The Trump Administration's Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has put San Francisco on notice over an affordable housing policy that the Obama Administration had tacitly supported.
The program, called the Neighborhood Resident Housing Preference plan, was created by the Board of Supervisors in 2015 as a way to keep low-income residents from being pushed out of the communities they've long lived in, as their neighborhoods gentrify and redevelop. It requires that 40 percent of units be set aside in new affordable projects funded by the city, and reserved for people already living within a half mile, or within the same supervisorial district, as the project being built. As the Chronicle reported in March, over four years, the program appears to be working as intended, with 39 percent of units fitting the criteria built between 2016 and 2018 occupied by people already living in the neighborhood.
But the issue with the program, in the eyes of state and federal authorities, is that it violates the Fair Housing Act, which was passed in order to combat segregation and discrimination in neighborhoods. In recent years, the state has recognized that the spirit of neighborhood-preference programs is not racist, and has allowed for 25 percent of units to be set aside for such purposes, but the feds have not yet caught up.
This week, as the Chronicle reports, the mayor's office and several other city departments received letters from HUD requesting ten years of documentation regarding the approvals and permitting of multifamily developments. According to the letter, HUD wants to "examine whether San Francisco’s current practices impose artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary impediments to fair housing choice by limiting affordable housing development that provides access to opportunities for [protected classes]."
HUD has always looked down on the program, as Mission Housing Development Corp.'s Sam Moss tells the Chronicle, but under Obama they chose not to prosecute the issue. All that, obviously, has changed.
As the SF Business Times notes, "the exact target of the probe is not clear at the moment."
The spirit of the neighborhood-preference program — keeping communities from fracturing as new development takes place — will now have to be verified, and proven not to be detrimental to anyone seeking affordable housing.
"We know the mistakes of the past,” Mayor London Breed said earlier this year, per the Chronicle. “We saw it play itself out in the Western Addition in particular, where so many people like myself grew up in the neighborhood, get asked to support affordable housing and when the housing is finished, there’s not one person from the community even living in the new places."