, called inclusionary housing, by requiring private developers to include homes affordable to middle-income as well as low-income San Franciscans. The Realtors’ Prop U would remove all the low-income units, and only allow units for people earning up to $80,000 (110% of median). The Realtors claim this creates more affordable housing for middle-class families, but Prop U really robs Peter to pay Paul, taking housing options away from the city’s families who are most at risk without creating a single additional affordable housing unit. And more insidiously, Proposition U would also apply retroactively to almost 1,000 existing affordable homes, allowing landlords to double the rents on vacated units and setting the stage for evictions. This is the kind of divisive measure that we should not stand for, pitting middle-income against working-class families.

These attacks on inclusionary laws are not tangential to Trump’s candidacy. In fact, last summer, one of the principal enemies of inclusionary housing, LA-based real estate developer Geoffrey Palmer, emerged as Donald Trump’s single largest donor (since eclipsed). Palmer is notorious in the Bay Area because of his lawsuit which hamstrung cities from enacting stronger inclusionary policies.

You gotta give ‘em hope, said Harvey…

While we must fight back against those attacks that seek to divide San Franciscans and promote hate and fear, we must also redouble our efforts towards the only solution to the housing crisis: preserve and produce real affordable housing.  The progressive vision is one of hope, in contrast to the bitterness of the Realtors and others cribbing from Trump’s playbook. This November’s crowded slate has a number of innovative propositions that truly seek to expand housing options for low- and middle-income residents, including:

  • Prop C, the Housing Preservation Bond, which will provide loans to make safety upgrades to apartments and preserve them for all existing tenants, low-income and middle-income, as permanently affordable housing.
  • Props J & K, a 1/2 cent increase to the sales tax (still below many Bay Area cities) and set-aside to dedicate funding for homeless housing and services and equitable transportation improvements.
  • Prop M, the Sunshine for Housing ordinance, which creates transparency and public oversight for the city’s housing and development decisions.
  • Prop S, which will reinstate hotel tax allocations for cultural arts funding and funds for ending family homelessness.

This November is a chance to prove that San Francisco is still a City for All, no matter what the national mood. Say no to Trumpifying San Francisco, and vote NO on Props P, Q, R, and U.



Creative Addition to Inclusionary Program Means More Money for Small Sites

25 10 2016
This house on 23rd Street was preserved as permanently affordable through the Small Sites Program. Photo Credit: Jeremy Raff, KQED.

This house on 23rd Street was preserved as permanently affordable through the Small Sites Program. Photo Credit: Jeremy Raff, KQED.

In a creative twist on inclusionary housing, Supervisor David Campos and Mayor Ed Lee are introducing legislation today that will give necessary additional funding to the Small Sites Program.  The Small Sites program, which purchases small buildings whose tenants are at risk of eviction and preserves them as permanently affordable housing, is one tool for stabilizing long-term tenants and combating displacement and gentrification.  CCHO staff and member organizations have been instrumental in the development of this program from its very beginning, including this latest innovation.

Under this legislation, private developers of small developments (between 10 and 25 units) will now be able to direct their required inclusionary housing contribution to a local neighborhood Small Sites Fund.  The funds would have to be used locally, to purchase a building within one mile of the developer’s project.

This is another tool to ensure that new developments contribute to offsetting the impacts in the neighborhoods they most affect, helping protect San Francisco residents from the threat of speculation and displacement.

Read more on this legislation in today’s article in Mission Local.

Who Is Moving into – and out of – SF?

20 10 2016

Our latest piece in 48 Hills.  Read the original article here.

Everywhere in San Francisco today, people are talking about the housing crisis. You can’t turn on the radio or read the news or see the rental listings without being reminded of the lack of affordability. Many of these stories focus on the prices themselves or on the growing influx of eager transplants to the City. Often overlooked is the story of the exodus of families and households from San Francisco.

It is, of course, natural for residents to occasionally move to a different city or state, but this should be a choice, not retreat brought on by economic or social coercion. Alarmist statements about the number of people moving in to San Francisco each year, as well as the urgent calls to build, build, build in order to meet the demand of that population growth, mask the true effects of population “churn.” A whopping 12% of the city’s population turns over every year—so while the news has focused on all the people moving in to the city, the other side of the equation is that approximately 50,000 residents have been leaving San Francisco annually over the last five years. The City Economist crunched some data for the Planning Department earlier this year, and showed the astounding annual magnitude of this migration in and out of the city.

48hills_op-ed migrationchart3

However, even more alarming is that the underlying data on those who are moving into and out of San Francisco shows what we have long known through anecdotal evidence: that largely lower-income and people of color are being pushed out of the city and replaced by a wealthier, more homogeneous class of residents.

