Inclusionary Housing: More for the Many, Not Just the Few

1 03 2016

Our latest op-ed in The Examiner, just in time for today’s Board hearing, where Supervisors will vote on placing the Inclusionary Housing Charter Amendment on June’s ballot.  Read the original article here.

Residents hold signs calling for "Inclusionary Housing, not Exclusionary Housing" as Aaron Peskin speaks at a press conference about the charter amendment.

Residents hold signs calling for “Inclusionary Housing, not Exclusionary Housing” as Sup. Aaron Peskin speaks at a press conference about the charter amendment.

This Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors is poised to put a very important measure before the voters on this coming June’s ballot. If they vote yes, which seems likely, it will be one small step for the Board, one giant step for San Franciscans.

You see, our city’s “Inclusionary Housing” policy — which requires market-rate developers to build mixed-income communities by providing a portion of their housing units at below-market rates (actually affordable prices) — has been locked up in the City Charter since 2012. This was bad policy from the get-go and has meant that as development has boomed and housing prices have skyrocketed, our elected leaders have been unable to make adjustments to the inclusionary housing policy to keep up with that boom economy.

If the Inclusionary Charter Amendment is successfully voted through this Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, San Franciscans will be able to un-lock the inclusionary policy from the Charter and bring it back into the citizen process. This is widely agreed to be a “good government” decision, putting the process of hammering out the details of policy back in the hands of our elected lawmakers, who can move quickly to respond to public need and financial reality, instead of requiring prohibitively expensive and time-consuming electoral campaigns through “ballot-box planning.”

Beyond being good government, this measure is a serious opportunity to increase affordability in San Francisco. The measure will initially double the number of affordable units a developement is required to provide, by going back to the 15 percent low-income units required before 2012, and adding a new 10 percent of units affordable to middle-income San Franciscans. That initial requirement can then be adjusted by the Board of Supervisors as needed as market conditions change over time. In fact, it is the anticipation of the ballot measure itself that the Board will craft fine-grained implementing legislation if the measure is passed by the voters in June.

The ballot measure will do two hugely important things: 1) set a higher bar for private development and ensure that projects contribute their fair share to housing our city’s residents during boom times; and 2) create affordable housing for the increasingly wide range of people who find themselves unable to afford living in San Francisco. In fact, inclusionary housing is one of the best tools we have to build housing for middle-income San Franciscans, as market-rate development investors have abdicated their traditional role of building housing for the middle classes, and there are no public subsidies available to help build affordable housing at those income levels. Instead of pitting low-income and middle-income housing needs against each other, this measure addresses BOTH needs.

In this way, the Charter Amendment accomplishes the real goal of inclusionary housing: Inclusion. As a resident who spoke during the three hours of public testimony at the Board of Supervisors hearing this past week put it, this measure will help ensure more San Franciscans have the opportunity “… to be part of the fortunate MANY, not the fortunate few.” Another resident eloquently told the Supervisors: “Now is your opportunity to vote for inclusion. … This is your time to be a hero.”

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors can all be heroes and move this important measure forward to the San Francisco voters.

A Really, Really Long Definition of Affordable Housing

18 02 2016

The term “affordable housing” gets thrown around a lot these days by a lot of different people, sometimes talking about pretty different things.  Everyone’s talking about it, we all want more of it, but it’s often a little fuzzy what the “it” actually is.  Even at CCHO, we can alternate between broader and more narrow definitions of affordable housing, depending on the context.  The basic idea of affordable housing is simple, but the landscape is complex, so we thought we’d take a minute to break it down.

100% Affordable Housing built by the nonprofit developer Community Housing Partnership.

Zgymundt Arendt homes, a 100% affordable housing development built by the nonprofit developer Community Housing Partnership.

The basic definition of “affordable”:

Housing is generally considered affordable when residents can pay their rent or mortgage as well as meet their other basic needs, and when that home is safe and secure for the long term. Policymakers and advocates typically consider someone’s housing affordable when it  costs no more than 30% of the household’s income, including rent or mortgage payments, insurance, taxes, and utilities. For homeownership the conventional wisdom on affordability is more like 35% of income.

According to this basic definition, lots of different types of housing could be considered “affordable,” depending on who is trying to afford it and how much it costs.  In San Francisco, however, homes meeting this casual definition of affordable housing are hard to come by on the open market, especially for low- and moderate-income people. In order to provide housing for households at these income levels in the city and in proximity to their workplaces, this affordable housing must be produced through a combination of subsidies and regulations.

This gets us to a much more specific definition, and what we at CCHO are talking about when we advocate for affordable housing: price-controlled, permanently-affordable housing.

Let’s examine both of those criteria in turn:

Market-Rate vs. Price-Controlled Housing

San Francisco’s housing stock can generally by divided into two types, market-rate housing and price-controlled housing – and this is one of the most important distinctions when talking affordable housing. It all comes down to who is setting the price and how that price is set. With “market-rate” housing, the cost to buy or rent is set entirely by the market – at whatever amount the owner can get. With price-controlled housing, the cost to rent or buy is in some way set or regulated and enforced.  Though sometimes (and frankly, almost never in San Francisco’s current housing market) residents can find market-rate homes that meet the basic definition of “affordable” (30% of their income or less), when we talk about affordable housing, we are specifically talking about price-controlled homes.

