San Francisco voters have a huge opportunity to weigh in on the affordable housing shortage affecting so many of our communities, from low-income seniors and public housing residents to our teachers, janitors, laborers and their families.
This November, there are two game changing affordable housing measures, Propositions A and E, that will tackle the two biggest obstacles in building affordable housing: Funding and Land. Not only will these measures open up opportunities to build affordable housing across the entire city, but it will also provide the funding to get these future homes off the ground.
Props A and E are putting affordable housing front-and-center on the agenda while also helping build political momentum in a way that transcends ideological differences, and seeks to find collective solutions to common needs.
Prop A is the largest housing bond attempted in San Francisco’s history, bringing in $600 million for family, senior and supportive housing, for rehabbing our public housing and cooperatives, for seniors, for teachers and educators, and for homeownership programs. At least one third will be dedicated to serving low- and very-low-income people.
At least 2,000 units are expected to be built because of this bond. Some of these are “shovel-ready” projects, ready to start construction but for the lack of funding. But others, especially the senior housing and teacher housing, will require access to new sites. That’s where Prop E comes in.
Prop E makes it easier and faster to build 100% affordable housing on large lots across the entire city, and changes zoning citywide to allow affordable and teacher housing on surplus public lots (something that currently requires lengthy rezonings on a site-by-site basis). Proposition E is one of the most sweeping rezoning programs for affordable housing in San Francisco’s history.
These two affordable housing measures work independently, but reinforce each other. Money and Land, land and money.
They are not the only things, of course. We need good community development organization partners with deep knowledge of their communities, wraparound services for residents, accountable city agencies, and a skilled labor force, but getting affordable housing off the ground is the land and the funding, which is why we are encouraging San Francisans to vote Yes on Propositions A and E.
It’s a bit of a rare “kumbaya” moment, in which the full Board of Supervisors and the Mayor, housing justice and tenant advocates, neighborhood activists, environmentalists and labor unions are united behind the two measures. There’s a handful of spoiled-grapes attitudes from market-rate development advocates, but nevertheless most everyone across the political spectrum is rallying around these two landmark affordable housing measures.
Let’s be clear— if these two measures pass, we can’t consider the crisis solved. 2,000 units over the next five or so years may seem like a lot, but as the City’s own Planning Department reports, San Francisco should be building about 2,000 new units of affordable housing per year just to keep up with the annual increase in need as the city’s population grows. The good news is that affordable housing, when the political will and voter support is there, keeps on being built through the ups and downs of the economic cycles, unlike market-rate housing production which evaporates once rents start stabilizing, as we’re seeing now.
That’s why we and other housing advocates helped push Mayor Breed in promising to make a housing bond part of the regular capital plan, with a new investment in the City’s housing infrastructure every five years, just as we do with parks or emergency services. And that’s why Prop E opens up affordable housing opportunities on private and public land far into the future.
Addressing our residents’ housing needs, like addressing health-care, education, or climate change adaptation, is an ongoing battle, with many solutions brought to bear at the right times and in the right places. But as with climate change, we can’t wait long for solutions. Propositions A and E, funding and land, are part of that battle and are two great big opportunities to win!
Fernando Marti is co-director of San Francisco’s Council of Community Housing Organizations (CCHO), San Francisco’s coalition of 24 affordable housing developers, service providers and advocates. Maya Chupkov is CCHO’s communications director.