So, who is coming to San Francisco?

The American Community Survey, which is part of the US Census Bureau, is collected every year, and is the definitive data source for information on cities across the country. Using ACS data makes is possible to see population trends faster than waiting for the ten-year census. We focused on data collected after the end of the recession, from 2010 forward, to better understand the demographics of population change during these economic “boom” years, but examined data back to 2000 to establish a baseline.

The key takeaway is that San Francisco is becoming less diverse and increasingly a destination for upper income people. This should come as no surprise to any of us. But here are the numbers: through 2014, the most recent year for which ACS data is available, the median income for new San Francisco residents who moved from another state grew by nearly 40% over five years, after accounting for inflation and local cost of living. For example, in 2013 the incomes of people moving in were nearly twice as high as the incomes of those on their way out. To put that in terms of actual dollars and cents income, the number of households above $100,000 income per year grew by 6% while households making less than $100,000 per year shrank by 5%. These may seem like negligible percentages, but they represent approximately 10,000 low- and middle-income households that were essentially replaced in a single year by upper-income households.

48hills_op-ed migrationchart1

This trend has a long precedent over the last 15 years, amplifying with each market cycle, and, if anything, the trend has likely further accelerated through 2015 and into 2016. These trends are evident both long term and over a shorter period, and if median shifts continue on the trajectory they have post-recession, the 2016 median income for in-migrants to San Francisco from other parts of the country or the world would be a whopping 280% of the income of out-migrants leaving for more affordable far-flung regions.  The research arm of Trulia, the real estate website, even had an article on this issue earlier this year called “Priced Out” — it’s a growing national problem for urban communities across the country experiencing rapid gentrification in this booming real estate climate.

And who is being replaced?

But this is also more than just a story of income disparities or the affluent of all stripes displacing lower-income residents–the haves replacing the have-nots. There is also a very clear racial dimension. Populations that have historically been marginalized in the United States are again being negatively affected at disproportionate rates as San Francisco “grows” and gentrifies. Every year since 2010, the first year that the most accurate version of this data became available through the ACS, there has been a net loss of African-American residents from San Francisco. Over those five years, more than twice as many black residents moved out of San Francisco as moved in. That has amounted to a loss of as much as a quarter of the city’s black population since 2010.

This story is similar for other populations of color–a greater out-migration of residents than people of color moving into the city. By contrast, over this same five year period from 2010 through 2014, San Francisco gained almost 30,000 new residents who identify as white, the only ethnicity category on the ACS that showed more in-migration than out-migration every year.

The forces of capital are strong, and national and international demand for the chance to live in a city like San Francisco has soared, but this is not just an abstract debate about macroeconomic pressures. The “churn” from these migration trends is rapidly reshaping the city’s demographic picture.  Some folks may celebrate “disruption” in all forms, but the data makes clear that this version of disruption is replacing and erasing one San Francisco and creating a drastically different one.

So, what can we do?

Yes, San Francisco will continue to change, grow, and develop. But we need to be honest that the face of San Francisco is changing, the city is rapidly gentrifying and the out-migration of working class and people of color communities is shocking. We have today not just a growing population but more significantly a replacement population. That’s 50,000 new residents a year in, and 50,000 existing residents out. Those are big numbers, and those are everyday San Francisco people. And it is a trend that no one should be comfortable with.

City policy may not be able to entirely reverse these winds, but it can make a difference. We have a responsibility as citizens to push for policy that gives all San Franciscans, especially those whose voices are often silenced, the tools and ability to hold fast against the economic maelstrom of development and displacement driven by real estate goals rather than public policy goals and San Francisco values.

We should push to fortify tenant protections such as rent control, and fight for restrictions on real estate speculation that drive up housing prices and incentivize evictions. We should fight to ensure that new developments are required to contribute to public needs in the form of maximum levels of affordable housing and fair-share of infrastructure costs. We should insist on “affordable” housing that is actually affordable to low- and middle-income San Franciscans – meeting families where they are, rather than playing over their heads for a “new middle class”. And we should reject moves to reduce affordable housing production and to price people out of affordable housing programs, like the San Francisco Realtors’ divisive Propositions P and U on this November’s ballot. Propositions P/U (“peeyew”!) are attacks on affordable housing and would simply add fuel to the fire of the displacement of people of color from San Francisco.

As San Franciscans, we have a lot at stake. We must stick together and fight back against out-migration and population replacement masquerading as benign population growth. We can and should work to ensure San Francisco remains an affordable city truly for all.