“Price-controlled” is a wide-ranging category, including everything from public housing and nonprofit-owned affordable housing to rent-controlled homes, where rent increases are limited by law.

What’s the difference between permanently affordable housing and rent-controlled housing?

Now that we are within the world of price-controlled housing, we can narrow things down even further by examining the second important distinction for our definition: permanently affordable housing vs. rent-controlled housing.


A rent-controlled apartment in Chinatown where protesters fight the Ellis eviction of long-term tenants.

Rent-controlled housing is an important piece of San Francisco’s affordability landscape, comprising the largest portion of the housing in the City that is still practically affordable to a range of San Franciscans, but it isn’t permanently affordable.  Though many people refer to San Francisco’s system as “rent-control,” it is technically “rent-stabilization,” because the “control” does not stay with the apartment when it’s re-rented to another person – it goes back to market-rate pricing when the tenant moves out. Rent control does not provide permanent affordability tied to a particular unit. However what it DOES do, very importantly, is keep the rent affordable to the tenant while they are living in the unit – which means stability for a person or a family over time. As one of the core purposes of affordable housing is to provide stability and quality of living for residents, especially for poor, working-class and moderate/”middle” income people whose needs aren’t met by market-rate housing, rent control is an invaluable part of keeping San Francisco affordable.

The passage of rent control in California cities is closely tied to the passage of Prop 13 in 1978. As landlords got a reduction and “stabilization” of their property taxes through Prop 13, many renters demanded a similar stabilization to their rents, and a few cities were able to pass rent control laws.  San Francisco’s rent control law, however, currently prevents any building completed after 1979 from being subject to rent control, so any rent-controlled units we lose (through demolition or conversion) cannot be replaced. It is thus incredibly important (and one of the main goals of CCHO’s work) to preserve the existing rent-controlled housing we have.

Permanently affordable housing developments, on the other hand, provide homes at low rents to residents who qualify and these restrictions stay with the unit, usually for the life of the building or at least 55 years. Permanently affordable housing is often price-controlled according to AMI, or Area Median Income. “Median” means that half the people in the area make less than that amount, and half the people make more. Based on AMI, the federal government classifies household earnings into different income levels: Very Low Income (those earning less than 50% of the median), Low Income (incomes between 50% and 80% of the median), and Moderate Income (those earning between 80% and 120% of the median).  Affordable housing units are built for a particular income level, and are price-controlled so that the rent or cost of those units equals 30% of that income level.  In order to be eligible for affordable housing, a resident has to qualify by showing that they are within that particular income level when they move in, though their incomes can change in the future and they would still retain their housing. When one resident moves out, the unit will remain affordable for the next tenant who moves in.

Different Types of Permanently Affordable Housing

Okay, so we are almost there!  There are several different categories of permanently affordable housing that exist in San Francisco, some of which are still being built, and some of which are no longer being built.

Most permanently affordable housing units rely on public subsidy to cover part of their costs.  Over the years, however, who is building affordable housing, what types of subsidies they’re using, and when they use these subsidies has changed.

Public housing in Bernal Heights.

Public housing in Bernal Heights.

Federally-Subsidized Housing (AKA, Public Housing and Section 8 Housing)

The way permanently affordable housing used to get built was primarily through federal subsidies.  Federally-subsidized affordable housing includes public housing and Section 8 housing, and some housing cooperatives.  Public Housing was owned and run by the federal government through local Housing Authorities. Section 8 housing was built by private developers receiving federal subsidies to cover the difference between what a low-income renter can pay and the fair market rent of the apartment. The important thing to know is that the Federal government no longer subsidizes the construction of new public housing – these types of housing were primarily built between the 1940s and 1970s.

St. Peter's Place, 100% affordable housing development for people with special needs, built by Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center.

St. Peter’s Place, a 100% affordable housing development for people with special needs, built by Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center.

Today’s Affordable Housing

Because the federal government is no longer building public housing and has cut way back on its funding for operating and maintenance subsidies, the way most affordable housing gets built today is through a complicated mix of funding sources (usually including money from local government and Federal tax credit investors).  In San Francisco, most affordable housing is built by community-based, nonprofit housing developers (most of which are members of CCHO), though there are also regional nonprofit and for-profit developers of affordable housing.  Another important distinction between the old public housing and new affordable housing, besides the quality of design and construction, is that typically these newer developments depend on substantial up-front investments rather than requiring ongoing public subsidies throughout the life of the building.  This means that the “affordable” rents that tenants pay are sufficient to cover the building’s operating and maintenance costs, making these developments less likely to fall into disrepair (like many public housing developments have as the federal government cut back on subsidies).

