In San Francisco, only about one or two of these 100 percent affordable projects are produced each year, given the heavy public subsidies these projects require. (Michael Ares/S.F. Examiner file photo)

Build affordable housing the right way

Recently, my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors announced a proposal: “Density done right.” The goals behind their proposal are to be applauded — to create affordable housing without jeopardizing tenant security, to ensure that families and seniors in the local community can afford the housing provided by each project and to ensure that the creation of density does not mean losing affordability.

While these goals sound great, the reality is that the “Density done right” proposal does nothing to create new affordable housing other than add new barriers. The proposal was a reaction to the Affordable Housing Density Bonus legislation that I introduced along with Mayor Ed Lee and the Planning Department.

The proposal I put forth encourages affordable housing development for both market-rate developers, as well as 100 percent affordable housing projects. The “Density done right” proposal only adds barriers and limits the production of 100 percent affordable housing projects, and it does nothing to incentivize market-rate developers to provide additional onsite affordable housing.

In San Francisco, only about one or two of these 100 percent affordable projects are produced each year, given the heavy public subsidies these projects require.

Thus, having legislation that focuses solely on 100 percent affordable housing projects is short-sighted and does little to increase the production of affordable housing.

The essential elements of the “Density done right” proposal all run counter to creating more affordable housing:

n Limiting the height increases to two stories above existing height limits (instead of three, under my proposal) means we get fewer affordable housing units.

n Only allowing developments to be located on specified “soft sites” across The City, instead of allowing all possible opportunities, means we are limiting ourselves to about 32 parcels — not the 200 cited in a recent op-ed piece by Supervisor Aaron Peskin — and that we lose out on opportunities that arise outside of those 32 parcels. Affordable housing developments — such as 121 Golden Gate Ave., which provides housing above St. Anthony’s dining room, and St. Peter’s Place at 430 29th Ave. with 20 units of affordable housing for developmentally disabled adults — would have been excellent candidates for a density bonus program and would be excluded from the “Density done right” program.

n Requiring a new conditional use process for 100 percent affordable housing projects runs counter to legislation that the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved in February to eliminate the conditional use process for 100 percent affordable projects.

n Lastly, the requirement to provide affordable housing priced for low- and middle-income households up to neighborhood median income levels does not make sense for 100 percent affordable housing projects, where income levels are already restricted.

Let’s not be short-sighted about how we build affordable housing in San Francisco. Let’s work together to build affordable housing the right way — and that means offering real avenues to build 100 percent affordable housing and real incentives to get market-rate housing to offer one-third of their units at affordable levels. I welcome input from supervisors Peskin and Eric Mar on getting the best proposal, but let’s not erase all the hard work and analysis that has already been done on this issue. Let’s build more affordable housing now — not less and not later.

Katy Tang represents District 4 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

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