Those of you who voted earlier this month approved Prop K, a housing "ordinance" accurately described by the League of Pissed-Off Voters as a “non-binding pinky swear" of a ballot measure. The proposition which was Mayor Lee's compromise to keep Jane Kim from putting a more binding 30-percent affordable housing mandate on the ballot purports to help San Francisco’s perpetually screwed middle class who can’t afford luxury condos, but make too much money to qualify for affordable housing subsidies. The measure vows that it will now be “City policy to help construct or rehabilitate at least 30,000 homes by 2020, more than 50% of which will be affordable for middle-class households." And of the total built, 33% will be affordable to low-income households. But what will that actually mean in real terms?
Breaking down the math, this would mean 10,000 new low-income units, 5,000 middle-income units, and 15,000 fancy-ass condos. The fancy-ass condos are going to get built no matter what in this economy. But what about the 15,000 low- and middle-income units? After all, Prop. K didn’t say that these 15,000 affordable new homes would be built, it just makes it City Hall policy that these units should be built.
We took our full-blown skepticism and spoke with Mayor Lee’s and Supervisor Kim’s offices. The mayor’s spokesperson Christine Falvey admits that Prop K is just a pinky swear, but insists there is a structure to ensure that affordability goals are met.
“It’s true that Prop K was a non-binding policy measure, but it represents a real affirmation by two-thirds of San Francisco voters in the Mayor’s vision to solve this City’s housing crisis,” she said in a statement to SFist. “The 30-percent goal that Prop K sets is a good starting point, and Mayor Lee will have some important announcements in the coming weeks about new initiatives and laws to help us reach and exceed these stretch goals.”
The framework of these initiatives already exists, sort of. Prop K was only 49 words long as it appeared on your November ballot, but its four pages of policy guts are in Supervisor Kim’s ordinance that the board passed in July. The policy calls for annual reviews, funding strategies and land acquisition strategies to develop more affordable housing but they remain short on funding specifics. “The Mayor’s Housing Working Group will be releasing a set of proposed policy and program strategies soon, and will continue to work through early next year to solidify new funding sources,” Falvey told us.
That funding could come from additional city bonds, or even a luxury tax on units not being used as primary residences. About 40 percent of new condos just sit empty anyway, or get rented on Airbnb for $10,000 per night.
District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, whose fantastic shoes won Election Night, insists she’ll apply additional pressure on developers who are loath to build middle- and low-income units. Her office tacked a Housing Action and Neighborhood Stabilization Plan onto Prop K, and she’s pushed a series or moratoriums designed to curb developers’ lust for building all luxury condos all the time.
"In September we introduced a moratorium on PDR [Production, Distrubution and Repair] conversions and light industrial conversions," Supervisor Kim’s legislative aide April Veneracion Ang told us, “where former industrial spaces were being converted into high-end tech offices and also high-end residential. We introduced a moratorium that says there’s no conversion of PDR spaces until the Central SoMa Plan is completed. And we have a plan for ensuring that 33 percent of the housing in the central SoMa area will actually be affordable to that $0 - $120,000 AMI [Area Median Income] range.”
The funny thing about these 30,000 new homes is that they’re already being built, or approved to be built. “There are over 50,700 total housing units in the City’s pipeline (i.e at some stage from awaiting approval to completing construction), and our goal is to make sure that 30,000 of those will be constructed or rehabbed by 2020,” said Mayor Lee’s spokesperson. She points out that more than 12,000 units are “pursuing planning approval” plus more than 10,000 already fully approved and/or under construction, which means there's really only 8,000 left to go in the next five years.
That doesn’t necessarily guarantee that these units will be within financial reach to most San Franciscans. For the first time in Mayor Ed Lee’s tenure, it will actually matter whether or not he “gets it done” on housing affordable to those making less than $120,000 a year.
Lee is running for re-election in 2015, and you can bet the lease on your $3,200-a-month micro-apartment that he’ll face a strong challenge from a progressive leftie like Mark Leno, or maybe Tom Ammiano. Dianne Feinstein has refused to endorse Lee because she's none too thrilled that he signed the Airbnb law. Even Lee and his matron saint Rose Pak “have been drifting apart for months” according to Matier & Ross. So, it's looking like Lee cannot count on his traditional connections to help him win re-election, and it may be anyone's game.
That could change if he's somehow able to show immediate results on affordable housing, but as I've explained above, converting market-rate units already in the pipeline into affordable ones might be a challenge. If the mayor can't wrangle developers into building more middle- and low-income units, Leno or Ammiano will claim they can use the power of the mayor's office to do so more effectively.
Who knows? Maybe, ultimately, someone with really fantastic shoes will try to step into Ed Lee's loafers.