By Kathryn Lybarger
A proposal to dramatically expand the UC San Francisco (UCSF) Parnassus campus is being hastily brought before the University of California’s Board of Regents this week.
Negotiated without many important community stakeholders—including UCSF employees— the current proposal promises two million gross square feet of new office space, a new hospital, about 4,000 new jobs, and more than 1,250 units of new housing.
This latter provision would almost certainly deepen the housing crisis in San Francisco. And, it is one reasons why there are growing calls for the University to table consideration of its proposal until at least March so more community voices can help fix its inadequacies.
Those voices should include members of AFSCME Local 3299, the over 4,000 predominately Black and Brown Service and Patient Care Technical workers at UCSF. Earning an average salary of $69,000 per year (and, as little as $47,000 for its lower wage service workers), these frontline workers must already endure long daily commutes from places like Sacramento, Tracy, and Stockton to care for patients in the middle of a global pandemic because they cannot afford to live near their work.
However well-intentioned, UCSF’s current proposal risks making the housing crisis worse for many of its most vulnerable essential workers. According to its MOU with the City, UCSF has committed to making just 40% of its planned housing production into affordable units that are accessible to employee households earning at or less than 90 percent and 120 percent of San Francisco’s Area Median Income (AMI). In San Francisco, 120 percent AMI translates into $107,600 for a one-person household or $153,700 for a four-person household.
This means that, in addition to producing not nearly enough affordable units, the current proposal will likely exclude the majority of my members as housing operators will be incentivized to rent to higher wage earners since they can charge them more. UCSF’s verbal alternative proposal of 60 percent to 90 percent AMI is even worse as many UCSF service workers’ salaries fall below the 60 percent income threshold altogether.
The result is that primarily Black and Brown UCSF workers will continue to be pushed out of the City and into three-, four- and five-hour daily commutes.
We believe the University should increase the number of housing units commensurate with the number of jobs it will create, and adjust its affordability thresholds so below market units are more accessible to UCSF’s lower-income workforce.
Finally, UCSF must accelerate the housing construction timeline so that more housing units are available by 2030 instead of 2050. While there has been a short-term increase in available rental units due to COVID-related flight from the City, San Francisco is still unaffordable for far too many of its own employees. By front loading housing development, the University can take a significant step towards closing the housing gap that has been plaguing its workforce for years.
Ultimately, as the largest employer in San Francisco, an expansion of the UCSF campus will have an outsized impact on the future of our community. It can either be force for greater equity, or for even greater inequality.
Aggressive housing commitments are required to mitigate the adverse impacts of the University’s Comprehensive Parnassus Heights Plan. We call on the Regents to postpone its approval until improvements are made that ensure the expansion of the Parnassus campus can be done in a more sustainable manner and to the benefit of all San Franciscans.
Kathryn Lybarger is the president of AFSCME Local 3299.