Fee could be link to affordable housing

Commercial developers that build offices and retail stores bring in jobs, but city staff members say that they should also pay fees to help build affordable housing for the workers who take the positions.

The “linkage fee” for commercial developers was proposed in 1993, and, city staff says, if the fees had been implemented there would be $15 million more in the pot now for affordable housing.

The proposal has gained renewed interest, with members of the City Council and the Planning Commission giving it favorable reviews during a joint study session held recently.

Among the staff’s top recommendations for how to build more affordable housing in the city was a commercial linkage fee of $5 per square foot on new commercial space. Money generated by the fee would go into an affordable-housing fund.

A second recommendation would raise the city’s below-market-rate housing requirement, which requires housing developers to sell at least 10 percent to 15 percent of their units at affordable rates.

Most planning commissioners and council members said they were in favor of raising the below-market-rate housing requirement. The leaders were somewhat more cautious about the linkage fee.

Leading the opposition to the higher fees is the San Mateo Chamber of Commerce. Chamber President and CEO Linda Asbury testified that increased fees are not the best way to bring affordable housing to the city.

But real estate agent and affordable-housing advocate Karyl Eldridge, one of at least adozen people who spoke in favor of the linkage fee, said the time for equivocating was over.

“What I hope is that we aren’t sitting here in another 10 years doing a similar calculation about how much we could have had if we had only implemented it in 2008,” she said.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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