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The ‘affordable housing balance’ just keeps getting worse

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The third “Housing Balance Report” from the City Planning Department was quietly released last week, coincidentally one day before April Fool’s Day and one week before a Planning Commission hearing today. And the punchline is … wait for it … the citywide housing balance of net new affordable housing from 2006 through 2015 is down to 13 percent. The last report in September had it at 15 percent, the July report before that was at 16 percent. The trend line is pretty clear. Overheated real estate development cycle, declining percentage of affordable housing.

And what is being built currently? Wait for it … only 14 percent of all new development now under construction or with active building permits will be affordable to anyone earning less than 120 percent of median income (a San Franciscan earning less than $85,000 per year). And for most market-rate housing today, you have to earn much, much more than $85,000. This bleak news comes at a time while San Francisco is experiencing one of its worst gentrification cycles in history.

Looking even further ahead to the next round of development — based on the entitlement “pipeline” of projects, the Housing Balance Report shows a whopping 15 percent affordable housing (the report does note that this number may increase if more developers commit to provide on-site inclusionary units in their projects).

And the problem is not just about production — these Housing Balance Report numbers make clear how the loss of protected rental units completely undermines The City’s efforts to build more affordable housing. More than 4,100 housing units have been removed from the affordable housing supply over the last ten years through condo conversions, demolitions, owner move-in evictions, Ellis Act evictions and other means (not including tenant “buyouts” which are dramatically on the rise as well). Across The City there is a ratio of three existing units lost for every four new affordable units produced. At a more local level, the affordable housing balance is actually negative in nine out of the 15 neighborhood-level “planning districts”! If the upward trend of evictions and lost protected rental units continues, that already-paltry 15 percent projected housing balance may be eroded even further.

Is there any wonder why we have a housing affordability crisis in San Francisco?
Across The City there is a great need to correct that imbalance of low and moderate/middle income housing for San Franciscans compared to the rate of market-rate housing production. And we are far behind the goal of minimum 33 percent affordable housing set by the voters in Proposition K back in 2014 and way, way, way behind the actual need of 57 percent affordable housing per The City’s General Plan Housing Element, based on job growth projections across the income spectrum.

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There are a lot of numbers thrown around these days about housing goals and aspirations of an affordable city for all. But the numbers here are a reality check, and they are sobering. All is clearly not well in the housing “market.” Here in this Housing Balance Report authored by the Planning Department we have the real story. This is from The City’s own building permit data, and The City’s own planning pipeline data, and The City’s own rent board data. It doesn’t get more truthful than this. Thirteen percent affordable and dropping! We as a city have a real job to climb back out of this hole.

Peter Cohen and Fernando Martí are co-directors of the Council of Community Housing Organizations.



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