To address one of the most pressing issues facing San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee announced Monday a city-loan program for nonprofits or property owners to buy or hold on to buildings to combat evictions.
The Small Sites Acquisition program offers up to $3 million in loans to start, but the mayor said he plans to keep funding the effort in the coming years. The revenue comes from fees paid by developers and from an existing housing trust fund approved by voters.
On Monday, the mayor said that the program will “help stabilize what's happening in some of our neighborhoods where long-term rent-control apartments are under challenge by speculators that are buying it up at extreme prices.”
The mayor's critics blame him for not doing enough to alleviate soaring rents, a housing squeeze and displacement, which they say is directly caused by his promotion of the booming technology industry.
But the mayor says he is responding to those concerns with efforts like the goal of creating 30,000 units of new or rehabilitated housing with one-third below market rate by 2020. He has also supported state Sen. Mark Leno's failed attempt to reform the Ellis Act, a state law that allows a property owner to evict renters to get out of the rental business.
Some who praised the Small Sites Acquisition program questioned the rules that require the average median income of tenants in the selected sites to ultimately reach 80 percent of that income. But the Mayor's Office of Housing Director Olson Lee said that they were looking for the “sweet spot” and had poor experiences with some housing where the incomes were at the 50 percent level.
The hope is the loan will be a one-time funding source and the site would remain self-sufficient. Olson Lee added that state and federal funding provides financial assistance for the low-income residents and this is a way to try to help a slightly higher income bracket.
Sites eligible for the loans are buildings between five and 25 units. Participants will be selected on a first-come, first-served basis with priority given to those who meet such criteria as being in neighborhoods with a high level of Ellis Act evictions and require less per-unit subsidies.
The program caps purchase or rehabilitation at $250,000 per unit, but the housing director expected the initial investment will result in ensuring 30 to 40 units will remain below market rate. If the income of tenants is an average of 50 percent, then vacant units must be filled with those earning more, capped at 120 percent of area median income. This higher income level, some fear, will not benefit longstanding residents in the area. For one person, 50 percent of median income is $34,000 and 120 percent is $81,550.
Kris Ongoco, a SoMa Stabilization Fund co-chair, was among those requesting the program have more flexibility with the income levels and hopes the rules will be modified. Overall, she said The City needs to respond more aggressively to the housing challenges.
“It's really not enough. I don't think the vision is there.” Ongoco said of the current efforts. “If we look at New York City's proposal, it just kicks our butt.”