Typically, this newer permanently affordable housing serves various income ranges under 60% AMI (what HUD defines as “Low Income” in San Francisco). Some buildings serve specific populations, such as formerly homeless, low-income families, or seniors. Permanently affordable developments may be in new construction buildings or may be in rehabbed existing buildings, such as residential hotels (also called “SROs” or Single-Room Occupancy) or old hospitals. They often include on-site “supportive services”: case-management, treatment or job counseling, senior programs, food bank deliveries, family activities or childcare, or other supports. Smaller apartment buildings are also sometimes acquired and converted to permanently affordable housing – what we call “small sites acquisition and rehab” – a strategy that has been especially important in recent years to protect tenants vulnerable to evictions and preserve rent-controlled housing that could get “flipped” by speculators.

NEMA, a market-rate housing project with on-site rental BMRs.

NEMA, a market-rate housing project with on-site rental BMRs.

And Lastly, Inclusionary Housing Units within Market-Rate Developments (AKA “Below-Market-Rate” or BMR units)

Some affordable housing units are also built today by market-rate developers through inclusionary housing requirements.  This is one way in which cities are able to get units built for households with incomes between 50% and 120% AMI, for which there are no Federal tax credits or other subsidies, and compel developers to help mitigate the affordable housing needs created by market-rate housing. In 2002, CCHO and other housing advocates got the city to implement “inclusionary zoning,” which requires market-rate developers (of 10 units or more) to either build mixed-income buildings with on-site, price-controlled units, build these below-market-rate units at another site, or pay an “in lieu” fee to the Mayor’s Office of Housing for the development of affordable housing. The inclusionary housing ordinance in San Francisco requires these homes to be affordable to households at 55% AMI for rental apartments, and affordable to households at 90% AMI for ownership homes. The basic concept here is to use the profits from the market-rate units to offset the cost of the affordable, price-controlled units. Because there are no public subsidies to help build this type of “moderate income” housing, the City’s inclusionary program is the only source of units affordable to households making close to the median income. A measure on the ballot this June may make some important changes to inclusionary housing, including increasing the percentage of affordable housing required and adding an additional requirement for middle-income housing for people earning 100% and 120% of AMI.


So, there you have it!  When CCHO advocates for building new “affordable housing” today, we mean price-controlled, permanently affordable housing, generally built by nonprofit housing developers for people below 50% AMI, or inclusionary housing built by market-rate developers for people earning 55%-90% AMI (though this may soon expand to include people earning 100% to 120% AMI).  If you’re feeling overwhelmed by our very long definition, the most important thing to remember is why it matters to have affordable housing, of whatever typology: because it provides stability and quality of living for San Francisco residents, including the low-income, working-class, and moderate/middle-income people who are otherwise permanently shut out of the housing market. This is the housing that isn’t getting built by the market and helps keep our city affordable to all.

Freeing Up the Affordable Housing Gridlock: Process Improvements that Matter

16 02 2016

We weighed in on the debate around process improvements with our op-ed in today’s Examiner (read the original article here).

One way to improve process: make community meetings more meaningful by keeping good records of promises made.  Photo:

One way to improve process: give community meeting requirements real teeth. Photo:

As seems to happen at the turn of every new year, there is once again lots of chatter about “process improvements” and “streamlining” to speed up the timeline for approving developments. For developers, these are usually code words for eliminating community review and public hearings. But there are certainly aspects of The City’s bureaucratic process that should be improved for the benefit of developers, communities and city staff as well. Addressing the lengthy process for approving affordable housing could be one more way to improve our city’s Housing Balance achievements.

First, however, let us put to rest the notion from streamlining boosters that simply increasing the speed of approvals for market-rate development will increase San Francisco’s housing affordability. Hooey. The problem with affordability is fundamentally an issue of stark and rapidly increasing income inequality — San Francisco has one of the greatest degrees of income inequality of any city in the United States. It’s also the result of the harsh and rapidly increasing evictions crisis as rental housing is lost to the speculation market, and the result of the current imbalance between market-rate and below-market-rate housing production.

Simply speeding up approvals will not solve any of these much deeper problems. Furthermore, The City currently has more than 15,000 fully entitled housing units citywide waiting to be built, 87 percent of which are market-rate housing units, as well as another 23,000 units entitled in major project areas like Park Merced and Hunters Point, which indicates the real challenges are more related to financing and construction schedules than to the approval process of a large-city bureaucracy.

When making improvements, we need to make sure we don’t lose sight of what the permitting process is actually for. Process exists to make sure development is done right. An overarching goal of process improvements should be creating both an efficient and effective process — not simply speeding things up or eliminating community involvement.

In 2014, the Council of Community Housing Organization’s advocacy in a city working group, together with a broad set of stakeholders, led to a number of improvements in the permitting process without eliminating public engagement, a good first step in the right direction. What follows are three ideas we offer for the next step in this conversation: truly prioritizing affordable housing within the bureaucracy; standardizing notification, public meetings and design guidelines; and carefully streamlining environmental review for certain projects.

Prioritize Affordable Housing

We already have several city “directives” that prioritize affordable housing — the problem is that everything seems to be a priority for the Planning Department. One staff person should be dedicated solely to shepherding 100 percent affordable developments through both the Planning and Building Permit process, and the environmental review and the queue for Planning Commission hearings should always prioritize affordable developments. Secondary priorities should be assigned depending on the level of affordability, and high-profile projects, whether a Warriors Stadium or the America’s Cup, should not be allowed to bump affordable housing.

