Prop. K: A big win for affordable housing balance in S.F.

With Tuesday's victory for Proposition K, San Franciscans have created a people's mandate to hold the mayor and the Board of Supervisors accountable to the commitments they have made toward housing affordability.

Prop. K's victory was a response to the crisis in San Francisco's neighborhoods, facing record numbers of evictions and widespread displacement of tenants and families. San Francisco now has the largest income gap in the country, rents are three times higher than the national average, with median rents at nearly $4,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment, and median home prices hitting the $1 million mark.

The City has lost more than 5,000 children and youth over the last decade, with evictions up 170 percent over this latest “hot market” cycle. With the continued loss of rental housing through real estate speculation, and withholding units to profit off of short-term rentals, the critical need for neighborhood stabilization strategies is all the more important.

Even before Prop. K's passage, we already started to see fruits of the measure, with the introduction of interim controls to protect artists and light industry in gentrifying areas of South of Market, and the Prop. F Pier 70 master plan development that mirrors the Prop. K goals, with a commitment to a minimum of 30 percent affordable housing.

And as Angelica Cabande, executive director of South of Market Community Action Network and CCHO member organization, said, “We can't complain our way out of this housing crisis, The City needs a baseline of development goals and tools to meet those goals.”

The first step in implementing Prop. K will be ensuring that we hit the 33 percent mark in the Central Soma Plan currently underway. This means a commitment to at least two publicly owned sites for 100 percent low-income housing developments, increased housing fees on commercial development to pay for housing the new workforce, and increased inclusionary on residential properties, given the substantial benefits they will receive from the Central SoMa rezoning. Prop. K also means securing public sites across The City with a priority for low-income housing development, in order to ensure that the minimum 33 percent housing balance production level is achieved, not just in the next five years but as a sustained standard.

We must also ensure that other neighborhoods hard hit by gentrification such as the Mission and Bernal, Chinatown and Central City, and Castro-Upper Market get the same commitments. Central to the vision of Prop. K was an emphasis on neighborhood stabilization, as important as the need to find balance in new housing production. This will mean ramping up a housing acquisition fund to take buildings off the market, in order to stabilize front-line neighborhoods being disrupted by speculation and evictions. Establishing a first right of refusal for tenants when their buildings are put up for sale will be a key step towards making Prop. K's neighborhood stabilization vision a reality.

The City must begin now to consider the options for new revenue in order to achieve Prop. K's affordable housing goal, from public finance measures to development impact fees, to a luxury housing fee or even an absentee owner-pied-a-terre tax.

Finally, Prop. K will establish new transparency about development activity through a quarterly Housing Balance Report and annual public hearing that makes clear to our policymakers and the public how the minimum 33 percent affordable housing balance is being achieved across The City.

This measure was part of a working class electoral agenda for San Francisco in 2014, along with Props. G and J. Now that Prop. K has won, we must not let down the fight — to hold City Hall accountable for meeting that standard at every future election from now on.

Tuesday we won — but now the real work begins of ensuring that these goals become a reality.

Fernando Martí and Peter Cohen are co-directors of the Council of Community Housing Organizations.

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