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Measures on November ballot seek solutions to SF’s housing crisis

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With four-housing related measures on the November ballot, San Francisco voters hold the future of The City’s development in their hands. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco voters will again see a strong presence of housing-related measures on the November ballot.

Following the passage of last year’s historic affordable housing bond, which secured $310 million to construct and preserve low- and middle-income homes, city leaders and affordable housing advocates are seeking voter approval of four measures painted as further answers to The City’s housing crisis.

“These [measures] all have touch points in terms of sort of a progressive vision of how we do housing and development in San Francisco,” said Peter Cohen, co-director of San Francisco’s Council of Community Housing Organizations.

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Propositions C, M, P and U aim to address the lack of below-market-rate housing in San Francisco, and most come with concerns that the effort could actually hinder the production of new homes.

Proposition C
The Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 left homes and other buildings in San Francisco and much of the Bay Area badly damaged, and many of them were altogether destroyed.

In response to the devastation, voters in 1992 approved a $350 million earthquake safety bond to provide loans for the seismic strengthening of The City’s some 2,000 unreinforced brick buildings that were not designed to withstand a strong temblor.

But less than half of the money was issued for repairs to affordable and market-rate buildings, leaving more than $250 million unused funds.

Supporters of Proposition C want that money to go toward the acquisition and preservation of multi-unit buildings in San Francisco that now need seismic, fire, health and other safety upgrades. Prop. C would expand the permitted uses of the bond money to allow for such upgrades.

“In San Francisco, we have all sorts of buildings that have tremendous life and safety issues,” said Fernando Marti, co-director of San Francisco’s Council of Community Housing Organizations. “What Prop. C does is it simply expands the uses of that money to bring [buildings] up to code on all sorts of issues.”

Prop. C is supported by numerous housing advocates, as well as Mayor Ed Lee, state Sen. Mark Leno, supervisors John Avalos, David Campos, Jane Kim, Eric Mar, Aaron Peskin and Norman Yee and other local politicians.

The measure requires two-thirds voter approval to pass.

Proposition M
San Francisco’s Department of Economic and Workforce Development and the Department of Housing and Community Development would fall under the purview of the Housing and Development Commission, should voters pass Proposition M.

The new commission would be created specifically to oversee the two departments. The economic and workforce development department monitors programs that coordinate with private workforce development, job training and other business projects.

The housing and community development department provides financing for purchasing, rehabilitating and development affordable housing in The City, as well as other below-market-rate housing efforts.

The mayor appoints the leaders of both departments and can remove them as well. Advocates of the measure say creating a commission to oversee the departments will increase transparency. The commission would be comprised of seven members: three appointed by the mayor, three by the Board of Supervisors and one by the City Controller.

“Proposition M is really a conversation that has been going on long before I was ever at City Hall around bringing some oversight and direction, performance evaluation, and, really, strategy to the two departments that have some of the largest budgets at City Hall … and largely operate behind closed doors,” said Sunny Angulo, aide to Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who authored the measure.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who supports increasing transparency in competitive bidding for affordable housing projects that advocates say Prop. P would bring, doesn’t believe the Housing and Development Commission will achieve that goal.

“I would support the creation of an affordable housing commission, but that’s not what Aaron Peskin is proposing in his ballot measure, which I don’t support,” Wiener said. “If he just created a commission like the Planning Commission, with split appointments, I would support that for affordable housing to bring more transparency, but that’s not what he’s proposing.”

The measure requires more than 50 percent of the vote to pass.

Proposition P
The construction of affordable housing remains a top priority for city leaders, but how to efficiently produce below-market-rate homes remains up for debate.

The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development is charged with administering most programs that provide financing to developers to build new affordable housing and rehabilitate such homes on city property. To that end, when the office has money available for a project, developers are invited to submit proposals.

Proposition P would require the office of housing to receive at least three proposals for a project and accept the proposal with the “best value,” according to the Department of Elections.

Advocates of the measure, including Supervisor Mark Farrell, note that competitive bidding on projects is a citywide policy and until a decade ago, affordable housing projects frequently drew multiple bids from developers.

“We should be as a city requiring multiple bids on projects,” Farrell said. “We should be trying to get the best bang for our buck.”

He added, “We have had an entrenched group that has had the ability to control the bidding process for awhile and it’s resulted in skyrocketing costs of affordable housing, and I think that needs to change.”

Opponents of the measure argue requiring the submission of at least three bids and the selection of the “best value” bid would hinder the production of affordable homes.

“Prop. P fundamentally changes the way … San Francisco encourages bidding for new construction or acquisition rehab of affordable housing and supportive housing,” said Gail Gilman, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Community Housing Partnership.

Opponents also emphasized a project could be indefinitely stalled without three bids, effectively preventing the creation of new homes. Requiring multiple bidders could also mean the developer that is awarded the project has less experience, Gilman said.

“For example, supportive housing is a specialty program,” Gilman said. “Not every developer knows how to build for homeless individuals, how to operate it, how to design it.”

The measure requires more than 50 percent of the vote to pass.

Proposition U
The planned development at 88 Broadway is a first for The City. Specifically, 15 percent of the future 180 rental units that will be built on what is now a parking lot will be offered to middle-income households.

That site is the first identified to receive funding for middle-income homes from last year’s housing bond, which includes money for a middle-income rental program, as well as homeownership down payment assistance opportunities for educators and middle-income households.

But that’s not all the middle-income homes The City plans to offer. June’s Proposition C, which voters also approved, requires developments with at least 25 homes to include
25 percent of those units at below market-rate, including 15 percent for low-income residents and 10 percent for middle-income residents.

Proposition U would build on that effort to offer middle-income homes by increasing the income eligibility limit for on-site rental units in all new and existing below-market-rate housing. Per the measure, the rent for an on-site affordable unit would be capped at 30 percent of the household’s total income, provided the household earns no more than 110 percent of the area median income, which is $78,500 for one person and $112,100 for a family of four.

That’s where housing advocates spar over whether the measure could effectively reduce low-income housing.

Supervisor Farrell, who supports Prop. U, said the measure would affect just 2 percent of new homes built in San Francisco.

“As with the rest of our country, San Francisco is seeing a declining population of middle income individuals,” Farrell said. “Our affordable housing production to date has targeted only low-income individuals in our city, which … we should continue to do. But … we should be focused on building housing for [middle-income residents] as well.”

Gilman of the Community Housing Partnership, however, countered there are already steps in place to build middle-income units, as mandated in last year’s housing bond and June’s Prop. C. She noted that, per Prop. U, landlords can also raise the rent of a unit offered at, say, 50 percent of the AMI to 110 percent of the AMI once a resident moves out.

“So that unit that was affordable to people at 55 percent of AMI is now lost,” she said. “Eight hundred units could be lost throughout the system that had been serving people traditionally at 50,55, 60 percent of the AMI.”

The measure requires more than 50 percent of the vote to pass.

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