Standardize Public Notification, Community Meetings and Design Guidelines

Public Notification: The Planning Department has a dozen different notifications for different projects and permits, none of which make sense to the average person. We should have a universal notification system that simplifies notifications into just a few categories, with a standardized minimum 30-day timeline, and that makes notifications actually understandable and informative. The geographic area of notification should also have some logical relationship to the type and scale of the project.

Community Meetings: Required “pre-application meetings” are ostensibly an opportunity for the developer to hear from folks who have a stake in the project’s outcome and to respond to questions, improving the project from the outset and building a foundation for a constructive relationship with the community. In actuality, this requirement has no teeth. Meetings should be staffed by public officials, and recorded with a publicly-accessible record of issues raised and promises made, with adequate notification if those promises change. A little more time and seriousness building a relationship with the community on the front-end can save a lot of time later on.

Design Guidelines: The Planning Department’s outmoded Residential Design Guidelines, which set citywide expectations for design, are only for single-family and smaller buildings, and moreover are flawed in some ways (especially dealing with rear-yard development, which is now happening at an increasing rate as property values skyrocket). They are long overdue for an overhaul. And missing entirely are guidelines for larger multi-unit developments, a critical need as the City pushes for higher-density development in infill parcels and commercial corridors adjacent to existing housing. Good guidelines, developed with community input, will create much more certainty for both the developer and the community, and help standardize the review of individual projects.

Improve the Environmental Review Process

The environmental review process can reveal important issues and provide the community and City planners with information and a process to understand a project’s “fit” with its location. But there are certain situations that could warrant a reduced environmental review process if they were evaluated according to clear standards that have been vetted by the public. This could look like a checklist, similar to the existing Categorical Exemption checklist, that identifies specific situations that meet a certain threshold, such as affordable housing projects, where lengthy environmental documents or consultants may not be needed.

Those kinds of administrative reforms would be a significant step in freeing up delays in affordable housing development. In the end, process improvements shouldn’t just be about making things faster, but about making all parts of the process efficient and meaningful so they actually do what’s intended — create real engagement with impacted community members and make sure developments are designed and built in the best way for the community, the environment, and The City.

Hope vs. Fear: The Inclusionary Housing Measure

11 02 2016

Check our recent piece in BeyondChron (read the original article here):

The development at 55 Page Street included 17 onsite inclusionary units. Photo: Intracorp Companies.

This development at 55 Page Street includes 17 on-site inclusionary units. Photo: Intracorp Companies.

A big and exciting change is coming down the pike for the City’s inclusionary housing requirement. This June, a measure proposed by Supervisors Kim and Peskin will be on the ballot to take the inclusionary housing policy back out from the City charter and initially double the affordability requirement from 12% to 25% of units in a development project.

In his recent piece for BeyondChron (“What Is Best Way To Build More Affordable Housing“),Tim Colen of the HAC paints a doom-and-gloom picture of the proposed charter amendment, arguing that we are in grave danger of placing too large a burden on market-rate housing, and descending into a spiral of decreased market-rate development, leading to less affordable housing, fewer jobs, and general economic decline for San Francisco.

Though it’s easy to get caught in such a politically-charged fear spiral, the underpinnings of Colen’s argument don’t hold. In fact, this charter amendment is a necessary and timely opportunity to increase affordability in San Francisco.

Colen’s argument relies heavily on the deceptively straightforward supply-and-demand argument that the displacement and affordability crisis simply comes down to not having enough new market-rate housing. Displacement and the affordability crisis have many root causes, including drastic income inequality, unfettered speculation on housing, and the huge imbalance between market-rate and affordable housing constructed in San Francisco (read our previous piece on “Unpacking the ‘Affordable Housing Balance’” here).  To improve affordability, we need to improve that affordable housing balance, and increasing inclusionary housing requirements on private development is one effective means to start doing just that.

1600 Market Street is a 100% affordable off-site BMR project of first-time homeownership units.  Photo: Power Construction, Inc.

1600 Market Street is a 100% affordable off-site BMR project of first-time homeownership units. Photo: Power Construction, Inc.

Also wrong is the idea that any obligation placed on market-rate housing will threaten affordable housing production. In actuality, affordable housing construction in San Francisco is not so dependent on market-rate housing (read the reasons here in our piece “Don’t Believe the Hype”). Modest inclusionary requirements, as are being proposed here, are costs to development, just like construction costs, developer fees, and interest rates, and, just like other costs, get factored into the cost of land. In fact, the proposal simply restores the inclusionary requirement for low-income units back to 15% as developers were building until 2012, and then adds a new middle-income category for 10% of the units, which is much less expensive for developers to provide.    Our current inclusionary housing requirements were reduced by 20% in 2012, and locked in the City’s Charter.  According to the City’s Residential Nexus Analysis, the current inclusionary requirements do not even mitigate the need for new affordable housing that is created by market-rate development (meaning that, at the current level, we can never begin to catch up to the affordable housing need new development is creating, let alone fulfill the pre-existing need).  Whether or not our current inclusionary requirements were appropriate for 2012, they are not appropriate for 2016, when San Francisco’s housing market and affordability crisis look very different.

