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San Francisco at crossroads over affordable housing requirements

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Supervisor Jane Kim speaks Tuesday during a news conference about placing a charter amendment on the June ballot to increase below-market-rate housing requirements. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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The future of San Francisco’s below-market-rate housing development hangs in the balance amid an ongoing debate over increasing affordability mandates.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the debate came to a head during a hearing over whether to place on the June ballot a charter amendment introduced by supervisors Jane Kim and Aaron Peskin to increase below-market-rate requirements.

Since 2012, The City has required developers provide 12 percent of total units at below market rates for low-income residents. The measure would increase the 12 percent to 15 percent and add 10 percent for middle-income earners, bringing the total requirement to 25 percent.

Developers and the Building Trades Council, a group of construction-related labor unions, argue 25 percent would make many housing developments “infeasible.” Mayor Ed Lee and developer representative Eric Tao, of AGI Capital, met with Kim and Peskin on Monday to discuss a compromise.

“Everybody in this town knows that that percentage should have been going up,” Peskin said. “We do not in any way want to reduce new housing starts. But I know, the mayor knows, you all know, that for the last four years we have left hundreds, if not thousands, of affordable units on the table. That is a fact.”

The mayor agrees the current requirement is “set too low” but wants an amendment to require the City Controller provide economic analysis and recommend every three years for how the board should set the percentage requirement.

Peskin, however, said such an amendment was only designed to “hamstring” the board.

When Supervisor Malia Cohen proposed the amendment requiring the analysis, the board voted 7-4 to reject it, with supervisors Cohen, Mark Farrell, Katy Tang and Scott Wiener supporting the amendment. A vote to place the measure on the ballot was continued until next week.

The charter amendment would remove from the City Charter the affordable housing requirement where it was placed in 2012, as part of a voter-approved mayoral housing measure.

By removing it, the board would be able to adjust the requirement through legislation, instead of going to the ballot. The charter also imposes interim controls of 25 percent below-market-rate units, which would remain in place until new legislation is adopted.

Meanwhile, the mayor has a June ballot measure to require a feasibility study before any requirements are increased, and Peskin and Kim have a competing measure that sets the floor of below-market-rate housing at 25 percent — both are contingent on the charter amendment passing.

If the compromise discussions go as expected, both sides would drop the dueling measures by March 1, while the charter would go onto the June ballot as is. A compromise would be introduced and approved as legislation before the June election and kick in if the charter is approved by voters.

Key issues under debate are grandfathering and fiscal feasibility.

PARKS FUNDING

The board voted 9-2 to place on the June ballot a measure introduced by Supervisor Mark Farrell that would automatically increase funding for the Recreation and Park Department by $3 million annually while supervisors Tang and Peskin opposed it.

Peskin said he opposed set-asides.

‘GOOGLE BUS’

As expected, labor union SEIU 1021 withdrew its environmental appeal of the commuter shuttle program under a deal brokered to extend the program for another year. The deal sets the stage for the shuttle program to change to a hub system.

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