The voters have spoken: affordable homes in every neighborhood!

By Fernando Martí and Peter Cohen

By Fernando Martí and Peter Cohen

San Francisco voters made a big statement this week: the City must step up public funding for affordable housing, find opportunities for affordable homes in every neighborhood of the city, and use its public lands wisely.

Voters overwhelmingly supported Proposition E, the biggest citywide rezoning for affordable housing, with almost 75% of the vote, and passed the largest housing bond in the City’s history, Proposition A, with 69%.

Prop. E will rezone large lots and public sites to allow for 100 percent affordable housing, streamlining and unlocking opportunities for neighborhoods across the entire city. Prop E’s huge victory reminds us that good organizing and broad coalition-building can define a new winning narrative for housing in San Francisco — one that brings low-income housing and tenant advocates, educators and labor leadership, and West-side political leadership together.

The $600 million from Prop. A will fund affordable housing opportunities for people across the income spectrum from very low-income to middle income earners.

These two big wins are not just for affordable housing, but for all of San Francisco’s communities and future residents.

Voters were clear that affordable housing is no longer just a crisis for low-income people. With a rapidly growing income and wealth inequality, it is a critical dilemma for a much wider swath of San Franciscans shut out of the real estate market.

The Prop. A housing bond started at $300 million, but grew to twice that amount through negotiations to support seniors, middle-income housing for educators, and investments in neighborhoods citywide.

Prop. E reinforced San Franciscan’s commitment to keeping public lands for the public good, and clearly defined educator housing to serve the range of incomes and families working for our children.

The measures addressed the affordable housing shortage as a both/and issue, not leaving behind the most vulnerable or stripping funding for low-income housing in order to fund middle-income.

These conversations about providing for this wide range of housing needs are likely to continue as the City and housing advocates explore new types of social housing in the coming decade.

Prop. E’s overwhelming victory proves the readiness of San Francisco voters to open up zoning in the outer neighborhoods that have not seen affordable housing in decades: people across the city do want housing in their neighborhoods, affordable to their neighbors, their seniors, their children, and their teachers.

Already, Prop. E is having a positive effect. The first educator housing serving teachers and para-professionals from 40% AMI to 120% AMI at the Francis Scott Key Annex in the Sunset district will have the approval time for its rezoning cut down dramatically thanks to Prop. E.

To take advantage of the opportunities created by Prop. E’s rezoning will of course take funding. That’s why a substantial portion of Prop. A includes funding for new sites in neighborhoods that have seen little affordable housing. Making that real will require the work of that emerging pro-affordable housing alliance of advocates, neighborhood supporters, and political leadership.

Prop. E’s win also mandates the City to maintain its commitment to keeping public lands in public hands. There is a strong legacy to this commitment, from Assemblymember Phil Ting’s state Public Lands laws to our local Surplus Properties legislation and the overwhelming voter mandate of the 2015 Prop. K public sites measure. In fact, one of the reasons that San Francisco has been the most successful Bay Area city in building affordable housing is its commitment to dedicating underutilized public sites to 100% affordable housing.

The only criticisms of Prop. E came from a few advocates of selling off public resources and privatizing public land for market-rate development. These critics did not see the measure in terms of its merits as good policy unlocking the potential for affordable housing on both private sites and public land throughout the city, but as a proxy for an ongoing ideological battle between pro-privatization and a progressive vision of San Francisco community development. Prop. E explicitly keeps public land for the public good, in perpetuity.

This was a message the voters of San Francisco sent to City Hall with Propositions A and E: step up public funding for affordable housing, don’t leave anyone behind, build affordable homes in every neighborhood, and use our public lands wisely.

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

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