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SF produces record-high number of new homes, but affordability remains key issue

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While more than 5,046 new market-rate and affordable homes were constructed in The City in 2016, 208 units were also taken off the housing market. (Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner)

With more than 5,046 new market-rate and affordable homes constructed in 2016, San Francisco produced a record-high number of new housing, according to an annual report released last month.

The Planning Department’s Housing Inventory Report has been tracking housing-production trends in The City for half a century and was presented to the Planning Commission on Dec. 21.

“There were 4,895 new construction units completed in 2016, which is almost double [the units completed] in 2015,” said Svetha Ambati, a lead planner with the Planning Department’s Information and Analysis Group, which compiled the report. Hundreds of non-residential units were also converted into homes, she said.

But the loss of housing units has also increased steadily — 48 percent more units were taken off the market in 2016 than in 2015, a net total of 208 residences.

According to the report, 78 homes were lost due to conversions into non-residential uses, 72 units were legalized with The City and thus taken off the housing market, 30 were demolished and the rest were lost due to unit mergers or errors in planning documents.

The spike in new construction comes with the backdrop of a housing crisis, and the question of whom the much-needed homes would serve was pondered by affordable housing activists and planning commissioners alike at last month’s hearing.

According to Ambati, the number of affordable units completed in 2016 increased by 52 percent from 2015, with a total of 802 affordable residences completed.

Of those units, only 120 are deemed affordable to households earning less than 30 percent of the area median income (AMI), and 128 units were affordable to households earning between 30 and 50 percent of the AMI.

The construction of new condominiums decreased by 4 percent from 2015, and the number of residences converted into condos decrease by 37 percent, Ambati said.

Peter Cohen, director of the San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations, asked the commissioners to consider “all those folks for whom housing is not being built.”

A part-time worker, a senior or person with a disability living on Supplemental Security Income earns about $16,000 a year at 20 percent of the AMI, and a minimum-wage worker in San Francisco makes about 35 percent of the AMI, according to Cohen.

“[We have to] shift from the idea that anything we build is working. It’s working for some but not for the full range,” he said, adding that The City should continue to look to rental subsidies and incentives for developers to construct affordable housing as solutions.

Planning Commission Vice President Dennis Richards agreed.

“We keep talking [but] a lot of things don’t get much better, even though we have record years,” he said.

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