Don’t Be Fooled: Propositions P & U Are Bad for Affordable Housing

20 10 2016

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

Housing Forward_ No On P&UIn the midst of the worst housing crisis in our City’s history, progressive housing advocates are developing innovative ways to expand affordable housing options for low- and middle-income San Franciscans – from a strengthened inclusionary housing requirement that recaptures for the public good the windfall profits of this wild real estate market, to new revenue sources for acquiring at-risk rent-controlled buildings to preserve them as permanently affordable housing.  Unfortunately, at the same time, the San Francisco Realtors are pushing two misguided and poorly crafted measures that threaten to reverse our hard-fought progress:  Propositions P and U on the November ballot.

One claims it will “lower the costs” of building affordable housing. The other says it will create more affordable housing for “middle-class families.”

But DON’T BE FOOLED. These propositions by the Realtors don’t create a single new unit of affordable housing. They will, however, take affordable housing options away from the City’s families who are most at risk, stall the creation of new housing, and lower the quality of projects that are built. They are developer and real estate giveaways, plain and simple, that will hurt everyday San Franciscans.

Prop P – Less Affordable Housing, More Shoddy Housing

The Realtors’ Proposition P claims to lower the cost of building affordable housing by requiring the City’s housing department to collect three proposals for any affordable housing project before being able to move forward.  In reality, Prop P is a “solution” looking for a problem that doesn’t exist, and in reality will only hamstring the City at a time when we cannot afford to waste a single day from building urgently needed affordable housing.  In fact, the City already has a proven competitive bidding process that takes into account cost, experience, quality of design, and the extent to which the proposal fits community needs.  Only when the best developer chosen by the City for the job has designed the right project, does it go out for bids from three or more building contractors. The result has been thousands of high quality homes that enhance vibrant, healthy neighborhoods.

Under Proposition P, the City will be forced to go the low road, taking any proposals regardless of their quality and potentially ending up with shoddy “affordable” housing.  It could pave the way for big out of town and private developers to profit from building on our City’s public land. We already have plenty of experience with “low-cost” housing – concrete blocks of low-quality housing built on the cheap in past decades.  San Francisco doesn’t need more shoddy housing that we have to fix later, especially when our existing process results in high quality, well-constructed homes.  This is a dangerous step backwards for affordable housing.

This San Francisco Realtors’ measure also has the potential to stop many affordable homes from being built in the first place – particularly those that serve homeless families, transitional-age youth, seniors and veterans.  In their analysis of the measure, the Mayor’s Office of Housing said Proposition P could “indefinitely stall a development opportunity or delay much-needed affordable housing.”

Prop P is dangerous ballot-box planning that removes the City’s ability to continue making thoughtful and timely decisions, and will end up with less affordable housing for San Francisco.

Prop U – Developer Give-Away that Divides San Franciscans

Last June, voters overwhelmingly supported Proposition C, the increase to the City’s affordable housing requirement on private developers. San Franciscans understand that developers, in this strong market, can and should do more to create “inclusionary” housing in their new projects. They also voted to dedicate, for the first time, affordable housing for middle-income as well as low-income San Franciscans. Sixty-eight percent of San Francisco voters supported Prop C in the June 2016 election.

The Realtors’ Proposition U would undo what voters just approved in June, while giving real estate developers huge windfall profits.  It does this in a crafty way by eliminating the City’s longstanding requirement that developers make the inclusionary housing in their buildings affordable to low-income families. Instead, it allows them to market the “affordable” units at double the current rent levels.

In place of the current mixed-income system that serves both low- and middle-income families, Prop U creates a one-tier system that forces those families to compete against each other for the same limited supply of housing.

And in what is perhaps the most devious aspect of the Realtors’ measure, Proposition U would apply retroactively to more than 800 existing affordable housing units, setting the stage for increases in evictions and allowing landlords to double the rents on vacated units.

San Francisco has worked long and hard to create a fair process for inclusionary housing – one that sets aside units in private market development for both low- and middle-income households. In the name of real estate profits, Prop U takes away low-income housing, creates incentives for eviction, and doesn’t add a single unit of new affordable housing. And it will divide San Franciscans, pitting middle-income families against low-income families.

Propositions P and U, put on the ballot by the San Francisco Realtors, are bad for San Francisco families and will turn back the progress we are making to keep the City affordable and fight real estate speculation.  That’s why we are part of a broad coalition of affordable housing, labor and business, and community leaders, including the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, the San Francisco Neighborhood Network, the United Educators of San Francisco, Senior & Disability Action and many  many others urging you to oppose P and U on November 8.

The CCHO Affordable City Voter Guide

20 10 2016

Taken together, the ballot measures in this year’s election continue to implement a comprehensive Affordable City agenda, to preserve affordable homes (YES on C), to create transparency for housing and development decisions (YES on M), and to support programs that are critical for working-class people (YES on I, J, K, N, S, W, and X). At the same time, we need to VOTE NO against the smelly measures (NO on P & U) that promote a cynical Realtors agenda against affordable housing, and that criminalize homeless people (NO on Q & R).

