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An innovative way to oppose new housing in San Francisco

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A view looking south over San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood. (Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner)
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Last week, the co-directors of the Council of Community Housing Organizations authored an op-ed called, “One fix for affordable housing: Close a loophole with AB 915.” Assembly Bill 915 is legislation proposed in Sacramento by San Francisco Assemblymember Phil Ting that would add an additional cost burden on housing projects that utilize an incentive provided to home creators in the form of a “State Density Bonus.”

Disregarding the fact that the law was passed in the 1970s and has only been used once to date in San Francisco — due to the political pressure of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) planning obstacles, and recently overcome in 2016 by a courageous homebuilder — CCHO’s co-directors conveniently forget a number of facts related to this critically important legislation.

The original intent of the state law was to encourage more housing production, and more low-income housing production, across the state where it has seen great success. This law hit the books more than 20 years before Sen. Mark Leno authored the original local inclusionary legislation. They fail to mention that the SoMa development utilizing the state density bonus is creating student housing, which is purposefully exempted from local inclusionary requirements, per San Francisco law.

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In other words, without the State Density Bonus, this project would not happen — leaving 600 students without housing and competing with the rest of us for their housing needs. Furthermore, because this project uses the State Density Program that requires affordable housing, 16 low-income families will now find homes at this project. Ironic, isn’t it? A housing regulation that encourages new homes to be built! And just as it starts to take root and sprout, so called “affordable housing proponents” surface in an attempt to kill it.

Unhappy with this productive result and seeking further obfuscation, CCHO’s co-directors fail to mention the recent doubling of construction costs and the pending higher fee requirements that leave many projects economically infeasible without incentives like the State Density Bonus. In some cases, no density bonus means it will be impossible to finance construction, and The City will lose out on the creation of new homes.

The core difference between my organization, the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition (SFHAC), and CCHO is quite simple: The SFHAC believes San Francisco needs to build both more below-market-rate housing and more market-rate housing. CCHO advocates for building low-income housing or nothing.

CCHO’s approach ignores the growth our city needs to accommodate. San Francisco’s families, teachers, firefighters and all middle-income residents have paid the price for CCHO’s wrongheaded policy priorities — virtually no middle-income housing has been built in San Francisco over the last 30 years.

CCHO has also been silent on the recent developments around San Francisco’s local density bonus legislation, called Home-SF. Home-SF would help solve the problem and then some by providing up to 30 percent subsidized affordable housing for low- and middle-income San Franciscans. Everybody wins.

Simply put, we opposed AB 915 because it will hurt housing production at all income levels in San Francisco. Then again, maybe that is the author’s and CCHO’s intent. Everybody loses.

If you want to let Assemblymember Ting know you oppose AB 915 because it means less housing will be built for all San Franciscans, contact his office here.

Todd David is executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition.

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