The Affordable Housing Bond, and fulfilling the promises of last November

The first local measure on this November’s ballot will be Proposition A, the $310 million Affordable Housing Bond, a critical proposal to provide necessary funding for addressing the current housing crisis. But though Prop A has the potential to do a lot, it is important to remember where it came from and that it is just one important piece in a package of measures we need to pass this year and next to make a real dent in The City’s housing crisis.

The Affordable Housing Bond didn’t appear on the ballot out of nowhere. It is part of an ongoing work plan that came out of last November’s Proposition K Housing Balance measure, which was passed with overwhelming voter support. Prop K created a mandate for The City to make 50 percent of all new housing affordable to residents who are low-income and middle class.

To do this, Mayor Ed Lee, the supervisors and housing advocates agreed to a comprehensive work plan, including a land acquisition strategy, a “Neighborhood Stabilization Trust” to protect existing at-risk buildings, higher affordability standards for new area plans, interim anti-displacement controls, an annual report on how The City is meeting its Prop K goals and a multi-pronged funding strategy.

The funding strategy is where the bond comes in.

Some might narrowly suggest the affordable housing bond was the only purpose of last year’s Prop K Housing Balance measure. But, in fact, it was a comprehensive and interrelated set of agreements, and there is much work to do this year and next to follow through and make that a real deal.

True, “there is no silver bullet”

What last year’s Prop K acknowledged, in all of its (admittedly) confusing complexity, is that addressing San Francisco’s affordability crisis means addressing the complicated questions of housing policy, of which funding is one key part:

• How do we fund and find sites for new affordable housing?

• How do we stop our precious rent-controlled housing from being transformed into something else?

• How do we plan for equitable development in our neighborhoods, when development seems out of control?

The answers to these questions do not come in easy, pre-packaged solutions, nor is there a “silver bullet” (really, shouldn’t we strike that phrase from our collective vocabulary?). Rather, there are multiple interrelated approaches and incremental steps, addressing various facets of the problem. We need to employ a range of tools.

Prop K funding strategy

The Prop A Affordable Housing Bond is a lynchpin of the funding puzzle. A quarter of it will be used for the critically important rehabilitation of our public housing stock, another quarter will go to first-time homebuyer programs and teacher housing programs, and half of it — $150 million — will go to the development of new permanently affordable homes.

This is an important step forward toward our real affordable housing needs and will create momentum for realizing Prop K’s comprehensive funding strategy with a broad sweep of other measures, like neighborhood-level infrastructure finance districts, a pied-a-terre housing fee, workforce housing requirements on commercial projects and a tiered approach to inclusionary developer fees. (These may sound like abstract technical policies, but over the next year will become more familiar to San Franciscans looking for answers.)

What we need — and what last year’s Prop K promised — is not just one magic solution, but a slate of solutions. Some of those solutions are coming before voters in November. And within that context, the Affordable Housing Bond is one of the critical pieces that will bring to fruition the comprehensive plan for affordable housing that voters mandated in last year’s Housing Balance measure.

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

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