Market-rate developments should be expected to contribute significantly more affordable housing to San Francisco. And recent measures (like 2014’s Proposition K, calling for a minimum of 33% of new development to be affordable) show voters are on board with this.  It’s beyond time to set a higher bar for private development and ensure that projects are contributing their fair share to housing our City’s resident workforce.

Finally, Colen’s argument distracts from the two huge and necessary changes that this amendment makes: 1) a “good government” provision removing the inclusionary requirement from the Charter, allowing for future legislative amendments when appropriate; and 2) creating affordable housing for a wider range of the City’s working residents, including moderate/middle-income San Franciscans. Inclusionary housing is one of the best tools we have to build housing for moderate/middle-income San Franciscans, as there are no public subsidies available for those income levels.  Instead of pitting low-income and middle-income housing needs against each other, this measure addresses BOTH needs, adding a second tier to the City’s inclusionary housing requirement in the form of 10% of on-site units for middle-income households.  This means rental housing for households making up to 100% Area Median Income (for example, a teacher making $70,000/year, or a postal worker and a restaurant worker with a child making $90,000/year) or first-time homeownership opportunities for households making up to 120% AMI (for example, an electrician making $85,000/year, or a family of four with two teachers together making $120,000/year).

So, there’s no reason to create fear here. Only reason for excitement that we finally have some of the changes to inclusionary housing that San Francisco has long needed.

Density Done Right in the City

9 02 2016

CCHO’s latest op-ed in The Examiner.  Read the original article here.

People protesting the Planning Department's "Density Bonus" Program. Credit: Joe Rivano Barros/Mission Local.

People protesting the Planning Department’s “Density Bonus” Program. Credit: Joe Rivano Barros, Mission Local.

As San Francisco’s affordability crisis continues unabated, there is almost universal consensus that we need to expand housing opportunities that are affordable to working-class residents in all neighborhoods of The City. One way to incentivize new housing and compel developers to provide more onsite affordable units is through altering density limits.

For the last two years, San Francisco’s Planning Department has been developing its own version of a “Density Bonus” program, with tons of staff and consultant expenses and practically no community input until the last few months. However, this program and the approach to altering density it represents, leaves San Franciscans with a zero-sum game: Either accept redevelopment-scale rezoning — which potentially destroys existing homes and community-serving businesses, builds predominantly single-bedroom and studio units and streamlines development through the approvals process — or conversely oppose all development proposals of any kind. It does not have to be this way.

Last week, the Planning Commission faced more than five hours of public testimony about the program, most of it serious and substantive concerns about the negative implications of the legislation. It was a bruising hearing, and the planning staff barely afforded a continuance of a few weeks. The clear message was: We can do better.

We’ve all seen the abandoned gas stations in the avenues and vacant corner lots in Excelsior neighborhoods and one-story buildings facing the wide canyon of Geary Boulevard. Why can’t The City encourage desolate sites to be developed with real homes for working-class families that our neighborhoods so desperately need, as a counter to the current predominant “housing” model of developing unattainable luxury towers along the Bay? As a starting point, we propose several principles for doing density right:

Protecting residents, homes and neighborhood businesses

Any discussion about development must start with preserving what makes our beautiful, walkable, human-scaled and diverse neighborhoods: Protecting our existing residents, our existing housing and our community-serving businesses. At minimum, any program that creates new “incentives” for development should exclusively apply to sites with no existing rental homes — a precious resource — and should clearly be mapped that way. And in our commercial districts or light-industrial areas, any program that needs to relocate small business tenants should provide the same full relocation benefits, within the same general neighborhood area, that our affordable housing developers are already required to provide.

The right amount of ‘incentive’ and the right affordability

The proposed “Density Bonus” program offers developers increased density and additional heights in exchange for more on-site affordable housing. This basic principle is good, but two key questions need to be asked.

First, how much in additional profits will The City give to developers, and how much of that value should be recaptured by the public in terms of increased affordability or other public benefits? The proposed program uses a “one-size-fits-all” approach that doesn’t make sense, and would give some developments huge additional profit for very little additional affordable housing.

An example of this kind of giveaway is what recently happened with projects on Divisadero Street, where development capacity (and profit) more than tripled when The City simply eliminated the density limits (and that was without adding extra floors). Making sure generous incentives are reciprocated by ample affordable housing will require the type of financial due diligence analysis that has yet to be done.

Second, what should our affordability goals be in exchange for developer incentives? What income levels need to be served in order to keep our neighborhoods affordable and diverse? A straightforward approach would figure out how to house our city’s residents earning salaries from minimum wage to teacher salaries, and for a full range of family sizes. Translated into the “Area Median Income” levels, that would be housing from 45 percent to 85 percent AMI for single-income earners, and up to 60 percent to 120 percent AMI for two-income families.

