Mayor Breed’s previous measure to speed up affordable housing was shot down by the supes in June. Scott Wiener’s SB-50 failed last week in Sacramento. Now the mayor wants to take a housing bill straight to SF voters.
Building more affordable housing is something every San Franciscan can get behind in the contemporary local housing crisis. But the definition of “affordable” in this economy has been cleverly gamed by unscrupulous types and the VC-backed sector who cry poor over six-figure salaries. We are going to take a wild guess that those are the fault lines that will separate factions in the inevitable debate (i.e. online shouting matches) sure to accompany Mayor London Breed’s new affordable housing measure called Affordable Homes Now. The Chronicle reports that the measure, if passed, would completely sidestep the lengthy building and planning process for housing projects that contain a certain percentage of affordable housing. The New York Times adds that Affordable Homes Now, being a ballot measure, will need 50,000 signatures to even make the November 2020 ballot.
Our housing shortage is pricing out low- and middle-income San Franciscans. It's time that we act like it.— London Breed (@LondonBreed) February 5, 2020
I'm introducing Affordable Homes Now for the November ballot because the status quo isn't working for our residents. We need fundamental change. https://t.co/jnUFKkkpjH
The Chron cites a UC Berkeley study showing that it typically takes an average of 3.8 years of City Hall red tape before a project of more than 10 units can even break ground. Affordable Housing Now proposes to eliminate review processes for projects that meet zoning and planning codes, and meet a certain threshold of affordable housing units.
But what is that threshold? The Chronicle and the Times have vague and possibly conflicting reports; the Chronicle says that, under the proposed measure, projects “have to increase the number of affordable units they build on-site by at least 15 percent” to qualify for automatic approval. The Times says the threshold is “somewhere between 13 and 20 percent of units, depending on size.” SFist has reached out to the mayor’s office for clarification and a copy of the measure’s proposed language, and we’ll update this post if we hear back.
Whatever the real threshold is, it’s a disappointment to affordable housing advocates. Co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations Peter Cohen complains to the Chronicle that Breed’s measure would “lower the goalpost” from a 2017 state bill that sets that exemption at 50 percent affordable housing to qualify for the rubber stamp approval.
And the definition of “affordable” is a potential devil in these details. The proposed threshold in this case would be way up in what we've been calling "middle-income" housing, or up to 140% of the area median income — which is just over $172,000 right now — for a family of four. Certainly that changes with smaller households. But the proposition of six-figure salary homes classified as “affordable housing” may be something of a facepalm for the average San Franciscan.
Again, this is a proposal for a ballot measure, which means Job One for Breed is to get those 50,000 registered voters’ signatures in the next couple months. The Times points out this is an “expensive undertaking, requiring an army of volunteers and paid signature collectors that charge several dollars per signature.”
That means money, and that money cannot come from City Hall. It would presumably come from the developers who hope to make out like bandits with a new rubber-stamping exemption at their disposal. A controversial definition of “affordable” might be enough to raise skepticism toward Affordable Homes Now, but also factor in that City Hall was recently hoodwinked on a development that turned out to be corporate rentals instead of actual housing, and that a similar affordable housing effort in Oakland has produced precisely zero affordable units in three years.
Image: Mayor London Breed via Facebook