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Ronen calls for faster approval for 100 percent affordable housing projects

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Supervisor Hillary Ronen on Monday pushed for faster progress on affordable housing projects in the Mission District. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Supervisor Hillary Ronen expressed disappointment Monday over the speed at which planned affordable housing projects in the Mission District have moved through the approval process, but was promised all seven will break ground by December 2019.

That means that in an area that hasn’t seen new affordable housing development for nearly a decade, 778 below market rate units will eventually reach the market, officials said at a Land Use and Transportation Committee hearing called by Ronen.

The first of the projects will break ground within weeks at 1296 Shotwell St., which will deliver 94 homes, followed by 490 South Van Ness in August, with 82 affordable homes, according to data presented by Daniel Adams, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing. The Mayor’s Office of Housing partners with nonprofit developers and provides funding for the projects.

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Ronen used the hearing to not only get an update on the timeline of the Mission projects, but also to press for faster approval for 100 percent affordable housing developments, which was one of late Mayor Ed Lee’s executive directives.

“What we have seen is definite improvement based on that executive directive, but still room for making improvements,” Adams said. He added, “Some agencies are better able to do that with their staffing capacity than others.”

Daniel Sider, the Planning Department’s director of executive programs, noted that the entitlement process for the seven Mission projects ranged from four to 18 months.

“I would speculate…we are taking these affordable projects through at about twice the clip of a market rate project,” Sider said.

“I’d love to see data on that,” Ronen said.

Sider also said city planners are working on legislative proposals that would help speed approvals, such as by more clearly specifying the process.

Adams said that the typical project takes five years. The first year is for the site acquisition and developer selection followed by the second year for environmental review and zoning approvals. In the third year building permits are obtained and financing finalized. Then it takes two years to build.

Karoleen Feng, Director of Community Real Estate for the Mission Economic Development Agency, said that they were hoping to “accelerate construction” and break ground on the 1269 Shotwell St. project in less than three years, but a lack of coordination among city agencies and financing issues prevented that. MEDA announced it was selected by the Mayor’s Office of Housing to build the Shotwell project in November 2015.

The timeline appears to be working out better for another MEDA project, the 1990 Folsom St. project that is slated to break ground in February 2019 and build 143 affordable homes.

“We think that our 1990 Folsom project … we will be developing it in less than three years since we’ve we were awarded the site,” Feng said.

Ronen said she is committed to figuring out how better to streamline these projects.

“There are big things we can do and little things we can do,” Ronen said. “I want every single one of these 100 percent affordable projects for every single department that touches that project to think, ‘Oh my god, the mayor’s breathing down my neck because that family might experience one more day of homelessness on the streets of San Francisco so we have got to get this up.’ That’s what I’m looking for and I am just not feeling it.”

The hearing came as state Sen. Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 827, which would have increased allowed heights and densities in developments along transit corridors, died in Sacramento last week, but not before triggering a heated debate over housing policy. For critics of Wiener’s bill it was a chance to emphasize other solutions to the housing crisis, such as changes to rent control laws.

The Tenants Together, California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights, announced they were dropping off signatures Monday to place the Affordable Housing Act on the November ballot to repeal Costa-Hawkins, 1995 state legislation that prevents cities from enacting rent control on new construction. In San Francisco it means rent control only applies to units built before June 13, 1979. The law also prohibits rent control on single family homes or condos, and allows rent increases to market rates between tenants.

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