Click here for the full print edition of our Voter Guide, including Spanish and Chinese translations.


YES on C – Housing Preservation Bond. Loans to make safety upgrades to apartments and preserve them as affordable housing.

YES on I – Dignity Fund. Dedicated funding for services for seniors, veterans, and adults with disabilities.

YES on J & K – Sales Tax for Homelessness and Transportation. 3/4 cent sales tax for homeless housing and equitable transit.

YES on M – Housing and Development Commission. Creates transparency for the city’s housing and development decisions.

YES on N – Non-Citizen Voting for School Board. A pathway for participation and civic engagement for immigrant parents.

YES on S – Hotel Tax Uses. Reinstates hotel tax allocation for cultural arts funding and ending family homelessness.

YES on W – Mansion Tax. A ¼ to ½ per cent transfer tax on property sales over $5 million to make City College free.

YES on X – Preservation of Arts and Industry. Requires developers to preserve and replace space for arts and production jobs.

NO on P – Less Affordable Housing. Delays affordable housing for seniors, persons with disabilities, youth, and homeless families, and opens the door to for-profit developers.

NO on U – Developer Giveaways. Would raise rents and incentivize evictions for over 800 affordable units, eliminate low-income units, and give owners more profits.

NO on Q & R – Criminalizing Poverty. The mean-spirited Prop Q would criminalize people in tents, and Prop R would create homeless policing units.

What the Media is Saying

See more at http://www.sfccho.org/publications/ccho-in-the-news/.



It’s Time for a Housing Preservation Bond – YES on C!

3 10 2016
Photo courtesy of SF Examiner.

Photo courtesy of SF Examiner.

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

It’s been 27 years since San Francisco was hit with the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake in the middle of the World Series between the Giants and the A’s, leaving neighborhoods in crisis and many people displaced from their homes.

We recovered and rebuilt, but today we face another housing threat of nearly equal magnitude, this time from displacements and evictions. The housing crisis threatens to change the face of The City, but if we take action now, we can confront displacement head on and simultaneously prepare our aging residential buildings for the next physical earthquake.

Proposition C, the Housing Preservation Bond on November’s ballot, expands the eligible uses from a 1992 seismic safety bond to include both the rehabilitation of other “at-risk” multi-unit buildings, and to allow nonprofit developers to acquire and preserve these at-risk buildings as permanently affordable housing. This will free up almost $261 million in unallocated funding.

How will this help the housing crisis?

The Housing Preservation Bond will address the hundreds of multi-unit residential buildings that today are in need of seismic, fire, health or safety upgrades. Failure to rehabilitate these buildings is a threat to both building residents and to the surrounding neighborhoods. There are at-risk residential buildings in all districts of The City, such as the hundreds of “soft story” wood-frame buildings at risk of structural failure during an earthquake, or the many apartments at risk of fires due to substandard electrical wiring.

As critical as its implications for life and safety, Prop. C is also an urgent anti-displacement initiative, providing stability for tenants by funding the preservation of small apartment buildings. Many of these tenants are facing Ellis Act evictions, buy-out evictions or tenant harassment.

Like last June’s Prop. C, this is a measure aimed at serving a broad range of San Franciscans, as it would stabilize families living in both middle- and low-income rent-controlled housing. The Housing Preservation Bond will make our city and tenants safer and protect and preserve dense affordable units in perpetuity.

Building on what works

Tomorrow, the San Francisco Community Land Trust will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its first acquisition, at 53 Columbus Ave., which preserved 21 at-risk homes and guaranteed stability to Chinese immigrant households who now own their building as a housing cooperative.

Under The City’s new Small Sites Program, nonprofits like the Community Land Trust and Mission Economic Development Agency have acquired buildings in the Richmond, Western Addition, South of Market, Mission and Castro neighborhoods, rehabbing them with soft-story retrofits, foundation upgrades, removal of toxic storage tanks and new sprinkler systems. The Chinatown Community Development Center is working to protect residential hotels in Chinatown, North Beach and Tenderloin neighborhoods, and the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation is exploring prospects for small apartment acquisitions in the Bayview neighborhood. The nonprofit affordable housing organizations are poised to expand this successful acquisition program — but The City is hampered by a lack of dedicated funding. Prop. C will be a critical boost for expansion, up to $30 million per year to the acquisition program.

