“The Giants Are Playing a Numbers Game with Affordable Housing”
MAY 12, 2015 — We love our baseball team, but we don’t like the way the Giants are playing games with last November’s Proposition K, the Housing Balance Measure.
Last week, the Giants publicly announced plans for developing a set of highrise luxury towers on a parking lot across from AT&T Park, on land that is leased from the Port of San Francisco. The plan is evidently queued up to go to the ballot in November for voter approval of a height increase from its current open space designation to allow development up to 280 feet in height, making the argument that it will result in affordable housing.
On the surface it looks to “match Mayor Ed Lee’s affordable housing goals,” according to the Chronicle, as a third of the 1,500 new units built will reportedly be “affordable housing.”
That may sound good – but in reality the Giants are changing up the goalposts (or more apropos, they’re moving the baselines) on the housing standards of Proposition K’s 33% affordable goals.
Prop. K sets specific goals for achieving an “affordable housing balance” of low income, moderate income and middle income housing and market-rate housing production:
The measure calls for a minimum 33% affordable housing defined for low-income households up to 60% of the City’s median income (or $58,000 annual income for a family of three) and moderate/middle income households up to 120% of the median (about $110,000 annual income).
On top of this 33%, Prop K calls for an additional 17% of housing affordable for middle income households above $110,000 and up to $150,000 annual income.
Together that’s a 50% affordable housing goal. It’s a sensible one-to-one ratio of price-restricted housing units to match the number of market-rate (aka “unaffordable” units) produced by private development. And importantly, it’s a “both/and” outcome that addresses affordable housing needs for a wide range of low, moderate, and middle-income households, rather than the divisive tactic of pitting the classes against each other over a fixed-size pie.
The mandates of Prop. K have come to set a standard for responsible development in the city, with big developments like Pier 70 committing to providing 30% affordable housing consistent with Prop K’s low- and moderate-income definitions.
The Giants are positioning their project in the public eye as following suit, but unfortunately are using Prop K’s 33% like it’s a numbers game, trading out low- and moderate-income housing and replacing it with housing targeted at higher incomes. We hear rumors that a big chunk of their “third affordable housing” will be geared above 120% of the median income — in other words above Prop K’s 33% goal. Rather than a both/and proposal consistent with the full 50% affordability range of Prop K, the Giants appear to have put up an either/or scenario.
Though middle-income San Franciscans are clearly being affected by this affordability crisis, pitting lower-income and higher-income San Franciscans against each other along class lines is wrong. That’s why Prop K. took a both/and approach, calling for 50% of the units to include middle-class as well as low- and moderate-income units.
We welcome, for example, the Giants’ proposal to add teacher housing to the mix – it’s high time we heard a developer say this. Teachers in San Francisco, even tenured teachers, earn below 90% of the City’s median income – exactly in Prop K’s moderate-income bracket, and what the City’s inclusionary housing program asks developers to provide.
But above that, the real estate development “market” has not been building any new family-sized units for what Prop K calls middle-income households with, for example, two teacher incomes.
So adding that layer of affordable housing to the Giants housing proposal is a helpful move. But we are confident the teachers union sees this is as additive to low- and moderate-income housing, not as an alternative, and it would be crass for the Giants or city hall to use the educator community as a wedge on this issue.
Let’s not forget that all of this development is happening on public land leased from the Port. If we can’t expect even the modest low-, moderate-, and middle-income housing goals of Prop K (which are significantly lower than the optimal City Housing Element targets for affordable housing) to be implemented on publicly-owned land, how can we expect the city to make real the voter’s mandate anywhere?
The income targeting for affordable housing is not a game—low- and moderate-income housing up to 120% of the median income is not interchangeable with “middle-income” housing priced above that level. If the city is to truly address this crisis, we must demand that developers, including our beloved Giants if they are going to enter the development game, build housing for both/and the low-income, moderate-income and middle-income workers of San Francisco as Prop K calls for. The Giants can – and should – do better for their city.
Peter Cohen and Fernando Marti are codirectors of the Council of Community Housing Organizations