High price of making San Francisco cheaper 

click to enlarge The dissolution of San Francisco’s Redevelopment Agency has forced The City to consider affordable housing options. - GETTY IMAGES
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  • The dissolution of San Francisco’s Redevelopment Agency has forced The City to consider affordable housing options.

If you’re in the market to rent a studio apartment or buy a mansion, San Francisco could be your kind of town. But finding something in between might present a challenge, according to data presented Monday at a Board of Supervisors hearing on ways to create more housing opportunities for The City’s dwindling middle class.

The discussion — prompted by Supervisor Scott Wiener — came as city leaders consider ways to create a permanent housing trust fund to fill the gap left by the closure of San Francisco’s Redevelopment Agency. Until their elimination, such agencies encouraged affordable housing construction by borrowing against future property tax revenues.

Some 28 percent of city households are members of the middle class, representing a 10 percent drop over the past 20 years, according to data presented by the Mayor’s Office of Housing. Speakers then considered one hypothetical scenario for reversing that trend.

Middle class housing subsidies in which families of four earning between $80,000 and $120,000 are provided housing access similar to that of other income groups could cost San Francisco up to $4.3 billion. That sobering figure — representing more than half of The City’s annual budget — was presented by Chief Economist Ted Egan, who said San Francisco needs to observe regional housing trends before moving forward on any new policies.

“It would cost in excess of $4 billion to provide that access to everyone,” Egan said. “The winners there are not the people looking for housing, but the people selling housing.”

Egan said San Francisco’s problems begin with The City’s relatively high labor costs, which leads to fewer jobs when companies relocate to other parts of the Bay Area to find cheaper workers.

The Bay Area’s least expensive housing options are in Solano County, Egan noted. And while that might not prompt San Franciscans to move 60 miles, it has created such a flight from Oakland, for example. That, in turn, opens cheaper housing options across the Bay for San Francisco residents, he said.

Those sentiments were echoed by Michael Yarne, a development adviser from the Mayor’s Office.
“Not everyone who works in San Francisco needs to live in San Francisco,” Yarne said. “And many don’t.”

The discussion also prompted concern from low-income housing advocates, who expressed fear that assistance for the middle class might mean a smaller pot for The City’s poorest. But Wiener said that’s not how the issue should be framed.

“It’s about making sure we’re talking about both, and prioritizing both,” Wiener said.

The Mayor’s Office has been facilitating meetings with housing advocates in recent weeks to come up with an affordable housing trust fund proposal to put before voters on the November ballot.


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