By Peter Cohen and Fernando Martí
The Guardian last week published an editorial on the outcome of the process around the Housing Balance measure. We offer here an alternative perspective from the field.
Since 1990, San Francisco has developed an incredible track record of building close to 30 percent affordable housing — but that ratio is quickly slipping away as new market-rate approvals far outstrip funding for affordable housing.
In many parts of our city, this imbalance in housing affordability is opening the door to displacement and gentrification at an unprecedented level, as long-term residents find they can no longer afford to live in their own neighborhoods.
The Housing Balance measure, developed as legislation for central city neighborhoods and introduced in April, and promoted by CCHO members TODCO and SOMCAN coming out of the West SoMa planning process, was intended to link market-rate development to affordable housing production by setting a goal of at least 30 percent affordable housing and establishing stricter conditions on approvals of market-rate housing whenever the city fell below this minimum balance. The Housing Balance measure was meant to compel all sides to work together to achieve a minimum of 30 percent affordability over time.
In June, Supervisor Jane Kim revised the Housing Balance to introduce it as a measure for the November 2014 ballot, extending the reach of the measure to not only establish a 30 percent affordable housing requirement for District 6, but across the neighborhoods of the city. Perceived as a threat by developers, this new proposal compelled the Mayor’s Office to put its own measure on the ballot — a so-called “poison pill” that would override the conditions placed on market-rate development by the Housing Balance. Since that time, the Mayor’s Office and Sup. Kim’s office engaged in extensive negotiations, which CCHO supported as a pathway to more substantive outcomes than simply a ballot “war.”
On July 29, negotiations produced a compromise measure — a policy statement that was introduced for the November ballot and agreed-upon terms for a work plan to take the policy statement into action. Though “compromise” is often considered a dirty word in politics, this measure represents a real potential win for affordable housing.
By putting the possibility of a housing linkage on the table, the negotiated outcome allowed Sup. Kim and housing advocates to up the ante to 33 percent affordable housing instead of the original 30 percent, and to get more immediate solutions for the housing crisis started immediately. The original Housing Balance was a tool to create leverage, but didn’t create ways to produce more affordable housing. This new measure establishes a package of policies and funding to set the conditions to reach the 33 percent minimum housing balance goal.
If approved by the voters, it will formalize the city’s commitment to maintain a one third affordable housing goal and set expectations on how to get there. While lacking the conditional use requirement “teeth” of the original Balance legislation, the policy and work plan sets up the conditions for a future Balance, compelling the city to do the following:
1) Establish a housing balance report and require public hearings to hold the city accountable to its goal of minimum 33 percent affordable housing;
2) Develop funding and site-acquisition strategies;
3) Develop a strategy to maintain one-third affordability citywide;
4) Make high-rise luxury developments pay their fair share of inclusionary obligations;
5) Establish a funded Neighborhood Stabilization Trust to acquire small-to-large buildings and take them out of the speculative market, preserving them in perpetuity as affordable housing;
6) Create immediate interim controls to protect PDR (production, distribution, repair/service) businesses and artists in SOMA from displacement.
The pieces of this agreement constitute a step towards addressing San Francisco’s ongoing affordability crisis and stabilizing neighborhoods facing rapid gentrification. It may seem less dramatic than the prospect of a ballot battle with developers. But it is a package to work with that was leveraged from the process. That said, we must keep an eye on the larger goal of real citywide affordability. Though 33 percent affordable housing production is higher than what we’ve achieved in the past, we must not forget this is only a floor — realistic given the funding goals of this measure, but an incremental step toward achieving the affordable housing we need to house all San Franciscans fairly.
Peter Cohen and Fernando Martí are co-directors of the Council of Community Housing Organizations.