Moreover, the affordability should be relevant to the local incomes within the community. When neighborhoods like the Bayview, Chinatown, Mission and the Western Addition have median household incomes well below the citywide average, how then does The City’s current proposal for all “bonus units” to be priced between 120 percent and 140 percent of the median income level benefit the residents of those communities? The City must be careful in picking who wins from Density Bonus.

Getting real family housing

Increasing density often means increasing heights and diminishing unit sizes, regardless of whether or not small units meet community needs. Instead, we can increase density while still requiring that developers provide predominantly family units and minimum unit square footages, or that building heights be appropriate to cost-effective building types. In any case, decisions about unit types should not just be set by planners, but also in thoughtful consultation with people in those neighborhoods.

Linking community improvements to new housing

As new development is financially incentivized for The City’s neighborhoods through increased density, there should be attention to the transportation infrastructure and other community improvements that may be needed to support that growth. The City’s recently adopted “Transportation Sustainability Fee” is a start, but only applies to large projects, and fees aren’t directed to help with the local transit impacts related to development in particular neighborhoods. To do density right, The City needs to decide how to hold increased development accountable for increasing transit service and other improvements.

Affordable housing not a ‘trade-off’

Finally, in the quest for “density done right,” the role of the public should not be diminished in some kind of “trade-off” for increasing affordable housing requirements. That is another zero-sum game. The process of building housing should also be about building relationships with the local communities that will live with new development for the many years to come. Design matters, ground floor retail matters, and transportation matters. Ensuring that the public has a role in shaping those outcomes and that developers are accountable is not unreasonable. San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods, and any density bonus program should approach it as a landscape of neighborhoods, not just a real estate map for expediting development.

How do we get there?

Few if any of the questions raised here are addressed in the Planning Department’s “Density Bonus” proposal — which is too bad, as The City really does need a viable program to create affordable housing for a mix of working-class households. The Planning Commission seems to still be struggling, and soon the Board of Supervisors will have the opportunity to weigh in. We hope they begin fresh and create a program that starts from a vision of what truly enhances communities.

Good Changes Ahead for Inclusionary Housing

1 02 2016
The ballot measure proposed by Kim and Peskin puts forth much needed changes to the City's inclusionary policy.  Photo: Lea Suzuki, SF Chronicle.

The ballot measure proposed by Kim and Peskin puts forth much needed changes to the City’s inclusionary policy. Photo: Lea Suzuki, SF Chronicle.

A big change is coming down the pike for inclusionary housing (the requirement on market-rate development to build mixed-income housing with below-market-rate units, or contribute funds to the City’s affordable housing development).  Since 2012, San Francisco’s inclusionary housing requirement has been locked up in the City’s charter –meaning that any change to inclusionary has to be done through a charter amendment voted on by SF residents and can’t be made by the Board of Supervisors legislatively.  Really meaning that it is impossible to increase the inclusionary housing requirement to align with the current housing market in San Francisco, which has dramatically changed since 2012.  This June, a measure will be on the ballot to take inclusionary housing policy back out from the charter and at least initially increase the affordability requirement from 12% of units in a development project being affordable for low-income residents, to 15% affordable for low-income AND 10% affordable for middle-income households.

If you aren’t feeling excited about this yet, you should be.  This is a big opportunity to increase affordability in San Francisco.  Our current inclusionary housing requirements were set back in 2012 as part of the compromises around the Prop C Housing Trust Fund, which helped restore affordable housing funds put into limbo when the State government dissolved the City’s redevelopment agency (and which some have tried to portray as a romantic grand bargain – though many of the outcomes of Prop C were good, the reality of some deal points today is less pretty).  Now in 2016, the housing market and affordability in the City look very different and market-rate developments should be expected to contribute significantly more affordable housing to San Francisco.  And recent measures (like 2014’s Proposition K, calling for a minimum of 33% of new development to be affordable) show voters are on board with this.  It’s beyond time to set a higher bar for private development and ensure that projects are contributing their fair share to housing our City’s resident workforce.

Beyond setting that higher bar, this measure does something else important – it acknowledges that a wider and wider range of the City’s everyday people are being shut out of the housing market.  Though low-income and working-class residents still have the greatest need for affordable housing and are the most vulnerable to displacement and exclusion from this great city, increasingly middle-income San Franciscans are finding that they are scrambling to afford to stay in the City, too.  Inclusionary housing is one of the best tools we have to build housing for moderate and middle-income San Franciscans, as local, state, and federal subsidies don’t apply to housing for those income levels.  Instead of pitting low-income and middle-income housing needs against each other, this measure addresses BOTH needs, adding a second tier to the City’s inclusionary housing requirement in the form of 10% of on-site units for middle-income households.  This means rental housing for households making up to 100% Area Median Income (for example, a teacher making $70,000/year, or a postal worker and a restaurant worker with a child making $90,000/year) or first-time homeownership opportunities for households making up to 120% AMI (for example, an electrician making $85,000/year, or a family of four with two teachers making $120,000/year).

So get excited.  We will finally have the change to inclusionary housing that we’ve needed – a measure that recognizes the real obligation private development has to contribute to affordable housing and works to address the ever-widening housing affordability crisis.