Prop. C accomplishes this without any increased costs to taxpayers. Instead of new taxes, Prop. C amends the previous measure approved by San Franciscans in 1992 and simply expands the scope of those authorized funds. No new bonding capacity would be created beyond what was previously authorized, so it would not impact The City’s property tax rate. Further, Prop. C would bring the original bond up to today’s greater standards of oversight and transparency to ensure taxpayer accountability.

The Housing Preservation Bond is a win-win for our city’s tenants, neighborhoods and affordable housing. We cannot afford to wait out the devastation of the housing affordability earthquake without taking action now. Please join nonprofit affordable housing organizations, the mayor and all members of the Board of Supervisors, and vote Yes on C.

Decoding the Ballot with Diamond Dave

15 09 2016

213px-Mutiny-RadioCCHO co-director Fernando Martí in conversation with Diamond Dave Whitaker and Valerie Ibarra on last Friday’s Common Thread Collective podcast on Mutiny Radio, about the good, the bad, and the ugly in this year’s alphabet soup of San Francisco ballot measures. Among the Good: YES on Props C, M and X. And the Bad and Ugly: NO on Props P, U, Q and R.

Listen to our segment here (it’s between 1hr28 and 2hr).

Just Released! The Filtering Fallacy — An Infographic

12 09 2016

Behind a number of the recently proposed policy “solutions” to San Francisco’s housing crisis is the theory of “filtering.”  Understanding why these policies that rely on market-rate housing and deregulation won’t actually make housing more affordable requires a closer examination of this filtering theory, which could also be called “trickle down” for housing.

Haven’t heard of filtering?  Have no fear – we’ve created an infographic that breaks down the basics of filtering, the assumptions behind it, and the reasons it doesn’t work the way some say it does.  

Check it out below, or download a full-resolution PDF here.

Rally for Prop C – A Smart Fix for Safety & Affordable Housing

8 09 2016

CCHO and other community organizations, including Housing Rights Committee, SOMCAN, BiSHoP, and the San Francisco Community Land Trust, joined Supervisor Peskin in a rally this morning for Proposition C, the Affordable Housing Safety and Acquisition measure on this November’s ballot.

The rally took place at 22nd and Mission, the site of the type of fire that has been plaguing the Mission and could be prevented in the future with Prop C.

Prop C Rally_9-8-16

Prop C is the only measure in November that actually provides funding to increase the amount of permanently affordable housing in San Francisco.  It does this through a creative repurposing of unused bonds that the City’s been sitting on for years.

Back in 1992, after the Loma Prieta earthquake, San Francisco voters approved a $350 million bond to provide loans for upgrading the earthquake safety of brick buildings.  Since then, over half of this money has gone unused.

Prop C would free up this unused money, allowing it to be used for other at-risk buildings beyond just brick buildings, including the “soft story” buildings found throughout the Mission that are highly susceptible to earthquake damage and buildings in need of other safety upgrades.  Even more importantly, Prop C would allow this unused money to go towards buying buildings whose tenants are at risk of eviction, so they can be preserved as permanently affordable housing.

This measure is a smart fix, freeing up desperately-needed funds without creating any new taxes.  And it will help immediately address the housing crisis, providing a way to fight displacement and keep long-term tenants in their homes.

A Growing Coalition Stands Together Against By-Right

11 08 2016

Smooke_Joseph_By-RightRallySF_5Aug2016-83Last Friday, August 5th, 2016, CCHO joined our fellow Bay Area members of Californians for Affordable Housing in an action to stand up for our communities and against the Governor’s “by-right” measure. Californians for Affordable Housing is a growing alliance of affordable housing, labor, environmental, community, and tenants rights organizations from across the state, with a strong Bay Area contingent.

Californians for Affordable Housing released this report-back  on the August 5th action:

A new alliance of labor, community, affordable housing, and tenants rights organizations gathered in downtown San Francisco this morning to oppose the Governors’ by-right “trailer bill”.

Smooke_Joseph_By-RightRallySF_5Aug2016-63Board of Supervisors member Aaron Peskin joined representatives from ACCE SF, Oakland and Contra Costa County; Jobs with Justice SF, the SF Labor Council, SF Building Trades, Housing Rights Committee, Bill Sorro Housing Program, Senior and Disability Action, Tenants Together, Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, Latino Democratic Club, the Council of Community Housing Organizations, and the Manilatown Heritage Foundation to tell media that there is strong opposition from communities across the Bay Area to the Governor’s plan to allow corporations to overrun our communities.

Smooke_Joseph_By-RightRallySF_5Aug2016-42We rallied in the shadow of the Millennium Tower, which according to the SF Chronicle is one of the most luxurious residential towers in the world, and is quickly sinking into the Bay mud because of construction related issues.

