Homes for whom?

Pub date December 18, 2007
WriterSarah Phelan


After years of letting the free market dictate San Francisco’s housing mix — as a result steadily losing ground on the city’s affordable housing goals — the Board of Supervisors appears primed to place an ambitious bond measure on the fall 2008 ballot to address the housing imbalance.

Winning the necessary support from two-thirds of voters won’t be easy, coming on a ballot with the majority of supervisorial seats up for grabs, the presidential election, and a likely bond measure for rebuilding General Hospital. But Sup. Chris Daly, author of the affordable-housing bond measure, believes it’s a good time to have progressives focus on this most important of problems facing the city.

Last summer affordable-housing funds became a political football in a budget showdown between Daly and Mayor Gavin Newsom, a fight Newsom won, leading to a budget that prioritizes clean streets and a beefed-up Police Department over affordable housing. Newsom’s reelection campaign, which was just gearing up at the time, successfully cast Daly as the villain after the occasionally hotheaded supervisor threatened to bolster housing funds by cutting Newsom’s "pet projects," as Daly called them, which included a community justice center, a Police Academy class, street trees, and the Small Business Assistance Center.

Daly clearly lost that duel when he was savaged by the media and removed from his chair on the Budget Committee by board president Aaron Peskin. But now Daly has bounced back on the issue and secured solid support for his measure, which progressives and affordable-housing activists are already gearing up to fight for next year.

"Just because Newsom had a significant political operation this year does not mean that the affordable-housing issue went away," Daly told the Guardian after securing support for the amendment from six of his colleagues and a broad coalition of housing activists.

The measure would set aside $2.7 billion in city funds for affordable housing over 15 years. It is cosponsored by Sups. Tom Ammiano, Jake McGoldrick, Ross Mirkarimi, Gerardo Sandoval, Sophie Maxwell, Bevan Dufty, and Peskin and backed by Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth (which has made affordable family housing its top priority), the San Francisco Organizing Project, and the Housing Justice Coalition.

The measure would give affordable housing the same baseline of funding that the city already allocates to the Recreation and Park Department fund and the Library Preservation Fund — and less than what it sets aside for the Children, Youth and Families fund, the police fund, and the fire station maintenance fund.

"If we don’t have affordable housing, who is going to use the parks and the libraries?" housing activist Calvin Welch asked.

The amendment would also require the Mayor’s Office of Housing to prepare an affordable-housing plan every three years, present an annual affordable-housing budget, and complete these steps before the rest of the mayor’s budget proposals are finalized.

"I hope these provisions will bring some much-needed transparency and clarity to the affordable-housing process so we can avoid the train wreck of last year," Welch said.

In a June 8 editorial still posted at Newsom’s reelection Web site, the San Francisco Chronicle appears to have bought the mayor’s spin that Daly’s request to prioritize housing was all just political theater.

"There was nothing wise or efficient about Supervisor Chris Daly’s bald political ploy to strip $37 million from Mayor Gavin Newsom’s budget priorities and shift most of it into affordable housing," the Chronicle claimed. "Now let’s be clear. We know that San Francisco does need housing. Newsom’s budget also acknowledges the shortage, pumping $217 million into housing programs."

But, according to Welch, "the lie was that Newsom allocated $217 million when he really only allocated $78 million and the board added a further $10 million to the pot…. Newsom was taking credit for more than he was actually allocating and using those other funds to imply that he’d already used a massive amount of the General Fund when he was, in fact, allocating less than the year before. So he was actually talking about a cut."

Newsom press secretary Nathan Ballard told the Guardian that the total affordable-housing budget for fiscal year 2007–08 was $226 million — and of that total budget, "just approximately $90 million is General Fund dollars.

"The balance of funding (the difference between $226 million and $90 million) is a whole variety of other funding sources," he added, listing inclusionary housing in-lieu fees, redevelopment funds, jobs housing linkage fees levied on private development, federal and state sources, and other funds, many of which accumulate over many years, further distorting the budget picture.

But Welch said the housing situation is grim. As he told us, "The truth is that 92 percent of the city’s population can’t afford housing."

Daly’s affordable-housing amendment awaits a Jan. 8 board vote, following a request by Maxwell to allow for affordable housing to be built on sites used under the San Francisco Housing Authority — the so-called Hope SF program — a request Daly supports.

"My issue with Hope SF is [with] any proposal to build a large number of market-rate units on public housing sites," Daly explained, referring to a central tenet of the Newsom-created program.

Meanwhile, a June 2008 ballot measure being pushed by Newsom, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and a host of other prominent local power brokers threatens to drain what little money the city does have for affordable housing in order to subsidize a massive push by Lennar Corp. to build 8,000 to 10,000 new houses in Candlestick Point, Hunters Point, and the Bayview.

Other than committing to replace low-income Alice Griffith public housing units at a one-to-one ratio, the Bayview Jobs, Parks and Housing Measure does not specify what percentage of the Lennar-built homes will be considered affordable or sold below market rates. Publicly, backers of the measure are presenting the efforts as focused on building a new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers, even though the team has said it would rather move to Santa Clara. Yet the campaign is also keenly aware of the public support for more affordable housing, at least if its ground-level pitches are any indication.

A paid signature gatherer who was recently working the 24th Street BART station (and who also told a Guardian source he was getting the unusually high sum of $2.50 per signature) presented the proposal to passersby as "an affordable housing measure."