The Board of Supervisors yesterday approved a measure to establish a housing trust fund for San Francisco, which will now go before voters on the November ballot.
The measure, which would amend the city charter to establish a 30-year affordable housing fund, passed with eight votes in favor. Only supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Carmen Chu opposed it; Supervisor Mark Farrell was absent.
The measure has been the subject of extensive debate in previous meetings, often between supervisors Scott Wiener and David Campos, who argued over its actual spending power versus the likelihood that it will pass in November. Another point of contention has to do with revenue sources, which are uncertain because of the measure’s language.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Supervisor John Avalos called the measure “decades in the making.”
The city hasn’t passed an affordable housing measure since 1996, when voters approved the Affordable Housing and Home Ownership Opportunity Bond, said Supervisor Jane Kim. In light of two other failed measures, in 2002 and 2006, “the city has really been put in a position to try to figure out a measure that would gain a wider array of support,” Kim said.
Supervisor Christina Olague applauded the effort for bringing the development and housing communities together, and Wiener said the measure gives the private sector the “proper incentives” to meet market-rate housing demands while also providing “a significant amount of funding for affordable housing.”
Elsbernd, who voted against the measure, told Mission Local in a phone interview: “I think we are making a mistake, binding our hands for the next 30 years.” He was referring in part to the Mayor’s Office of Housing’s proposal that the trust fund be financed from a variety of sources, including the money that went to the Redevelopment Agency before its recent dissolution. If the Housing Trust Fund didn’t receive that money, however, it would go straight into the city’s general fund, where it could be used for purposes other than affordable housing, like health care or education.
Elsbernd said he would prefer to have that flexibility rather than dedicating the funds solely to housing, especially in light of state and city budget cuts.
Campos also had issues with the trust fund’s financing, though for different reasons. Although he ultimately supported it, he called the measure “a modest proposal,” and criticized it for devoting only a projected $12 million to affordable housing in its first year of operation.
Concerned that affordable housing seldom gets this level of political attention, Campos added, “We will have an opportunity to do this once, for quite a while, and I do have a concern that this doesn’t go far enough.”
Chiu tried to alleviate that worry, vowing to find a way to ensure that the fund would be able to adapt to changes in the housing situation over its 30-year lifespan. Chiu said he is working with the mayor’s office on an ordinance that would require the city to re-evaluate the Housing Trust Fund’s effectiveness every five years, with the ability to enact further policy changes if necessary.
Thus, while a supermajority of the board gave the Housing Trust Fund the go-ahead, whether the measure that goes on the November ballot reflects the future of San Francisco housing remains to be seen.