The solution to SF’s affordable housing crisis is simple — build affordable housing

It’s time for The City to sell $1 billion in tax increment bonds to fund equitable development

By Angelica Cabande, John Elberling, Rudy Corpuz, Carla Laurel and Raquel Redondiez

Special to The Examiner

The California Department of Housing and Community Development is giving San Francisco until the end of the year to provide “reasoning and evidence” for putting more than 800 units of market-rate housing in SOMA and Tenderloin on ice. We can tell you exactly why they did it — and why they made the right call.

Let’s start with the facts.

In the last seven years, San Francisco has built more than 18,000 market-rate housing units — 148% of the goal set by our regional planning agency, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). An additional 52,000 units of market-rate housing already have been approved for construction.

Those new units have not helped our homeless neighbors out of our tents. They have not stemmed the tide of working families being priced out of their homes.

Meanwhile, San Francisco has built fewer than 6,000 affordable housing units in the last seven years — 10,000 units fewer than the goal set by ABAG.

The proof is on our streets: All development is not created equal. Eighty six percent of the units in the now blocked 469 Stevenson St. project in SOMA would be unaffordable to San Francisco’s working-class residents.

The solution to our affordable housing crisis is simple: Build affordable housing.

Until San Francisco rights the imbalance between market and affordable housing production, we will not see equitable development in our city. We cannot accept failure as regrettable, but inevitable. We need to see some political will — some urgency around the existential need to house our essential workers, working-class families and formerly homeless people.

We know it’s possible. Just a year ago, our Central City Coalition successfully negotiated with a developer to transform the “Monster on Mission Street” market-rate housing site into a 100% affordable development. We can do the same thing in SOMA.

Most of The City’s new luxury and market housing has been built in the eastern half of San Francisco, especially in the neighborhoods of color that have been identified by ABAG as “communities of concern” because of their unique vulnerability to large-scale displacement, including SOMA, the Tenderloin, the Mission District, Chinatown, the Bayview District and others. San Francisco’s limited rent control rules are no match for state laws that are designed to accelerate development of market housing.

Urban sociology studies and real estate marketing practices have shown that introducing new higher income populations into existing lower income communities destabilizes them.

Property values go up, and then rents follow. We have seen this story over and over.

The project at 469 Stevenson is in the middle of the Sixth Street neighborhood — SOMA’s last remaining lower-income community. The site stands across from the Mint Mall apartments — home to generations of Filipino American families — that would almost certainly become targets for real estate investor flipping.

We agree that this empty parking lot should be transformed into housing. But it should be 100% affordable. About 250 new affordable units could be built here in a cost-effective building, almost four times as many as proposed.

The South of Market Community — SOMCAN, SOMA Pilipinas, TODCO, United Playaz and Westbay Pilipino Multiservice Agency — asked our Board of Supervisors to protect our fragile community from this threat of displacement and support our vision. The board heard us and agreed, acting conclusively by a supermajority vote of 8-3 to uphold our community’s appeal.

This is what “equitable development” really means.

This is not the time for finger-pointing. This is the time for us to come together. This is the time to go big!

And San Francisco can go big.

The City could establish an Enhanced Infrastructure Finance District to sell $1 billion of tax increment bonds to fund affordable housing development throughout San Francisco over the next 10 years, without raising taxes. The sale of those bonds could easily fund purchase of the 469 Stevenson site by The City for affordable social housing, build new facilities for our homeless San Franciscans and fund 4,000 more affordable housing units for San Franciscans than now planned.

That would be “equitable development.” We are all ready — let’s go.

Angelica Cabande is organizational director of South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN). John Elberling is president of Tenants and Owners Development Corp (TODCO). Rudy Corpuz is founder and executive director United Playaz. Carla Laurel is Westbaby Pilipino Multiservice Agency. Raquel Redondiez is project manager of SOMA Pilipinas.

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