A crane hangs above North Beach in San Francisco. (Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner)

Protect San Francisco’s inclusionary housing

As a former supervisor I am particularly proud to have authored The City’s first inclusionary housing legislation in 2002. The policy requires that private, for-profit developers set aside a minimum amount of housing that is affordable to working and low-income residents, along with their market-rate units. According to the Planning Department, the Inclusionary Affordable Housing Program has resulted in more than 4,600 units of permanently affordable housing since its adoption, some rental and some ownership — it works! And this is now a legacy affordable housing policy that we can continue to strengthen and expand. In fact, the Board of Supervisors is currently in the process of updating the inclusionary requirements.

But we have a current problem. As a former state senator, I know how fast and sometimes messy the legislative process can be in Sacramento. Well-intended policies can sometimes leave unintended consequences that need to be cleaned up. That is the case with the state density bonus and recent changes to the law that now unfortunately undercut our local San Francisco inclusionary requirements. Again, this is not by intention but rather the result of a confluence of policy and administrative changes that have played the state density bonus against our inclusionary housing, rather than as a complement to each other.

That said, we also have an imminent solution. Assemblymember Phil Ting has authored a bill specifically for San Francisco, AB 915, that would ensure our city’s inclusionary requirements continue to fully apply when project sponsors avail themselves of development increases using the state density bonus. So if a project is required to provide 20 percent of its units as affordable currently, the requirement would continue to be 20 percent if the project increased in size using the state density bonus. It is really quite simple and unarguably reasonable. In this way, density bonus and affordability requirements can work together, which is critical as California struggles to meet housing needs.

We can thank Assemblymember Ting for taking on this effort to clean up the unintended conflict between state density bonus and local inclusionary housing policy that has emerged in San Francisco. And we can also thank Assemblymember David Chiu for his support last week as Chair of the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee. AB 915 faces its next challenge at the Assembly Local Government Committee on Wednesday, May 10.

It is not surprising to see the California Realtors, the California Apartment Association, the California Building Industry Association, the California Chamber of Commerce and some local development advocates opposing this very simple bill designed to keep San Francisco’s affordable housing policies intact — their objective to maximize incentives for private developers, even if at the expense of public benefit, is consistent if not sometimes wrongheaded.

This isn’t rocket science and isn’t grounds for an ideological battle. All that AB 915 does is level the field for development in San Francisco to ensure that we can both get more density and hold our expectations of developers to provide some affordable housing at the same time.

As the original author of San Francisco’s first inclusionary ordinance and a longtime champion of inclusionary housing at the state capitol, I believe we have a responsibility toward achieving real housing affordability goals. California’s state density bonus and local inclusionary zoning are two proven tools for creating much-needed housing for our workforce. But we need to ensure that these two mechanisms work effectively together, both adding dense, transit accessible infill units and ensuring that the minimum affordable units mandated by local laws are achieved. AB 915 makes that happen.

Mark Leno previously represented District 11 in the California State Senate and District 8 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

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