"New Report Highlights SF Shortfall in Below-Market-Rate Housing"

SF Examiner, August 25, 2014

San Francisco may be a leader in California when it comes to building below-market-rate housing, but it is not measuring up when it comes to making sure there is housing that the poorest residents can afford.

“The housing market has failed to meet the needs of an entire segment of San Francisco County’s population,” noted a report released last week by the California Housing Partnership, a San Francisco nonprofit that focuses on housing issues.

For anyone paying attention to The City’s astronomical rents, middle-class exodus and political reaction, news that the poorest San Franciscans are not being served by the market is no surprise.

But putting an exact number to the shortfall of housing units affordable to people who actually call San Francisco home serves as a reminder of how the market alone will not solve the housing crisis, no matter how many units are built in this current boom, said Peter Cohen of the San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations.

The City is short about 40,000 units when it comes to truly affordable housing for the poorest, which means housing that equals a third of household income, according to the study. Nearly all of those people may be housed, but so much of their income goes to paying rents that they may be forced to skimp on groceries, doctor’s visits and other essential needs, said Matt Schwartz, president of the California Housing Partnership.

Mayor Ed Lee’s pledge to build or resuscitate 30,000 housing units in the next six years – with a third of them below market rate – is just one of the most publicized steps city leaders have taken recently to change the rental market’s landscape.

But this week’s new housing market study points out the limitations of such mostly market drive efforts, but also The City’s own economic limitations.

“It’s about resources,” Olsen Lee, who heads the Mayor’s Office of Housing, said in reference to the financial limits that exist, even in a city like San Francisco. “We can do more because there’s a political will to do more.”

The City will not be able to have the 40,000 units mentioned in the study, but it is committed to 10,000, said Lee.

“This is a problem we’re not going to solve in the next 10 years,” he said.

But concentrating solely on The City’s lack of planning for the population boom underway, and the subsequent rush for housing, would ignore the limits San Francisco faces with so little state and federal aid, noted the study.

State and federal dollars once set aside to help cities pay for low- and moderate-income housing has dried up in recent years, according to the report.

That has been the case for decades when it comes to the federal government, but state funding had until recently pumped tens of millions into San Francisco to meet this need, said Schwartz. The destruction of the state’s redevelopment agencies in 2012 and the depletion of state housing bonds has left a $100 million financial hole in San Francisco’s below-market-rate housing efforts, said Schwartz.

Despite criticisms of city efforts to deal with the problem, Schwartz said San Francisco leads the state when it comes to addressing the housing crisis.

“We have to push the admin past the point where they think they can be on both sides of this argument simultaneously,” said Cohen. “The market is failing and the market is broken.”

Still, with no solution emanating from Sacramento or Washington, D.C., Cohen said the country’s most liberal city must be an example.

Low income housing

59 percent of low income families who spend more than half their income on rents

81 percent of low income families spend 30 percent of their income on rents

40,845 shortfall in below market rate housing units affordable to the poor in San Francisco

52,000 people who live in households paying 50 percent or more of their income to rent

Source: California Housing Partnership