If San Francisco is to maintain its essential character and diversity as it continues to evolve, our city needs a housing agenda that genuinely prioritizes housing for the everyday people who make up over 65 percent of The City — the low and moderate income. As mandated by the voters in last November’s Proposition K, we must achieve an appropriate balance between market-
rate and below-market-rate housing, both preserving and creating homes for The City’s current and new residents at a range of income levels. To do this, we need an ambitious commitment to dedicated revenue, and an aggressive resolve to protect residents from displacement and speculation.
But don’t we already give enough to below-market-rate housing? Unfortunately, no. The City is still feeling the impacts of the state’s dissolution of redevelopment agencies, which in San Francisco was the primary source of housing funds.
Moreover, the Housing Trust Fund, passed by voters in 2012, was repurposed by The City almost immediately to make critical improvements to public housing, and this will consume much of those resources for many years.
And aren’t private developers already paying their fair share? Again, no. It is clear, by any economist’s measure, that simply adding incentives to increase supply will never create market-rate units affordable to any low- or moderate-income household. Even though developers contribute to The City’s Housing Fund, helping to offset the need for new low- and moderate-income homes created by expanding development, they are playing by outdated rules that cover only a small portion of their impacts.
There is no “silver bullet” to deal with the current imbalance in affordable and market-rate housing. In order to fully meet Prop. K’s commitment to minimum 33 percent below-market-rate housing, as well as our commitment to rebuilding public housing and preserving vulnerable rent-controlled apartments, The City needs a comprehensive package of revenue measures in 2015 and 2016, with a housing bond being just one part.
A bond could be an important boost to fund The City’s public housing and HOPESF goals, and free up the Housing Trust Fund, and the 2016 presidential election year may be our best chance. The last housing bond that passed in San Francisco was in the 1996, Presidential election. A second attempt in 2002, with dismal voter turnout, lost even with support of the mayor and Board of Supervisors. The two-thirds threshold is a real challenge.
A more immediate focus for 2015 should be on reinstituting the suspended Redevelopment Agency revenue previously dedicated to meeting The City’s obligation to rebuild 6,000 homes destroyed by urban renewal in the Western Addition, South of Market area and elsewhere.
This funding loss was another casualty of the state’s dissolution of redevelopment agencies. This could be put before local voters this year, requiring only a 50 percent threshold, immediately raising as much as $20 million annually to finance replacement housing throughout The City.
Four other measures could be implemented immediately, in order to spread the prosperity we are currently experiencing. These include:
1. Measures to recapture a portion of the value gained by private development built on public land like the Balboa Reservoir, or receiving significant upzonings, such as the Chronicle Building 5M project, the Mission Rock development and the Central SoMa Plan;
2. Updating The City’s 1996 Jobs-Housing Linkage Fees on office development to reflect changes in workplaces;
3. Tiering the inclusionary fees so highrise developments pay their fair share; and 4. Dedicating revenues from the hotel tax on short term rentals, including back taxes collected, to address the impact of the loss of rental units to vacation uses.
Finally, we have to emphasize that just as important as new revenue is the immediate need to preserve The City’s existing rent-controlled housing. Unless serious policies are put in place this year, The City is at real risk of losing more “naturally affordable” housing to real estate speculation and hotelization than it could possibly build as new below-market-rate housing. We face as much a crisis of gentrification and displacement as a housing crisis.
We welcome a real dialogue between The City, the below-market-rate housing community and our city’s residents, around a comprehensive plan for the preservation of our communities, new housing and the necessary revenue to make it happen. The future of our city hangs in the balance.
Fernando Martí and Peter Cohen are co-directors of the Council of Community Housing Organizations (CCHO), a coalition of 23 community-based housing developers, service providers and tenant advocates, dedicated to a vision of a San Francisco Bay Area where all residents can afford to live, work, and thrive. www.sfccho.org.