As is often said, there is no “silver bullet” to solve the affordable housing crisis. But there is at least one easy fix to a current problem.
Last December, we wrote about the gift that Santa brought to San Francisco developers: a state density bonus that effectively cuts the affordable housing requirements for development projects — while giving them a substantial 35 percent bonus in market-rate units.
The good news is that San Francisco Assemblymember Phil Ting has set out to correct that this year with Assembly Bill 915, legislation that will make sure underlying affordable housing requirements apply evenly to all development projects, whether they use the state bonus or not.
That big development in South of Market back in December was the first in The City to use the state bonus, since it was made “by right” through state legislation last year, which two of San Francisco’s state legislators rightly voted against. The project exposed the giant loophole that had been created with that change. The project had a requirement to provide 18 percent affordable homes by The City’s inclusionary policy, but ended up providing only 13.5 percent after they took the state density bonus. The “value” to that particular development, in monetary terms, from the cut in inclusionary housing came out to about a $3.8 million windfall, while giving no increased public benefit to The City or everyday San Franciscans in return.
AB 915 equalizes the local affordable housing requirement with the added bonus a developer gets. It’s a simple, commonsense fix to the loophole problem and will go a long way to resolving questions currently vexing the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors in implementing our local “inclusionary housing” law.
There is a ripe debate at City Hall right now about updates to the inclusionary housing policy; housing opportunities for both low-income and middle-income San Franciscans are on the table. But the state density bonus loophole undermines all those housing opportunities and is forcing some tenuous legislative jiu-jitsu to try to account for it.
AB 915 would fix that.
Increasing density in some parts of The City is something many people want to see — as a matter of good planning, appropriate fit and added public benefits. Assemblymember Ting’s legislation upholds the spirit of the state density bonus law, which was based on the idea that developers could get more profits only in exchange for giving back more affordable homes.
Last year, affordable housing policy in San Francisco took a giant step backward when Santa brought developers the gift of 35 percent density increase without any affordable units. This year, we can even up and step forward again. AB 915 will ensure that density bonuses are linked with housing affordability.
If you want to let Assemblymember Ting know you support AB 915 for state density bonus affordability, call his office at (916) 319-2019 or send him an email at email@example.com.
Peter Cohen and Fernando Marti are co-directors of San Francisco’s Council of Community Housing Organizations.