“Proposal Seeks to Shake Up How SF’s Affordable Housing Is Priced”
Two competing affordable housing philosophies go head-to-head this week in San Francisco City Hall. One intends to keep middle-class families in a city that’s become increasingly white collar. The other seeks to build more affordable housing for the poor.
Now an advocacy group called the Council of Community Housing Organizations is throwing in an idea that complicates both proposals and the negotiations to reach a consensus.
The group is pushing San Francisco supervisors to change the way that affordable housing is priced, basing it on the market rate for the surrounding neighborhood, rather than the citywide median income. Rents for affordable units would go down in places like Visitacion Valley and the Bayview, and stay about the same in upscale areas like Sea Cliff.
“Right now it’s just flat-priced,” said Peter Cohen, the council’s co-director. “So you have these ‘affordable’ units that are so far above what’s affordable for the neighborhood, they’re essentially being built for outsiders. That’s a recipe for gentrification.”
Cohen and his allies want to cap rents and sale prices for affordable units that are included in new market rate projects, setting the maximum rent for those units at 20 percent below average for the neighborhood, or 120 percent of the city’s median income — whichever is lower.
The group has support from many people in the affordable housing world, including Planning Commissioner Myrna Melgar and Supervisors Jane Kim and Aaron Peskin, who represent the progressive wing of the board.
But opponents say the proposal would stymie development in the areas that need it most and potentially lead to economic segregation.
“If we say that one neighborhood is only for one income level or another — whether it’s high or low — then we will create homogenous socioeconomic enclaves,” said Todd David, the executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, a build-it group that’s known, in political circles, as the archnemesis of Cohen’s council.
David calls the idea a “scorched earth” policy that could make it impossible for market-rate projects to get financing.
“It costs the same to build in Hunters Point as in Pacific Heights,” said developer Oz Erickson, who also opposes the idea. “And the only way to pay for those costs is through rents.”
But Cohen and his co-director, Fernando Marti, are getting some traction in City Hall, where they have spent the week meeting with supervisors. Peskin has cottoned to their idea of recalibrating affordability levels by neighborhood and turned it into a bargaining chip in his and Kim’s negotiations with moderate Supervisors London Breed, Katy Tang and Ahsha Safaí.
Peskin and Kim are proposing an affordable housing policy that would make 24 percent of units in all new market-rate projects be affordable, and skew it to lower-income families. A competing ordinance by Supervisors Breed, Safaí and Tang would require 18 percent affordable units in new developments, targeted at middle-income populations.
Peskin recently ordered a budget and legislative analyst’s report to illustrate the income inequality in the city and provide fuel for the idea that affordability needs to be readjusted by neighborhood. The report showed stark divisions: The median income for households on Potrero Hill is $153,658 — more than three times the median household income of $46,552 a year in Lakeshore.
The two sides are to face off Monday afternoon before the board’s Land Use Committee, with the resulting legislation then going to the Board of Supervisors.
Waiting on the sidelines are people who could be profoundly affected by the legislation. Among them is Jacklyn Laquindanum, a mother of two who manages the office of an affordable housing developer in the Bayview.
Raised in the Sunset, Laquindanum became homeless after an eviction last year and currently lives with her boyfriend and children in a one-bedroom in-law in Daly City near the Cow Palace. She’s on six waiting lists for affordable housing developments in San Francisco.
“It’s like I’m doing the same process over and over again, and not getting anywhere,” she said.
On the other side are working families who want to move up the ladder but stay in the city, Breed said.
“A lot of these folks in low-income neighborhoods — many of whom are people I grew up with — they’re ready to get to the next level,” she said. “They have good jobs working for the city or the feds, and they don’t want to get priced out to Vallejo or Antioch.”