CCHO’s 2016 Housing Agenda: Finishing What Was Started

27 01 2016

CCHO 2016 Agenda photo2015 was clearly the Year of Housing in San Francisco. Not a week went by without newspapers and blogs writing about the City’s affordability crisis, or politicians and policymakers making pronouncements. The City issued a record-number of RFPs to begin new affordable developments, purchased new sites, rolled out (and quickly used up initial funding for) a program to acquire small buildings for preservation as permanently affordable housing, and began the first phase of public housing rehab.  The Board of Supervisors passed unprecedented eviction protections and established a new requirement to monitor the City’s affordable housing balance and loss of rent control units. In November, voters passed by overwhelming margins an affordable housing bond and a measure preserving surplus public properties for affordable housing. And the end of the year’s shift at the Board of Supervisors has already yielded new outcomes, as the Board takes new leadership (from both sides of the aisle) in preserving public assets and in protecting tenants.

As we look to 2016, we see that the accomplishments and struggles of 2015 are building blocks to a comprehensive campaign to institute real changes between now and the 2016 Presidential election. The 2016 landscape of legislation and ballot measures is bound to be complicated, with measures on everything from incentives for more market-rate development, to efforts to rein in short-term rental speculation, to new transportation taxes which may or may not result in a more equitable Muni system, to attempts at creating new departments – all of which will have profound effects on the continued viability of maintaining the City as the diverse and welcoming place it has been for generations. As a coalition of community-based affordable housing developers and housing advocates, we will be focusing on five immediate priorities for our 2016 affordable housing agenda, both legislative and electoral: Funding; Sites; Housing Preservation; Tenant Protections; Shaping Planning and Development.

Read the full agenda here.

San Francisco’s Most Massive Housing Construction Era Since Urban Renewal

7 01 2016

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

CNET_2014 constructionThe narrative in the mainstream media and from popular think tank organizations over the last several months is that San Francisco is dramatically “underproducing” housing and that this is the reason for The City’s growing unaffordability. We are evidently expected to believe this assertion just because it is, well, asserted. But this argument raises key questions, which have remained unanswered: Underbuilding relative to what norm? And, even more importantly, underproducing housing for whom?

Fortunately, San Franciscans are willing and able to see through the hype. Here are some facts:

San Francisco is currently experiencing its highest level of housing production since the 1960s’ Urban Renewal. According to the City Planning Department’s Housing Inventory, almost 3,500 units were built in the year 2014, and we can estimate another 3,500 homes were completed in 2015.

The last time we reached such levels of production was between 1963 and 1965, during the heady and controversial days when entire neighborhoods were bulldozed to make way for new construction.

Thousands more units are currently midconstruction, or have been approved and are simply waiting for developers to start construction. According to the City Planning Department’s “Pipeline” data as of October 2015, there are almost 9,000 units of housing in various stages of construction and another 4,300 fully approved homes that have yet to begin construction. (This does not include the 23,000 units approved in the huge Hunters Point Shipyard, Treasure Island and Park Merced projects, which will be built in the coming years).

These numbers defy the notion that housing production has been at the anemic pace that the “build, build, build” boosters would like us to believe.

That said, our current challenge is to produce new homes that serve San Franciscans as the population of The City continues to grow. This is not just about the volume of construction, but about building homes that are actually affordable at the full range of income levels for The City’s residents.

While some may argue that 3,500 new housing units per year is “not enough,” the truly important question is: Who can afford those homes?

Here are some more facts:

More than half of what we are building should be affordable housing to keep up with job growth. According to the San Francisco General Plan Housing Element, about 4,100 total homes should be constructed annually to fully meet The City’s growing population needs at all income levels. Of that total, 57 percent of new homes (about 2,330 units per year) should be affordable to low- and moderate-income San Franciscans (aka, below market-rate).

San Francisco has a dramatic imbalance between market-rate housing and affordable housing production. According to the City Planning Department’s Housing Balance Report released in September 2015, the citywide production of net new affordable housing over the 10-year period between 2005 and 2015 was only 15 percent. Looking at the City Planning Department’s Development Dashboard for 2015, only 18 percent of the new homes built were affordable to low-, moderate- and middle-income households. The other 82 percent of units constructed were market-rate housing.

And the future looks the same: Of the already-approved projects yet to be constructed, 87 percent of the housing is market-rate (13,179 units).

Those are sobering numbers in contrast to San Francisco’s official housing policy, which calls for more than half of all new construction to be affordable for a wide range of households.

Those who claim we are simply “underbuilding” housing are off the mark. Though our current totals of housing production are at a historical high point, we are effectively overbuilding expensive market-rate housing in proportion to affordable homes for low-, moderate- and middle-income San Franciscans. It’s more about balance than totals, and San Francisco today is dramatically out of balance in producing affordable housing.

Let’s solve that problem first and foremost, and dispense with the false assertions about underproduction.


Photo Credit: Seth Rosenblatt, CNET.

San Francisco’s Affordability Crisis Has Hit the Big Time

5 01 2016

48 Hills CASA playWe had to share this This American Life piece, featuring writer Jon Mooallem on the timely musical recently performed by his daughter’s afterschool program, CASA, about San Francisco’s eviction and affordability crisis.  Yes, that’s right.  A children’s afterschool program did an original musical about the housing crisis.  Add that to the list of “only in San Francisco.”

