Lee’s Plan is a significant first step

In 2012, City Hall’s Chief Economist Ted Egan said that San Francisco required 100,000 new housing units in order to achieve true affordability in The City. And ever since, there have been many proposals and ideas on how to achieve this lofty goal, but there has yet to be a consensus from housing advocates, builders, city planners and politicians. Recently the focus has been on tweaking old ideas, stopping new construction, building new neighborhoods.

Some of these ideas are created to put a bandage on the problem, some are done to gain political points, some are done to make money for large companies. But to really solve the housing shortage in The City, we need to look at new, untried ideas.

Mayor Ed Lee’s $1.1 billion housing plan is the first significant step this year toward achieving that goal. By utilizing a unique combination of General Fund dollars, federal and state grants, private development fees and the 2015 Housing Bond, the mayor has put together a program that would create more than a billion dollars for affordable housing production over the next five years.

It is an ambitious agenda that will create immediate, tangible results — homes that everyday San Franciscans can afford and neighbor-
hoods where communities and families can thrive. Most importantly, for the first time in The City’s history, the plan will allocate specific monies to middle-income families and residents. These are residents whose salaries fall just above the income cap for the government’s affordable housing programs, but don’t make enough income to compete against wealthy buyers in the hyper-competitive market. The mayor’s program is one of the first that will protect and preserve The City’s middle class.

The mayor’s plan depends on two critical pillars: First, passage of the 2015 Housing Bond, and second, strong returns on fees coming in from new private real estate development.

1. The 2015 Housing Bond coming before voters this November will create a quarter-billion dollars for affordable housing — without increasing property taxes — is a huge component of San Francisco’s housing future, and voters should support the mayor’s bond when they see it on the ballot.

2. Fees generated from private real estate development are just as critical to the mayor’s plan. It provides $27 million more dollars than the Housing Bond, for a whopping total of $527 million dollars between the two initiatives.

There is only one pathway out of the housing challenges that we face: to build 100,000 housing units with a healthy balance between new development and affordable housing.  Mayor Lee has laid down the foundation for that pathway, and San Francisco should support him.

Walt Baczkowski is executive director of San Francisco Association of Realtors.

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