Across the street from the Millennium, under construction, is the new Salesforce Tower which will be the tallest office tower in the western US. A contingent from the rally went to the office of Salesforce, the largest tech employer in San Francisco, to deliver a letter requesting a meeting with CEO Marc Benioff, in response to his recent sign-on in support of the Governor’s by-right bill.  Smooke_Joseph_By-RightRallySF_5Aug2016-133



Photo Credit: Joseph Smooke, [people.power.media].Smooke_Joseph_By-RightRallySF_5Aug2016-117

“By-Right” Deregulation Is Not a Real Solution

28 07 2016

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

Mike Koozmin, SF Examiner.

Mike Koozmin, SF Examiner.

A few weeks ago we wrote about the “by-right” development law, which Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing for approval this year, as a speedy trailer bill to the state budget with no public hearings. The narrative behind the governor’s bill is that it would help increase the supply of housing being built — both market-rate and affordable — and therefore ease the demand on housing that today is at crisis levels. But this deregulation-based approach, like many before it, is a false solution to the housing crisis. Instead, we point to other ways that state and regional government can increase housing with more helpful policies and real interventions.

Gov. Brown’s bill would, by state law “pre-emption,” deregulate housing development approvals, supposedly in the name of affordable housing: taking away public review hearings, trumping local conditions of approval and overriding Planning Commission discretion for development proposals that simply comply with a local inclusionary housing requirement (the minimum amount of affordable housing developers are required to include in projects). For cities that don’t have a local inclusionary requirement, the state law standard would be as low as five percent affordable units in a project to be “eligible” for by-right approval. In San Francisco, this deregulation would basically apply to all residential development projects.

As we reported earlier, in San Francisco, where we have a pipeline of 19,000 more approved units than have actually been built (not even counting those approved in The City’s big redevelopment areas), a backlog growing by approximately 700 more units each year, it isn’t the approvals process that slows down development, but something much more fundamental: financing for actual construction of approved projects. And deregulation — the favored approach of some politicians and developer front groups — isn’t going to affect that fundamental fact.

In actuality, increased deregulation has the potential for terrible consequences. As the head of the State Buildings Trades Council pointed out last week in the Los Angeles Times, both the state’s energy crisis and the national financial meltdown in the last decade were preceded by similar deregulatory approaches, with disastrous results as everyday people have experienced. The Building Trades leader was quoted as poignantly saying: “We have found the history of mass deregulation in America doesn’t work well for working people.”

Instead of focusing on the overblown boogeyman of regulation, if the political leadership were really serious about seeking solutions to the state’s housing crisis, there are other regulatory interventions that would actually address the question of housing production:

1) Give teeth to existing housing development requirements: There are always examples to be found of “Not In My Back Yard” groups or entrenched political elites in small cities that want no development or demographic changes, and that refuse to accept their “fair share” of housing development to relieve regional population pressures. Each city is required to have a Housing Element certified by the state, and they are assigned “quantified housing goals” to achieve. Some cities do quite well, some do OK, and some do poorly. But there are no real consequences for NIMBYism. Perhaps putting some “teeth” into the state Housing Element law accountability would help to push those jurisdictions that don’t work to provide their fair share of basic housing needs or a minimum level of housing affordability.

2) Reform property tax law to promote residential development: A fundamental reason why cities see little incentive to build housing is Proposition 13, which capped property taxes and then limited increases, both for single family homeowners as well as for institutional landlords and commercial building owners. Until Prop. 13 is reformed to differentiate between protecting single-family homeowners and taxing big landowners, commercial landlords and developers, cities will continue to seek out retail and commercial development, which provides them with sales and business taxes, and to reject residential development.

3) Pair housing policy with the necessary state-level investment: An example is how in 2011, when the state government began a process of “realignment” to reduce overcrowded state prisons, shifting many in the prison population to county facilities. Along with giving that responsibility to counties, the state provided funding to pay the bill, directly investing in local government to fulfill the mandate. The state could do a similar thing today, investing at the local level to increase affordable housing.

4) Link state and regional investments to local government action: This week, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which allocates regional transportation funding to Bay Area cities, faces a quandary. It can choose to link the allocation of its “One Bay Area” transportation grants to jurisdictions that support affordable housing and enact anti-displacement measures, or it can continue to give grants to exclusionary cities and those that do little or nothing to meet their fair share of either market-rate or affordable housing. A broad coalition of real housing advocates, led by the “Six Wins Network,” a coalition of more than 20 social justice, faith, public health and environmental organizations across the Bay Area, is pushing to ensure the MTC does the right thing and actually puts Californians’ housing needs first. MTC has the power to combat displacement and promote housing by leveraging the $300 million in One Bay Area grants that it controls to encourage cities to adopt meaningful anti-displacement and affordable housing policies. If the governor, local politicians and developer advocates wanted to leverage real solutions, that’s one place to start, but so far they have been silent.