But beyond the amazing clips of small children trying to hit impossible notes and fantastically thinly veiled references like “Ron Scraper,” this piece and this musical are important because they get to the heart of the housing crisis better than some of our current policy wonks and city leaders.

Though it’s tempting, and important, to acknowledge the role that the influx of tech workers has had on the housing market, the real enemy identified in the play?  Greed and speculation.  If we work from the perspective of needing to regulate that first and foremost, like we attempted with Prop G in 2014 and Prop F this past November, we could slow the displacement and gentrification that are rapidly destroying our communities and are undermining the gains we make building new affordable housing.

Building more affordable housing is only one part of the solution to the housing crisis.  Fighting greed and speculation, like the kids of CASA advocate, is the other.


Photo credit: 48 Hills.

Inclusionary Housing Is for Mixed-Income Areas

9 12 2015

CCHO’s latest op-ed in The Examiner.  Read the original article here.

NEMA built its inclusionary units, affordable to renters earning 55% AMI and below, on-site.  Photo credit: Sadie S., Yelp.

NEMA built its inclusionary units, affordable to renters earning 55% AMI and below, on-site. Photo credit: Sadie S., Yelp.

Pro-development boosters are proposing to upend The City’s inclusionary housing policy by allowing market-rate developers to pick and choose winners and losers in deciding which neighborhoods get affordable housing.

In a bold move, these boosters have proposed the Planning Commission on Thursday eliminate the current requirement that so-called “off-site” below-market-rate housing must be built within one mile of the market-rate project. This is an allowed option for developers if the affordable units aren’t actually provided within the market-rate project itself, which is almost always the preference of neighborhood residents who absorb the impact of development. The developers’ proposal would allow them to build those affordable units in any neighborhood, irrespective of where the market-rate project is built.

This proposal is the complete inverse of the long-standing policy of inclusionary housing, which is that it’s a local mitigation to soften the effects of market-rate development on the community in which it’s built. An inclusionary housing policy, as the name suggests, is fundamentally about creating and maintaining inclusive, mixed-income housing and communities. Without question, this was the impetus for crafting The City’s inclusionary law in 2002, under the leadership of then-Supervisor Mark Leno, as those of us who were involved in that effort will recall.

Over the years, the U.S. Supreme Court has heard numerous cases recognizing “exclusionary zoning” as land use policies that had the effect of maintaining racially and economically exclusive cities and neighborhoods. Cities began to develop “inclusionary zoning” as a way to fight racial segregation, requiring that development, to the extent legally allowable, build mixed-income economically inclusive developments.

The City’s last legal “nexus study,” completed in 2007 (an update is about to be published), supported a maximum of 25 percent on-site inclusionary units for rentals and 30 percent for condos, and 34 percent off-site units for rentals and 43 percent for condos. But aside from the numbers, the important point here is that an inclusionary housing policy is not only a local mitigation for development but also about pushing back against segregated communities.

Disturbingly, the developer boosters’ proposal takes the view that our city’s inclusionary housing requirement is simply a “tool” for funding affordable housing production rather than a policy that directly mitigates the impacts of private development on communities where development happens, not simply wherever developers want it to happen.

At its worst, the developer proposal promises a culture of poaching between The City’s neighborhoods, with their proposal for an off-site geography “waiver” being used by developers to pit neighborhoods against each other for affordable housing. Under this scheme, the developer of a market rate project in the Castro/Upper Market would be allowed to turn its back on that local community and instead build an affordable housing project in the South of Market. The developer of a market-rate project in the Sunset would be allowed to “mitigate” the effects of that development by building affordable housing in the Western Addition. And the developer of a market-rate project in the Mission would be allowed to build an off-site affordable housing project in the Bayview. And so on.

With the Planning Department’s latest Housing Balance Report showing that seven of The City’s 11 supervisorial districts are projected to have zero affordable housing production in the near-term pipeline, this prospect of neighborhood-versus-neighborhood poaching could only further preclude getting a reasonable balance of below-market housing across The City’s neighborhoods. Some may see this resulting landscape of competing fiefdoms as “more effective” from a developers’ vantage point. But for communities on the ground, it does nothing but create intracity competition and uncertainty. And as policy, it would mean that we as a city are supportive of a policy that directs the high-end luxury housing to some exclusive neighborhoods and sends the housing affordable to working- and middle-class people to poorer communities (i.e., where land might cost a little less).

The Mayor’s Office of Housing and the Planning Department have proposed a modest expansion of the current one mile geography standard — to allow off-site inclusionary projects to be within 1¼ mile or within the same neighborhood as the market-rate project. Our group, the Council of Community Housing Organizations, would prefer truly rationalizing the allowed “off-site BMRs” geography to be only within the same actual neighborhood (and a quarter-mile buffer), but we support The City’s proposal as a reasonable middle ground.

Any further dilution of The City’s inclusionary policy is simply a step back to the old days of zoning for exclusionary neighborhoods.

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).