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New affordable housing rules head to Planning Commission

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Some residential projects underway in SoMa and in the Mission may be subject to new affordable housing requirements, prompting some housing advocates to cry foul, saying the new rules could hinder construction. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/ Special to S.F. Examiner)

Should residential projects already planned in the Mission and South of Market neighborhoods have more affordable housing?

Such is the question that will go before the Planning Commission today as city lawmakers seek to increase the number of affordable homes in the pipeline.

Housing advocates are at odds with the proposal, however, with some arguing that forcing projects already in the works to adhere to the new affordable housing requirements could harm development. Others counter that requiring projects in those neighborhoods to produce the more affordable housing will help prevent more displacement.

The potential increase in below-market-rate requirements, also known as inclusionary housing, will go before voters June 7 in the form of a charter amendment. If approved, developments of at least 25 units would have to include 25 percent of the homes as below-market-rate.

The cost of below-market-rate homes is determined by The City’s area median income, which in 2015 was $71,350 for one person and $101,900 for a four-person household.

Legislation that would take effect pending voter approval of the charter amendment may, however, allow some projects already in the planning stages to produce less affordable housing. The grandfathering provision would set up different expectations for affordable housing requirements based upon the date an environmental application was filed with the Planning Department.

But according to the ordinance, that provision exempts some projects in the Mission and South of Market neighborhoods, where tales of displacement and affordability have swelled in recent years. Such projects, as well as those that demolish Production/Distribution/Repair sites, would have to build the new amount of affordable housing defined in the charter amendment.

That has some housing advocates crying foul that the measure could actually harm the production of new housing, including much-needed affordable homes, when it’s intended to do the opposite.

“We’re concerned that the trailing legislation has the potential to harm a lot of projects that have been in the process for years with the last-minute change of fundamental rules,” said Tim Colen, executive director of the nonprofit Housing Action Coalition.

Though the Planning Department as of Wednesday had not yet released a list of projects that would be exempt to the grandfathering provision, Colen said a number of projects
could be killed as a result of the increased inclusionary requirements and grandfathering exemptions.

The list is expected to be released by today’s Planning Commission meeting, when commissioners will be asked to recommend approval of the legislation to the Board of Supervisors. City planners have estimated there may be as many as 2,600 homes excluded from the grandfathering provision, though a more exact number is expected to be released today.

Peter Cohen, co-director of the SF Council of Community Housing Organizations, emphasized the grandfathering provision is intended to quell displacement concerns exacerbated in hot-development neighborhoods like the Mission and SoMa.

“These are areas where you’ve seen a lot of major development activity and folks really concerned about displacement impact and lack of affordability,” Cohen said.

The charter amendment also includes a two-tier system for determining the amount of affordable homes required in certain developments.

Currently, projects with at least 10 residential units must include either 12 percent of its homes on-site as below-market-rate or 20 percent off-site. Developers may also pay a fee instead.

The charter amendment would keep the 12 percent of on-site affordable homes required for projects with 10 to 24 units, but require more of such homes in projects with at least 25 units.

Projects with at least 25 homes would have to include at least 25 percent of its on-site homes as below-market-rate, including 15 percent of those homes available to low or very low income households and 10 percent affordable to low or middle-income households.

The proposed two-tier system would mark the first time San Francisco has added more than one category for its inclusionary housing program, including a middle-income bracket.

“We’ve always seen inclusionary housing as just the next layer above what we do with publicly subsidized affordable housing,” Cohen said. “What this measure does is add [another] layer of middle income housing, recognizing a lot more people are shut out of the housing market.”

The legislation would also require economic feasibility studies to be conducted every three years to examine how San Francisco should continue to set its inclusionary housing requirements.

The legislation was introduced March 22 by Supervisors Jane Kim and Aaron Peskin. The charter amendment that will go before voters would also transfer back authority to the Board of Supervisors to change inclusionary housing requirements.

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  • sffoghorn

    Perhaps if Peter Cohen and the CCHO had wanted to see greater inclusionary affordable they would not have supported Eastern Neighborhoods luxury condo plan that have gentrified the Mission and would not have supported Prop B of 2012 which cut the amount of on-site affordable by 25%.

    These professional “progressives” are like Hillary Clinton, giving away the store to the neoliberals and then running on, against and from their own local record. They are so enamored with “getting things done” that they end up enabling much more damage than the gain in mitigations.

    Whenever I hear the term “San Francisco housing advocates,” it makes me reach for my public policy revolver.