These are real ways we can begin to encourage good housing development across the state. But as long as developer front groups masquerading as “housing advocates” and some politicians continue to chase after false solutions based on 1980s-era deregulation policies, they will fail to meet the increasingly dire housing needs of Californians.


Just released! CCHO’s District Housing Snapshots 2015

30 06 2016

Fresh off the presses!  Following the release of the San Francisco Planning Department’s latest Housing Balance Report and Housing Inventory, we at CCHO have compiled our annual Housing Snapshots of each of the 11 supervisorial districts of the City. The goal of these snapshots 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.  This report fills a gap left by the usual citywide analysis of housing production: communities exist on a neighborhood scale in San Francisco, and a neighborhood-level analysis makes clear just how uneven affordable housing production and loss are across the districts of the City.

Overall, only 17.1% of the new housing produced in 2015 was affordable, down from 22% in 2014.  As was the case in the 2014 Snapshots Report, the future trend is troubling. Only 10.1% of the 18,144 entitled units in the 2016 Q1 pipeline are affordable. For long-range projects that are not yet entitled, the percent of affordable units is 10.8%.  These numbers show us just how far we currently are from the voter-mandated goal of a minimum 33% affordable housing, as set down in 2014’s Prop K Housing Balance measure. And they confirm what anecdotal evidence tells us: the housing crisis is continuing to worsen, and we need significant action to change those trends.

Read the full report here.

Ending homelessness with – you guessed it! – housing

29 06 2016

Our latest op-ed in The Examiner (read the original article here).

The first step of any plan to end homelessness needs to be keeping San Franciscans housed. As study after study has shown, it is primarily San Franciscans that make up the people who experience homelessness in our city — not people who have come here from other places, but people who had homes here and lost them — due to a variety of reasons, including the increasing rash of evictions. We need to begin by ensuring that folks stay in their rent-controlled housing whenever possible and are quickly rehoused when displacement can’t be prevented. Part of this includes funding rapid-rehousing opportunities.

But for many who do end up living in their cars or on the streets, the route out of homelessness is through — you guessed it — housing! From a fiscal perspective, we know that it is far less expensive to house homeless people than to keep them homeless, as we spend more on health care, social services and criminal justice while someone is homeless than we do on housing for them. For every $1 spent on housing for homeless adults living with mental illness, there is a $2.50 reduction in other government spending.

Currently, we have housing for about 6,000 homeless people: About half of that housing is in residential hotels with light services and that are master leased; the other half is in nonprofit owned supportive housing, permanently affordable units that come with services to help stabilize and support residents like employment programs, youth and family programs and individual case management.

To really address homelessness, we need to double the amount of housing available to homeless people in San Francisco. This means building new affordable units for very low-income residents with on-site supportive services, creating permanent community-owned assets. Doing this will take a sustainable revenue source, and while we need to make sure the federal and state governments do their part, we also cannot wait for them to act. It’s up to The City to take real leadership and change the current trajectory of homeless housing funding and policy in San Francisco.

In the last few years, our city’s housing production for extremely low-income people has shifted toward master leasing. We currently invest less then 3 percent of The City’s budget toward this issue. We should be investing more. In the current housing pipeline through 2022, we are only going to have 632 new units for homeless people — compared to the almost 3,000 units for homeless people that we built between 2008 and 2014. Since 2014, The City has capped the number of homeless units at 20 percent of all affordable housing and stopped producing buildings that are 100 percent supportive housing.

This is a misstep and represents a major shift in our city’s housing policies. In the last few years, The City’s approach has shifted to simply require that new affordable housing family and senior buildings set aside 20 percent of units for formerly homeless individuals. While this policy has resulted in a broader mix of incomes in our affordable buildings and works well for many residents, it does not replace the need for providing supportive housing buildings with 24-hour desk clerks and the kinds of on-site wraparound services so critical for people who have been chronically homeless or have dual or multiple diagnosis.

There are currently no projects in the works for 100 percent supportive housing. If The City is truly committed to addressing the homelessness issue, and housing both families and single adults experiencing homelessness, then they need to invest in nonprofit-owned supportive housing. The Mayor’s Office of Housing needs to reconsider its priorities and immediately start planning for the release of new funds or requests for proposals for supportive housing buildings on a regular schedule over the coming years. As part of its continuum of affordable housing solutions, The City needs to pay as much attention to the building and renovation of 100 percent supportive housing for our most vulnerable San Franciscans as they do to other important kinds of affordable housing.

Folks working on these issues know what the solutions are. What we are lacking is political will.

