Affordable housing benefit extension considered for those displaced by redevelopment

‘Certificate of preference’ holders would retain lottery priority for below-market-rate units

Those displaced decades ago by the former Redevelopment Agency in San Francisco’s predominantly Black neighborhoods are expected on Tuesday to get more time to make use of a program prioritizing them for affordable housing units. But it remains unclear if The City will let their grandchildren have the right to use it if they don’t.

Thousands of households displaced by the “urban renewal” program of the 1960s and 1970s in the Western Addition and Hunters Point are entitled to a certificate of preference, giving them a priority status in affordable housing lotteries.

The certificate of preference program has faced scrutiny, however, for low participation rates and debate over whether enough has been done to inform people of their right to use it and the housing opportunities that come up.

But it continues to be seen as an important tool to right the wrongs of the past.

The program began with the former Redevelopment Agency and was taken over seven years ago by its successor agency, the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure, which is seeing through the redevelopment of Transbay, Mission Bay, Hunters Point-Shipyard and Candlestick Point. OCII contracts with the Mayor’s Office of Housing to administer the program as they conduct affordable housing lotteries, which is the way The City selects who moves into affordable housing units.

The program is due to expire next month, but is expected to be extended. Just how it should be extended, however, has become a subject of debate this month.

Earlier this month, the Commission on Community Investment and Infrastructure postponed a vote on extending the program for only five more years, as Black advocates called for an indefinite extension and for expanding the benefit to the grandchildren of those displaced.

Cheryl Thornton, an employee with the Department of Public Health, told the commission that the program should be extended indefinitely “due to the harm that has been caused to the Black community in San Francisco.”

“We can see that just looking at the census tract,” Thornton said. “Every ten years, we are the only ethnicity that has gone down consistently. The practices and policies around housing have been devastating.”

She also called for more outreach to those displaced.

Tiffany Carter, a co-founder of San Francisco Black Wallstreet, wanted the program “extended permanently.”

“San Francisco has really done away with the Black community and we need time to re-enter into this city, into a city that I was born and raised in and a lot of my generation have not been able to live in,” Carter told the commission. “We have been pushed out in every aspect.”

OCII commissioner Bivett Brackett, a 2019 Mayor London Breed appointment, called for an indefinite extension until all the areas are redeveloped, which she estimated would take another 40 years. Brackett also called for the program to be expanded to allow the grandchildren of families displaced by redevelopment to have the right to use a certificate if their parents have not.

“Could you imagine being displaced and then several generations down the line someone saying, ‘Oh you don’t deserve the right to come back anymore because that happened to your grandparents, not you?’” Brackett said to her fellow commissioners.

Initially the certificate of preference was granted to the head of a household and later expanded to include anyone who was living in the household at the time of displacement.

Brackett’s proposed amendment was not voted on and prompted a continuance of the matter until Tuesday’s meeting and a new recommendation from OCII staff.

The commission is now scheduled to vote on extending the program beyond five years. Not indefinitely, but until the agency completes its affordable housing construction obligations, according to a commission memo from Sally Oerth, OCII’s new interim executive director.

That means that certificate holders would now stand to benefit from thousands of more affordable housing units than they otherwise would have if the program expired in 2026, as initially recommended by OCII staff.

OCII is overseeing the construction of 21,806 housing units, of which 7,036, or 32 percent, are to be offered at below-market rate.

OCII has about 12,600 units of both market rate and affordable housing remaining to develop in various stages. Of the total, 4,290 are affordable housing units, including 3,000 in the Candlestick Point/Hunters Point Shipyard development.

“The timing for completion of these units is still to be determined, but the vast majority of these units, particularly in the [Candlestick Point/Hunters Point Shipyard Phase II] Project are likely to be delivered after 2026,” the memo said.

There is no recommendation to extend the benefits to grandchildren, only a commitment in the memo to continue those discussions.

The commission is also voting Tuesday to create a working group that would explore ways to improve the program as well as extending the benefits to descendants of those displaced. Just because a certificate holder may win a unit in the lottery, they still have to meet certain requirements for the housing including income eligibility and credit history.

Brackett said that in the past seven years, only a “minuscule amount” of certificate holders have secured housing under OCII, but the data shows there is a desire for Black residents to return to San Francisco.

Since fiscal year 2013-2014, there were 1,283 affordable housing units available in lotteries under OCII. There were 395 people with certificates who applied and 83 were housed. Thirty of those housed had come from outside of San Francisco.

Brackett said that thousands of people have a right to certificates but thousands have gone unused due to the Redevelopment Agency “losing its records and poorly executed outreach strategies over decades.”

There were 5,829 households displaced by “urban renewal” and more than 6,500 people identified as eligible certificate holders, according to Pam Sims, OCII’s senior development specialist.

There are 1,832 certificate holders who have used them at least once. They can be used twice, once for an affordable rental and once to buy a home. Another 884 are engaged with the Mayor’s Office of Housing with up-to-date contact information. There are 1,628 known deceased certificate holders.

But then there are 2,446 with no current contact information. OCII plans to hire a consultant to locate more people who may be eligible certificate holders and to update contact information.

The commission meets virtually Tuesday at 1 p.m.

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