"SF Group's Housing Agenda Calls for More Below-Market-Rate Units, Protections"

SF Examiner, February 5, 2014

Another ambitious blueprint to address housing in San Francisco has come through the pipeline, this time courtesy of the San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations.

The plan comes on the heels of Mayor Ed Lee’s own vision for a crisis that affects all San Franciscans, as laid out in his mid-January State of the City speech.

In many details, the 2014 Balanced Housing Agenda echoes Lee’s proposals to guarantee that people at the bottom of the income ladder have a place to live. But in other ways, it goes much further.

The agenda includes a tax on corporate suites and Airbnb to pay for more housing. It calls for passing anti-speculation legislation, increased transit fees on tech firms and developers, and a hike in fees for builders who opt out of on-site below-market-rate units. And perhaps most crucially, while the plan agrees that more housing needs to be built, it is wary of a policy shift away from the neediest.

“To achieve this, we need to commit City resources and public sites to the production of new low-income housing, rebuild our public housing with the needed resources, work to take our most at-risk rent-controlled stock out of the speculative market, make sure ‘the market’ meets its obligations to moderate-income residents by building inclusive mixed-income communities, and ensure complete neighborhood infrastructure and a bus system that works for all,” notes the agenda.

Like the mayor’s plan, it calls for building housing on under-utilized city-owned land. But it also wants to make sure that any city land used should be prioritized for below-market-rate units.

“What we don’t what to end up happening,” said the council’s co-director, Peter Cohen, is using city land as a “subsidy for middle-income housing.”

The Mayor’s Office has said such projects could include a mix of incomes.

Also, like the mayor’s plan, the agenda calls for mixed-income developments to be prioritized to accelerate production, but additionally it calls for a “dedicated ombudsman” to help each project through the approval process.

Another plank of the agenda calls on officials to make sure the housing trust fund, Proposition C, goes to building new below-market-rate housing and not to fix public housing, which it says The City should find additional funds to cover.

The agenda also wants San Francisco to raise new revenue for housing through an extension of the hotel tax to the likes of Airbnb and corporate suites.

The agenda backs the mayor’s plans to implement a 5-year-old program that gives no-interest loans to nonprofits to buy small buildings and prevent condo conversions, Ellis Act evictions and demolition that leads to speculation.

It also wants to define tenancy-in-commons, or TICs, in the planning code to keep track of them and further understand how they are impacting The City.

Legislation should be passed, contends the agenda, to give tenants in small buildings for sale a “first right” to buy the building, and a waiting period to allow them to secure financing.

Also, it advocates an anti-speculation transfer tax to discourage evictions and house- flipping.

The document agrees that secondary units should be increased — both Supervisor Scott Wiener and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu have such legislation pending — but as rent-controlled units with restrictions on condo conversions.

Also, businesses should chip in to pay for the housing of their increasing workforce through down-payment assistance loans.

To make sure that any new housing is served by transit, the mayor should update the Transit Impact Development Fee program by making sure new tech firms and developers pay their way.

The agenda also calls for the implementation of a development-tracking system showing levels of affordability, which is already an ordinance but is not in place.

Finally, it wants a guarantee that a third of all new housing production is targeted to people making below 120 percent of median area income.

On Tuesday, the Mayor’s Office had no comment on the agenda.

Highlights of 2014 Balanced Housing Agenda

1. Use public sites for low-cost housing only

2. Rebuild public housing but take no funds from below-market-rate construction

3. Reclaim rent-controlled buildings from speculators

4. Make the market build mixed-income communities

5. Ensure equity in transit and neighborhood services to expand housing locations

6. Guarantee balanced housing development