San Francisco voters in the upcoming election will have the chance to weigh in on a handful of efforts that encourage both the construction and preservation of thousands of homes, though how to go about such efforts is at the core of most measures.
Initiatives that range from green-lighting the creation of thousands of homes to temporarily pulling the plug on certain developments to more strictly regulating short-term rentals are on the Nov. 3 ballot, offering voters a variety of issues that can impact The City’s housing crisis.
“Obviously one of the largest challenges we have is housing and the price of housing,” Mayor Ed Lee said Wednesday at a panel on regionalism in a global economy. “As we put forth a very aggressive jobs agenda … the demand for housing and for [residents to live] close to where they work has caused us to have an aggressive approach to housing.”
The housing crisis has ignited feelings of “rage and fear and loss and anxiety” among residents, said Don Falk, chief executive officer of the nonprofit developer Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp., explaining why there are numerous housing-related ballot measures on the ballot.
Falk also noted that such measures do not come as a surprise to housing activists.
“In the context of the crisis we’re having, the idea that there are [four] ballot measures related to [housing], it doesn’t strike anybody as odd,” he said. “It seems like an appropriate, if not too-late response.”
The initiatives include Proposition A, a $310 million housing bond; Proposition D, a height-limit increase along the waterfront that would enable a major mixed-use development spearheaded by the San Francisco Giants to move forward; Proposition F to implement stricter controls for short-term rentals; and Proposition I to temporarily halt market-rate development in the Mission.
While Propositions A and D are widely supported, the latter two initiatives constitute the pleas of residents to preserve below-market-rate housing after similar efforts failed at the Board of Supervisors earlier this year.
“It really is David and Goliath struggles,” said Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee. “We’re talking about big private developers and Airbnb on one side and neighborhood activists and communities, such as the Mission, fighting back.”
Spearheaded by Mayor Ed Lee and unanimously supported by the Board of Supervisors, Proposition A would authorize a $310 million housing bond aimed to construct and preserve low- and middle-income homes, The City’s largest ever affordable housing bond.
“Our city’s housing crisis is decades in the making, but passing this historic bond this November is one of the greatest single steps we can take towards creating more affordable housing for the future,” Lee said in a statement in July.
The bond includes some $80 million to repair and reconstruct public housing, and $100 million to develop and preserve housing for low-income residents. The new housing is for households that earn up to 60 percent of the area median income, while the preservation includes homes for households that earn up to 80 percent of the AMI.
There is also $50 million to develop low-income housing in the Mission district, a chunk of money added to the bond in June after the Board of Supervisors failed to pass a temporary moratorium on market-rate housing in the Mission.
When announcing the additional $50 million for site acquisition and housing in the Mission, the mayor emphasized the need to stabilize the neighborhood.
Money in the bond will also go toward funding a middle-income rental program, as well as homeownership down payment assistance opportunities for educators and middle-income households, said Kate Hartley, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.
The bond will not raise property taxes.
Eight years in the making, plans for a mixed-use development on 28 acres of waterfront property just south of AT&T Park currently used as a parking lot were revealed earlier this year and include 1,500 new rental apartments, 40 percent of which will be offered at below-market-rate.
The Mission Rock development, proposed by the Giants, must go before voters because of Proposition B, an initiative passed in June 2014 that calls for voter approval of waterfront height-limit increases.
November’s Proposition D would increase the height limits to 90 to 190 feet for office and retail uses, and 120 to 240 feet for rental housing on up to 10 acres of the space.
The project also includes eight acres of open space and rehabbing historic Pier 48 to become the expanded home for Anchor Brewing. Numerous politicians, including Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Mayor Ed Lee support the measure.
“It’s a project that is designed to appeal to everyone,” said Jack Bair, general counsel for the Giants.
Former Mayor Art Agnos, a proponent of Prop. B, has also endorsed the Mission Rock initiative.
“I’ve been in this city as a public official in one capacity or another for almost 47 years,” Agnos said. “This is the best project in that history.”
But Jon Golinger, co-chair of No Wall on the Waterfront that advocated for Prop. B, has argued the buildings proposed for the Giants’ development are too tall.
“The vast majority of the buildings are still either offices or luxury housing, and five of the buildings would be taller than 8 Washington,” Golinger previously said in reference to a contentious luxury condominium complex development along The Embarcadero waterfront that voters ultimately nixed in 2013.
