In the midst of the worst housing crisis in our city’s history, progressive housing advocates are developing innovative ways to expand affordable housing options for low- and middle-income San Franciscans — from a strengthened inclusionary housing requirement that recaptures for the public good the windfall profits of this wild real estate market, to new revenue sources for acquiring at-risk rent-controlled buildings to preserve them as permanently affordable housing. Unfortunately, at the same time, the San Francisco Realtors are pushing two misguided and poorly crafted measures that threaten to reverse our hard-fought progress: Propositions P and U on the November ballot.
One claims it will “lower the costs” of building affordable housing. The other says it will create more affordable housing for “middle-class families.”
But don’t be fooled. These propositions by the Realtors don’t create a single new unit of affordable housing. They will, however, take affordable housing options away from The City’s families who are most at risk, stall the creation of new housing and lower the quality of projects that are built. They are developer and real estate giveaways, plain and simple, that will hurt everyday San Franciscans.
Prop. P: Less affordable housing, more shoddy housing
The Realtors’ Prop. P claims to lower the cost of building affordable housing by requiring The City’s housing department to collect three proposals for any affordable housing project before being able to move forward. In reality, Prop. P is a “solution” looking for a problem that doesn’t exist, and in reality will only hamstring The City at a time when we cannot afford to waste a single day from building urgently needed affordable housing. In fact, The City already has a proven competitive bidding process that takes into account cost, experience, quality of design and the extent to which the proposal fits community needs. Only when the best developer chosen by The City for the job has designed the right project, does it go out for bids from three or more building contractors. The result has been thousands of high-quality homes that enhance vibrant, healthy neighborhoods.
Under Prop. P, The City will be forced to go the low road, taking any proposals regardless of their quality and potentially ending up with shoddy “affordable” housing. It could pave the way for big, out-of-town and private developers to profit from building on our city’s public land. We already have plenty of experience with “low-cost” housing — concrete blocks of low-quality housing built on the cheap in past decades. San Francisco doesn’t need more shoddy housing that we have to fix later, especially when our existing process results in high-quality, well-constructed homes. This is a dangerous step backwards for affordable housing.
This San Francisco Realtors’ measure also has the potential to stop many affordable homes from being built in the first place — particularly those that serve homeless families, transitional-age youth, seniors and veterans. In their analysis of the measure, the Mayor’s Office of Housing said Prop. P could “indefinitely stall a development opportunity or delay much-needed affordable housing.”
Prop. P is dangerous ballot-box planning that removes The City’s ability to continue making thoughtful and timely decisions, and will end up with less affordable housing for San Francisco.
Prop. U: Developer give-away that divides San Franciscans
Last June, voters overwhelmingly supported Proposition C, the increase to The City’s affordable housing requirement on private developers. San Franciscans understand that developers, in this strong market, can and should do more to create “inclusionary” housing in their new projects. They also voted to dedicate, for the first time, affordable housing for middle-income as well as low-income San Franciscans. Sixty-eight percent of San Francisco voters supported Prop. C in the June 2016 election.
The Realtors’ Prop. U would undo what voters just approved in June, while giving real estate developers huge windfall profits. It does this in a crafty way by eliminating The City’s longstanding requirement that developers make the inclusionary housing in their buildings affordable to low-income families. Instead, it allows them to market the “affordable” units at double the current rent levels.
In place of the current mixed-income system that serves both low- and middle-income families, Prop. U creates a one-tier system that forces those families to compete against each other for the same limited supply of housing.
And in what is perhaps the most devious aspect of the Realtors’ measure, Prop. U would apply retroactively to more than 800 existing affordable housing units, setting the stage for increases in evictions and allowing landlords to double the rents on vacated units.
San Francisco has worked long and hard to create a fair process for inclusionary housing — one that sets aside units in private market development for both low- and middle-income households. In the name of real estate profits, Prop. U takes away low-income housing, creates incentives for eviction and doesn’t add a single unit of new affordable housing. And it will divide San Franciscans, pitting middle-income families against low-income families.
Propositions P and U, put on the ballot by the San Francisco Realtors, are bad for San Francisco families and will turn back the progress we are making to keep The City affordable and fight real estate speculation. That’s why are part of a broad coalition of affordable housing, labor and business and community leaders, including the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, the San Francisco Neighborhood Network, the United Educators of San Francisco, Senior and Disability Action and many, many others urging you to oppose P and U on Nov. 8.
Peter Cohen and Fernando Marti are co-directors of San Francisco’s Council of Community Housing Organizations.