  • jimbolandjots

    It’s because they are not advocates for the peoples’ needs, for, in their attempt to compromise, regular San Franciscans are losing out. Not just our homes, but our neighbors, neighborhood culture, and our way of life. Big construction companies always seem to benefit, instead of the San Franciscans who actually live here. Adding middle-class housing affordability likely means they are refusing to actually meet prior obligations to add housing for larger numbers of low-income people – they are attempting to reframe the situation to appear they are working toward real affordability. In reality, both that and the muddle surrounding what is truly affordable in our loved and hyper-expensive San Francisco are likely strategies that will encourage people to vote “no” on the charter amendment. Instead, I think we need a radical 50% affordable housing that includes lower-income and middle-income folks, to replicate diversity in affordability for all. We need to strictly enforce building affordable units in the same neighborhood as the homes that were bulldozed to make way for the newer, more sterile condominium buildings; the ones that are remaking San Francisco’s iconic architecture and neighborhoods into the largely soul-less Silicon Valley counterparts. We are close to losing the broader beauty of the City, rapidly on the heels of the heart-and-soul of the City. The real issue is: do we want to keep the City’s unique weirdness and eccentric reputation or do we simply watch as Big Corp/Big Tech broadly recast San Francisco into an unwanted, unnecessary, and unwelcoming place?

  • sffoghorn

    We need for the people who receive affordable housing dollars to prevented by the community from being the advocates for housing policy.

    The one thing that the rapacious developers share in common with the professional “progressive” affordable housing mafia is a thorough and utter contempt for San Franciscans. The former hates us for giving a damn about our beautiful City while the latter hate us because we are “rich.” This is the basis for the unholy alliance.

  • WIltonguy45

    The title of the article should be “More Liberal Government Regulations To Be Implemented” SF has to be one of the most screwed up cities on the face of this planet. Since the 1960’s one layer after another of red tape, regulations, zoning laws, rent controls and liberal subsides and handouts have resulted in what? The worst housing crisis in America.

    The city has never kept up with building adequate housing because every N.I.M.B.Y group in the city wants their particular neighborhood to remain just like it is. These people elect the political hacks that represent them who also don’t want anything built in their neighborhood, but they want rents to remain dirt cheap and the cost of living to never go up.

    The only people to blame for this crisis are the people of the city themselves and the hacks they elect to represent them. Had the adequate number of new housing units been built every year since 1960, the city would not have a housing crisis as there would more than enough units to keep supply and demand in check. However, those who want it all and don’t want to pay for it put in rent controls. That is like killing your dog because he has a splinter in his paw. “We can regulate our way out of this crisis” well we see where that got everyone.

    We got out of the city years ago, we saw the writing on the wall and took our money and split. Now we have a 2,500 sq ft single family house that is almost paid for, low taxes, no state income tax and a nice chunk of change in the bank. It’s a real shame that such a beautiful and unique city, a true melting pot of people from all over the world has been governed by the most incompetent people who destroyed everything that made it a great place to live.

  • IanFlowers

    You’re absolutely correct! Each and every word. The rape of San Francisco by Big Corp/Big Tech can be described as a massive crime wave of genocidal proportions. It’s brought about the ruin of one of the rarest cities on Plant Earth. Truly evil what’s happened here! What most local folks don’t understand is that the corrupt, bought-and-sold vermin who masquerade as our elected representatives get property tax money from each and every condo sold, money that ‘supposedly’ goes into the public domain but with absence of true and authentic auditing and accounting one — to put it kindly — one “just never knows.” Hence a street that had two or three small businesses (then evicted by raising rents and allowing another made-in-China sterile condo tower to be erected) now has over 200 “property tax” condominium templates for the SF city government to vampire upon. Get it?

  • bob

    The new SalesForce tower in the photo reminds me of the flak towers in Berlin built by the Nazis to protect Berlin against Ally bombing during WWII. It’s creepy.

  • sffoghorn

    Yeah, the City is so screwed and crowded nobody goes there anymore.

  • Darksoul SF

    When it comes to SF Affordable…Housing…its not really affordable.

  • Froglivinglarge

    When right-wing nuts like you leave the city, that’s all for the better.

  • edsully

    If San Francisco residents and politicians are serious about solving the housing crisis then I suggest they take a look at what’s going on in Seattle.

    Seattle, like San Francisco, has had robust job growth due to the tech sector. But Seattle is not facing a housing crisis like San Francisco because Seattle hasn’t allowed the NIMBYs and anti-development naysayers to block one housing development after another. Since 2005, Seattle has built TWICE as much housing as San Francisco has (35,600 vs 17,859) in spite of the fact that
    Seattle has only three-quarters of San Francisco’s population.

    As a result, the median price for a two-bedroom apartment in Seattle at $1,750 compared to $3,450 in San Francisco and a Seattle resident with an average salary only spends 30 percent of their income on housing compared with 50 percent in San Francisco.

    There is in old saying: You are either part of the problem or part of the solution. The NIMBYs and anti-development naysayers are clearly the problem.

  • jimbolandjots

    I get it, as I’m one of those 60-something San Franciscans that feels, as another person so well stated, as if I have a target painted on my back because I live in a rent-stabilized situation. The corporatization of the City’s neighborhoods; the zombification of teens, 20-, 30-, and 40-somethings into smartphone-obsessed living; and the almost official dismissal of artists, nurses, teachers, child- and elder-care workers, etc., by Mayor Ed Lee and his cronies is disgusting. It is offensive and the only purpose it serves is to pay back his handlers. Meanwhile, Rome burns.