“If 8 Washington was too big for the waterfront, then five 8 Washingtons are far too big for the waterfront.”
Of the various housing-related measures, perhaps the most contentious is Proposition F, which would impose stricter laws on short-term rentals amid a debate over the industry’s impacts on evictions and the housing stock.
After San Francisco legalized short-term rentals in February, the issue has remained on the political forefront as its initial implementation was deemed a failure, and numerous efforts have since sought to better regulate the practice.
Mayor Ed Lee in June announced the creation of Office of Short-Term Rental Administration and Enforcement to help The City streamline applications for its short-term rental registry and better coordinate complaints and enforcement.
Last week, the office’s director of one month, Kevin Guy, said the office’s enforcement is complaint driven. Of 177 complaints, which date back to Feb. 1, 50 were investigated and closed and the remaining 127 remain under investigation.
Additionally, Prop F supporters note that one of the glaring issues with the current law is the lack of registration. Thousands of hosts have listings on short-term rental sites, but only 667 have officially registered with The City as required. Of 866 applications submitted, 190 were rejected and 19 are currently pending review.
Proponents of Prop. F believe the measure would restore thousands of rental units to the market.
“Passing Proposition F alone will free up at least 3,000 units … at no cost to the taxpayer,” Calvin Welch, president of the Board of the San Francisco Information Clearinghouse, said of short-term rentals’ impact on the housing stock.
The initiative would cap nightly stays at 75 per year and allow The City to fine Airbnb and other hosting web sites for listing unregistered rentals. It would also expand how neighbors can sue for short-term rental violations to those who live within 100 feet of the unit and ban the use of in-law units as short-term rentals.
But those against the measure argue it is too extreme and would hurt neighborhood merchants, who are said to benefit from expanding tourism. Opponents say San Francisco visitors who stay in Airbnb rentals in less touristy neighborhoods like the Bayview, Sunset, Richmond, Mission and Castro spend $233 million annually on local businesses there.
Middle-income residents who rent an extra room to help make ends meet also would be impacted by the passage of Prop. F, according to opponents.
“This isn’t addressing affordability,” said Patrick Hannan, campaign manager for No on F, said of the measure. “You don’t address affordability by taking a tool away from people to make a little extra money.”
Supervisor David Campos made headlines earlier this year when he proposed a moratorium on market-rate development in the Mission district, widely considered ground zero for The City’s housing crisis.
When that effort failed at the Board of Supervisors after hours of emotional testimony by residents who say they have been priced out of their lifelong neighborhood, supporters of the moratorium placed it on the ballot.
Proposition I would impose an 18-month moratorium — which the Board of Supervisors could extend for another 12 months — on projects in the Mission that demolish, convert or build at least five units, excluding projects of 100 percent below-market-rate housing.
There are about 24 projects with about 1,220 units of housing in the pipeline in the Mission. City Controller Ben Rosenfield estimates the moratorium could delay some 85 units up to 18 months.
Proponents of the measure argue that market-rate development is driving out longtime residents of the Mission, who can no longer afford to live in the neighborhood. According to Planning Department data, more than 900 low- and moderate-income families have left the Mission in the past five years, including through evictions and displacement.
“This is a common sense measure that tries to provide for a temporary pause on luxury housing so that we can develop a plan and we can identify and purchase land where we can build affordable housing,” Campos said.
He added that the measure is ultimately about preserving land in the Mission.
“Given how the market works in the Mission right now, for The City to be able to buy land there, there has to be a temporary pause otherwise The City won’t be able to be competitive,” Campos said.
But others argue that a temporary moratorium on building market-rate housing in the Mission would drive up housing costs citywide and would not prevent the displacement of current residents. A first-of-its-kind report released in September by The City’s Office of Economic Analysis affirmed such claims.
“This report clearly, from a third party perspective, was adamant that we need to build more housing and not less if we’re going to continue to address the [housing crisis] issue,” Supervisor Mark Farrell, who requested the report along with Supervisor Scott Wiener, said in September.
Campos has since requested the Budget and Legislative Analyst for the Board of Supervisors to conduct another study examining the continued effects of displacement and developing market-rate housing in the Mission if there is no moratorium.