Credit: Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times

Credit: Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times

“By-Right Approvals” Will Have No Real Effect on Housing Supply in SF

27 06 2016

Our latest op-ed in The Examiner (read the original article here).


Housing construction in SF always lags behind Planning Permit approvals. On average, even taking into account dips following cyclical housing "busts," the backlog of approved units has grown by about 700 units per year. Source: SF Planning Department Housing Inventory data.

Housing construction in SF always lags behind Planning Permit approvals. On average, even taking into account dips following cyclical housing “busts,” the backlog of approved units has grown by about 700 units per year. Source: SF Planning Department Housing Inventory data.

Developers and their lobbying organizations are currently working hard to spread a false, but profitable argument: that the way to get more housing faster is by further deregulating development approvals. The assertion underlies the governor’s latest “by-right” approvals bill, which gives the automatic stamp of approval to any private development providing the minimum amount of affordable housing.

This argument often devolves into a never-ending ideological debate on social media. The debate between market-rate development advocates and affordable housing advocates is centered on whether a marginal increase in luxury units in San Francisco will lower prices by any noticeable amount for middle-income people in The City or lessen the pressure on existing rental housing. Both sides base their arguments on economic models, such as the recent State Legislative Analyst report supporting theoretical market solutions to the housing crisis, or, by contrast, the response by UC Berkeley researchers who basically debunk the supply-side argument that market-rate housing will quickly “filter” down. But aside from these statistical models, it is instructive to look at the reality of housing approvals and actual construction over the last two decades.

Between 1996 and 2015, the city of San Francisco approved 51,000 units for construction. In the same time period, developers actually constructed 37,000 units. That’s 14,000 more units approved for construction than have actually been built, and, on average, that backlog has increased by almost 700 units every year. The City’s latest pipeline report, through the first quarter of 2016, puts that figure even higher, at almost 19,000 entitled units! That’s not even counting the approved housing from the massive Park Merced, Hunters Point/Candlestick, and Treasure Island developments.

So what’s going on? Why are the developers and their front groups, the governor, and now some big tech leaders who’ve signed onto the governor’s bill, so dead-set on trying to convince us that increasing market rate housing approvals by making them “by right” will somehow help solve our housing crisis?

First, we absolutely have to look at this city by city. There are many places that have put up road blocks to all new housing approvals, whether market-rate or affordable, and a certain amount of streamlining may have a positive impact on housing affordability in those communities.

But despite what market-rate development advocates say, San Francisco, with a backlog of 19,000 approved units, is hardly one of those jurisdictions. Even if we double the rate of project approvals, that would simply add to the long pipeline of already-entitled development projects — instead of 19,000 units waiting in the wings, we could have 40,000 units waiting for… what? That’s the mystery—what are they waiting for, why is the pipeline of approved projects growing every year, and why aren’t more approved projects being constructed more quickly? It’s clearly not the approvals process that is holding builders back from building more.

The real reason is financing. Financing is what controls whether or not approved units actually get built. And the amount of financing capital is limited — by investors who are risk-averse and want to ensure high returns on investments. At the first sign of a downturn or a drop in market prices, they are likely to flee to other safer investments. In fact, during the lows of the Great Recession in 2010, it was primarily publicly-financed affordable housing development that was responsible for more than 50 percent of the units (and of construction jobs) built in San Francisco during those years.

Why, then, if speeding up the approvals process doesn’t put more units on the ground, are some special interests pushing so hard the idea that “by right” is the solution to our housing crisis? We could speculate: for politicians, they get to look like they are working on “solutions” without having to spend public money, and it distracts from the real issues of reining in powerful real estate market forces and stopping speculation on existing housing. And for individual developers, it helps their ability to profit on the entitlement itself: the gamble is to get your approvals done before the market slows down, and then either lock in your financing or sell your “entitlements” to another investor. The actual immediate construction of units is not necessarily the primary factor in this calculation.

Why should we care about this kind of deregulation? The approvals process is long and complicated, and the bureaucracy could certainly move a lot faster. But the reason we have been able to win meaningful community benefits over the past 40 years (as opposed to the steamrolling of communities in urban renewal) is precisely because of our growing understanding that it’s necessary for developers to dialogue with communities, and that we need safeguards to guarantee a voice for regular people and a meaningful role for a city Planning Commission and located electeds in land use matters.

Here’s an alternative approach — the politicians, developers, and their advocates who really care about increasing the number of units on the ground in S.F., whether affordable or market-rate, should focus attention on the real problem of financing, working to ensure that investment continues year-in and year-out to finance the construction of a minimum number of units — whether “the market” is up or down. And, beyond our limited ability to influence global investment, really hone in on what we can influence: increasing investments in affordable housing.