“Mayor Lee Plans $250 Million Housing Bond for November Ballot”
Mayor Ed Lee will put a $250 million affordable housing bond on the November ballot, a key part of his plan to build 30,000 housing units before 2020.
The bond, which needs 66.6 percent of the votes to pass, would be spent on a combination of deeply affordable rental housing, expansion and improvement of existing public housing, as well as residential development that targets middle-class San Franciscans priced out of an unprecedented market in which the median home sells for more than $1 million.
The $250 million is less than some affordable housing advocates wanted, but it represents the maximum-size bond the city can float without raising property tax rates under its 10-year capital plan, the mayor said. Polling shows that support for an affordable housing bond is close to 75 percent if it doesn’t require a tax hike, but drops below 60 percent if taxes have to be raised.
“We can do $250 (million) without raising anybody’s taxes,” Lee said. “To get to two-thirds you don’t want any challenges. You don’t want to give people a reason to vote no.”
On Wednesday Lee convened a group to start hammering out the details of exactly how the bond money would be spent.
The group included market rate developers, affordable housing builders, downtown business representatives, neighborhood advocates and construction industry union leaders.
Lee discussed the bond at the new 75-unit Broadway-Sansome Family Housing complex on the eastern edge of North Beach, a project that took seven years to finance.
“That is too long,” he said. “This is a good example of why we need the bond. If you wait for tax credits and state and federal loans, it can take seven years.”
Some housing advocates argued that the mayor should wait a year to time the bond so that it would coincide with a presidential election, which generally draws a larger and more liberal electorate.
Political consultant David Latterman said, “It’s a tough year — it’s going to be a relatively low turnout, and low turnout means a more conservative turnout.
“This is going to be a tough year for almost any bond, but if they can say no one’s taxes are going to be raised, that is different,” Latterman said. “A lot of time when bonds fail it’s not the issue itself — its just fiscal conservatism. It’s just 'I don’t want taxes to go up.’”
Latterman said the bond will have to address a range of income levels to pass: If it’s slanted too heavily toward deeply affordable housing, it could alienate more conservative voters on the west side of town.
If it is skewed too far toward middle-income residents, it runs the risk of turning off some affordable housing advocacy groups and more liberal voters. That’s what Lee’s advisory group is working out.
“There is a political sweet spot they are going to have to find,” he said. “I’m sure it’s there. They just have to find it.”
“The scale of the affordable housing crisis and the need for funding to address it over the next five years is much greater than $250 million — more like twice that amount,” he said. “We appreciate the mayor’s commitment to a bond measure, and we urge him to push as far as possible.”
Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the urban think tank SPUR, said, “This is not going to fix everything, but it’s an important tool to move forward on. I think the mayor is going as big as he can go. It’s a very ambitious thing.”