The truth about housing money

Pub date July 3, 2007
WriterCalvin Welch
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION Just as in war, in 2007 San Francisco budget politics, truth is the first casualty.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the assertions by Gavin Newsom’s campaign minions that the mayor’s current budget proposal contains a $217.5 million city investment in affordable housing.

The purpose of these claims is to imply that Newsom has voluntarily allocated local tax dollars for this critical need — and that no more should be spent on affordable housing, especially some $10 million for lower-income rental housing production for families with children proposed by Supervisor Chris Daly and the Board of Supervisors.

The facts tell a different story.

First, the impression that this $217.5 million is all local tax money the mayor has voluntarily invested in affordable housing is false. Some $20 million is federal and state money that can be spent only on affordable housing. Another $25 million comes from local sources and also must be used for affordable housing. And $48 million comes from tax-increment funds mandated by a 2005 supervisors policy to go solely toward affordable-housing development.

So about 40 percent ($93 million) of the affordable-housing funding that the Mayor’s Office talks about was money that by law had to go to affordable housing. It wasn’t Newsom’s choice.

Nearly a third of the mayor’s budget for creating affordable housing — some $60 million — is in fact allocated to fund his Care Not Cash program, which was supposed to pay for itself. Indeed, more than twice as much money, $31 million, is earmarked to pay for privately owned, leased residential hotel rooms for temporary housing of the homeless (not producing one new affordable home) as is budgeted for the production of new, permanently affordable lower-income family rental housing ($15 million). The fact is, the 2007–08 Newsom budget cuts $24 million in funds earmarked for new affordable-housing production for families and seniors.

What is most distressing about the half-truths and nontruths in the affordable-housing budget battle of recent days is that the unity between the mayor and the Board of Supervisors — crucial to the expansion of affordable-housing opportunities for San Franciscans and which has characterized the city since the George Moscone administration (some 25,000 permanently affordable homes have been produced in the past 20 years, a figure unmatched in any other mayor American city) — has been placed in peril for short-term political advantage.

But cooler heads have prevailed inside and outside City Hall. Sometimes it is better to shut up and do what needs doing and let the credit fall where it may.

Which is why, when the dust settled last week, no one shouted about the $10 million that was quietly added back into the budget for permanently affordable family-housing production.

But we should all be clear: if we want San Francisco to be as economically diverse as we all claim, then we have only just begun to find the funds needed for more affordable housing. While it may or may not be true that you can never be too rich or too thin, it is most certainly true that San Francisco never allocates enough for affordable housing. *

Calvin Welch is an affordable-housing advocate who lives in San Francisco.