New commission might help SF housing crisis

A recent op-ed by Supervisor Mark Farrell in the San Francisco Examiner — “New, costly ‘Peskin Commission’ is not the answer to the housing crisis” (Aug. 9) — that opposed the creation of a commission having oversight over the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development was a classic ad hominem attack.

Farrell attacked Supervisor Aaron Peskin, although the housing commission charter change was co-sponsored by three supervisors and placed on the ballot by six members of the Board of Supervisors. It isn’t a singular “Peskin commission.”

MOHCD has sole discretion over $3 billion in housing funds allocation. Most San Franciscans agree that any city agency controlling $3 billion in public funds deserves an oversight commission.

Farrell claimed a housing commission would be expensive, wrongly alleging the “City Controller found that the ‘Peskin Commission’ would come at a great cost. We’re talking about millions of dollars.” Farrell was exaggerating. The City Controller noted increased costs to city government would be $210,000 annually. That’s negligible, at less than one-hundredth of one percent of The City’s $9.7 billion budget, not “millions.”

Farrell claimed a housing commission would slow down construction of affordable housing. That’s laughable, given MOHCD’s own unnecessary delays. MOHCD admitted on July 28 to the Citizen’s General Obligation Bond Oversight Committee — a body mandated to provide oversight of all bond measures — that the first bond “tranche” (“slice”) planned for issuance in the second quarter won’t be issued until the fourth quarter, a full year after voters passed the $310 million affordable housing bond. Farrell cleverly ignored MOHCD’s own delays slow down affordable housing construction.

CGOBOC member Brenda Kwee McNulty questioned on Jan. 28 whether “metrics” to assess bond spending will “shed some light into whether or not we made the right allocation decisions.” Clearly, McNulty appears concerned whether the four main categories of bond spending under MOHCD’s sole discretion are correct.

At CGOBOC’s July 28 meeting, MOHCD suddenly changed planned uses of the housing bond presented on Jan. 28. The previous “Middle-Income Rental Program” and “Expiring Regulations Preservation” categories vanished and new “Middle-Income Teacher Housing” and new “Middle-Income Buy-In Program” sub-categories appeared, replete with market-rate units, with final allocations “still to be determined.” Fully 18 months into planning bond uses, why are allocation categories shifting at MOHCD’s sole discretion, without forewarning CGOBOC?

Farrell pointedly ignored a Housing and Development Commission developing and setting MOHCD’s housing polices might actually speed up affordable housing construction. Farrell ignores MOHCD’s “sole discretion” would be replaced by a requirement the Housing Commission hold open-to-the-public hearings to develop a five-year plan for affordable housing projects. San Franciscans deserve input into affordable housing allocation decisions to ensure neighborhood participation.

San Francisco’s 2013–14 Civil Grand Jury issued its report “The Mayor’s Office of Housing: Under Pressure and Challenged to Preserve Diversity.” The jury concluded “housing development over the last decade has fallen far short of regional need targets,” noted “housing construction for middle-income households isn’t meeting regional housing targets,” and noted MOHCD’s record-keeping was in complete shambles.

City Controller and Board of Supervisors Budget and Legislative Analyst data paint a troubling picture of MOHCD. In February 2014, fully 92.8 percent — $17.5 million — of the total $20 million transferred to the Housing Trust Fund administered by MOHCD remained unspent nine months into Fiscal Year 2013–2014. MOHCD has consistently left Downpayment Loan Assistance Program funds unencumbered across fiscal years.

In 2015, $1.3 million for housing and public infrastructure improvements overseen by MOHCD was stolen from the SoMa Community Stabilization Fund. Nobody noticed for months. Separately, despite prodding by Peskin’s office, MOHCD allowed permanently affordable housing units to be foreclosed, lost forever.

MOHCD’s opposition to housing cooperatives under its Small Sites Acquisition program — despite both Mayor Ed Lee’s and the Planning Department’s support — is troubling, because San Francisco’s 2014 Housing Element includes co-ops.

There are many good reasons to support a housing commission having oversight of MOHCD’s stewardship of scarce affordable housing funds. Vote yes on Proposition M.

Patrick Monette-Shaw is a columnist for the Westside Observer newspaper.

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