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It’s time for a housing preservation bond

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It’s been 27 years since San Francisco was hit with the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake in the middle of the World Series between the Giants and the A’s, leaving neighborhoods in crisis and many people displaced from their homes.

We recovered and rebuilt, but today we face another housing threat of nearly equal magnitude, this time from displacements and evictions. The housing crisis threatens to change the face of The City, but if we take action now, we can confront displacement head on and simultaneously prepare our aging residential buildings for the next physical earthquake.

Proposition C, the Housing Preservation Bond on November’s ballot, expands the eligible uses from a 1992 seismic safety bond to include both the rehabilitation of other “at-risk” multi-unit buildings, and to allow nonprofit developers to acquire and preserve these at-risk buildings as permanently affordable housing. This will free up almost $261 million in unallocated funding.

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How will this help the housing crisis?

The Housing Preservation Bond will address the hundreds of multi-unit residential buildings that today are in need of seismic, fire, health or safety upgrades. Failure to rehabilitate these buildings is a threat to both building residents and to the surrounding neighborhoods. There are at-risk residential buildings in all districts of The City, such as the hundreds of “soft story” wood-frame buildings at risk of structural failure during an earthquake, or the many apartments at risk of fires due to substandard electrical wiring.

As critical as its implications for life and safety, Prop. C is also an urgent anti-displacement initiative, providing stability for tenants by funding the preservation of small apartment buildings. Many of these tenants are facing Ellis Act evictions, buy-out evictions or tenant harassment.

Like last June’s Prop. C, this is a measure aimed at serving a broad range of San Franciscans, as it would stabilize families living in both middle- and low-income rent-controlled housing. The Housing Preservation Bond will make our city and tenants safer and protect and preserve dense affordable units in perpetuity.

Building on what works

Tomorrow, the San Francisco Community Land Trust will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its first acquisition, at 53 Columbus Ave., which preserved 21 at-risk homes and guaranteed stability to Chinese immigrant households who now own their building as a housing cooperative.

Under The City’s new Small Sites Program, nonprofits like the Community Land Trust and Mission Economic Development Agency have acquired buildings in the Richmond, Western Addition, South of Market, Mission and Castro neighborhoods, rehabbing them with soft-story retrofits, foundation upgrades, removal of toxic storage tanks and new sprinkler systems. The Chinatown Community Development Center is working to protect residential hotels in Chinatown, North Beach and Tenderloin neighborhoods, and the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation is exploring prospects for small apartment acquisitions in the Bayview neighborhood. The nonprofit affordable housing organizations are poised to expand this successful acquisition program — but The City is hampered by a lack of dedicated funding. Prop. C will be a critical boost for expansion, up to $30 million per year to the acquisition program.

Prop. C accomplishes this without any increased costs to taxpayers. Instead of new taxes, Prop. C amends the previous measure approved by San Franciscans in 1992 and simply expands the scope of those authorized funds. No new bonding capacity would be created beyond what was previously authorized, so it would not impact The City’s property tax rate. Further, Prop. C would bring the original bond up to today’s greater standards of oversight and transparency to ensure taxpayer accountability. 

The Housing Preservation Bond is a win-win for our city’s tenants, neighborhoods and affordable housing. We cannot afford to wait out the devastation of the housing affordability earthquake without taking action now. Please join nonprofit affordable housing organizations, the mayor and all members of the Board of Supervisors, and vote Yes on C.

Peter Cohen and Fernando Marti are co-directors of San Francisco’s Council of Community Housing Organizations.

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